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Mental health careers

Mental health adviser talking to a client

For those interested in working in the field of mental health, there are a wide range of roles available to consider where your interest and skill set lie.

We'll outline the settings you could work, the roles on offer, the skills required and how to get into the sector.

The mental health sector

To put this sector in context, the NHS website states that one in four adults and one in 10 children experience mental health problems. Mental health problems can also have a huge impact on physical health. 

It is estimated that 70 million working days are lost each year to mental illness resulting in a cost to the UK economy of £100 billion per year (Healthwatch).

 

What settings do mental health staff work in?

Mental health professionals are employed in a variety of settings. These include healthcare (hospital and community NHS services), social care, education and the charitable or not-for-profit sector.

There are also some opportunities within the private sector. For example, a counsellor could set up their own private practice, or a large corporate organisation could employ a mental health specialist for their employees. Other settings could include housing associations and criminal justice.

Support could be talking therapy, peer support, advocacy, arts or creative therapies, advice services, online services, traditional, complementary or alternative medicine. There are also crisis teams and services which help individuals in acute need.

Thinking about the client group which you would like to help and which setting you would like to work in should help you in your career planning.

It is worth remembering that most roles within the mental health sector will involve working in the public or charitable sector. This means that salary and working conditions are heavily influenced by government policy on funding for the NHS, charities and local government. 

Healthcare (treatment, control, prevention by NHS)

Healthcare settings can include primary, secondary or tertiary treatment.

  • Primary settings are the first point of contact for a patient. These can include GPs, pharmacists but also potentially IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy) services and some services for drug and alcohol problems
  • Secondary services have a referral point. These include hospitals and some psychological wellbeing services for example CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services)
  • Tertiary services involve highly specialised treatment for example secure forensic mental health services

Social Care provision (Local Authority)

Local authorities often offer practical help and support that might be needed because of mental illness. This type of setting might include residential care, telephone helplines and mental health social worker provision – in short, any local support around mental health.

Education

Mental health professionals may work in schools, colleges and universities, supporting young people in their education environments.

Charities

There are a large number of national and local charities in the mental health sector such as Samaritans, Rethink, Mind and SANE. These offer services to individuals such as counselling, advice and guidance, advocacy as well as research and policy support.

Read Jessica Fath's blog about working for Rethink Mental Illness in a prison

 

What are the main types of mental health problems and disorders?

There are many types of mental health problems and disorders.  These include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • stress
  • panic disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • phobias
  • bipolar disorders
  • schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders
  • neurodevelopmental disorders
  • personality disorders.

Mind - for more information on health problems and disorders

 

What are the main roles and pathways into the mental health sector?

The Psychological Professional Network's career map for psychological professions provides a useful overview of many of the opportunities in the mental health sector.

It is worth noting that opportunities within the mental health area are increasing with new roles emerging all the time. New opportunities to investigate could include:

Clinical psychologist

Setting: Mostly NHS, some private practice or charities

Offer therapy?: Yes, wide range of therapies can be offered

Entry routes: BPS accredited psychology degree plus work experience plus three-year doctoral training

Salary: NHS Band 7 on qualification with progression to Band 8. Doctoral training is Band 6

Graduate scheme?: No

Experience: Most applicants to the doctorate have a two to three-year career in mental health before successfully applying

The British Psychological Society (BPS) - more information on clinical psychologist

Counselling psychologist

Setting: Various

Offer therapy?: Yes

Entry routes  BPS accredited psychology degree plus work experience plus three-year doctoral training

Salary: Doctoral training is not funded. When qualified the salary is a similar banding to clinical psychologists

Graduate scheme?: No

Experience: Would need some experience of counselling to gain a place on doctorate courses

The British Psychological Society (BPS) - more information on counselling psychologist 

Clinical associate psychologist

Setting: Mostly NHS 

Offer therapy?: Yes under supervision of a chartered clinical psychologist

Entry routes: Can apply with a BPS accredited degree to a relevant masters level course. Applicants should be currently in a role relevant to mental health. This is a new role and so information may change.

