Our life experiences influence our career and learning ambitions, but this is becoming particularly significant in psychotherapy. In a survey of 2,300 UKCP members in February 2020, almost a third (29%) cited personal experience of psychotherapy as the primary reason for choosing their career, with a personal interest in mental health being the second most common reason (27%). Whereas in the past just one in ten fully qualified psychotherapists chose the profession due to personal experience (based on figures of retired therapists) this is now closer to one in three.
For students, the influence of their own therapy experience in their career choice has also increased, to 33%. Just three years ago another survey showed that most UKCP trainees chose the profession for career change (43%) and fewer than one in five (17%) said it was due to their personal experience of psychotherapy.
Almost all psychotherapists (90%) – currently practicing, studying or training – had another career prior to training in psychotherapy. Other reasons given by practicing psychotherapists for moving into the profession included looking for a change of career (25%) or to enhance a career (12%). In the past (based on figures of retired therapists) choosing psychotherapy to enhance a career was the dominant reason (33%).
UKCP psychotherapist Juliet Rosenfeld was drawn to the profession after experiencing therapy herself:
‘Thirty years ago, I got depressed at university for no apparent reason. A therapist asked me to describe my feelings, which helped us identify what was going on. I realised I had been suffering psychologically since childhood, despite having loving parents and friends. That was the beginning of an enduring interest in understanding the darker side of our emotions.’
UKCP psychotherapist John-Paul Davies took a year-long break from a 12-year career as a lawyer, in that year he found psychotherapy. ‘As soon as I had begun my therapy training, I realised that being a therapist was much closer to who I was and wanted to be. It felt less like a “job” and more like a way of being.’
It’s likely that these statistics are indicators of changing attitudes to mental health and psychotherapy and a testament to the success of psychotherapeutic support to develop and assist thousands of people – inspiring hundreds of them so much – to consider a career in the profession.
Training and working in psychotherapy is a hugely rewarding career helping at the leading edge of mental and emotional wellbeing at a time when the nation (and world) is awakening to the impact of psychotherapeutic support to a wide range of mental health issues.