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Counselling Course: How to become a counsellor or psychotherapist

Training in counselling and psychotherapy is an area of growth for our curious society.
The burgeoning demand for counselling and psychotherapy in society has led to a steady expansion in the number of training courses available for would-be counsellors or psychotherapists.

Where once people might have sought help from their priest or a trusted relative, many are now turning to qualified professionals for focused, structured self-exploration.

Broadly speaking, in the United Kingdom, those wishing to train in this field can choose to become counsellors or psychotherapists.

Dr Ernesto Spinelli, academic dean of the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling at Regent's College, says that the route you choose, roughly speaking, depends on the kind of work you see yourself doing mainly in the future.

If you want, for example, to work in affiliation with a practice of GPs or in an educational organisation - where you need the skills to explore relatively immediate issues such as personal or workplace problems, the problems of coping with ill health or depression - then the chances are you should train as a counsellor.

However Dr Spinelli adds that would-be psychotherapists are more likely to be considering private, more individually based practice focused on long term work with clients exploring problems in the broader light of whole life experiences.

Psychotherapy training will take longer and requires trainees to undergo their own personal therapy. Trainee counsellors are strongly encouraged to undergo therapy as well but may not be required to do so. A student studying counselling leading to accreditation by the British Association for Counselling will probably take three years to complete his or her training. Those seeking accreditation by the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy are more likely to take four to five years to complete their courses.

His school takes the view that the distinction between psychotherapy and counselling is in many ways quite arbitrary. It offers both routes - to qualified counsellor status or to qualified psychotherapist status - and in many instances to qualifications in both. There is also a third route now opening up to a qualification in counselling psychology. The latter is for psychologists recognised by the British Psychological Society who also practice as counsellors or therapists.

Students can choose from a range of training opportunities from introductory courses, through diplomas, advanced diplomas, to MA's and PhD's.

To train for four to five years as a psychotherapist will probably cost around pounds 12,000. To train as a counsellor perhaps pounds 9,000.

One unique centre in the UK, The Women's Therapy Centre, in Islington, north London, focuses solely on the psychology of women in courses given from a feminist perspective.

For women wishing to further their understanding of the psychology of their sex, the centre prides itself on more than 22 years of experience of providing psychoanalytic psychotherapy for females who would not normally be able to afford it.

Its "Working with Women" course, which was started in the 1970s by Suzie Orbach (author of Fat is a Feminist Issue) and others, focuses on women's psychological development.

It explores theory from a critical feminist perspective. The course, which involves one evening a week for a year, is designed for professionals, counsellors, social workers, nurses and women who have an interest in the psychology of women.

The centre also offers study days - on women and violent relationships, men working with women, rape, mother and daughter relationships and loss and separation.

Supervision groups include sessions on working with women who have experienced sexual traumas, on women with eating problems and on working with black women. There are also workshops, for example, on body image and women's relationship with food. The cost of such work ranges from pounds 75 to pounds 150.

Those who have trained may be interested in going on to specialise in sexual and marital therapy. One well established training course is The Diploma in Psychosexual Therapy offered by Relate National Marriage Guidance.

One of only six courses accredited by the British Association for Sexual and Marital Therapy it offers those with relevant professional backgrounds a training in psychosexual therapy that provides effective strategies for helping clients experiencing sexual difficulties.

Relate offers psychosexual therapy in 115 of its centres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Advisers address psychological, behavioural and attitudinal aspects of sexuality and its expression in sexual activity.

Much of the work of the therapists is educative, focusing on unrealistic expectations, misguided attitudes and anxiety about performance.

Candidates aspiring to train as therapists should apply to the Psychosexual Therapy Department, Relate, Herbert Gray College, Rugby, CV21 3AP.