How to become a psychological therapist without completing an undergraduate psychology degree

It’s not unusual to choose to become a psychological therapist later in life, perhaps as a second career. For example, in 2017, 395 of the applications to the UK Doctorate in Clinical Psychology came from candidates aged over 35. However, most training courses in psychological therapy require an undergraduate psychology degree. What are your options if you don’t have this? Here I offer three routes you might want to consider, depending on your current situation.

  1. You have an undergraduate degree in something else? Do a psychology conversion course

If you have an undergraduate degree in any other area, you can ‘convert’ your degree by completing a psychology conversion diploma (PGDip) or MSc course.

The key thing is to check that your chosen course is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and will provide you with Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC). The BPS currently lists 171 such courses nationally. The entry requirements for these vary, so it’s worth checking these on their websites and contacting them directly with any queries you might have. Two to consider are:

  • Birkbeck, London’s ‘evening university’. Birkbeck offers an accredited psychology conversion courses, the Psychology MSc, which is designed for candidates with an undergraduate degree in another area. It can be completed in a year full-time or two years part-time and involves attending lectures 4 or 2 evenings a week. I spoke to the admissions tutor, Prof Eddy J Davelaar, who is a Professor in Cognitive Science about Birkbeck’s entry requirements. He said “While the course is designed for non-psychology graduates, it is a postgraduate course. A certain level of pre-existing knowledge in research methods is needed. Where applicants have no such background, they may be made a conditional offer dependent upon their passing an online entrance exam in research methods. They will need to pass at 60% (if applying to study full-time) or at 50% (if applying to study part-time)”. However, if this is you: don’t panic. Birkbeck will assist you in identifying relevant courses (online or at the university) or practice materials to help you prepare for the entrance exam.john-schnobrich-520019-unsplash
  • If you’re looking for a distance learning course, check out the MSc/PgDip Psychology (Conversion) courses offered by Manchester Metropolitan University. These can be completed in 12 months full-time or around 2 years part-time (21 months for the PgDip; 24 months for the MSc). These courses are taught entirely online, requiring no attendance at the Manchester campus. In terms of entry requirements, pre-existing psychology credits are needed for the PgDip route but not for the MSc. Further guidance on the qualities the course looks for in prospective candidates are outlined on their website and include commitment and motivations, IT skills and the ability to study independently.

Once you have your conversion degree, you can choose to pursue any psychology career which appeals to you, such as Clinical Psychology, Counselling Psychology or Forensic Psychology. Each of these requires further study, but there are opportunities for paid employment and development within these training routes. For example, once you have your degree, you can apply for Assistant Psychologist roles within the NHS which are usually appointed at Band 4 or Band 5 and provide further experience for subsequent psychology career specialties. Sign up to for alerts. You can also apply for research assistant posts at universities, which offer paid experience for psychology graduates interested in pursuing research-related careers. Sign up to for updates. For further info on therapy-related psychology careers, see my previous blog.

  1. You have a background in mental health from a non-psychology discipline? Train in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

An alternative to traditional psychology specialisms is to train as a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is an evidence-based, goal-oriented, time limited therapy. It is the most commonly delivered therapy in the NHS and the main focus of the Increasing Access to Psychology Therapies (IAPT) initiative, which delivers psychological therapies in primary care settings.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this route is that it isn’t accredited by the BPS, but by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). As such, you don’t need a psychology degree to start training. Instead, you need to have a background in one of the listed ‘Core Professions’, which include Mental Health Nursing, Occupational Therapy and Social Work, amongst others. If you have one of these core professions, you already hold the basic entry requirement for further training to become an accredited CBT therapist.

If you are choosing to self-fund your CBT training, check out the BABCP list of accredited ‘Level 2’ courses. Completing one of these will make you eligible for registration as a CBT Therapist and able to apply for Band 7 CBT posts in the NHS. Courses are 1 or 2 years long and involve supervised CBT practice on placement and attending teaching at university. You can apply directly to universities such as Birmingham and Bucks New University. Entry requirements vary between courses, but most stipulate that 2 years’ experience of working in mental health is a pre-requisite. Self-funded applicants are expected to have a pre-arranged placement where they can undertake supervised CBT practice to gain the relevant experience they need. At Birmingham, this is stipulated as 3 days a week for a year. At New Bucks, this is stipulated as 200 hours in total.

