What Will Counselling Training Look Like in Autumn 2020?

Summer is traditionally a time for students to finish existing courses before taking a well-earned break from studying, as they rest and prepare for their new learning in the autumn.

But this year, all the familiar landmarks of the academic year have been thrown in the air by the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are due to start a new counselling or psychotherapy course this autumn, what can you expect?

Counselling Training in Autumnn 2020 - woman studying on her laptop
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No one can know for sure how long the pandemic is likely to continue, or what restrictions we might face as a result, but here we try to answer this question.

In doing so, we draw on examples of how CPCAB – the UK’s only awarding body run by counsellors for counsellors – has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its guidance to centres and to individuals.

Teaching Student Counsellors

While the infection rate fluctuates, and there may be spells when things feel back to ‘normal’, it seems likely that COVID-19 will be with us for a while yet.

CPCAB has approved the provision of remote teaching by its centres for the duration of the pandemic.

What this may mean for students starting new courses this autumn is that teaching will begin remotely but may then move to classroom-based, face-to-face teaching ­– or a mixture, often known as ‘blended’ learning­­ ­– during the academic year.

This means that you must be willing and able to participate in all forms of course delivery. For example, it wouldn’t be sensible to apply to a college that was too far away for you to travel to.

The other thing that could happen (in line with CPCAB guidance to centres) is that centres may pause their courses and then either extend delivery or provide more intense delivery at a later stage.

If any of these options would be likely to be unacceptable to you, then you may wish to explore this with the centre before committing to the course.

Centres have an ethical obligation to:

  • communicate clearly with students to assess their needs
  • consider all students’ needs in planning how they will deliver their course
  • ensure new arrangements don’t disadvantage candidates or invalidate the qualification
  • account for the minimum number of guided learning hours.

CPCAB has authorised the accrual of placement hours remotely through online or telephone counselling, and an extension to the usual time period for gaining the necessary placement hours.

Whilst the pandemic prevents face to face counselling work. CPCAB candidates should undertake additional online and telephone counselling training provided either by their centre or externally to be competent to deliver counselling by this method.

Placement Hours

If you are starting Level 4 training this autumn, you may be feeling concerned about how you will build your 100 placement hours, with many counselling agencies’ services affected by the COVID-19 situation.

CPCAB has authorised the accrual of placement hours remotely through online or telephone counselling, and an extension to the usual time period for gaining the necessary placement hours.


With in-person exams cancelled for summer 2020, assessment this year has been done in different ways depending on the training level:

  • For students on Level 2 and Level 3 courses, results have been calculated based on the evidence already gathered by tutors. This is known as ‘mitigation’.
  • For Levels 5 and 6, there has been no change to previous assessment arrangements as these courses are always assessed by a case review written at home (i.e. not under exam conditions).
  • Assessing Level 4 is more complex, as this is the level at which students become qualified practitioners, so CPCAB has a responsibility to ensure that those who pass are fit to practise professionally and that there is equity in the standard required across the country. The ‘adapted assessment’ that has been developed – as an alternative to the usual 30-minute recording and two-hour written paper – is a case review. CPCAB has specific requirements for how this must be structured and assesses it in line with a written mark scheme.
  • As the pandemic situation develops, CPCAB will advise on the methods of external assessment for all qualifications in the coming year.

If you were studying last year and planned to progress to the next level this autumn, but haven’t got your results yet, centres can recognise your prior learning, and support you to progress if they deem you competent to do so.


Some candidates have been asking for fees to be waived, with assessment being carried out differently and teaching having become online or blended.

Although it might feel to students that they have not received what they signed up for, training providers and awarding bodies are still incurring the same costs.

Also, adapting to the new arrangements may have been more (rather than less) time-consuming for tutors and other staff. So it’s unlikely you’ll see a reduction in course fees.

This may represent a good chance for students to practise the core conditions:

  • use your empathy to put yourself in the shoes of your tutors and the awarding-body staff
  • give them unconditional positive regard, listening without judgement to their experience of teaching and assessing during the pandemic
  • if, having done these things, you genuinely feel that there is cause for complaint about your learning experience, then be congruent in speaking up about this.

All the usual complaints and appeals procedures remain in place.

Thinking Positively

Life has changed in lots of ways for everyone this year, and it’s natural to feel disoriented and disappointed at the prospect of studying remotely.

Try to think of this as an opportunity: as online counselling has grown enormously during the pandemic, online training will give you experience that will have lots of benefits.

And maybe you’ll be able to use the travel time you save to read more about topics that interest you, gathering more learning that will strengthen your employability as a counsellor.

For More Information

If you have any questions about your course, then please always ask the relevant tutor rather than contacting CPCAB directly. Tutors are then able to access CPCAB directly to answer any queries.

And if you’re wondering about how online learning as a student counsellor might affect you in the future (if you’re planning to become fully qualified and seek work in this field), have a look at our article ‘How Might Remote Learning Affect My Future Career?’.

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CPCAB (2020) Coronavirus CPCAB FAQs, CPCAB: https://www.cpcab.co.uk/downloads/2020%2008%2017%20CPCAB%20Coronavirus%20-%20FAQs%20v10.0.pdf

CPCAB (2020) CPCAB’s Approach to Mitigation for Regulated Qualifications During the COVID-19 Situation, CPCAB: https://www.cpcab.co.uk/downloads/CPCAB%20Guidance%20to%20COVID19%20mitigation%20for%20centres%20(MASTER2).pdf

CPCAB (2020) Formal Guidance to Candidates, CPCAB: https://www.cpcab.co.uk/downloads/CPCAB%20Formal%20Guidance%20to%20Candidates%2012%2005%2020.pdf