There’s a long way to go, but we’re gradually moving on from the stigma around mental health. More and more people are using therapy to help them through life, with 40+ million US adults using counseling services.
But is it possible to learn how to be a counselor online? The answer is yes, and in this article I’ll be taking you through the top ten counseling courses online.
In this best online counseling course review, I’ll share what it takes to learn how to become a counselor, the costs of counseling courses, the benefits of taking an online course, what to look out for before purchasing and much more.
So, let’s get started.
What is the best online counseling course?
These are my top counseling course recommendations:
- Counseling skills certificate course [beginner to advanced] (Udemy)
- Existential well-being counseling: A person centered experiential approach (edX)
- Certificate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Institute of Counseling)
- Counseling children and adolescents (Udemy)
- Introduction to psychology (Coursera)
- Professional counseling grief and bereavement diploma course (Udemy)
- Introduction to CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Udemy)
- Solution focused brief therapy – The modern life coaching system (Skillshare)
- Fully accredited professional counseling diploma course (Udemy)
- Psychological first aid (Coursera)
My number one pick is Counseling skills certificate course [beginner to advanced] on Udemy.
With over 32,000 students, this is currently the most popular counseling courses online, and with good reason. It combines a philosophical insight into counseling combined with more practical guidance.
Kain Ramsay is a very engaging instructor and I have often enjoyed his lessons. The class also has helpful visuals and a range of additional materials, making it one of the most comprehensive courses on the list.
Others will prefer a more practical approach to counseling that introduces you to the profession. For this, Certificate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy from the Institute of Counseling and Udemy’s Fully accredited professional counseling diploma course.
Best counseling course reviews
Platform: Udemy | Teachers: Kain Ramsay | Course length: 44 hours
My top pick is Counseling skills certificate course [beginner to advanced]. This course is offered by Udemy.
I’ve chosen this course as my number one for a couple of reasons. It is one of the most popular counseling courses on the internet and with good reason.
With over 44 hours of content, this class covers everything you need to know to get started with counseling. Kain Ramsay is an experienced instructor, with over 600,000 students on Udemy, and I’ve always found his lessons to be really engaging and insightful.
There are also assignments, articles, quizzes and a certificate of completion, making this course an all-round learning experience rather than just a series of videos. The course has over 32,000 students and a 4.5-star rating from 6,000 reviews.
You will learn:
- The foundations of person-centered counseling
- The history and philosophy behind counseling
- Counseling frameworks and standards
- Principles of counseling psychology
- Counseling skills
- The counseling process in action
- Led by an accredited counselor and a very experienced teacher
- Very comprehensive with 44 hours of content
- Grounds concepts in history, philosophy and psychology
- Includes practical demonstrations
- Lots of additional materials to engage with
- Very detailed with helpful visuals
- Well structured, gradually building on each concept
- Includes a certificate of completion
- Some complaints of technical difficulties
Best for: Anyone who wants an introduction to counseling grounded in history and philosophy
Overall: Offers a very comprehensive overview of counseling. Not only do you get a deep understanding of the history and philosophy behind counseling, but you also get insight into the practical aspects of counseling. Kain Ramsay is a very engaging instructor who keeps his lessons entertaining and insightful. To top it all off, Udemy often has its courses on sale, meaning you can often buy it for less than the asking price.
Platform: edX | Teachers: Mia Leijessen and Siebrecht Vanhooren | Course length: 12 weeks, with 6-8 hours per week (recommended)
At the number two spot on the list is edX’s most popular and successful counseling course. Led by professors from KU Leuven, a leading Belgian Catholic research university, it promises a philosophical dive into the art of counseling.
edX is a site with a lot of major qualities. It is very unique in that it collaborates with leading universities from around the world to provide its courses, including the likes of Yale and Harvard.
But edX is also unique in that you can audit courses and access the content for free, although you need to pay for certificates and assignments. Considering the quality of education they offer, this is pretty remarkable.
