Going to university and becoming a talking therapist
October 23, 2014 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I have made the decision that I want to change careers to become a counsellor (talking therapist) and I'd additionally like to specialise my therapy (but not exclusively) in gender and sexual identity issues. What study paths should I follow to turn this ambition into a specific plan? I never went to university after leaving school - so I would like to go back into academic education and get a degree while working towards this career rather than just doing a vocational course. Difficulty level: UK.

Following on from a more general question I asked about going to university a few weeks ago, I'd like to ask more specifically about something I'm wanting to do. Having had a fairly lengthy period of a couple of months where I've been working part-time, I've been able to slow down and think a little more about where I want my life to go as I reach the end of my 20s - it's something I've needed to do for a while.

I'd like to be a therapist, or a counsellor as we call them in Britain - for the avoidance of confusion, a talking therapist. I'd like to specialise in helping people who are questioning their gender or sexual identity, but not exclusively so, it's just a specific interest area and passion of mine. I've always had a very gentle, compassionate personality and been the one friends come to when they need to talk. A lot of people tell me how easy I am to talk to! After a lot of thinking and consideration, this really does feel like my 'calling,' if one can call it that. It is something I've thought about doing for quite some time.

The thing is - I know what it is I want to do, but I have no idea what sort of university (or other?) courses are suited to my desired profession. I'm leaning towards university rather than (or as well as) a vocational counselling course because I feel drawn to studying gender, sexuality and counselling topics academically. I never went to university after leaving school because I wasn't sure enough about what I wanted to do and I had opportunities elsewhere, but now that I do have a clearer idea of where I see my future, I'd like to go back into academic education and get a degree while also working towards the career I want, rather than doing an equally expensive but narrower vocational qualification.

Where I'm struggling is translating the concrete knowledge I have of the job I want to do and the fields I want to study into courses, qualifications, classes and institutions to research in order to form a concrete path to get there. It's difficult to find information online because there's just too much out there. So - what specific things should I study in order to a) get a more academic grounding in gender and sexuality issues which hold deep interest for me; and b) become a talking therapist / counsellor specialising in these issues?

I'm in the UK, and I'd love to hear from people who've got specific experiences and advice about doing this in Britain, but I'd also like to hear stories of people who've made this career change (or have always been in this career) in other places too. Thank you in advance! :)
posted by winterhill to Education (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As I understand it, if you want to make a profession of specialist counselling you will probably need to do a Degree in a related field, and at a bare minimum either a masters with at least a year of work experience and/or a Doctorate. It is a competitive field and you'll need at least a 2.1 from a russell group university (realistically a first to secure funding / scholarships). Depending on your current A-levels you might need to take new ones to qualify for the better universities. It will probably be at least 5 years full time or 8 part-time as a student without much pay.

Probably the best way to start is to look for undergraduate psychology courses that have a gender/sexuality option and some independent research options so you can focus on that in your second and third years.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:15 PM on October 23, 2014

You can become a counsellor who is able to practice by completing a BACP or UKCP-approved certificate (1 year) followed by a diploma (2 years). Both the BACP and UKCP websites will have lists of accredited courses that you can narrow down by geographical area. These are relatively cheap (well, relative to university fees) and can be done part-time.

If you want to specialise in certain areas, you can do your own reading and then do focussed CPD after you're qualified. If you take a degree course in Gender Studies or similar, it will be heavily theoretical and not necessarily of all that much use once you deal with actual people and their problems (YMMV on this perspective; I have never personally been in a therapy session where I've discussed issues around gender and sexuality that has required referring to Judith Butler.)

You will up your chances of getting on a counselling course by doing some voluntary work that involves using active listening skills e.g. Samaritans. The bar for entry isn't very high and they don't tend to be incredibly academic although you will need to write essays but they're much more reflective and personal than university essays.

Your other route is to do an undergrad degree in Psychology and then a Masters in Counselling Psychology, which will usually qualify you to practice too but will be much more expensive.

Source: have had therapy; have done a counselling certificate; have got an MSc in Psychology, all in the UK. Memail me if you want more info!
posted by theseldomseenkid at 1:04 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

All the BABCP courses I saw listed are postgraduate. The NHS has a few career paths (e.g. Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner) that don't require a counselling course or a degree, but no ones that would lead to anything like a typical degree, and the psychological wellbeing practitioner I met with the other day did not look as if he ever got to more than scratch the surface of his patientservice user's needs.

When I was considering this career path, albeit with a degree already, it seemed to me an awful lot easier and somewhat quicker to go to medical school to become a psychiatrist than to become a clinical psychologist. But community psychiatric nurses and occupational therapists do do in depth work with the people they work with, including gender work, so those are sensible options.
posted by ambrosen at 2:29 PM on October 23, 2014

To expand on what the Nonsense Factory said, going here and entering "counselling" in the subject box will give you a list of undergraduate courses in psychology that have a counselling focus. The next step, I guess, would be seeing which ones offer the gender studies options you'd be looking for and otherwise fit with the degree profile you're interested in.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:20 AM on October 27, 2014

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