How to become a Psychotherapist. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Psychotherapist do?
Psychotherapists use a variety of psychological methods and talking therapies (rather than drugs or physical interventions) to help clients relieve symptoms of distress.
As a psychotherapist, the approach you use with clients would be broadly based on a core theoretical model of psychotherapy, for example:
- psychodynamic – focusing on childhood experiences, dreams, the unconscious and the dynamics of the client-therapist relationship
- behavioural – rooted in the belief that damaging behaviours can be unlearnt or reconditioned
- cognitive – involves recognising the link between negative thoughts and habitual responses
- humanistic and integrative – based on self-development and personal growth (sometimes dealing with spirituality and consciousness)
- person-centred – focuses on helping the client develop inner resources by expressing negative feelings with the therapist
- interpersonal/systemic – often includes challenging and changing behaviour and roles within relationships.
See the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, and the United Kingdom Council of Psychotherapy websites for more information on theoretical models.
Your work with clients could involve:
- encouraging them to talk about their experiences in order to explore emotional or relationship problems
- analysing past events and behaviours so that changes can be made
- assessing the client’s thought processes and feelings
- helping them develop new coping strategies.
The therapeutic techniques you use would depend on the core model of psychotherapy you were practising.
You could work with adults or children, individually and in groups. You may also be involved in training non-therapeutic groups like social workers.
You would usually work between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. However, private therapy sessions often take place in the early morning or early evening to fit in with clients’ working times. A consultation will last from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on what you agree with the client. Part-time hours are often possible.
This work can be emotionally challenging, however, you are likely to receive support from a mentor through regular supervision sessions.
How much does a Psychotherapist earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Trainee psychotherapists in the NHS may earn between £23,200 and £29,500 a year.
- Qualified psychotherapists can earn around £45,000.
- With experience, this can rise to around £57,000.
In the private sector, psychotherapists may charge between £40 and £100 for a 50 minute session (lower rates may be offered to clients on benefits).
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
There is no single professional body responsible for overseeing the work of psychotherapists. However, many employers will prefer you to be registered with an organisation such as the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC).
Your route to qualifying as a psychotherapist may vary depending on the approach to psychotherapy you wish to practise. The UKCP has divided the main approaches into eight areas:
- analytical psychology
- behavioural and cognitive psychology
- experiential constructivist
- family, couple, sexual, systemic therapy
- humanistic and integrative psychotherapy
- psychoanalytic and psychodynamic
- psychoanalytically-based therapy with children.
For more information on each type of psychotherapy, check the UKCP website.
- United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy
To gain access to the UKCP register, you need:
- a postgraduate-level qualification in psychotherapy from a UKCP approved training provider, or
- (if you have relevant experience or training from a non-UKCP approved source) membership with a UKCP approved organisation; see the UKCP website for details.
To get on to a course run by a UKCP approved training organisation, you will usually need:
- a relevant degree or professional qualification in, for example social work, psychology, mental health nursing or occupational therapy
- experience of working with vulnerable adults or children
- a caring personality and self-awareness.
Psychotherapy and counselling are moving towards statutory regulation with the Health Professions Council (HPC). For the latest information on future regulation, check the HPC website.
- Health Professional Council
Training and Development
You may be able to start working in psychotherapy as a trainee in the NHS, which will usually combine work place experience and studying for a UKCP approved Masters in psychotherapy (becoming fully qualified and registered can take between four and six years on a part-time basis). However, there are only a small number of trainee posts (search NHS Jobs for vacancies) and these are usually in the specialist area of adolescent and child psychotherapy.
- NHS Jobs
An alternative way to train is to study for an approved postgraduate course, and gain as much relevant experience as you can arrange; this in turn, should increase your chances of securing work. Most courses include working under supervision on placements, observing as well as working directly with clients, personal development and therapy.
Throughout your career in psychotherapy you will need:
- the ability to build up good working relationships and networks with other health professionals
- access to regular supervision with another practitioner to discuss personal and professional issues
- the ability to keep up to date with developments in psychotherapy by, for example, attending conferences, lectures, courses and meetings organised through professional bodies or university schools of psychotherapy.
Skills and Knowledge
- empathy, sincerity and sensitivity
- strong communication skills
- good listening and questioning skills
- a genuine interest in emotional and relationship issues
- good observational skills
- a non-judgmental approach
- the ability to create trust and rapport with a wide range of people
- an energetic and positive outlook
- the ability to separate your own feelings from those of your clients
- the confidence and skill to explore painful issues with clients
- commitment to self development.
Government investment in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme has seen more people with anxiety and depression being offered ‘talking therapies’. As a result, there is an increasing number of career opportunities in psychotherapy as more services are being commissioned. Check the IAPT website for details.
- Improving Access to Psychological Therapies
You could work as a psychotherapist within mental health services in the NHS (see NHS Jobs for vacancy details). You could also work in other areas of the public sector and with voluntary organisations.
- NHS Jobs
You may increase the number of employment opportunities available to you if you have experience in more than one model of psychotherapy and can demonstrate your ability to work with different client groups.
With experience, you could take on a training, teaching or mentoring role, or become self-employed and set up independently in private practice. Networking and creating links within this field and the healthcare profession is very important and may help you build your practice as well as a solid client-base.
Skills in psychotherapy would also be useful if you want to go on to train in psychology, social work or one of the health professions.