Salary: NHS Band 6

Graduate scheme?: No

Experience: Will need to be currently employed in a relevant role in the NHS and nominated for a masters level study as part of a level 6 apprenticeship scheme

Skills for Healthcare - Clinical Associate Psychologist

Assistant psychologist

Setting: Mostly NHS and some charity work settings

Offer therapy?: Yes under supervision of a chartered clinical psychologist

Entry routes: Can apply with a BPS accredited degree although recruitment is highly competitive and most successful applicants will have work experience in mental health

Salary: NHS Band 5

Graduate scheme?: No

Experience: Can apply with a BSc or MSc level qualification. Most successful applicants will have substantial experience in mental health

HealthCareers - Assistant Psychologist

Psychological wellbeing practitioner (PWP)

Setting: IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy is part of the NHS

Offer therapy?: Provide support for low intensity mental health issues through group work, telephone appointments or signposting

Entry routes?: Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner roles (PWP) involves study 1-2 days per week and work

Salary?: Trainee PWP is Band 4 and PWP is Band 5

Graduate scheme?: Graduates have successfully applied to trainee PWP roles

Experience: Applicants would normally need some relevant experience for trainee roles but this could be voluntary

Read Kat Wheatley's, UoN alumna, blog post on applying for IAPT training

Prospects - more information on psychological wellbeing practitioner

Cognitive behavioural therapist (CBT)

Setting: IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy is part of the NHS

Offer therapy?: Yes, CBT

Entry routes: Progression from PWP as well as some other disciplines

Salary: Trainee CBT therapist is Band 6 and CBT therapists is Band 6/7

Graduate scheme?: No, although graduates have successfully applied to trainee PWP roles

Experience: Graduates would normally need substantial work experience or a career history within a mental health or similar setting.  Could be career progression from PWP

Prospects - more information on cognitive behavioural therapist

Counsellor

Setting: Various - work structure may involve self employment or flexible/portfolio career options

Offer therapy?: Yes, talking person-centred therapies

Entry routes: BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited course

Salary: Training course and supervised sessions will be unpaid. Salary varies depending on sector

Graduate scheme? No

Experience: Voluntary counselling experience would be useful, for example, Childline or Samaritans

Go to our webpage on counselling and psychotherapy

Prospects - more information on counselling

Mental health support worker

Setting: Various, may be a good opportunity to get NHS experience

Offer therapy? No, more practical support although there may be opportunity to get involved in group sessions, for example

Entry routes: Direct entry role. Applicants often need experience but could be from volunteering or temporary work

Salary: NHS Band 3

Graduate scheme?: No, not a graduate level role

Experience: Applicants often need some experience but could be from volunteering or temporary work 

Mental health nurse

Setting: Normally NHS with some community roles

Offer therapy?: Could do as a part of their role

Entry routes: Mental Health Nursing BSc is three years or two-year course after a first degree for which there is Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL). You could also take a two-year postgraduate course Graduate Entry to Nursing (Mental Health)

Salary?:Training is unpaid although there is a bursary of £5,000 to £8,000. NHS Band 5 when newly qualified. Can progress to level 6/7 and for very senior roles to level 8.

Graduate scheme?: Direct entry after gaining nursing qualification

Experience: May need healthcare experience and NHS understanding to gain access to a course

Prospects - more information on mental health nursing

Mental health social worker

Setting: Mainly social care, some charity and NHS settings

Offer therapy?: Not really. Assessment and review for vulnerable children and adults

Entry routes: Undergraduate and masters (two-year) courses or direct entry schemes such as Step Up to Social Work, Think Ahead and Frontline

Salary: Training is unpaid. However, Think Ahead and Frontline: Training salary Year 1 is £17,00 to £ 20,000, Year 2: £21,000 to £34,000. Qualified social worker £22,000 to £44,000

Graduate scheme? Think Ahead (Mental Health) and Frontline (Children and Families)

Experience: May need social care experience and understanding to gain access to course

Prospects - more information on mental health social worker

Think Ahead - find out more

Frontline - find out more

Step up to Social Work - find out more

Psychiatrist

Setting: NHS and other settings including private practice

Offer therapy? Yes, and can prescribe medication

Entry routes: General medical training or Graduate Entry into Medicine plus up to six years psychiatry training

Salary: Initial medical degree is unpaid. Junior doctors start at £26,000. Consultants earn up to £130,000

Graduate scheme?: Medicine degree qualifies you for junior doctor roles. The initial training is general

Experience: Would need knowledge and understanding of healthcare to gain entry into medical training

Prospects - more information on psychiatrist

Go to our webpage on Graduate Entry into Medicine

Occupational therapist (OT)

Setting: NHS, social care and some private practice work

Offer therapy? Assessment and practical support around rehabilitation. OTs work in many fields not just in mental health and training will be general

Entry routes: Three-year degree or two-year masters qualification if you have a related degree, for example psychology, sociology or biology

Salary: £5000 per year bursary while you train. Newly qualified NHS band 5. Can progress to Band 7 and possibly 8

