Case study

Senior psychological wellbeing practitioner (PWP) — Ian Mitchell

Ian works with common mental health problems so has scope to help a lot of people. Discover the highlights and challenges of working in a senior PWP role

How did you get your job as a PWP?

I studied law and subsequently went on to work in the insurance industry. However, after a few years I wanted a change of direction and to do something which fitted more with my values. I left my insurance job to complete a diploma in counselling and went on to work in smoking cessation. I then got the opportunity to complete the training year for the PWP role.

I now work as part of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service (IAPT) in Sheffield. Originally, I worked in GP surgeries in Sheffield delivering short-term low intensity CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) based interventions for patients with common mental health conditions. Last year I moved to a senior role in a new specialist area (health and wellbeing team), working with individuals with long-terms condition who are struggling with anxiety and depression. I also teach at The University of Sheffield on the PWP course.

What's a typical working day like?

My work within my NHS role is varied and may involve assessing the needs of a patient face-to-face or on the telephone, developing and delivering a patient group (on health worries, for example), teaching on the stress control course (a lecture style course for up to 100 people), supervising colleagues, liaising with other healthcare professionals (such as consultants or specialist nurses) or delivering promotional sessions for patient groups.

What do you enjoy most about being a PWP?

I am passionate about mental health. The PWP role is the first (clinical) contact patients will have with the service. It's therefore important we are welcoming and make them feel comfortable. We can impact many people from all walks of life in our day. It's very satisfying seeing patients understanding concepts and techniques we share with them in order to make positive changes in their lives.

The opportunity to teach on the PWP course at university is fantastic. I enjoy sharing learning and seeing students develop the skills to be effective PWPs. This is very rewarding and it's encouraging to see a consistently high standard of people from all backgrounds successfully making the step into this important role.

What are the challenges?

Seeing people in distress can be challenging but is a key part of what we do. Many patients have been through very difficult situations and experiences. These can be hard to hear. At the same time it's amazing how determined and resilient those people are in the face of such things.

How relevant is your degree?

 My degree gave me a good academic foundation to enable me to study at postgraduate level for the PWP training. Although the course is very practical it's underpinned by sound academic principles and evidence-based practice. Also, there are some interesting parallels between studying the law (needing to think logically and being responsive to what arises) and thinking on your feet with patients in the PWP role. My counselling diploma gave me a good foundation in the skills needed to be a psychological therapist.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I have progressed into a senior role which involves more responsibility, supervision and developmental work. Currently I enjoy the balance of patient work and teaching students and so I'm happy where I am. However, the world of IAPT rarely stays still and opportunities tend to come thick and fast.

What's your advice to others interested in becoming a PWP?

  • Get experience working in a mental health setting (voluntary or paid).
  • Use your own personal experience of mental health (wellbeing) and those around you to really empathise with patients.
  • Contact your local IAPT team to learn about what they offer and maybe shadow some of their sessions.

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