You will learn about:
- The art of well-being and positive psychology
- Existential approaches to coping with human life
- Dimensions of human existence: goals and values
- Existential challenges and strengths
- Meaning and spirituality
- Person-centered approaches
- Interpersonal connections of growth
- Processing emotions
- Overcoming interpersonal blocks
- Counseling from an experiential perspective
- Led by professors from a leading European university
- Philosophically grounded, introducing lots of helpful concepts
- Broad overview of the discipline, helpful for beginners
- Comprehensive, with several weeks of learning
- Experiential focus is a unique one
- Option for a free audit
- Might be too general for some, as not a specific counseling course
Best for: Anyone new to counseling who is interested in a broad overview of the discipline
Overall: This is not an accredited or practical counseling course. Rather, it provides you with some insight into what counseling is and how it can be used. So it is a really good option for both newbies and current therapists who want insights into the benefits of counseling. Taught by academics from what is often considered Belgium’s best university, this course can be audited for free, so it is well worth checking out.
3. Certificate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Institute of Counseling)
Platform: Institute of Counseling | Teachers: Institute of Counseling | Course length: Varies by student; ten lessons with 5 assignments and suggested readings
Of all of the courses on this list, the number 3 pick is probably the most comprehensive and the most traditional counseling class.
Led by the Institute of Counseling, you’ll be taught the methods of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and how to apply them. It’s ideal for counselors who want to broaden their understanding of CBT.
Completion of the course leads to the award of a certificate in CBT. If you want a more academic option, check out the Institute’s Diploma in CBT, which offers a more academic version of the content and accreditation from the University of Western Scotland.
You will learn:
- The ABC model of counseling
- To identify errors in thinking
- Ways to challenge damaging beliefs
- How to enhance your effectiveness as a counselor
- Case studies and practical activities
- Direct guidance from a tutor
- Comprehensively covers an important strand of counseling
- Includes practical case studies
- Assignments to test your knowledge
- Well structured
- Also has the option of a diploma course
- A big commitment for beginners
Best for: Counselors who want to broaden their understanding of CBT
Overall: You'll be guided through CBT with a professional tutor who will take you through the main models of this type of therapy. Your learning will be illuminated by case studies, examples and assignments. By the end, you’ll have a full understanding and certification in one of the most important strands of therapy, used by counselors across the world.
4. Counseling children and adolescents (Udemy)
Platform: Udemy | Teachers: Elmira Strange | Course length: 2.5 hours
At number four, we have another Udemy course, this time offered by Elmira Strange, who has experience researching psychology at a senior level and lecturing at universities.
In order to keep this list diverse, I’ve included both broad introductions to counseling, as well as ones that are focused on specific kinds of therapy, such as this course.
Here, you’ll learn all about best practices for counseling children and adolescents. With over 15,000 students, this is one of Udemy’s best counseling courses.
You will learn about:
- The counseling relationship
- The development cycle
- Parent and teacher relationships
- The complexities of growth
- Behavior therapies
- Working with children
- The use of language
- Dysfunctional families
- Bullying and abuse
- The psychological study of education
- Using newly found skills
- The therapeutic process
- Emotional intimacy
- Focuses on a specific form of counseling
- Goes into detail about an important subject
- Helpful for career prospects
- Led by an experienced instructor
- Informative and well-organized content
- Includes a certificate of completion
- Accredited with the international association of therapists
- Very brief and could have more depth
- Could do with more examples and demonstrations
Best for: Those interested in counseling children and adolescents.
Overall: Will provide you with insight into how to counsel children and adolescents, covering the major themes and providing a brief but impactful overview of what it takes to be a counselor for young people. This course is also accredited by the International Association of Therapists.
5. Introduction to psychology (Coursera)
Platform: Coursera | Teachers: Paul Bloom | Course length: 15 hours
Halfway down the list, we find Coursera, one of the biggest and fastest-growing e-learning sites out there. This course is Coursera’s most popular and highest-rated therapy class, with over 1 million enrolled and a 4.9-star rating from over 25,000 reviews.
