It is now estimated that one in eight adults receive some form of treatment for their mental health, whether that be medication or some sort of psychological therapy. 

The last few years have seen a huge increase in the number of people taking up treatment for common mental health problems like depression, generalised anxiety, phobias, panic disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

However, it is still reported that 75% of people with mental health problems in the UK aren’t able to access the treatment they need. This may be for a variety of reasons: location, NHS waiting lists, the cost of private treatment, and the stigma that still exists when it comes to asking for mental health help. 

There is also a lack of mental health professionals in the UK, meaning the government, charities, and the private sector are scrambling for ways to entice new entrants into the profession. 

Therapeutic practice can be a hugely varied and rewarding career, so let’s look into the career paths you can take to break into this profession.

Decide on a path

Therapy can be a confusing area to break into due to the amount of jargon involved and how convoluted the processes can be. 

To make it easier, there are five areas in this field you can choose to become qualified in: psychotherapy, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychology, and psychiatry. 

They may sound similar, but there are unique processes to become qualified in each one. For example, working in psychiatry means training as a medical doctor first, and so naturally is the longest route into the profession. 

To be a ‘psychologist’, either in clinical or counselling psychology, is a legally protected term governed by the British Psychological Society, meaning you cannot practise in this area without an accreditation from this body. These two routes are considerably more complicated than the others but will yield higher salaries and more specialised roles.

Become a counsellor

To become a professional counsellor, you will need around three to five years of training either through a degree or diploma. These qualifications generally require a minimum number of hours spent with clients via a work placement. 

If you opt for the diploma route, you’ll begin with an introduction to counselling, depending on your level of previous experience. You will then need to complete a certificate in counselling skills for a year, before doing your diploma. 

No matter whether you complete a diploma or degree, the course will be underpinned by a mix of academic and practical theory. 

Each provider of a counselling course will make their theoretical approach known to you before you apply, which could include psychodynamic theory, a transpersonal approach, or a cognitive and behaviour focused style. 

Once you’ve completed your training, you’ll be free to apply for counselling jobs within the NHS, private practices, or you could even become self-employed. The latter is becoming increasingly popular, as therapists can work remotely in therapy rooms to rent in London among other locations.

Completing psychotherapy training

Working in psychotherapy requires a post-graduate qualification, which you could complete after your initial degree in counselling. However, for psychotherapy your first degree can actually be in anything – perfect for career changers. 

The difference between being a counsellor and psychotherapist is academic training, and the latter are generally more qualified to deal with more complicated or long-lasting mental health issues. 

There are certainly overlaps between the two roles, but psychotherapists are usually more academically trained and may even have a doctorate in the field.

Getting involved in CBT

If it’s cognitive behavioural therapy you’re looking to break into, you will also need a post-graduate qualification. However, unlike psychotherapy, your undergraduate degree will need to have been in a mental-health related field, and you’ll also need some work experience. 

If you tick these boxes, you can work in CBT roles via completing a post-graduate diploma in CBT or by the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies initiative. The latter is more cost-effective – trainees are funded by the government and can earn a salary while they learn. 

If you want to work in CBT but don’t have a relevant qualification, try not to worry. There are other positions you can be qualified in, provided that you have had some relevant experience. 

You could end up being a psychological wellbeing practitioner, working with those with mild anxiety and depression, or becoming a lower-level CBT therapist, roles that don’t require the same intensive level of training or academic qualification.



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