Psychotherapist: job description

Last updated: 19 Jul 2023, 08:52

Psychotherapists help individuals, couples and families affected by mental health problems and emotional difficulties understand their situations and make appropriate changes to their lives.

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Psychotherapist : Salaries | 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, and behavioural problems. They work with patients to help them discuss their situations and explore ways to make changes.

Typical duties include:

  • assessing patients to understand their needs.
  • identifying appropriate therapeutic techniques, such as hypno-psychotherapy.
  • planning and carrying out therapy sessions.
  • listening to patients without judgement.
  • helping patients reflect on their situations and articulate their thoughts.
  • prompting patients to explore behaviour, attitudes and emotions.
  • helping patients identify potential changes they could make to reduce distress.
  • working with other therapy, support and medical professionals.
  • keeping accurate records.

Patients can include children as well as adults, although many psychotherapists provide services to specific groups of clients so that they can enhance their understanding of clients’ needs. Therapy with young children often focuses on communication through undirected play with art materials and toys, while treatment for older children, teenagers and adults is based on reflecting and talking.

Psychotherapy is different from psychiatry (which is a branch of medicine) and psychology (which is the study of the mind). However, there is some crossover between the roles of psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists, mainly in the focus of listening to patients/clients and prompting reflection.

The nature of this work means that it can be emotional draining and it’s common for psychotherapists to attend therapy themselves.

Psychotherapist salaries

Trainee psychotherapists employed by the NHS typically start out at band 6 of the NHS agenda for change pay scale, earning around £35,000. NHS salaries for qualified psychotherapists fall under band 7 and you will earn between around £44,000 and £51,000. As you progress in your NHS career, there is opportunity for your salary to be raised to higher bands.

Psychotherapists practising privately set their own rates. According to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), private therapists typically charge between £50 and £80 per hour.

Typical employers of psychotherapists

  • The NHS, including hospitals, local clinics, health centres and services for children and young people.
  • Student health services.
  • Special needs schools.
  • Psychiatric units.
  • Private consultancies.
  • Prisons.

Many psychotherapists are self-employed, although this is more common for those with considerable experience. It’s common for therapists to combine work for different sectors – for example, working for an NHS facility or an unrelated job while also taking on private clients.

Child psychotherapists work in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) teams based in the community.

Job advertisements appear on specialist jobs boards and the websites of professional bodies within the field of psychotherapy.

Qualifications and training required

To work as a psychotherapist in the NHS, you’ll usually need to have completed a relevant undergraduate degree or professional healthcare qualification. You’ll also need experience of working with vulnerable adults or children plus a postgraduate qualification accredited by a professional body such as the:

  • UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP)
  • British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
  • British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC).

Individual employers will specify the qualification they require. You’ll also need to register with a professional body before you can start practising in the NHS.

The NHS offers paid four-year child psychotherapy training posts at its five training centres around the UK.

Qualification can take four to six years to complete and many students train part-time while working. Previous experience of working with people with mental health problems is essential, so psychotherapy is not normally a first career choice.

Private practice psychotherapists in the UK do not have to be registered or licensed. As a result, not all have formal qualifications.

Key skills for psychotherapists

  • Excellent listening and observation skills.
  • Attention to detail.
  • The ability to be sensitive and to listen without judgement.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • The ability to build rapport.
  • The ability to work with people from all backgrounds.
  • Willingness to continue to learn throughout your career.
  • The ability to reflect on your own emotions.

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