How to become a counsellor without going to university

 a young woman chatting to a counsellor during a session

There are a number of different paths you can take if you want to become a qualified counsellor. Indeed, it is a total misconception that to become a counsellor you need a university degree. The fact is, there are many ways that adults of any age can start a new career by becoming a certified counsellor.

If you want to embark on a career as a counsellor, but don’t want to go to university, carry on reading. Courses offered by colleges and distance education centres could be the answer. In this handy guide, we look at what counsellors actually do and what skills they need to succeed. We also explain how to become a counsellor without a university degree.

What does a counsellor do?

Counsellors are trained professionals that work with people experiencing emotional or psychological difficulties. Through listening and talking, they aim to bring about positive change to their clients’ lives. Counsellors are often also the first point of contact for patients that require clinical mental health treatment.

People who make use of professional counselling sessions come from all walks of life. For example, they include individuals suffering with clinical conditions such as depression and anxiety. Clients may also be dealing with more emotional-based issues such as grief or stress.

The day-to-day responsibilities of a counsellor include:

  • Working with individuals, couples and groups dealing with mental health issues
  • Working with individuals struggling with difficult emotional experiences
  • Helping clients strengthen their coping skills using confidence-building exercises
  • Referring clients to other healthcare professionals if further support is required
  • Helping clients to examine their current behaviour patterns and work on personal improvement
  • Developing and instilling therapeutic processes for clients where possible.

Different types of counsellor

There is a wide range of specialties when it comes to a career in counselling. You can choose your desired path by determining which one best suits your interests.

Different types of counselling include:

Mental health counsellors

This is the most general type of counsellor. Mental health professionals provide psychological support to those suffering with chronic and acute emotional conditions. This includes trauma management and helping patients cope with depression, addiction or phobias.

Child counsellors

Child counsellors work specifically with children dealing with mental/emotional issues. These counsellors work to establish the underlying root causes of a child’s problem. They will then develop bespoke strategies to help their young patients to overcome these issues.

Relationship counsellors

These experts help couples and groups with relationship issues. They use techniques to help all parties involved to improve everything from communication to intimacy. Relationship counselling is often used by couples going through a rough patch in their relationship. However, these professionals are not limited to couples counselling. Both families and other groups also make use of relationship counselling.

Career counsellors

Career counsellors have two main responsibilities. They help unemployed individuals identify career paths based on their interests and abilities. These counsellors also help those already in work decide if they should explore potential new career paths.

Rehabilitation counsellors

Rehabilitation counsellors help individuals who are struggling with their emotional or physical disabilities. This ranges from patients battling addiction to those recovering from serious injuries.

Educational counsellors

Also known as school counsellors, education counsellors help students dealing with stress. This can involve assisting with workload management, for example. Or helping students cope with exam anxiety. Many schools and colleges now hire a full-time educational counsellor for this very purpose.

How to become a counsellor without a degree

You can become a qualified counsellor without gaining a university degree. But this does not mean you can start practising without first undertaking the correct training. In the UK, all counsellors must have a counselling qualification at either foundation degree OR diploma level. While this doesn’t mean you have to go to university, it does mean putting in the work needed to qualify.

If you decide against going down the university route, there are other options. One of these is to enrol on a counselling diploma course through a college or private provider of online education, such as ICI. There are no previous education or experience requirements to enrol on counselling courses.

Counselling and psychology diploma courses are usually taught in five key module areas. These are:

  • Basic counselling skills
    Basic listening and bonding skills, reflection skills, interview techniques and solution finding.
  • Further counselling skills
    Session structuring, crisis management and problem solving techniques (depression, aggression, grief and suicide).
  • Counselling techniques
    Psychoanalytic psychotherapy skills, humanistic/existential approaches, cognitive and rational behavioural therapy techniques, and solution-focused skills.
  • Introduction to basic psychology
    Theories of consciousness and perception, environmental and neurological impacts on behaviour, etc.
  • Best practice in counselling
    Controlling emotions and behaviour, recognising clinical referral flags, and ethics and confidentiality guidelines.

Depending on the course level, you can obtain your qualification in between 24 and 31 weeks.

What level is a diploma in counselling?

The level at which you qualify depends on whether you enrol on a diploma or advanced diploma. Both involve a different amount of coursework and different time periods to finish.

Regular diplomas represent an intermediate qualification. Graduates are judged to have a good understanding across a broad range of topics. For this reason, diplomas are roughly the equivalent of achieving a foundation degree.

Advanced diplomas are more in-depth qualifications that require more time to complete. Graduates are able to apply a significant range of skills and techniques taught across the entire counselling course. This is equivalent to completing the first two years of a Bachelor degree.

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Gladys Mae


Gladys Mae serves as the General Manager and Head of Student Services at the International Career Institute. Gladys holds a degree in Mass Communication - Broadcast Media from the University of San Jose-Recoletos. She joined ICI in 2010 and has over the past 12 years been instrumental in providing leadership and guidance to staff and students alike. Prior to joining ICI Gladys led a multifaceted career with key roles in the banking and business process outsourcing industries.