Post-Graduate Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy - course content

Module 1 : Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Change
This module looks at the processes and key factors in the therapeutic relationship which support change. It examines stages in the counselling process and basic elements of counselling which, from the outset of the clinical work, require close attention in order to provide an effective and ethical intervention.
This main focus of this module is on preparing students to begin their clinical placements. The theoretical elements of the module will support students understanding of the core therapeutic conditions and the process of change and the integration of this with their clinical practice and the development of their self-awareness. YEAR 1

Module 2 : Personality Theory, Psychological Wellbeing and Psychopathology
This module looks at key factors in psychological wellbeing and mental health and how our understanding of mental ill health and psychopathology has developed over time. It will critically examine a range of treatments and more fully examine how Person-Centred counselling understands and responds to the challenges of psychological wellbeing. This module considers what is meant by ‘normal’ or healthy psychological development and unhealthy or ‘dysfunctional’ development from a Person Centred perspective. YEAR 1

Module 3 : Reflective Practice, Developments in Counselling, Complex Clinical Issues
This module looks at broader professional and social factors relevant to counselling. It examines how different philosophies and approaches to counselling inform a variety of interventions. It also examines the relevance of broader social and personal influences which may be strongly distinctive for clients, defining their identity, way of life and understanding of counselling. YEAR 2

Module 4 : Difference, Diversity and Integration
Students will be provided with a thorough understanding of the research process with consideration of all levels of the process from the theoretical to the practical. The programme will teach students the necessary skills to consider the ethical approval process required prior to the commencement of a research study, and the ability to plan and write a research proposal. This module will provide students with the knowledge and skills to appreciate the importance of the role of research in the development of clinical interventions, counselling practice and the counselling profession. YEAR 2

Module 5 : Clinical Competence, Supervision and the in-depth analysis of the Counselling Process
This module focuses on the integration of practice and clinical supervision. The module starts in module one and extends throughout the programme. It involves three distinct, related activities:
  • · counselling clients in a clinical placement
  • · attending individual supervision
  • · participating in group supervision

These activities are designed to support and promote the development of clinical competence, ethical awareness and professionally responsible practice. YEARS 1-2

Module 6 : Development of the Reflective Practitioner
This module focuses on the development of self-awareness, insight and emotional resilience of students. The module starts at the beginning of the course and extends throughout the programme. It focuses on the psychological and emotional capacity of students and their ability to be aware of and make sense of their internal world. It emphasises the need for counselling practitioners to have a good understanding of the influences (past and present) which shape their behaviour. YEARS 1-2

Module 7 : Advanced and Specialist Practitioner (Elective Pathways) [Year 3 Terms 1 & 2]
This is a specialist module in which students build on their first two years’ experience and chose to focus in a particular area of counselling specialism. Alternative specialist pathways in are offered to reflect advances in research and the demands of the profession.
The programme currently offers three areas of specialist study:
Option 1 Counselling in a Health-Care setting; working with anxiety and depression
Option 2 Counselling Couples; working with relationships
Option 3 Counselling Children and Young People; working in educational settings

Module 8: Developing competence as a Specialist Practitioner [Year 3 Terms 1 & 2]
In support of the development of competence in the chosen specialist area (options in Module 7) the student is required to gain an advanced level of competence through working therapeutically. The student is supported through supervision and mentoring to ensure that the work is monitored for and the needs of the client are not compromised. YEAR 3

Module 9: The Reflective Specialist & contributions to the development of specialist practice [Year 3 Terms 1 & 2]
This module will focus on the critically essential professional reflectiveness of practitioners when working in areas of specialist practice. Research has shown the most effective outcomes of therapy are determined by the quality of the relationship between counsellor and client and the strength of the therapeutic alliance with the client(s). The module will provide a context for discussing challenges experienced by the counsellor which emerge from working with this client group. It will provide a framework for analysis of case work from the dimension of creating objectivity and neutrality while engaged in therapeutic work. YEAR 3


