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Counselling: exploring fear and sadness

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Fear and sadness are the most common problems that people seek counselling for. This module introduces you to the ways in which they have been understood: as 'mental health problems'; by different forms of individual therapy; and by approaches that focus on the family, the social group, or society. While the module is primarily academic, you’ll develop awareness of counselling skills, processes and techniques. The main sections of the module cover: historical developments in understanding fear and sadness; key individual counselling approaches; approaches that consider relationships and cultural aspects of human suffering; and the practice and evaluation of counselling.

What you will study

There has been tremendous growth in counselling since the late 1980s, with huge numbers of people seeking help in individual counselling, in group therapy and through related 'self-help' books. Fear and sadness (often classed as 'anxiety' and ‘depression’ if they are diagnosed) are the most common 'mental disorders' in Britain, with a combined prevalence of 15 per cent diagnosed each year. In recent years, many celebrities and authors have documented their own struggles with these difficulties, decreasing some of the stigma that has surrounded them. Related to this, there has been a significant growth in counselling over the last twenty years. This is likely to continue with further recognition of the need for counselling across a number of arenas (NHS, voluntary sector, education, business) and the current economic state of the nation.

Counselling: exploring fear and sadness is designed to chart the relationship between the counselling profession and the emotions of fear and sadness. It covers the ways in which these types of human distress have been understood and treated in the past and how they are currently conceptualised and worked with in the counselling profession. The module traces the history of counselling and therapy from their origins in industrialisation and secularisation, through the development of psychoanalysis, the medical diagnosis and treatment of emotional difficulties, and the recent expansion of the counselling profession and proliferation of approaches.

A story is woven through the main branches of individual therapy (psychodynamic, humanistic/existential and cognitive-behavioural) to illustrate how fear and sadness have largely been located in people's ways of viewing and thinking about the world. You'll be encouraged to build your own understanding of how these issues may be best understood and worked with through comparing differing key approaches and attempts that have been made to synthesise them. In addition, a critical stance towards the 'individualisation' of problems in counselling is presented through consideration of fear and sadness at the level of the relationship (such as the couple or family), the group, and the society we live in. Key threads are drawn out such as explaining fear and sadness as located in individual perceptions or in real-world social problems, and understanding them at a psychosocial and/or biological level.

While this module is primarily academic, you'll be encouraged to apply what you're reading to your own life, the lives of others and your own practice (if appropriate) through the inclusion of reflective exercises and case studies to demonstrate the similarities and differences between various approaches. You'll be taken through the process of counselling, the ways in which the relationship is used within therapy, the balance between listening and offering interpretations in various approaches, and the use of specific techniques. Through this material, and related exercises, skills in counselling practice are further developed. Research evidence on the outcomes and process of therapy is also introduced and discussed. You'll also be introduced to the skills in understanding and interpreting research findings, encouraging you to consider how counselling, and other common ways of treating fear and sadness, might usefully be evaluated.

The module is taught primarily through a textbook and online via the module website. Counselling skills are also introduced through specially produced audio-visual materials and by practising self-directed activities. Tutorials are offered to further support you in your learning.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module that provides core subject knowledge and study skills. It builds on the themes covered in the OU level 1 module Introduction to counselling (D171) (now discontinued), but it is not a requirement to have studied this module first. If you are new to studying at university level, or haven't studied for some time, we strongly recommend that you study an OU level 1 module first.

As this module can lead to a professionally recognised qualification in counselling, and due to some aspects of the course content and activities, entry is only open to students over the age of eighteen at module start date.

Although we support students in learning this subject, please note that your tutor is not there to help with your own life or personal difficulties. This is not a function that this module can fulfil.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

What's included

Textbook and virtual learning environment (VLE), with additional learning resources provided by the module website.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module. You'll also have access to the module website and the online forum.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The end-of-module assessment (EMA) must be submitted online.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying D240 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Counselling: exploring fear and sadness starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement module is planned for October 2020. 

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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