There is also the option to pursue paid training routes in CBT. For less experienced mental health professionals, this may initially involve training and working as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) in Primary Care. These posts are usually appointed at Band 4 and promoted to Band 5 once training has been completed. PWPs deliver low-intensity CBT interventions, such as guided self-help and psychoeducation groups. To then train as a CBT therapist (termed ‘High Intensity Therapists’ or ‘HITs’), you apply directly to services for specific roles, rather than to universities. HITs train on a Band 6 and can apply for Band 7 roles once qualified. For training opportunities in both roles, search for ‘trainee’ positions.

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  1. Looking for a third way? Consider a career in counselling or psychotherapy

While the BPS is the accrediting body for psychological therapists and the BABCP is the accrediting body for Cognitive Behaviour Therapists, the BACP accredits counselling and psychotherapy courses. They all share similar letters, so beware of confusing them!

Counsellors can train in a range of therapy modalities, from Freud’s psychoanalysis to Roger’s person-centred (or ‘humanistic’) counselling. Once qualified, they can work independently, for the NHS or for third sector organisations. Training courses usually focus on one of these therapy modalities in particular, but the BACP suggests that counsellors may use a mix of techniques if they think a client would find this helpful.

Counselling training pathways exist separately from psychology or CBT training routes, and as such, no background in either of these is needed. Instead, the training involves 3 stages:

Stage 1: An introductory course lasting 8-12 weeks, usually run as evening courses at local Further Education colleges.

Stage 2: The Certificate in Counselling Skills, a year-long part-time course also usually run at local colleges.

Stage 3: The core practitioner training at diploma, undergraduate, postgraduate or doctorate level.

For Stage 1 and 2 courses, the BACP recommends contacting local colleges and education centres. However, for the core practitioner training, check their website for accredited courses. A wide variety of options are available, from weekend courses run by independent training centres to university-run MSc degrees. For an example of an independent training centre, see the South Manchester for Psychotherapy, which offers a 4-year, part-time Diploma in psychotherapy. For an example of university-run core practitioner training, see the University of Salford which runs both a postgraduate diploma and an MSc. These courses run part-time, with the diploma last 2 years and the MSc lasting 3 years.

Please note that unfortunately I am unable to offer personalised career advice.

This article was first posted on the Psychreg blog on 23rd May 2019.


  1. Johann Toirac
    April 19, 2020 / 1:11 am

    this is amazing, exactly the information i was looking for

    • judithnjohnson
      April 19, 2020 / 6:16 am

      So glad it was useful Johann!

  2. Becky
    June 12, 2020 / 3:21 pm

    Thank you so very much!

    • judithnjohnson
      June 12, 2020 / 3:48 pm

      You are welcome Becky, glad it was useful!

  3. Nilza
    June 14, 2020 / 2:10 pm

    I’m doing my bsc.nursing course 4 year….after that can I do MSc in psychology so that I can do further PhD in psychotherapy!?

    • judithnjohnson
      June 14, 2020 / 2:36 pm

      Hi Nilza, to do a PhD in psychotherapy it would depend on what the requirements of your specific PhD supervisors/department/offer required. To do a ClinPsyD or DClin to qualify as a Clinical Psychologist, you would need to complete a conversion course.

      • helen
        March 16, 2021 / 4:14 pm

        This article and website is a wealth of information, thank you! Is it hard to get into a doctorate training course after completing a conversion course? My first degree is architecture but I’m looking into going to get a second undergraduate in psychology to give me a better chance at progressing to doctorate level. I’d love your insight on this!

        • judithnjohnson
          March 16, 2021 / 7:28 pm

          Hi Helen, success rates have varied over the years for applicants- from around a 1 in 3 success rate to 1 in 6 I think. Which is to say- it is very competitive. There is another blog post on my website specifically focused on the doctorate which you might find helpful.

  4. Veena
    July 3, 2020 / 7:04 pm

    This is alot of useful information comprised at one place.Was very helpful. So thoughtful of you to help out aspiring individuals.

