University of Chester

Programme Specification
Counselling Studies MA
2016 - 2017

Master of Arts

Counselling Studies

Counselling Studies

University of Chester

University of Chester.


University of Chester - Chester Campus

Postgraduate (Taught)

Full-time and Part-time

Classroom / Laboratory,

One year full-time; two years part-time

6 Years

Biannual - January - September




17a. Faculty

17b. Department

Social Science Social and Political Science

The QAA have established a  subject benchmark for practitioner  training Undergraduate and Masters level  Counselling and Psychotherapy Courses in 2013.  While there is no specific benchmark for academic Counselling Studies Masters Level  Courses, the programme is consistent with benchmark requirements apart from assessment in clinical practice.

In addition, The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the major professional counselling body in Great Britain, provides a primary source of information and guidance related to counsellor training. The MA in Counselling Studies fully adheres to the BACP's Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and  the content and standards of the programme have been guided by relevant information produced by BACP. It is also pertinent to note that successive external examiners  have commented on the suitability of the Programme for advanced professional training and on the  high standards that have been achieved.

There is no accrediting body for non-practitioner MA's in Counselling Studies.

Social and Political Science Module Assessment Board

Friday 1st January 2010

The MA in Counselling Studies provides advanced professional training for qualified counsellors.  It aims to enable individuals to deepen their theoretical understanding, increase their counselling competencies, develop research skills and critically reflect upon their practice in the light of contemporary counselling developments.  Specific aims of the programme include the following:

  • To build upon and extend previous knowledge and understanding of counselling theory and its applications;
  • To enhance and broaden practitioner skills;        
  • To develop an understanding of research methods and how they can be applied to the practice of counselling;
  • To increase awareness of professional and ethical issues relevant to counselling in contemporary society;        
  • To promote increased self awareness and insight;
  • To promote ongoing critical reflection of counselling practice.

On successful completion of the programme students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate extended and in-depth knowledge and understanding of theoretical concepts which underpin the practice of counselling;
  • Demonstrate a personal integration of counselling theory and apply this synthesis to counselling practice;
  • Apply appropriately a range of enhanced practitioner skills;
  • Examine critically ethical and professional issues relevant to counselling in contemporary society;
  • Reflect critically on their counselling practice and on the integration of their professional and personal development;
  • Produce a dissertation which demonstrates the application of research skills to an area of interest within the field of counselling.


Knowledge and Understanding

A key generic aim of the programme is to build upon and extend knowledge and understanding of counselling theory and its applications as well as develop understanding of research philosophy and methods. Examples of outcomes in this area include developing knowledge and understanding of:

  • A range of theoretical perspectives related to personal and interpersonal development - SO7501, SO7502, SO7505, SO7506, SO7507
  • Philosophical and theoretical assumptions which underpin the major counselling approaches - SO7501, S07509, S07510, S07512, S07514, SO7109
  • The historical, social, cultural and political context of counselling theory and practice - SO7503, SO7509, S07514
  • Current and emerging debates related to counselling theory and practice - SO7501, SO7503, SO7505, SO7506, SO7507, SO7508, SO7509, SO7510, SO7512,SO7513, SO7514, SO7109
  • Group dynamics concepts and issues -SO7502, S07515
  • A range of qualitative and quantitative research methods and how they can be applied to the practice of counselling- SO7504, S07517, S07501, SO7109





Thinking or Cognitive Skills

Students will be expected to analyse, synthesize and evaluate complex concepts and ideas, including contributions from relevant research and advanced scholarship in the area of study. They will need to formulate cogent arguments supported by sound evidence, with the aim of developing insightful and original interpretations. For example they should be able to:

  • Synthesize data from a wide range of sources - All core and elective modules
  • Construct a personal integration of counselling theory - SO7501, SO7509, SO7512,SO7513, SO7514
  • Reflect critically on their professional practice and on the integration of personal and professional development - all core and elective modules
  • Analyse critically key issues in research design - SO7504, SO7517
  • Plan, conduct and write up a piece of original research - SO7517