Certain aspects of the course are presented in lecture form and there are presentations by external specialists covering different topics relevant to counselling. Interactive workshops are the principal learning environment for exploring specific themes and issues. Other structures used during the programme include: Encounter Groups, Study Groups and the Course Community Group. The Course Community Group is the largest group since, as its name suggests, it involves everyone who is part of the course. This group meets each day of the course and provides a broad range of essential functions for the course. Apart from being a forum for information and discussion it is also a setting in which core elements of the course are experientially learned and where individuals are prompted to in-depth self-reflection.

Supervision Groups also form a key part of the course programme. By providing opportunities for counselling work to be linked to course work, students gain a broader understanding of certain client issues they may not have the chance to work with directly. In addition it allows students to give and receive feedback to each other. Students meet in small groups with supervisor-trainers throughout the course.


During the course, students develop their competence as counsellors through a range of different activities including practice sessions working as a "client" and "counsellor". Some of this work is audio recorded and reviewed in small groups with the support of a member of the course staff. This provides both a useful learning opportunity and also a helpful record of the development of the students' counselling work.

Outwith the course, there is a requirement for students to arrange their own counselling practice opportunities. The course provides information about different counselling opportunities and advises students on the suitability of counselling settings. Course staff will do their best to assist course members who are having difficulty, but ultimately it is the responsibility of students to ensure that they are able to meet the minimum course requirement of 150 hours of appropriately supervised counselling practice.

Counselling practice needs to take place in an environment where it is possible to have an explicit and freely-consented-to counselling agreement between student-counsellor and client. Although some students may work in an environment where the use of counselling skills is a large part of their work, nevertheless, in order to meet the course requirements they would need to create formal counselling agreements.

Students should be aiming for an average of 3 hours of client work per week throughout the duration of the course. This should preferably include a mix of long term work with clients as well as shorter contracts.

The course supports and monitors the counselling work undertaken by students but it is also a requirement of the course that students engage a separate personal supervisor who has been approved by the course. As well as being a BACP requirement for all practising counsellors, individual supervision offers the most direct opportunity to consider and reflect on the link between theory and practice. It also provides an opportunity to look at personal blocks to development as a counsellor in a supportive setting. Students will be expected to meet with their supervisor regularly throughout the course, at an approximate frequency of one hour per fortnight. This frequency of supervision might need to be increased if the student's level of work or personal difficulties require it.


The ability to appropriately monitor self is fundamental to the reflective practitioner and the course aims to provide a learning environment and assessment process within which students can develop this ability. Personal responsibility in the learning and assessment process is central to the course since it involves students taking the opportunity to develop their own internal locus of evaluation and the ability to reflect upon and value self. The process is structured to provide ongoing support and encouragement, with feedback from members of staff and other students. This approach of supportive assessment is continuous throughout the course. Formal feedback is provided specifically in relation to each of the three core areas of the course:

Theoretical understanding: - is monitored through written assignments and presentations
Clinical Practice: is monitored through live practice sessions, recorded sessions and supervision Groups

Self-reflectiveness and the ability to understand process; is monitored through participation in Course Community Meetings, Process Orientated/Experiential Workshops, Encounter Groups and process reflection groups


Students are required to undertake written work during the course both as a focus for their personal research and reading and to allow them to demonstrate their learning. Each Module is assessed, most require written assignments which are tutor assessed, but others have a blended assessment requiring practical presentation supported by written research which are tutor, peer and self-assessed.

The assignments provide students with the opportunity to reflect on the theoretical dimension of Person-Centred Counselling and to integrate this with direct experience. The assignments are structured in such a way as to give the students the maximum opportunity to demonstrate their learning. The overall theme and criteria for each assignment is clearly outlined but within that framework, each student is invited to choose a specific focus, provide the assignment with an appropriate title and undertake personal research and reading within the broad subject area of the assignment.