It’s ideal for those interested in either a career in counseling or just therapy generally who want some exposure to key concepts in psychology and the human mind.
Coursera has a lot of similarities to edX. Both sites pride themselves on their association with top educational institutions and collaborate with top universities to provide courses. Like edX, you can also take Coursera classes for free (without certification).
This course is #2 in our best psychology courses review.
You will learn:
- Foundational psychological theories
- Psychological research into development and language
- The structure of language
- How psychology examines the self and others
- Social and non-social emotions
- Human variation
- Personality and intelligence
- The roles of genes and environment in explaining differences
- Mental illness and prominent therapies
- How psychologists measure happiness
- A wonderfully clear, yet comprehensive overview of a challenging discipline
- Taught by a prominent and renowned professor of psychology
- Provided in collaboration with a world-leading university
- Fifteen hours of content covering the essentials
- Combines key psychological theories with the physical basis of psychology; neuroscience
- Introduces therapy having already taught key concepts in psychology
- Excellent introduction for beginners
- Some might prefer a more practical and specific introduction to counseling
Best for: Anyone remotely interested in therapy who wants a broader understanding of what it is and where it comes from
Overall: Many argue that understanding psychology is an important prerequisite for understanding counseling. And few courses will give you a better understanding of psychology. You will be taught by a world-leading psychologist who is a professor at Yale University. The caliber of the institution is reflected in the course as you learn about where counseling originates through understanding key psychological theories.
Platform: Udemy | Teachers: Dr Karen E Wells | Course length: 42 minutes
At number 6 on our list we have another course from Udemy that also focuses on a specific form of counseling.
Grief and bereavement are emotions we’ll all experience at some point in our lives, and many have turned to therapy as a way of coping with their emotions. So this course is very important for any aspiring counselors.
You might have noticed that Udemy appears a couple of times in this list with courses focusing on different types of counseling. This is because Udemy courses are created and taught by teachers separately, meaning instructors can really focus on their niche.
You will learn:
- About attachment, loss and grief
- The mourning process
- Grief counseling
- Grief and the family
- The counselor and grief
- Very informative
- Focuses on a specific, yet important element of counseling
- Brief, allowing you to understand concepts rapidly
- Led by a top Udemy instructor in the counseling and psychology world
- The format is concise and easy to follow
- Includes an accredited certificate of completion
- Very brief and could go a lot deeper
- Could use more examples
Best for: Anybody interested in counseling, who wants to understand how to counsel those who have experienced grief and loss
Overall: In this course, you’ll learn all about the fundamentals of counseling those experiencing grief and bereavement, using professional advice and strategies. Although it is very brief, this course provides a foundational insight into how to counsel for an emotion many people turn to therapy to deal with.
Platform: Udemy | Teachers: Libby Seery | Course length: 1.5 hours
At number seven, we find a course on a specific type of counseling, offered by Udemy.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a talking-based therapy that is used by counselors to help their clients break out of negative cycles of thoughts, such as anxiety and depression.
Although it's not a ‘cure’ for mental ill health, CBT has helped many, many people and is a dominant form of therapy in 21st-century psychology. So learning more about CBT is very important.
This course is led by Libby Seery, a psychotherapist and counselor with over 229,000 students on Udemy. This class itself has over 18,000 students.
See also our best online CBT course review.
You will learn:
- The foundations of CBT
- How to perform CBT
- How to identify thoughts, feelings and behavior
- Making changes
- How to be the best version of yourself
- Covers a very important aspect of counseling
- Led by an experienced counselor and instructor
- Includes practical examples
- Very clearly explained
- Assignments and quizzes to test your knowledge
- Additional resources and articles
- Very brief
- Could go into more detail
Best for: Anyone who wants a quick but clear introduction to CBT
Overall: CBT is a dominant form of therapy and is often what people imagine when they think of counseling. So learning more about CBT is essential for anyone interested in counseling more broadly. This course gives a clear and concise overview of CBT, with helpful quizzes to ensure you’ve retained the knowledge. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of CBT and how it can be useful.