    • judithnjohnson
      July 3, 2020 / 7:48 pm

      Thanks for reading and for this feedback Veena 🙂

  5. Sania
    July 11, 2020 / 8:49 pm

    Really appreciate thos article, it’s exactly everything I needed all in one place. Thank you!

    • judithnjohnson
      July 11, 2020 / 9:03 pm

      Thanks for your feedback Sania 🙂

  6. chelsea brown
    August 16, 2020 / 3:34 pm

    Hi I recently became interested in training as a psychotherapist rather than a psychologist as I feel psychodynamic approaches are far effective. I found a 4 year course accredited by the UKCP that enables one to work after finishing. I also found another phd course that is accredited by the hpcp and bps. Both courses are the same amount of time. As someone already employed within the field which do you think is best to train as? I already have my degree but do like the ukpc route as it comes with work experience however which qualification is preferred abroad?

  7. Ronja Görlitz
    December 3, 2020 / 12:16 pm

    Hi thank you for your post. I am currently doing my Masters of Education (primary school) with a focus on special education at a university in Germany and I was wondering if there is any way that this could qualify me to work as a child psychotherapist in the UK? If that is the case, I would also consider moving there. Do you know any institute or university where this would be possible?

    I would love to hear from you.
    Greetings from Berlin

  8. Geeta
    February 23, 2021 / 10:42 am

    Hi Judith,

    I am from India and completed my Masters and MPhil in Clinical Psychology and registered with Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). In India, 2 year full time clinical course allows to be be registered with RCI.

    As DClinPsy is more to deal with clinical work and less of research, can you please suggest if doing DClinPsy would give lecturer/professor jobs or research oriented jobs.

    Also, could you please confirm how good are job opportunities for an international students after completing DClinPsy either in UK or other countries.

    • judithnjohnson
      February 23, 2021 / 12:23 pm

      Hi Geeta, to work as a practitioner (clinician) Clinical Psychologist in the UK you need to complete the DClinPsy. As numbers on these courses are restricted, once it’s completed there are a lot of job opportunities. However, it primarily qualifies you as a practitioner and it would be hard to get a lecturer job in the UK following this type of doctorate alone.

  9. Anna Welsch
    March 30, 2021 / 6:46 pm

    Hi Judith, Loved your article 🙂 If I am a Chemical Dependence Professional Trainee Would that qualify for being IN the field to get into the Conversion course through BABCP?

    • judithnjohnson
      March 31, 2021 / 5:25 am

      Hi Anna, I’m afraid I don’t know, but if you contact the course provider they can tell you their specific criteria.

  10. May 5, 2021 / 11:40 am

    Hey! This is great and thank you for sharing. I completed my BSc in Politics and Economins in 2011 and have been working for the past 5 years but now considering a change. Which of the options would you say is a reasonably ‘quicker’ option I can consider?

  11. N
    November 25, 2021 / 11:04 pm

    Hi. Thanks so much for this detailed article. Exactly what I’ve been looking for as uts so difficult and confusing to find routes to various careers. I have a undergrad bachelor degree which is non psychology related and was wanting to train as a psychologist or psychotherapist. Does this mean I would have to do another undergrad degree or could I just do a masters in a psychology related subject?

    If I do a conversion course do i then need to follow it up with a masters to follow this career? Any advice would be appreciated.

  12. Nicola Carranza
    January 7, 2022 / 6:46 pm

    Super helpful information, thank you. Its so hard to navigate the choices and this is perfect!

    • judithnjohnson
      January 7, 2022 / 6:51 pm

      Great to hear it was helpful Nicola 🙂

  13. Quiteria Susan Gomes
    February 3, 2022 / 9:21 am

    I am very much interested, please can you guide me step by step what would I need to do to become a Therapist. I have completed my Masters of Business Administration in Aug 2016.

  14. Pina Brown
    August 12, 2022 / 10:40 am

    MY MOBILE IS 07879644033.

    Many Thanks
    Pina Brown.

    • judithnjohnson
      August 12, 2022 / 4:28 pm

      Sorry Pina, I am not able to provide individualised career advice, apologies.

  15. Iona
    September 20, 2022 / 6:36 pm

    Dear Judith, this article has been most helpful. I was starting to lose hope that I would ever become a Therapist as I didn’t have a psychology background. Thanks!

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