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Guide to studying Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy

Counselling and therapy are essential professions, especially in regards to mental health. Study Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy, and you'll know how to impact people's lives.

College Student Meeting With Campus Counselor


  1. What's Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy?

  2. Why study Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy?

  3. What jobs can you do with a Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy degree?
  4. What qualifications do you need to study Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy?

  5. What degrees can you study?

  6. How will you be assessed?
  7. What are the postgraduate opportunities?

  8. How to become a counsellor or therapist

What's Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy?

Counselling and Psychotherapy are types of verbal therapy that allow a person to talk through their problems, thoughts and feelings in a confidential and dependable environment. A counsellor or psychotherapist is trained to listen with empathy, understand the patient’s problems and help them deal with negative thoughts and feelings.

Occupational Therapy is the support given to people with mental or physical disabilities. Occupational therapists improve patients’ lives by helping them learn new ways to do things and changing their environments to make everyday tasks easier.

Why study Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy?

These are professions where the means and methods of study and care are constantly evolving. Therapeutic models are consistently being researched, and you can be at the forefront of improvements.

Courses provide a balance between academic work, skills development, professional practice, individual personal development and self-awareness. There are plenty of opportunities to work in the community during placements where you'll gain real-life experience.

Depending on your course, you can expect to develop a range of skills, such as:

  • Development and management of therapeutic groups
  • Communication and other interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Compassion and nurturing
  • Designing adaptations to living environments
  • Use of special equipment, such as wheelchairs and hoists
  • Physical strength when moving and lifting equipment, patients or clients

During Covid-19, courses have to adapt to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This just means the way they are delivered is slightly different. For instance, teaching groups may be smaller, and there may be more remote learning.

The NHS Learning Support Fund is currently offering £5,000 per year to support Occupational Therapy degree students in England and Wales. This is a grant, so you don’t have to pay it back.

Read our seven reasons to study Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy for more information on why you might choose this subject area.

Crop doctor helping patient with walker

What jobs can you do with a Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy degree?

Courses are specific, so students generally go on to practise as counsellors or therapists. With experience, you could become a more senior clinician or manage departments and teams. Numerous companies offer graduate schemes in this subject area, including BACP.

Alternatively, you could work with general health or social services, teach, go into research or start a private practice. Graduates also go into roles such as careers adviser, tutor, nurse, psychologist, probation or prison officer and youth worker.

What qualifications do you need to study Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy? 

Entry requirements usually ask for two or three A Levels, with one in a science or social science. You’ll also need five GCSEs in grades C and above, including one in science.

Other equivalent qualifications include relevant BTEC, HND, HNC, NVQ, Highers and Access courses.

Courses often involve practical experience working with members of the public. You’ll need to complete a DBS disclosure check (for criminal records) for public protection and safety.

Entry requirements vary by university. Always check for the university and course you want to apply to.

Tips for applying

Universities look for students who can succeed at university and in a career. As a counsellor or therapist, you’ll need good communication skills so you can help your patients or clients feel relaxed. Try to demonstrate this, and other relevant skills, when applying to a course.

Appropriate experience will also enhance your application. You could volunteer or work with a local organisation, for example:

  • Hospital or clinic
  • Charities, such as St John Ambulance
  • Care homes
  • Daycare centres
  • Youth organisations, such as scouts and guides

What degrees can you study?

  • BSc Psychology and Counselling
  • BA Counselling and Psychotherapy
  • BSc Occupational Therapy

Course combinations mix the subject area with other disciplines such as Criminology, Sociology or Education.

Degree apprenticeships are sometimes available, where you can work and earn at the same time as gaining a qualification. You have to apply through an employer, and you’re not eligible for student grants.

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  2. Counselling, Psychotherapy & Occupational Therapy subject table
  3. Course chooser

How will you be assessed?

Courses are assessed in various ways, including lectures, skill improvement work and presentations such as posters or group talks. There may also be written coursework or end of year exams, depending on where you study.

You may also be assessed while working on placement. This is based on a knowledge and skills framework that's fully explained to you once you begin the course.

What are the postgraduate opportunities?

Common postgraduate degrees include:

  • MSc Psychotherapy and Counselling
  • MSc Counselling Studies
  • MSc Occupational Therapy (pre-registration)
  • PgDip Occupational Therapy (pre-registration)

Further examples of taught MAs and research degrees at postgraduate level include in Addiction Psychology School Counselling, Career Management and Coaching, Dispute Resolution and Supervision Studies.

There are options for those who choose to become specialists in certain areas, such as:

  • Advanced Occupational Therapy MSc
  • Rehabilitation MSc
  • Art or Music Therapy MA

How to become a counsellor or therapist

The common way is by gaining a qualification, either at degree level or through a degree apprenticeship. Degrees often lead to professional accreditation.

Postgraduate conversion courses are available for those with a degree in a related area, such as health science or psychology.

Occupational therapists need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before practising professionally.

What’s it like to be a counsellor or therapist?

You could be working at an NHS or private hospital, in therapy rooms, a GP clinic, a care home, a client’s home or a client’s business. 

Day to day, you could be:

  • Meeting with several patients or clients and listening to their issues
  • Teaching patients how to adapt to life after illness, injury or surgery
  • Showing people with physical and learning disabilities how to live independently
  • Helping the elderly remain in their own homes and adapting their environments
  • Supporting someone with depression through new activities
  • Finding new solutions and strategies to help patients meet their goals
  • Recording patient or client progression
  • Adapting offices so injured employees can go back to work
  • Support families and carers

After qualifying, you may have Continuing Professional Development (CPD) meetings to talk about your future career goals. You can become a member of organisations, such as the British Association of Occupational Therapists, that provide specialist career support.

A working week is typically 37.5 hours, and you may have to work evenings and weekends. Salaries for occupational therapists are on the Agenda for Change system (the NHS staff grading and pay scale), usually on band 5. With the NHS, you’ll have access to generous pension schemes, holiday allowances and health service discounts.

Is a role as a counsellor or therapist right for you?

It can be emotionally and physically demanding, and you could be working with patients or clients who have upsetting circumstances. However, you will be making a huge difference in their lives, and the work can be very rewarding.

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