Students are also expected to make a minimum of four audio-recordings of their counselling work with clients, with the client's informed consent. These recordings offer the best possible insight into the actual counselling being done, providing a key opportunity for personal/professional development.

Additionally, it is recommended that students maintain a journal during the course; this is a private document and will not be included as a course assignment.


Since this course is essentially an advanced training applicants must have completed a basic training in counselling/counselling skills as a minimum entry requirement. Where applicants are able to make a case for themselves on the basis of equivalent experience that will also be considered. In such a case "equivalent experience" would mean that the applicant was working (paid or as a volunteer) in a role which necessarily involved using counselling skills and creating a supportive relationship with those using that service. It would also mean that the applicant had been working in this role for a significant length of time so that they could discuss their development over time in using these skills.

All applicants are invited to submit a completed application form which is required to be supported by two references. Enclosed with the application form is the set of questions which we ask each referee to answer on behalf of the applicant. Referees are invited to send the completed reference directly to the course administration office.

The Application Form has been devised to elicit only the most essential information about the individual and this is done deliberately as part of our equal opportunities approach to selection. An additional form is attached as part of the university's monitoring processes.

All applications receive a written acknowledgement which informs them if they are being offered an interview and the interview date. Following an interview, successful applicants will be offered a place on the course as soon as possible. Once that place has been accepted by the applicant and a deposit has been paid, that place on the course is secure and so the number of available places will decrease during the interview months. Anyone who is not successful will be informed of the specific reasons why the interviewers feel that they do not wish to offer a course place.

The interview process involves two separate meetings; the first part (individual interview) lasts about 45 minutes and the second part (group session) lasts two hours.

The individual meeting is with one of the core staff and the group interview process which involves other applicants is facilitated by course staff.

Individual Supervision
It is a course requirement (as well as a BACP requirement) that every student engage an individual supervisor. The supervisor will be a Person Centred practitioner, trained to or beyond Diploma level in the Person Centred Counselling; trained and experienced in supervision with substantial experience of client work and experience as a supervisor. The course requires approximately one hour supervision per fortnight (a minimum of 40 hours over the length of the course) but clearly some students may require more than this if they have a large case load or are experiencing a particular difficulty in their work. The cost of individual supervision is met by the student.

Personal Therapy:
Although it is not a mandatory requirement of the course the vast majority of students choose to engage in personal therapy during the programme. The cost of personal therapy is also met by the individual student.


Kevin McGeever has been working as a therapist and supervisor for about 20 years and in a variety of settings extending from the pastoral, the medical and privately. He has lived in Italy and the USA and was the person responsible for getting COSCA [Confederation of Scottish Counselling Agencies] established in Scotland. Kevin is a founding director of Persona and is also the director of Therapeutic Counselling Services (a UK-wide counselling organisation) which provides counselling for the NHS, Schools and EAP programmes. He enjoys swimming, tennis and skiing and is an amateur gardener.

Ishtar Swaffield comes from a professional background in Education, and the Theatre Arts. She has extensive experience and training in the Humanistic approach to psychotherapy and holds the PCT (Britain) Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Ishtar is one of the founding directors of Persona and has been part of the core delivery team since the first diploma programme in 1996. She is the clinical director of Therapeutic Counselling Services providing support, supervision and guidance on clinical issues for counsellors working in the NHS, EAP programmes and counselling services for Children and Young People.

Mike Hough recently retired after working for 30 years in Higher Education in Scotland, including 12 years as one of the founder members of the counselling unit at the University of Strathclyde. He trained originally as a Youth Worker and has maintained an enthusiasm for working with young people through his active involvement in school-based counselling. He still works part time as a student counsellor and counselling supervisor. He is currently developing his skills in grand-parenting.

The programme is designed, facilitated and delivered by a team of trainers and supervisors (including the programme directors) who are all experienced person centred practitioners and group facilitators.