If you're interested in people's emotions, and want to help them deal with problems in their lives, this could be an ideal career for you.
Psychotherapists help people who are distressed. They use a variety of techniques and therapies, rather than using drugs or physical treatments.
To become a psychotherapist, you will normally need postgraduate training. You also need to be a good ‘listener’ with an energetic and positive outlook, and a non-judgemental attitude.
Your work with people (your 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 their way of thinking and their feelings
- helping them develop new strategies for coping.
You could work with adults or children, individually and in groups. You may also be involved in training non-client groups like social workers.
There are different types of psychotherapy, known as theoretical models or theoretical approaches. These include cognitive behavioural therapy, therapeutic counselling, psychoanalysis and hypnotherapy. The approach you use will depend on the clients you work with.
See the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) for more information on the theoretical approaches.
You would usually work between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, although private therapy sessions may take place outside of these hours to fit in with your clients' working times.
A session 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 have support from a mentor through regular supervision sessions.
Trainee psychotherapists in the NHS may earn around £21,388 to £27,901 a year. Qualified psychotherapists can earn up to £34,500 a year. Senior managers and staff can earn up to £47,000 a year.
In the private sector, psychotherapists may charge between £40 and £100 for a 50-minute session. Lower rates may be offered to clients on low incomes.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
There is no single professional body responsible for overseeing the training of psychotherapists. However, many employers will prefer you to be registered with a professional organisation, such as the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC).
In general, you will need training at postgraduate level to qualify as a psychotherapist and be eligible for registration with a professional body. Training can take up to four years to complete.
To do a postgraduate course, you will normally need:
- a relevant degree or professional qualification - for example in social work, psychology, medicine or mental health
- experience of working with vulnerable adults or children
- a caring personality and self-awareness.
For more information on training in psychotherapy, see the UKCP and BCP websites.
NHS trainee posts in child psychotherapy become available from time to time, aimed at health professionals with a degree, for example mental health nurses. See the NHS Jobs website for trainee vacancies or speak to your NHS Trust.
Psychotherapy and counselling are moving towards regulation through the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). For more information about this, check the HCPC website.
Training and development
Most training 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 good working relationships and networks with other health professionals
- access to regular supervision by another practitioner to discuss personal and professional issues
- the ability to keep up to date with developments in psychotherapy - for example by attending conferences, lectures, and courses and meetings organised through professional bodies or university schools of psychotherapy.
See the professional bodies in the More information section for details about registration, membership and professional development opportunities.
Skills, interests and qualities
To become a psychotherapist, you will need to have:
- empathy, sincerity and sensitivity
- strong communication skills
- good listening and questioning skills
- a genuine interest in emotional and relationship issues
- good observation skills
- a non-judgmental approach
- the ability to build 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.
British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC)
West Hill House
6 Swains Lane
Tel: 020 7267 3626
United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
2nd Floor Edward House
2 Wakley Street
Tel: 020 7014 9955
British Association of Psychotherapists (BAP)
37 Mapesbury Road
Tel: 020 8452 9823
Association of Child Psychotherapists
120 West Heath Road
Tel: 020 8458 1609
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
15 St John's Business Park
Tel: 01455 883300
Investment in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme has created an increasing number of career opportunities in psychotherapy. Check the IAPT website for details.
You could work as a psychotherapist within NHS mental health services. See NHS Jobs for vacancies. You could also work in other areas of the public sector and with voluntary organisations.
Your opportunities may increase if you have experience in more than one theoretical approach 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 developing contacts in this field and in the healthcare profession is very important and may help you build your practice and your client numbers.
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.
Related industry information
The health sector is represented by Skills for Health Sector Skills Council, which comprises three sub‐sectors:
- National Health Service (NHS)
- Independent Healthcare Sector (such as private and charitable healthcare providers)
- Third Sector (healthcare) (such as small local community and voluntary groups, registered charities, foundations, trusts, social enterprises and co‐operatives)
The health sector is made up of hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, dental practices, the ambulance service, nursing homes, residential care homes, complementary medicine and a huge range of other health related activities, from sight tests in opticians to research in medical laboratories. Most people in the health sector work in the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS), which includes:
- primary care (organisations which the public goes to first) – Doctors/General Practitioners (GPs), NHS Walk in Centres, NHS Direct, Out of Hours Emergency Care
- secondary care (organisations which the public are referred onto) – Ambulance Trusts, NHS Trusts/hospitals, NHS Foundation Trusts/hospitals, Mental Health Trusts, Care Trusts (provide joint health and social care activities)
NHS policy in England is directed from the centre by the Department of Health. Local organisations, known as Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), are in charge of providing and commissioning services, controlling the majority of the budget. PCTs are overseen by 10 regional organisations called Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs).
The independent sector includes companies and charities that offer hospital and specialist services usually after referral from a doctor. Operations and other work are carried out in private hospitals, independent treatment centres, mental health units and hospices.
- The health sector is the largest employer in the UK, representing 5.5% of the working age population of the UK and 7.3% of the working age population that are currently in employment.
- It is estimated that the sector employs over 2 million people, including:
- over 1.5 million people in the NHS (72%)
- over 0.5 million people in the Independent Healthcare sector (26%)
- almost 40,000 in the voluntary sector (2%)
- 56% of the workforce has a higher education qualification (or equivalent).
- The age profile for the sector shows an older than average workforce, which is due in part to the fact that it takes some professions a long time to train and can mean that people enter the sector later.
There is a varied list of jobs in the sector ranging from a diverse number of clinical roles, to support and infrastructure staff, for instance: Allied Health Professionals (AHPs); Ambulance Staff; Dental Staff; Doctors/Medical staff; Nursing staff; Midwifery Staff; Healthcare Scientists; Health Informatics Staff; Management; Wider Healthcare Team; Complementary Therapists.
- Skills for Health
- NHS Careers
- Careers in healthcare ‐ A guide to working in voluntary organisations
- NHS Employers
NHS Careers has sections on: