You'll need excellent interpersonal skills and experience of working with people with mental health conditions to work as a psychological wellbeing practitioner (PWP)

As a PWP you'll support individuals of all ages and cultural backgrounds who are experiencing common mental health difficulties such as mild to moderate symptoms of depression, anxiety and low mood. You'll offer a range of low intensity cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) based interventions that will help your clients to manage their own recovery.

You'll work with a large number of people in a practical way, with each client session lasting on average 20 to 30 minutes. A fully qualified PWP can expect to help more than 250 patients every year.

Managing referrals and signposting to other agencies are common parts of the role and you'll need to work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as high intensity therapists, employment advisers, other therapists and support staff.

Responsibilities

To fulfil your duties you'll need to:

  • undertake patient-centred interviews to identify areas where your client wishes to see change;
  • make accurate assessments of the risk your client poses to themselves and others;
  • interact with a broad range of patients using easily understood language;
  • make decisions on the suitability of new referrals, referring unsuitable clients to alternative services or 'stepping-up' their treatment to high-intensity psychological therapy;
  • provide low-intensity interventions, such as psycho-educational interventions, guided self-help and computerised CBT;
  • use a range of delivery methods such as telephone and web-based support as well as face-to-face;
  • attend multidisciplinary meetings about referrals or clients in treatment;
  • develop strong professional relationships with primary and secondary care staff, for example, general practice staff and mental health workers;
  • liaise with external agencies including housing, police, local authority, employers and employment support workers;
  • provide and receive information related to mental health and CBT to individuals or groups of clients, relatives, carers, members of the public and professionals;
  • educate and involve family members and others in your client's treatment as necessary;
  • undertake clinical supervision on a regular basis in line with relevant professional guidelines and policies;
  • keep accurate records of clinical activity and use these in clinical decision making.

Salary

  • Trainee PWPs start at Band 4 (£19,217) of the National Health Service (NHS) Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates.
  • After qualification, salaries within the NHS progress to Band 5. You're likely to start on £21,909 and progress up one pay point annually until you reach £28,462 (the top of the scale).
  • Senior PWPs can earn up to £35,225 (Band 6) for undertaking additional management and specialist responsibilities.

The NHS pays a London high-cost area supplement at 20% of basic salary for inner London, 15% for outer London and 5% for fringe areas.

Salaries in the voluntary and independent sector may vary.

Income data from NHS AfC Pay Rates. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Expect to work 37.5 hours per week, generally 9am to 5pm, with the possibility of extra hours in the evening or at weekends.

Occasionally, an on-call system covering emergency situations may be in operation.

What to expect

  • The working environment can be stressful and the work challenging as you'll be working with distressed people with high emotional demands. Occasionally, you may encounter situations of potential personal risk, making supervision by colleagues important.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK, but more varied opportunities may be available in larger cities.
  • Men, people from ethnic minority backgrounds and those over 29 years old are currently under-represented in the profession.
  • Local travel between sites within a working day is common in some PWP roles. Absence from home overnight is unusual. Overseas work or travel is uncommon.

Qualifications

Although you don't need a degree to train as a PWP, in practice many trainee roles request a relevant degree or an equivalent qualification. However, commitment to supporting patients with mental health conditions and relevant work experience are equally important in securing a trainee place. The role therefore appeals to people from a range of backgrounds and competition for trainee places is strong.

Graduates must be able to show that they can study to postgraduate certificate level, whereas non-graduates will need to have a significant range of appropriate experience, plus be able to show that they can be trained to graduate level.

Training for the PWP role is set by the national Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) programme and is delivered by local universities. It follows a national curriculum and trainees are all taught the same specific low intensity interventions:

  • behavioural activation;
  • exposure therapy;
  • cognitive restructuring;
  • medication support;
  • problem solving;
  • panic management;
  • sleep hygiene.

You'll spend 45 days in training, usually spread over two or three semesters, which consists of one day per week at university and four days in supervised practice within your workplace. Training starts throughout the year, but should be completed within 12 months. On completion, you'll be awarded either a postgraduate certificate or an undergraduate award.

