School of Health in Social Science

PhD Counselling Studies

The PhD Counselling Studies programme is an advanced research degree enabling students to conduct in-depth independent research on a topic of their choice, thereby contributing to the knowledge and evidence base for counselling and psychotherapy.

Name PhD Counselling Studies
Start Date September and January
Mode of Study 3 years full-time, 6 years part-time
Programme Director Fiona Murray

Please check the postgraduate Degree Finder to see the specific entry requirements, start date and application deadlines. 

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The PhD programme is normally undertaken over three years full-time or six years part-time. On this programme, you will attend our core research courses and able to attend postgraduate seminar courses from across the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and other relevant courses in the School of Health in Social Sciences. Your supervisor can advise you about the relevance of particular courses to your research. 

Counselling, Psychotherapy and Applied Social Sciences is a small subject area, which specialises in qualitative, reflexive and critical research approaches. We can only admit research students whose proposed project lies within the scope of our research expertise. It is therefore very important that you find out about our research expertise and discuss your proposal with one of our supervisors before applying. 

Why choose this programme?

Doctoral study provides the opportunity to carry out a substantial piece of research guided by expert supervisors. You will gain high-level research skills and a range of transferable skills tailored to various career pathways. The principal grounds for awarding a PhD degree are that it is an original work making a significant contribution to knowledge in the student’s field of study, and containing material worthy of publication. 

A vibrant and inclusive research environment

The University of Edinburgh is a world-leader in research and innovation and an international centre of academic excellence. Students on this programme will become part of an active and diverse research community in the School of Health in Social Science and will have access to the wide-range of learning environments and outstanding resources that the University has to offer. Our postgraduate researchers work in close proximity to each other, enabling them to pool their expertise and knowledge to tackle complex challenges and push the boundaries of discovery. Students will be encouraged to engage with a wide range of seminars, talks, and events, and often have the opportunity to present their own research at national and international conferences. Our student-led postgraduate research blog provides a snapshot of the activities and events our PGR students organise and are involved in.

Find out more about ongoing research in our School

The expertise of our academics in Counselling and Psychotherapy specialise in qualitative, reflexive and critical approaches to research, and have particular expertise in practice-based research that draws directly on practitioners' own therapeutic work, on the client's experience of therapy, and in narrative, reflexive and auto-ethnographic methods.

We are especially keen to encourage research concerned with the interface between counselling, psychotherapy and social, cultural and political life.

PhD by Distance

There is also an opportunity to undertake this programme through our PhD by Distance option. The PhD by Distance is available to suitably qualified applicants in the same areas as our on-campus programmes: Clinical and Health Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy, Health in Social Science and Nursing Studies.

The programme allows students who are unable to commit to basing themselves in Edinburgh full time to study for a PhD in a field of Health in Social Science from their home country or city - however this is not intended to be a fully online distance learning programme.

Students enrolled on this programme will be expected to come to Edinburgh at least once per year of study to meet with their supervisors. The length and timing of these visits are negotiable but students should expect to spend at least two weeks at the University of Edinburgh during each year of study.

Find out more about the PhD by Distance

Beyond the programme 

A PhD from the University of Edinburgh enhances the career prospects of professionally qualified counsellors, psychotherapists and practitioners using counselling skills in related fields, such as health care, social work or education. Students with prior professional qualifications enhance their careers with the addition of highly developed conceptual, analytical and research skills. 

It is also of interest to social scientists and researchers specialising in the study of health and illness, and the practice and cultural significance of the talking therapies. 

Successful completion of the PhD opens up employment opportunities in a broad range of fields, including education, policy, research and development on health and illness, emotional health and well-being, and counselling, as well as academic positions in the field of counselling studies. 

Further Study Opportunities

Students can return to the University to attend continuing professional development courses to support their ongoing professional development as counsellors and psychotherapists.