The programme aims to enhance and broaden a range of professional skills
For example, by the end of the programme students should be able to:

  • Adopt a systematic and rigorous approach to academic study - All core and elective modules
  • Apply group facilitation skills to a range of group activities - SO7502, SO7503,SO7515
  • Demonstrate competence in establishing and maintaining a counselling supervision relationship and in facilitating counsellor training activities - SO7516, SO7515
  • Apply qualitative or quantitative research methods to the study of an area relevant to counselling - SO7504, SO7517
  • Demonstrate ability to be a reflective and ethical practitioner and to apply relevant theory, ethical principles and research to a wide range of counselling contexts - All core and elective modules.

Communication Skills

Course members are likely to have developed a wide range of communication skills through their initial counsellor training, previous academic studies and life experience.  These skills will be further built on throughout the programme, and by the end of the M.A. students should be able to:


  • Communicate complex ideas effectively in writing and orally - All core and elective modules
  • Formulate and communicate cogent arguments, supported by sound evidence - All core and elective modules
  • Work collaboratively as a group member, engaging sensitively with the beliefs and convictions of others - All core and elective modules
  • Communicate high levels of empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard - All core and elective modules
  • Communicate research findings and relevant background material in an appropriate academic manner within a dissertation.

The MA in Counselling Studies provides advanced professional training for Counsellors with a Diploma in Counselling (or equivalent qualification) and relevant professional experience. The programme is modular in structure and students are required to complete nine modules (180 credits) at Level 7 for the award of the MA. Six are taught modules (120 credits), consisting of four core modules and two electives. The electives are grouped in three areas and students choose two modules from these groupings. The choice of electives offered in any given year is negotiated within the group. The taught modules are grouped as follows:

CORE MODULES - Compulsory

  • The Counsellor as Theorist
  • Group Work
  • The Counsellor in Today's World
  • Counselling Research Methods

ELECTIVE MODULES - Students choose two modules from the following three areas:

Thematic Electives:

  • Loss and Grief
  • Post-traumatic Stress
  • Responding to Psychological Trauma: Counselling and Therapeutic Perspectives
  • Working with Abuse
  • Counselling Young People,
  • Counselling in Health Care Settings

Counselling Approaches

  • Brief Counselling
  • Expressive Arts Therapies
  • Cognitive-Behavioural Counselling
  • Mindfulness,
  • Person-Centred Counselling: Contemporary Developments and Debates

Professional Development:

  • Training
  • Introduction to Counselling Supervision


The additional three modules (60 credits) are obtained through the completion of an approved research project and submitting a dissertation of 12,000 – 16.500 words. Advanced standing of up to a maximum of 66% of the award may be possible. As the programme is delivered at Level 7 there will not be the progression that is evident in an undergraduate course that develops from level 4 to level 6. Nevertheless the understanding, knowledge and skills acquired in the earlier part of the programme are built on as the individual progresses through the modules, and in some cases prerequisites are required. The area where progression is most evident is at the stage of dissertation research. Students normally need to have successfully completed all the core and elective modules before embarking on their research, and the dissertation provides the opportunity to demonstrate the consolidation of learning acquired throughout the programme.

In all aspects of the MA students are expected to analyze, synthesize and evaluate complex concepts and ideas, including contributions from relevant research and advanced scholarship in this area of study. They will need to formulate cogent arguments supported by sound evidence, with the aim of developing insightful and original interpretations. There will be an emphasis on examining critically their own assumptions and reflecting critically on their own practice in the light of contemporary counselling developments and relevant research. The foundation for this critical reflection is established in the first core module - The Counsellor as Theorist. This begins with  critical reflection on their personal journey to become a counsellor and how they use their 'self' in therapeutic contexts and in the formulation of their own personal theoretical model. The theme of the counsellor's use of self is carried through in subsequent core modules, including Group Work, the Counsellor in Today's World and the Research Methods Module. The elective modules provide an opportunity for students to build upon the learning, development and insights achieved in the core modules and enable individuals to either deepen their knowledge and understanding in a particular area, or in some instances, to be introduced to a new area of study. The focus, in all aspects of the programme, is on students arriving at their own synthesis of learnings, developing original insights and reflecting upon implications for their professional practice.