Training courses are accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and a list of courses can be found on their website. As the course is a requirement of the trainee role, it's usually funded by your employer. Individual course centres can advise about any self-funded places that may be available.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • the ability to be self-reflective;
  • the skills to develop good therapeutic relationships with clients;
  • team working skills and an aptitude for fostering good working relationships;
  • an interest in using clinical supervision and personal development positively and effectively;
  • the capacity to work under pressure;
  • regard for others and respect for individual rights of autonomy and confidentiality;
  • skills in communicating clearly and persuasively, both verbally and in writing;
  • the ability to liaise and network with a range of organisations and members of the public;
  • basic IT skills, including word processing and database packages;
  • a high level of enthusiasm and self-motivation;
  • good time management and organisational skills relating to the overall number of client contacts offered and clinical sessions carried out per week;
  • how to apply your knowledge of low-intensity therapeutic interventions to clinical problems.

As training often involves local travel, having a full driving licence and access to a car is important.

Work expeirence

Experience of working with people with mental ill health is essential to secure a trainee PWP position. You should consider looking for opportunities in primary care services such as community support worker roles.

Evidence of long-term volunteering is also helpful as it shows that you're emotionally strong and committed to working with people with mental health issues. These types of vacancies can be found in the not-for-profit and health sector.

It's sometimes possible to arrange to talk to a PWP or to do some work shadowing in your local IAPT service. Find your local psychological therapies service using NHS Choices.

Employers

You could work in a variety of different settings, from GP surgeries to the third sector, as well as in psychological treatment centres.

You may be employed directly by the NHS or by a charity that has been commissioned to deliver IAPT services on behalf of the NHS, such as Mind, Turning Point or Rethink. There are also some opportunities to work within the Prison Service.

Look for job vacancies at:

Local press and hospital websites also advertise vacancies.

You may wish to set up an email alert at the NHS Jobs website to receive notification of PWP vacancies in your area. Further advice about local training and recruitment opportunities can be gained from contacting your IAPT regional team.

Professional development

As a newly qualified PWP you'll be encouraged to take courses to further develop your knowledge and skills. This post-qualification training can be either short courses, lasting up to one week, or longer courses leading to a diploma or Masters.

You will be expected to identify your continuing professional development (CPD) needs, which may include a range of in-service and external training opportunities.

Areas for further training include working with:

  • older people;
  • people with long-term health conditions (LTHCs);
  • people with sleep difficulties or insomnia;
  • generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

With experience, you could be encouraged to undergo training in supervisory, management and leadership skills to oversee the work of other PWPs. Alternatively you could develop specialist skills in working with specific groups of clients, such as those with a learning disability, veterans or those with medically unexplained symptoms, or in a specialist area such as in a prison. Either way, expertise beyond the core PWP role is required and you'll need to undertake CPD training.

However, CPD is not limited to training courses and you'll also be encouraged to take part in other activities that contribute towards your professional development such as shadowing others, reviewing literature, being mentored or working on specific projects.

Once qualified, you could gain recognition of your skills by applying for individual PWP practitioner accreditation either via the BPS or the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP).

Career prospects

This is a relatively new job role and initially there were limited options for career progression as a PWP. This meant that the career was seen by many as a stepping stone into other careers, such as clinical psychology, rather than as a career in its own right. However, this is now changing with the introduction of senior and lead roles.

Career prospects are now good, although the situation varies according to geographical region. There is a clear progression route in place within the NHS and in order to advance through the pay bands you need to show that you have the required skills, experience and knowledge.

With experience you can apply for senior PWP roles (Band 6) by undertaking additional duties involving supervision, management, project leadership, training, specialism and education.

Once qualified you may also be interested in transferring to train in psychological therapies, e.g. high intensity CBT, counselling or alternative areas such as clinical psychology. Although it's not unusual for newly qualified PWPs to use their experience to move into these kinds of areas, IAPT commissioning services are keen to recruit people who want to build a career as a PWP.

For most PWPs, movement into roles delivering high intensity therapies will take over two years post-qualifying, as this is the minimum time required to develop psychological wellbeing skills.