8. Solution focused brief therapy – The modern life coaching system (Skillshare)
Platform: Skillshare| Teachers: Vikramadithya Shivaram | Course length: 2 hours and 45 minutes
At number 8, we have an option from Skillshare. Like Udemy, Skillshare offers courses in a range of disciplines, from chemistry to cooking to, of course, counseling.
This course is in a very specific form of counseling, namely solution-focused brief therapy, which incorporates a lot of the broader concepts other classes in this list cover.
This type of therapy is becoming more and more popular, and so this course will be of interest to both total beginners and therapists who want to learn more.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that Skillshare is a subscription service, meaning you pay a monthly or annual fee for access to all of their courses. So you can take this class in conjunction with other courses.
You will learn about:
- Problem vs. solution-focused thinking
- Collaborative thinking and conversation
- History and applications of solution focused therapy
- Problem assessment
- Perception orientation vs. emotional focus
- Future questioning and collaborative goals
- Progress, reflection and action recalibration
- Client motivation and classification
- Problem description
- Goal setting
- Exploring exceptions
- Summarizing and giving feedback
- Action orientated suggestions
- Focuses on a specific type of counseling
- Allows you to go in-depth
- Applicable for various lifestyle circumstances
- Each concept broken into easily-digestible chunks
- Very honest, covering both the benefits and the negatives
- Well-organized and structured
- Not as applicable for those interested in counseling as a profession
- Some people may be looking for a broader overview
Best for: Anyone, beginner or advanced, with a remote interest in solution-focused therapy
Overall: This style of counseling is being used more and more by organizations and individuals. If any of that is of interest, this is a great course for you. Because counseling spans so many different theories and ideas, both beginners and more experienced therapists might be able to gain something here. And, because Skillshare is a subscription site, you can take this course as part of a subscription alongside any other courses you’re interested in.
Platform: Udemy | Teachers: Dr Karen E Wells | Course length: 1 hour of on-demand video
The penultimate pick on this list is another option offered by Udemy.
What makes this course unique is how broad its audience is. You could be completely new to counseling and what to learn more, an existing therapist who wants to incorporate counseling into your practice or an existing counselor trying to brush up on your knowledge.
The class is accredited by the International Institute of Complementary Therapists. It includes additional resources including an in-depth training manual and has over 13,000 students.
You will learn about:
- Counseling skills
- Client progression
- Understanding people and problems
- Dealing with difficulties
- Key counseling skills
- Very comprehensive
- Led by an experienced instructor
- Warm and engaging delivery
- Comprehensively covers all the details of counseling
- Prepares you well for a career in counseling
- Allows you to develop rapidly, with one hour of learning
- Udemy courses are often on sale
- Could go into more depth
- Very brief, especially for an accredited course
Best for: Anyone new to counseling who is considering it as a career
Overall: This course is ideal for those interested in the practicalities of counseling, especially those considering it for their profession. The instructor is clearly experienced and very engaging, and the course itself manages to cover a lot of ground whilst also allowing you to develop rapidly with just one hour of learning.
10. Psychological first aid (Coursera)
Platform: Coursera | Teachers: George Everly Jr. PhD | Course length: 6 hours
The final course on this list is also offered by Coursera. Again, we can expect to learn from top educators and top universities here.
This class is no exception. Taught in collaboration with John Hopkins University, one of the most prestigious universities in the US, this course is led by George Everly Jr. PhD, a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Psychological first aid is all about counseling and psychological assistance in emergencies. It has been used by psychological professionals in a variety of circumstances and can be a useful tool for any aspiring counselor and therapist.
This course has over 479,000 enrolments and a 4.8-star approval rating from over 18,000 reviews.
You will learn about:
- History, terms and concepts in psychological first aid
- Reflective listening and rapport
- Explains the RAPID model clearly and comprehensively
- Teachers a unique but extremely useful psychological tool
- Can be deployed in a variety of circumstances
- Very practical, but grounded in history and theory
- Led by an academic from a leading university
- Can be taken free without certification
- Might be too specific for some
- Quizzes sometimes don’t relate to class material
Best for: Aspiring and current counselors interested in psychological first aid
Overall: Whereas some options focus broadly on the practice of counseling, and some focus more generally on psychology, this course is very specific. Here, you’ll learn the exact tools you need for counseling in a crisis. The course is led by a professor from a world-leading university and can be audited for free. So, what are you waiting for?
What are the advantages of taking an online counseling course?
There are many benefits to learning how to become a counselor, including:
- The opportunity to help people and make a difference in their lives
- Gives a strong foundation for learning more about psychology and the human mind
- It’s a profession that’s very fulfilling with a nice work/life balance
- Allows you to be reflective on your own thoughts and feelings
- A good career prospect as more and more people are using therapy
There are also many advantages to taking a counseling course online specifically:
- Access to top instructors and institutions from all around the world
- You can learn when you like and fit everything around your schedule
- You can combine different platforms with in-person teaching to achieve your personal goals
- There’s access to endless additional materials
- The skill will stay with you for life
- Your general knowledge of psychology and behavior will improve
- Learning a new skill is great for engaging the brain
Buyers guide: what to look out for
With so many choices, it can be hard to know what to look out for when selecting the best counseling course for you.
So here’s a helpful buyers guide to look out for:
- Positive reviews and feedback from both users and sites like Learnopoly
- The credentials of the instructor
- How long the course is and what each lesson will teach you
- Any additional materials like academic journals and counseling books
- What types of counseling (CBT etc.) does the course focus on
- How many people are enrolled
- Is there any free trial or refund available?
- Is it accredited or is there a certificate at the end?
How much does it cost?
The prices of courses on this list range from free to $314.00. There are two main ways e-learning sites price their courses.
Some are subscription services. This means that you pay a monthly or annual fee for access to everything on the site. This option is better for those who are interested in courses other than therapy classes.
Others sell their courses individually. This is a better option if you're only interested in learning a counseling course, especially as, for sites like Udemy, courses are typically on sale for less than the asking price.
Finally, there’s edX and Coursera, which are very unique in the fact that they offer their courses for free.
How long does it take to learn counseling?
The courses on this list range from lasting 42 minutes to 6 weeks. However, there are some things to consider here rather than just the time listed on the course page.
For example, many of these courses have additional materials, including workbooks, assignments and academic papers, that can take a while to get through.
Furthermore, counseling is a very complicated process. There is so much we don’t know about the human mind. Counseling is used by people to explore some of their most sensitive vulnerabilities and insecurities.
So, even upon completing a course on this list, there will always be more to learn.
So, what’s the best counseling course online?
My number one pick is Counseling skills certificate course [beginner to advanced], offered by Udemy.
I’ve chosen this course as my number one because, with 44 hours of on-demand video that delves into philosophy, psychology and practical guidance, it offers the most comprehensive introductory overview of counseling.
Each lesson is engaging and the class has a range of additional materials that are shown to keep you stimulated. Ultimately, it provides you with a very strong foundation to pursue your interest in counseling.
Alternatively, if you want a more academic introduction to counseling that will give you insight into more general psychology, edX and Coursera are worth considering.
I recommend Existential well-being counseling: A person centered experiential approach and an Introduction to psychology from these respective sites.
Others reading this list will be interested in counseling as a profession and will want to learn the practical elements of therapy.
The best pick for these learning goals are Certificate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy from the Institute of Counseling and Udemy’s Fully accredited professional counseling diploma course.
Counseling courses – frequently asked questions
Counseling skills certificate course [beginner to advanced] offered by Udemy
The prices of courses on this list range from free to $314.00.
The courses on this list range from lasting 42 minutes to 6 weeks.
Charlie is a student reading politics at King’s College London. He is also a passionate musician with over 14 years of experience. In his free time, he also enjoys cinema, long-distance running and learning new things.