Modules can be completed on a part-time basis (one day per week) over a period of two years, or full time (two days per week) over a period of one year. Completing the course full time entails spanning the Year I and Year II groups.


Mod-Code Level Title Credit Single
SO7505 6 Loss and Grief 20 N/A
SO7106 7 Post-Traumatic Stress 20 N/A
SO7109 7 Responding to Psychological Trauma: Counselling and Therapeutic Perspectives 20 N/A
SO7501 7 Counsellor as Theorist 20 N/A
SO7502 7 Group Work 20 N/A
SO7503 7 Counsellor in Today's World 20 N/A
SO7504 7 Counselling Research Methods 20 N/A
SO7506 7 Working with Abuse 20 N/A
SO7507 7 Counselling Young People 20 N/A
SO7508 7 Counselling in Health Care Settings 20 N/A
SO7509 7 Brief Counselling 20 N/A
SO7510 7 Expressive Arts Therapies 20 N/A
SO7512 7 Cognitive-Behavioural Counselling 20 N/A
SO7513 7 Mindfulness 20 N/A
SO7514 7 Person-Centred Counselling 20 N/A
SO7515 7 Professional Development Elective: Training 20 N/A
SO7516 7 Professional Development Elective: Introduction to Counselling Supervision 20 N/A
SO7517 7 Dissertation Research 60 Comp

60 Level 7 Credits -Postgraduate Certificate in Counselling Studies - Any combination of core and elective modules.
120 Level7 Credits - Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling Studies -At least three of the modules must be core modules, with the remaining modules being chosen from electives.
180 Level 7Credits - MA in Counselling Studies - Four compulsory core modules and two electives. The additional three modules are obtained by completing an approved research project.



Entry requirements for the M.A. in Counselling Studies are as follows:

  •  Diploma in  Counselling or equivalent qualification;
  •  A minimum of 120 hours of supervised counselling practice; 
  •  Evidence of being able to meet the academic requirements, e.g. an undergraduate degree or a professional qualification at Level 6.  Applicants without standard academic evidence need to submit an academic piece of work for assessment. 

Individuals meeting the above requirements must: 

  •  Provide a reference for their suitability for the programme;
  •  Currently be in counselling practice;
  •  Confirm that they abide by the BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling  and   Psychotherapy (or another relevant Professional Code of Ethics)

 All applicants are interviewed by the Programme Leader or by a member of the Programme Team.

There are currently no specific benchmark statements for Advanced Professional Development M.A. in Counselling Studies courses. The programme however is consistent with the new (2013) QAA Subject Benchmark for Practitioner Training Undergraduate and Master's Level Counselling and Psychotherapy Courses (apart from the counselling placement and assessment in clinical practice). The programme also adheres to the  generic descriptor for Master's level qualifications provided by the QAA (from QAA Framework for HEQ's, 2014)

The philosophy and approach of the course is student-centred and aims to enable participants to establish individual learning objectives which they can pursue during their course of study.  Alongside a focus on autonomous learning, collaboration with course colleagues is highly valued.  The course team recognize that students bring a vast amount of experience and expertise to the programme and actively encourage the sharing of knowledge and understanding. Consistent with an advanced level programme, students are encouraged to assume maximum responsibility for their own learning and to utilise actively the many resources present within the group.

The establishment of a supportive and challenging learning environment is seen as paramount for enabling students to meet their learning needs, and the course therefore seeks to create a climate characterized by trust, risk taking and sharing.  The course is highly participative in nature, and debates within the counselling field are rigorously addressed.  Every effort is made, through both class based activities and assignments, to provide opportunities for students to reflect critically upon their professional work and to develop their own personal synthesis of theory and practice. 

