So you want to become a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist?
Over the past few months quite a few people have contacted me about becoming a therapist so I thought I would write a post that I can direct people to in future.
Being a therapist is one of the most emotionally challenging, but most rewarding jobs that exists.
Being able to provide a safe space for people to share their most vulnerable thoughts and feelings is an incredible privilege and I think of my patients often far beyond the time in which we work together. I am a better person because of my work. I have grown and changed as a human being myself and it’s hard not to make changes in your own life when you spend so much time collaboratively developing therapeutic wisdom with your patients. I am more compassionate, more patient, more thoughtful, more forgiving and better able to identify the practical steps I need to take in my own life as I am blessed with a job that enables me to spend most of my working life creating and thinking and motivating people towards facing their fears and making changes to help them lead happier and healthier lives.
Be under no illusion though, this work is difficult. I have experienced what I can only describe as ‘secondary trauma’, the act of hearing such complex trauma, that I myself have felt traumatised. Sometimes, I have broken into tears following a difficult assessment where my awareness of the level of human suffering and the capabilities of what other humans can do to each other, repeatedly, throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood has left me incredibly distressed. Or I have left the office at the end of the day physically shaking through having to manage and cope with the complexity of some of my cases and an acute awareness of the fragility of human life. Therapist ‘burn out’ is very real.
But, this is where I am meant to be. I am surrounded by some of the most intelligent and expert therapists I have ever had the privilege of working with and my colleagues provide space for my own healing when I need it. I work in an environment where creativity and reflection are not only supported, but strongly encouraged and I am supported in being myself and bringing my own unique skills to therapy sessions with my patients. I am more fulfilled and happy than I have ever been, albeit also more stressed, but I trust that in time I will learn to manage and deal with things so that I carry a little less home with me each evening. I am lucky and filled with gratitude for all of the opportunity’s that I have been gifted, and I want to help you follow your dreams too so here are my top tips for becoming a CBT Therapist:
Experience is vital- whether voluntary or paid, experience working with vulnerable adults or in a caring role enables you to develop innate responses to situations which is key in being able to deal with potentially difficult, challenging situations in your future role. My own experience came from working for many years in homelessness & addiction services, where I gradually learnt skills to deal with some of life’s more difficult aspects with resilience and empathy and I delivered groups of Mindfulness for Addiction recovery for years. But experience can come from many places. Lived experience of living with, or recovering from mental health issues often draws people to want to become a therapist ('Expert's by experience' - this is a real term used to acknowledge the power of lived experience in helping others) but lived experienced alone is not enough. You will need to develop practical skills in dealing with mental health issues. Social work, nursing, PWP (more on this later), Occupational Therapy are amongst many other things in some of the backgrounds of my esteemed colleagues.
-Be prepared to go deeper
You will also go on a journey of self-discovery as a therapist, and your own ‘stuff’ will be triggered in training and in your work. Be prepared for this and to start shining a light on some of your own darker moments in your past, and the shadow aspects of the self. Some training courses actually prescribe seeing your therapist as part of your core training.
How are you going to look after yourself throughout this process? This work is emotionally demanding. Start developing a routine of kindness towards yourself...now. Whether it is seeing your own therapist, a regular exercise or meditation routine, ‘me-dates’, seeing friends, spending time with loved ones, having a glass of wine in the bath with a good book, find ways to self soothe. This work is emotionally draining and you need to look after yourself. Whatever it is, make it a priority and commit to giving your self the same levels of self-compassion and self-kindness you would want your patients to give themselves.
-Believe in yourself
We are taught about ‘Imposter Syndrome’ at uni and you will have hundreds of thousands moments where you feel ‘incompetent’ or ‘not good enough’. This is normal, and humbling and reminds us that we are human. It’s okay not to know everything, and some of my best work has come through moments of pure creativity, rather than from things I have read in a text book. You will continue to feel ‘incompetent’ and ‘not good enough’ across your career as you will always be learning new things as you care about your patients and so you will continuously be trying new things to give them the best possible chance of recovery. Everyone sucks at something new. It would be weird if you knew how to do everything before you have had a chance to practice. These things take time, and you will get there and one day the things that frightened you will feel as normal as tying your shoelaces and you will share your wisdom with others and you will surprise yourself. And then you will struggle again at something new, and the cycle will start again. Trust the process, and stop beating yourself up. No-one and nothing is perfect, and that is perfectly okay.
So, you still want to be a therapist? Fucking great news. We can’t wait to have you on board!
1. I studied for a Post Graduate Diploma at The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at Kings College London and depending on your experience, this course is one of the best in the world and I was incredibly fortunate enough to get a space here. The teaching standard is amazing and you will not regret applying. I didn’t actually get on the first time, but I used the experience as a way to propel me to learn more, develop further, for the next time I applied, rather than letting it get me down. What you are seeking, is also seeking you. It will come when it is ready. This is a paid training course and was honestly one of the best things I have ever done:
This course is also offered at Royal Holloway:
2. If you not have as much prior experience; training to become a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) is also an excellent route in to getting some core training. You will still need experience but this is a great first step towards becoming a CBT therapist. This is also a paid training course but you will need to work for 2 years as a PWP before you can apply for the course at Kings/ Holloway.
Good luck, you’ve got this. You really have.
Love Catherine xx