Graduate scheme?: Direct entry after gaining your OT qualification

Experience: Would need knowledge and experience of healthcare or social care or OT work to access training

Prospects - for more information on occupational therapist

Education mental health practitioner

Setting: Education, but 12 months initial training is NHS-based

Offer therapy?: Low intensity interventions such as guided self-help based on CBT. One-to-one support for young people

Entry routes: Trainee Education Mental Health Practitioner (12-month trainee position)

Salary: Trainee roles are at NHS Band 4 with Qualified roles at Band 5

Graduate scheme?: No, but training year offers direct entry

Experience: Experience with helping children and young people to overcome psychological or social problems is required. This could come from voluntary or paid opportunities

NHS - information on education mental health practitioner

More sources of information 

Health Careers - NHS Pay Bands

Health Careers - psychological professions 

Prospects - job profiles

Trainee roles

For many of these roles the entry point is a trainee role (for example, trainee PWP) and will include undertaking postgraduate qualifications as part of the training.

Trainee roles are typically funded by Health Education England (HEE) who also fund the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology training. Planned policy changes from April 2022 mean that you will only be able to access further HEE training two years after your initial training exam boards.  

Other roles within the sector 

It is worth considering that very similar roles are called different things depending on the employer or setting. For example a simple ‘mental health’ search on Indeed reveals job titles such as:

  • Well-being co-ordinator
  • Therapy assistant
  • Mental health care assistant
  • CAMHS primary mental health practitioner
  • Support worker
  • Mental health support worker
  • Relief support worker
  • Mental health practitioner
  • Young persons participations mental health practitioner

Finding the right role for you

It may be a good idea to think in detail about the setting you are interested in, the client group you would like to support and to then investigate the roles available to you. Think about where the client group you would like to support go for help, therapy or advice and start your research here.

Such a huge and diverse sector also needs people to support it and so there are also support roles available such as HR, marketing, finance and data management. Your role within the mental health sector may not be frontline or operational. There are also roles and opportunities within policy making and project management.

 

Ruby Kellard, Project Coordinator, Mental Health Foundation

Ruby Kellard

Read about Ruby's career journey and her advice for you

Amy Sharpstone, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, NHS

Amy Sharpestone

Read about Amy's career journey and her advice to you

 

What skills are needed?

Mental health workers are likely to have excellent communication skills and to be able to demonstrate empathy for their patients or clients. They should be able to build positive relationships with individuals who are struggling with mental health. 

Other skills that could be important are report writing, research skills, psychological understanding, IT skills and problem-solving.

The NHS has six values that they expect all staff to have as follows.

  • Working together for patients
  • Respect and dignity
  • Commitment to quality of care
  • Compassion
  • Improving lives
  • Everyone counts

If you are interested in working in a support role, there may be additional skill sets to think about for example, data management, numerical skills or organisational skills.

 

How do I find a role in the mental health sector after graduation?

Graduate schemes and direct entry roles

There are a few graduate roles within the mental health sector.

Graduates can often gain experience though volunteering and entry level roles and then use this experience to progress in the sector.  There are direct entry roles for medical and nursing professionals, occupational therapists and social workers after completion of degree or masters level training.

International students

Much of the information on this page is UK-focused. If you are an international student, you may be thinking about returning to your home country, so it will be necessary to research mental health provision in alternative locations as provision and career pathways could be very different.

Gaining a professional qualification in one country may not mean that you can work elsewhere without additional registration.

Looking for job opportunities

The mental healthcare sector is complex, the roles available are diverse and vary between settings. There is no one website which covers the sector in its entirety.

It is useful to use NHS and local government job pages but www.indeed.co.uk is also a great way to explore opportunities.

Recruitment advice

The vast majority of roles within the sector will be working for the public or third or not-for-profit sectors. 

Many of these organisations will ask you to complete an online application rather than sending a CV and the applications will often ask you to include a personal statement explaining how you meet the essential and desirable criteria for the role. It is good practice when writing this statement to address all of the criteria, providing solid examples for each in the same format as the person specification. 

Talk to adviser about your plans and making applications

Applying for roles in the NHS and other healthcare providers

Abstract image of various health-related images

If you are you interested in applying for a role with the NHS or another healthcare provider, use our online guide to:

  • understand where to search for vacancies
  • prepare for an effective application which includes the importance of self-reflecting, researching your employer and understanding how you can best articulate your experience and motivation
  • understand the recruitment processes for different roles and employers

Go to the online guide

 
 

 

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