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Where to start 

The counselling and psychotherapy sector encompasses many roles. All involve providing support for an individual’s mental health and wellbeing but the nature of the work, the clients that you might work with, and the routes into the roles vary considerably.

Charted Psychologists

Chartered Psychologist is a legally recognised title awarded by the British Psychological Society (BPS), the professional body for the discipline in the UK. There are nine specialist areas in which it’s possible to secure Chartered status: Academic research & teaching, Health, Clinical, Counselling, Sport and Exercise, Educational, Occupational, Forensic and Neuropsychology. Find out more on the British Psychological Society’s careers pages.

Psychology Related

There are a variety of psychology related careers which do not require chartered status but will see you work with chartered psychologists as part of the mental health services.  

Counselling & Psychotherapy

Counsellors and psychotherapists are trained professionals offering ‘talking’ therapies to enable individuals to better understand their feelings, thoughts and behaviours, and supporting them to enact changes or develop coping mechanisms.

There is no clear distinction between the role of a counsellor and the role of a psychotherapist. The main differences are in the specifics of the training undertaken, the theoretical model(s) an individual practitioner chooses to adopt, and the therapy or therapies they decide to practice.

How to know if you’re suited to this sector

For any role in psychology, counselling, or psychotherapy you need to be:

  • empathetic, able to build rapport and have excellent listening skills
  • broad minded, non-judgemental and have respect for others, regardless of their actions or circumstances
  • confident in exploring difficult and potentially painful aspects of a patient’s life
  • willing to reflect on your own actions, listen to feedback, learn from experiences, and apply that learning to your future practice.
How to get the experience to be credible

Exposure to the potential patients/client groups that you’d like to work with will help you to decide whether you would enjoy a career in psychology (or a related profession).

Work experience is highly valued when applying for both entry-level roles and postgraduate study. If you are considering training as a Chartered Psychologist, some courses will particularly look for experience gained as an Assistant Psychologist. Due to its confidential nature, it can be difficult to secure experience in counselling or psychotherapy, particularly at the 1:1 level, but there are plenty of other possibilities.

In hospital

  • Healthcare assistant work is particularly valuable for careers in Nursing, but also gives good general experience of working with individuals experiencing mental health problems (see the NHS Jobs website).
  • Volunteering in hospitals, as a ward volunteer or at outpatient units/clinics can be another way of developing your skills and gaining exposure to patients. Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge has a range of volunteering opportunities. A minimum commitment is required.

Other settings

  • Look for volunteering opportunities that involve client contact, such as SamaritansNightline and other mental health charities that need listening volunteers or group leaders.
  • Volunteer through Student Community Action.
  • Assisting psychological research can be helpful, particularly if that research is clinically oriented.
  • Paid work as a care assistant.
  • Mentoring young offenders.
  • Volunteering with the Witness ServiceVictim Support, or the Prison Advice and Care Trust.
  • Volunteering at homeless shelters.
  • Holiday clubs, community youth groups and play schemes can be a good way to gain experience. working with children.
Further study or certification required

Chartered Psychology

To become a Chartered Psychologist you will need to complete BPS accredited vocational training, usually encompassing a Professional Doctorate or BPS Stage 2 qualifications as set out on their Careers pages.

To begin vocational training you will normally need Graduate Membership of the BPS. At Cambridge you can become eligible through completion of the Psychological and Behavioural Studies tripos and Natural Sciences, where you meet the examination requirements for NST IB Experimental Psychology and NST Part II Psychology. If you are studying or have graduated from another discipline, you can undertake a psychology conversion course.

Psychology Related, Counselling and Psychotherapy

A degree in psychology is not always required. The training for these roles is varied, and can include vocational qualifications, postgraduate study, and on-the-job training programmes, depending on the role you choose.

Tips for succeeding in the application or selection process
  • Relevant experience (paid or voluntary) involving client contact will help you to demonstrate your suitability for a face-to-face helping role.
  • Your personal statement or application should clearly articulate your motivation for the role, reflecting on what you learned from your experiences and how they have informed your decision to pursue this career path.
  • For chartered psychology roles, you will need to demonstrate the academic ability to succeed in training at doctorate level.
What Cambridge offers to help with this career

There are several local organisations where you can gain valuable experience:

  • Cambridge Hub - supports students to tackle social challenges and connect with each other
  • Cambridge Streetbite - a student-run project that helps the homeless community in Cambridge
  • Cambridge University Hospitals - volunteer at one of the best-known hospitals in the UK
  • Citizens Advice - helps people with their problems and campaigns to improve government policies
  • Jimmy's - for over 20 years, Jimmy's has been providing help for the homeless in Cambridge
  • Nightline Association - a night-time listening service which is run by students for students
  • Samaritans - help support anyone who needs someone to talk to
  • Student Community Action - facilitates student involvement in voluntary community work
  • Student Minds - formerly known as the Mental Wealth Campaign
Other things you should know

Competition for chartered psychology training and Assistant Psychologist roles can be fierce. It is not uncommon for graduates to undertake a substantial period of full-time work experience after graduation, beyond the requirements for professional training.

For Clinical Psychology in particular, it is not unusual for candidates to apply for several application rounds before securing a place. There is, however, a 95% employment rate following vocational training.