A career as a counselling psychologist would suit you if you have excellent communication skills and a compassionate and sensitive approach when dealing with others

As a counselling psychologist you will use psychological theory and research in therapeutic work to help clients with a variety of problems. These problems can include difficult life issues and mental health conditions.

Life issues that people struggle to deal with might include:

  • bereavement;
  • domestic violence;
  • relationship difficulties;
  • sexual abuse.

Mental health conditions include:

  • anxiety;
  • depression;
  • eating disorders;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
  • psychosis.

Practising as a counselling psychologist requires a high level of training and self-awareness, achieved through personal therapy.

You also need to be able to work collaboratively with the client in a holistic and insightful way to enable them to consider change.

Counselling psychologists are based in:

  • consultancy;
  • education and research;
  • health and care services;
  • hospitals;
  • prisons and probation services;
  • private practice.

Responsibilities

Counselling psychologists work with diverse client groups, including children, adults, families, couples and groups.

The work can vary depending on the setting and the clients, but may include:

  • undertaking assessments, including assessment of mental health needs, risk assessment and psychometric testing;
  • formulating a psychological explanation of the client's issues;
  • planning and implementing therapy;
  • evaluating the outcome of therapy;
  • establishing a collaborative working relationship with the client based on trust and respect;
  • writing reports and record-keeping;
  • training and supervision of other psychologists;
  • management, audit and development of services;
  • multidisciplinary team working;
  • continuing personal and professional development (CPD);
  • undertaking research, either individually or as part of a team.

Salary

  • Counselling psychologists starting as a trainee within the NHS will typically be on Band 6 of the Agenda for Change pay scale, which ranges from £26,302 to £35,225.
  • Fully-qualified counselling psychologists can expect to be on Band 7 with a salary between £31,383 and £41,373.
  • Those with significant experience and responsibility in the roles of psychologist principal and consultant psychologist can reach salaries of up to £82,000.

For full salary details see the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates.

There are also nationally-agreed pay scales in the prison service and any counselling psychologists working in private practice should expect similar salaries to those in the public sector.

Income data from the National Health Service (NHS). Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 8.30am to 5pm if working within the NHS. They may go beyond this in other areas.

Many counselling psychologists are self-employed, or work partly for the NHS and partly for themselves.

Freelance hours of work can be arranged to suit, although they will be driven by client requirements and may require working outside of office hours.

There are good opportunities for part-time work, career breaks and job-sharing.

What to expect

  • Counselling psychologists often work as part of multidisciplinary teams.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK. More varied opportunities may be available in larger cities. Some health authorities prioritise psychological therapy, making more jobs available.
  • Due to long waiting lists and the emotional demands of clients, the working environment can be stressful.
  • Travel within a working day is occasionally required.

Qualifications

There are two steps to becoming a chartered counselling psychologist:

  • Firstly, you need to achieve Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC). This can be done by completing either a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited undergraduate degree, or by doing a conversion course if you don't have the related first degree. Details of relevant courses can be found at BPS Accredited Psychology Courses.
  • You will then need to complete a BPS accredited Doctorate in Counselling Psychology or the BPS Qualification in Counselling Psychology. Following this you are entitled to chartered status and full membership of the BPS Division of Counselling Psychology. You will also be eligible for entry onto the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) register, which entitles you to use the title 'counselling psychologist'.

Full details about qualifying to become a chartered counselling psychologist are available from the BPS.

Entry with an HND only is not possible. Many postgraduate courses are becoming increasingly competitive and require a good first degree, usually a 2:1 or higher, as well as relevant work experience and some basic counselling qualifications.

Information on counselling courses can be found at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

Any postgraduate training you take is likely to be self-financed.

It is also usual for students to pay for their own personal therapy and, in certain cases, for their required supervision.

Some trainees secure posts as assistant psychologists first and negotiate part or total funding towards their training. It may also be possible to approach psychology departments for sponsorship.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • interpersonal and psychotherapeutic skills;
  • excellent communication skills;
  • an open-minded and sensitive approach when dealing with clients;
  • the ability to explore emotional issues with clients;
  • a healthy curiosity and research-minded approach;
  • analytical skills;
  • the ability to work as part of a team;
  • the capacity to look at how and why things are working, or not working, with clients;
  • independence and self-motivation;
  • self-awareness, self-knowledge, security and self-belief;
  • capability to working under pressure.

Work experience

In order to get relevant work experience, you should consider looking for paid work and volunteer placements in a supportive mental health role. These types of vacancies can generally be found in the non-profit, health and human services sectors.

Evidence of long-term volunteering is also beneficial, as this demonstrates the ability to be emotionally robust.

Employers

Many counselling psychologists provide clinical services in health and social care settings, including NHS general and psychiatric hospitals, GP surgeries, and private hospitals.

They often work in teams including other health service workers such as:

  • clinical psychologists;
  • health psychologists;
  • wellbeing practitioners;
  • social workers;
  • medical and paramedical professionals.

They are also found in specialist areas such as child and family services.

Counselling psychologists may work in the prison service, voluntary sector, or in educational settings, such as schools, colleges and universities.

Others choose to work independently, either alone or in a group practice, or as organisational consultants in the public or private sector, where they may be involved in training, development or conflict resolution.

Look for job vacancies at:

Local press and hospital websites also advertise vacancies.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

In addition to the placements provided and the professional experience gained on route to chartered status, training will be an integral part of a your career.

Chartered counselling psychologists are obliged by the HCPC to take part in continuing professional development (CPD).

The BPS also supports its members in carrying out CPD by providing learning opportunities, including courses, workshops and conferences, as well as providing a way to record CPD activities.

You can undertake CPD through formal courses, self-directed learning, professional activity or other work-based learning.

Examples include:

  • post-qualification courses, which help to develop knowledge of different theoretical approaches;
  • professional supervision;
  • lecturing, teaching or giving presentations;
  • attending workshops or conferences;
  • topical research, writing articles or papers;
  • mentoring, supervising or assessing trainees;
  • development of expertise with a particular client group.

More information on CPD can be found at BPS Professional Development Centre.

This is a career in which further study and specialist development are usually encouraged and supported.

Most counselling psychologists have a supervisor or mentor who can provide advice and guidance for dealing with challenging situations, clients or groups.

Career prospects

Clearly defined career paths are available with certain employers including the:

  • Civil Service;
  • HM Prison Service;
  • local authorities;
  • NHS;
  • probation services.

As a counselling psychologist you will tend to work fairly autonomously, which gives a certain amount of choice in organising your time and workload.

After qualification, there is the opportunity to move into various specialist areas and to choose to work with specific client groups.

There is also the option of moving into self-employment as you gain knowledge and experience or to combine self-employment with part-time work for an employer such as the NHS.

Additionally, counselling psychologists have the opportunity to become involved in consultancy, or the teaching, supervision and training of other counselling psychologists. A senior counselling psychologist may have a portfolio of work which includes working within the NHS while also practising privately and teaching at a university.

There are opportunities to work abroad within the humanitarian sector, where mental health specialists are recruited by organisations such as:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF);
  • World Health Organisation (WHO).