How to find a therapist or counsellor for my child at University

Two people sat together at a table. One person is reaching to touch the other's hands to shown comfort and support

How to find a therapist for my child at University?


When I worked for a young person’s mental health charity I did shifts with the helpline team taking calls from the public.  In that box room with very little light and a mountain of snacks, I would regularly speak to parents at their wit's end trying to find a therapist for their grown-up child studying at a university in another city.

They would sound really worried about their child, be confused by all the jargon, be fed up with all the hoops they have to jump through and be frustrated by endlessly long waiting lists.  And worst of all, they were miles away unable to offer practical help.  Sound familiar?

I would be that first point of contact; with a patient ear and a warm friendly voice on the other side of the phone.  I offered reassurance, insider information and answers to their questions.  They would come away from the call feeling reassured and with a plan for their next steps.

Even now, in private practice, I still get these questions from people who may never become clients.  In this post, I’m hoping to share some information that could help you too.

What are the options for finding a therapist or counsellor for my child at University?

I could bore the socks off you with a long-winded explanation about why finding a therapist is hard,
but let’s cut to the chase.

Here are your 5 main options:

1. Contact the University support services to ask what they can offer
2. Contact NHS services in the area your child is currently living in.
3. Explore local charities offering therapy in the area
4. Contact your own health insurance to see if your policy includes coverage for family members.
5. Explore options for a private online or in-person therapist in the area.

I will go into more detail for you below.

Woah… before you click off and get cracking

First, figure out what type of therapy is likely to be a good fit for your child.

There are literally hundreds of types and styles of talking therapy out there.  You don’t need to learn about them all, but it is a good idea to have a rough idea of what you’re looking for.

I want to be clear here, I’m not saying that there are any hard and fast rules, but there are some basic guidelines.  There are also certain types of problems that are better suited to some styles of therapy.  For example, CBT is recommended for managing panic attacks and intrusive thoughts and counselling is recommended for relationship problems.

Have a chat with your child about what they are struggling with and how they would like to work.  This will help you in your search for finding therapy that is a good fit.

If you’re not sure which type of therapy is best, I will put a link at the end of this post that might be helpful.

An overview of your 5 main options

1. Contact the University support services to ask what they offer

In my experience, all Universities have their own in-house student support, including access to therapy.  Each university is different, some may offer counselling and CBT but this is not always the case.

How quickly they are seen will vary. In most cases, the University will have a ‘drop-in’ where students can go when they need a one-off appointment and they will be sign-posted to crisis services.  This can be the same day or within the week.

Generally, University support services are only able to offer a short block of therapy, such as 4-6 sessions.  However, a lot of Universities also have some fantastic online therapy resources and access to therapy groups which your child may find helpful too.

The university support service will be able to help students to understand and access other services in the local area.  They often have links to GPs, other NHS services and local charities too.

2. Contact NHS services in the area your child is currently living

It is always a good idea for your child to speak to their GP if they are struggling, particularly if medication might be an option for them. Ideally, even though they are students, it is best for them to register with the GP in their local area.  The GP can make a referral for your child to access talking therapy or will explain how they can make their own referral.

In most cities, there are ways for your child to make their own referral.
In Manchester, where I’m based, they can contact Self-Help Services; a third-party organisation that handles therapy in the Greater Manchester area.

Self Help Services

After the referral has been made your child will be invited to an assessment, usually over the phone.  The assessment is to explore their difficulties and work out what type of therapy is best for them.  After the assessment, they will be put on a waiting list for support. With the NHS your child may be offered online or telephone support, group therapy or one-to-one talking therapy, such as counselling or CBT.

3. Explore local charities offering therapy in the area

There are both local and national charities that can offer free talking therapy to students. Each city will have a range of different organisations that you could contact. The University support service will be able to help your child to find out what is available to them.

As a parent, you can do your own Google search to find out what is available.

For therapy in Manchester, where I am based, I would also highly recommend the following places:

Manchester Mind

42nd Street

We are Survivors


The African and Caribbean Mental Health Service

LGBT Foundation

Similar to the NHS, in voluntary and charity services, your child will be invited to an assessment appointment and would then be placed on a waiting list for therapy.

4. Contact your own health insurance to see if your coverage includes support for family members

Do you have health insurance through work? If you do, it is always a good idea to find out if your policy also covers family members.  Contact your insurance provider for more information about the type of therapy it covers and how many sessions you can claim for.

Many of the bigger insurance companies have their own online or in-person therapists in addition to a directory of therapists that are registered with them.

If you find a therapist in the area that you like the look of, they might be registered with an insurance company.

5. Explore options for self-funding a private online or in-person therapist in the area

There are many benefits to working with a private therapist, they usually can see your child straight away, or have a shorter waiting list, the assessment process is usually less intimidating, you’re not limited to a certain number of sessions and you get to choose who you want to work with.

It can be difficult to know exactly what to look for in a private therapist.  I’ve given a few tips below, but I’ll also add a link at the bottom of this article to another post that you may find helpful.

My number one tip is to shop around.  Research has shown that one of the biggest things that contribute to good outcomes in therapy is the relationship between the client and the therapist. With free therapy services, you don’t have the option to choose your therapist, take advantage of the choice.

Tip number 2 is to check the credentials of your therapist.  You’re looking out some something that says that are registered with a professional body such as the BABCP, BACP or the UKCP.  An added bonus is if your therapist is ‘accredited’ this means that they are qualified, registered with a professional body and have met specific requirements to get an extra seal of approval.

A good place to start is with a reputable directory site where therapists can list their services.  The great thing about most of these directories is that they ask for proof of your qualifications, so you can rest assured that if people are on there that they have been checked out.  You can also search for things like what age they work with and their area of specialism.

I would recommend Psychology Today is a good site to use.

Finally, you can use good old Google to find someone, you may have even found me on Google.  Many therapists, myself included, are passionate about sharing knowledge and mental health tips online, meaning they will show up on Google. If you do go on this route I would encourage you to check out that they are members of a professional body.

Want to know more?

Click here to find out more about my services

Click this link to read more about the different types of therapy (coming soon).

Click this link for more information about what to look for in a private therapist (coming soon).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top