Psychotherapist: job description

Psychotherapist: job description

Psychotherapists help individuals who are experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties to understand their problems and make appropriate changes to their lives.
Many people enter the profession later in life, having already been employed in a similar field.

What does a psychotherapist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Psychotherapists work with clients who are affected by difficulties such as depression, phobias, stress, anxiety, emotional and relationship problems, physical or psychosomatic disorders and behavioural problems. Activities may include:

  • performing therapy sessions in a controlled environment
  • using verbal interaction to explore behaviour, attitudes and emotions
  • carrying out hypno-psychotherapy
  • helping clients to understand and address their inner conflicts.

Therapy with young children often focuses on communication through undirected play with art materials and toys. Treatment can take a year or more, depending on the nature of the problem. Child psychotherapists work in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) teams based in the community.

Typical employers of psychotherapists

  • The NHS, including hospitals, local clinics and health centres
  • Student health services
  • Psychoanalytical institutes
  • Child guidance clinics
  • Special needs schools
  • Psychiatric units
  • Private consultancies

Advertisements appear on the NHS jobs website and in a variety of publications including national newspapers, Community Care, Social Work Today, and their respective websites. Many psychotherapists are self-employed, although this requires a good network of contacts for referrals.

Qualifications and training required

If you wish to work for the NHS, you’ll need to undertake appropriate recognised training. You will usually need a relevant undergraduate degree or professional qualification as well as experience of working with vulnerable adults or children, training at postgraduate level and registration with a professional body such as the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) or the British Psychoananalytic Council (BPC).

Relevant postgraduate courses are typically accredited by the UKCP, ACP or BPC. Individual employers will specify the qualification they require. Any degree discipline is acceptable for most training courses. However, a psychology degree may be required for some courses. Similarly, qualifications in nursing, medicine, social work, sociology and related subjects can be helpful. The NHS offers a limited number of child psychotherapy training posts, which provide varying levels of financial support. 

Qualification can take four to six years to complete. Many students train part-time while working. Previous experience of working with people with mental health problems is advantageous, so psychotherapy is not normally a first career choice. Many people enter the profession later in life, having already been employed in a similar field.

Private practice psychotherapists, however, are not registered or licensed and so are not required to gain formal qualifications.

Key skills for psychotherapists

  • Resilient listening skills
  • Observation
  • Sensitivity
  • Sincerity
  • Discretion
  • Empathy and rapport
  • Positive outlook
  • Excellent communication skills
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