From Psychology Student to Therapist: How I Became a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.
Fran studied BSc (Hons) Psychology at the University of Salford and graduated in 2015. This year, after six years of gaining experience and working in different roles, she is due to become a qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. Here, she tells us about her journey from Psychology graduate to Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.
What did you enjoy most about studying at Salford?
I enjoyed a lot of things about the course. The support from the lecturers was great and I always found the lectures interesting. I also liked the campus and the students I met on my course. I got on with everybody and made great friends. Doing my dissertation was difficult but there were always lecturers around to help.
Did you undertake any placements as part of your psychology degree?
I had some experience of volunteering and doing placements in college but my main experience came after graduating. If you don’t have much experience then I would recommend volunteering whilst studying, it will help massively when finding a job after university.
Did you always know what career you wanted to pursue, if not, what influenced your decision?
I always knew I wanted to work in a role where I was helping people every day (preferably with mental health problems), and when I applied for university, I decided I wanted to be a Clinical Psychologist. I think most people who do a psychology degree say this at first. I changed my mind after graduating and gaining experience in mental health because I learnt more about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and found it really interesting, I saw the difference CBT can make for people, learnt more about IAPT services (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) and realised how competitive applying for a clinical psychology doctorate is, so I decided not to pursue that route.
Fran's career so far
When I graduated, I got my first job in healthcare working in a private mental health hospital. I was working on a specialist eating disorder unit to begin with then moved to the bank so that I could pick up shifts on any ward I wanted to gain more experience so I worked on CAMHS units, secure units and acute units. I worked with people with a wide range of mental health difficulties in this hospital including severe and enduring mental illnesses. I worked there for one year.
Then I wanted to work in the NHS so I moved to a medium secure forensic mental health hospital where my main ward was working on a male acute unit. The patients on this ward were very unwell and needed a lot of care, mainly with psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and personality disorder. I was permanent there for 9 months before I moved to my next role but I enjoyed working in this hospital and stayed on the bank and picked up shifts as and when I wanted. Both of these jobs were as a Health Care Assistant and involved shift work including nights.
In September 2017 (after two years of getting experience in hospitals), I got my first job in IAPT (still in the NHS) in Blackpool as a Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner which was when I started to work in CBT. I treated people using low-intensity CBT interventions with mild to moderate anxiety and depression. This involved me working 4 days in the service and 1 day at university studying where I gained a post-graduate certificate making me a qualified Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner. After I qualified, I was willing to undertake additional training and went back to university to do a short course in treating people with long term conditions. I stayed in Blackpool qualified for one year then applied for a job nearer home, still as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner. I became the Perinatal Champion in this role and did another short course at university to supervise Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners.
What is your current role and what does it entail?
After being qualified for 2 years as a PWP, I was able to apply for Trainee High-Intensity Therapist jobs within the NHS. This is the role I am currently in. This is usually called a High-intensity Therapist in IAPT services and a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist anywhere else. I started my training in November 2020 and worked 3 days in service and 2 days studying with Greater Manchester Psychological Therapies Training Centre. I have nearly finished with a post-graduate diploma in cognitive behaviour therapy and have been given a qualified CBT job when I finish where I currently work.
What is the typical day in the life of a High Intensity Therapist?
Each day is different, at the moment I still have some time for studying on a Monday but that will finish when I qualify. I am advised on the number of patients I need to see each week (which is 20 for a qualified therapist). I manage my own diary so it is up to me how I want to spread this out and a work/life balance is encouraged. These are all one hour sessions and can be a mixture of telephone, video or face to face appointments. This is also a mixture of therapy sessions and assessments. 2-4 out of the 20 per week would be triage assessments to see if people are suitable for the service. Sometimes there would be group work too, I have supervision each week and I am expected to attend team meetings and service meetings regularly. I work with people with depression, generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
What do you enjoy most about your current role?
I love helping people every day and meeting so many different patients with different mental health difficulties. I never get bored because every day is different and I am always speaking to different people. Also, teaching people CBT skills is something that they (hopefully) don’t forget and will stay with them forever.
What are your plans for the future?
In November, which will be a year since I started my current role, I will become qualified. I have just landed a new job as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist working in a community mental health team. That will be a similar role in terms of responsibilities, but I’ll be working with pregnant women and new mothers, which is the area that I’ve always wanted to specialise in. I would like to do further training in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) to develop my skills in treating trauma.
What would you say to someone thinking about studying Psychology?
It is a really interesting degree to study with a lot of opportunities to do well. I have stayed in contact with some friends I made at university and one is a senior in a mental health team helping to run and manage the team, one is doing well as a recruitment consultant and one is a mental health and substance misuse worker working with the homeless. So there is a lot of opportunities to develop a career, even if it isn’t in a psychology field, so don’t limit yourself to being a psychologist in the future and keep your options open.
Fran's top tip
Stick with it! It can be difficult at first, especially when you finish a degree and you don’t leave with the job you hoped for and often you just have to start from the bottom, but I am really glad I did. Once you get your first job in an IAPT NHS service, it is much easier to progress (I have been given a lot of opportunities in IAPT) but before then, I applied for A LOT of Trainee PWP jobs. Also, be keen to learn and seek out opportunities and extra training yourself. With the field being competitive, you need to try and stand out so any extra experience will help you to do this.