When to look for a placement (and what to look for)

It shows me how far I have come, when twice in the last week I’ve had calls from trainee/student counsellors looking for a placement. I’m not in a position to take trainees at present, but it got me thinking about placement and what it was like when I was looking. So I thought I’d do a quick ‘how to’.
  • When to start looking

Basically, as soon as possible. If you’re on a four year diploma or msc then you probably won’t be looking at doing any counselling in your first academic year, but you would normally expect to get your fitness to practice certificate between may and July, and once you have that, then you can do counselling hours. If you’re on a three year course, you usually get a year before clients, but if you’re doing a level four, you’ll be seeing clients within six months.


I first approached the place I wanted to counselling for in May. Everything was done and ready in *september*. I was certain it wouldn’t take anything like that, but once you’ve applied, been offered an interview, had an interview, sorted out your college/uni forms and had a DBS, well; it adds up. I’ve just applied to do a second placement. I applied about 4 weeks ago and I have an interview in 2 weeks. Added to that is the fact that some places might well want you to do in-house training first: one local rape and sexual abuse centre to me asks for twenty four days of training over six months before they will let you start. So – it’s never too early to start looking. Another thing to bear in mind is that the bigger counselling places might well have ‘hiring’ seasons, usually twice a year in May and September. If your options are limited, you don’t want to miss out based on not applying in time.


  • What to look for in your placement

Firstly – will your course let you do it. Besides some placements not taking you unless you have a set number of hours already, your college course may not want you to do certain types of counselling straight away.

Secondly – supervision. Some courses require your supervisor to be approved by them (mine does). If your placement offers supervision, you will need to check if your course allows this. if it does NOT, you will need to check with the placement that they are happy for you to have supervision elsewhere. Also bear in mind that if you are registering with BACP and the offered supervision is group supervision, you cannot count all of those hours towards your required ratio (I’m UKCP and it does allow that, and I don’t know what the BACP ratio is, but I know from fellow trainees that it exists).

Check the modality of your placement. It might be really hard to be the only person-centred person in a psychoanalytic placement – especially if you’re required to have in-house supervision. Other things around modality include the types of placement: every trainee I’ve spoken to who has done a prison placement has found that the prison have tried to nudge them towards being more directive than they might wish to be. If you feel you can be ok with that, then great, but if your inner being resists that, it may not be the type of place you want to go.

Thirdly, availability. Both yours and theirs. Check whether they will let you do hours at a time you can do. There’s no point applying and needing evenings if they are 9-5 (and I discovered this was far more common than I thought it would be, which was the reason behind making my own). Secondly, check that there are clients for you. I COULD take a trainee right now, but they wouldn’t have any clients (both of us currently working have spaces) and I know other people in my cohort who only have one client, when they need four. It might mean doing more than one placement, or it might mean just aiming for a different placement that has a better availability of clients.

Fourthly, check that your views mesh enough with theirs. For example, there is a christian counselling centre near me. It wasn’t immediately clear that it was a christian centre but something about the name gave it away (it was fairly obtuse as a christian reference, but made me dig deeper). I have no problem with christians, but I have a small suspicion that as a person in several minority boxes, that it wouldn’t necessarily be the easiest to live with theoretically (both in terms of my theory clashing with christian theory, and christian theory clashing with me), so for me, it was a better idea not to apply. Other people in my position might have applied and done well, but for ME, it wasn’t the best of ideas.

Lastly, payment. It surprised me when looking for placements that several placements in the UK CHARGE YOU for being a trainee with them. some up to £40 a month. if you don’t have spare money, check what that payment will give *you* – for some it’s supervision and bacp student membership, for others it’s just bacp student membership, but it you already have that, it’s a expensive enterprise.


I started creating a list of places in the UK that offered person-centred placements. It’s in no way complete but is available here: https://sites.google.com/site/studentsandtraineespca/placements





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