An integrated approach is adopted throughout the programme, with the aim of fostering academic, professional and personal development.  A variety of learning and teaching strategies are employed to meet the course objectives.  There is some didactic teaching, but the emphasis is upon small group work, discussion and debate, seminar presentations, case study discussions, skills development and experiential activities.  Self-directed and peer supported learning are encouraged throughout the course, and specific time is built into the programme for student-directed learning groups.  Consistent with the philosophy of the programme self and peer assessment are used in the formative assessment process to complement tutor assessment.

Students also undertake individual research, and this provides further opportunities to enhance academic and professional development, to meet individual learning needs and to enable students to contribute to the ongoing development of knowledge within the field of counselling.

Modules are assessed entirely by coursework, and the standard means of assessment is a 5,000 word assignment or equivalent. Consistent with Level 7 standarads students can choose a negotiated topic which meets the subject specific and level related criteria, or  they can do a set assignment.  A variety of methods are used to assess knowledge, understanding and professional practice. Examples   include essays, case studies, seminar presentations, research proposals, audio/video tapes and critical assessment of professional practice (Training and Supervision). A 12,000 -  16,500 word dissertation is the assessment method for the  triple research module.

All assignments focus on demonstrating knowledge and understanding informed by theory and research, as well as contextualizing the topic in relation to the student's own professional practice and wider developments within the counselling field. The focus is on students arriving at their own personal synthesis of learnings, developing original insights and critically reflecting on implications for professional counselling practice.   Intellectual and cognitive skills are assessed in all assignments and the dissertation, and many of the transferable skills embedded within the programme  are also incorporated in the assessment criteria. All learning outcomes which are assessed are specifically stated in the  relevant module handbook. 

Formative assessment is embedded throughout the programme and is achieved through   self, peer and tutor assessment of experiential learning activities, professional practice based activities and presentations. 

The MA in Counselling Studies has been shown to directly enhance  academic, professional and personal development.  While there is no typical MA graduate, as students enter the course with diverse backgrounds, the example below gives some indication of how the programme has influenced career and academic progression.

Student A

  • Degree in Social Work
  • Diploma in Counselling
  • Counsellor in Social Services
  • MA in Counselling Studies –University of Chester
  • Article on M.A. dissertation research printed in major counselling research journal
  • Currently Student Counsellor in a University Counselling Service
  • Ph.D. in Counselling
  •  Author or editor of  a number of highly regarded Counselling texts
  • High level position in a major counselling association

Students have consistently attested to the value of the programme for enhancing their professional practice, broadening their career horizons and furthering their academic opportunities.  Graduates can be found in a wide range of challenging and influential counselling positions within health, education, workplace, voluntary and private practice settings. An increasing number of graduates have also progressed to doctoral studies and counsellor training positions. 

The University is committed to the promotion of diversity, equality and inclusion in all its forms.  For this purpose it has an Equal Opportunities Policy and appropriate Codes of Practice to ensure compliance with the Equality Act 2010.The policy covers discrimination in relation to the protected characteristics of  age, disability, race, gender, religion and belief, marriage and civil partnership,  sexual orientation, pregnancy and gender reassignment.

The aim of the policy is to ensure that all students and members of staff at the University of Chester have equality of opportunity and are treated solely on the basis of their aptitude, ability and potential to pursue a course of study or to fulfil the requirements of a job.  The policy also aims to eliminate unlawful or unfair discrimination.

The MA in Counselling Studies aims to enhance continuing professional development by providing a forum for students to critically reflect upon their practice in the light of contemporary theory, research and debates within the counselling profession. It offers an innovative and distinctive structure, combining core and elective modules with dissertation research. This provides a broad, yet in-depth integrated programme, enabling counselling practitioners to enhance academic, professional and personal development. 


Back - to previous page  Print - launches the print options panel