Newly published research into the experiences of NHS therapists has further reinforced what we’re telling the UK Government it needs to do to transform an under-pressure mental health system.

Our survey found that one-fifth of NHS therapists who responded worked full-time within the service.

Half of therapists who worked fewer than 35 hours a week within the NHS said they would both like to work a greater number of hours for the service and had the capacity to do this extra work.

The survey also highlighted that some therapists feel there are inconsistencies in pay within their profession in the NHS, that they feel ‘under-valued’ and ‘under-pressure’, and they are concerned about workplace stress.

We believe the survey of 1,918 BACP members – who are either current or former NHS England employees who left between 2012 and 2017 – is further evidence that counsellors and psychotherapists are a “significant untapped resource that could help with the NHS’s workforce needs” amid increasing demand for services.

This is a message we’re constantly stressing to the NHS and Government, through briefings and meetings with policy-makers and civil servants.

Underutilised workforce

BACP’s Policy and Engagement Lead for Mental Health Matt Smith-Lilley said: “This research clearly backs up what we’ve been saying to Government for a long time – that counsellors and psychotherapists are often an underutilised and undervalued workforce within the NHS.

“It’s continually frustrating to hear ministers and officials talk about a shortage in the mental health workforce being a barrier to a more rapid expansion of mental health services – whilst at the same time counsellors and psychotherapists are repeatedly overlooked as a potential solution to some of these challenges.”

Our policy work includes demonstrating to the NHS and Government that if the service was funded appropriately then there are thousands of highly-trained counsellors and psychotherapists that could be employed to both meet rising demand for services as well as ensuring a choice of evidence based psychological therapies is made widely available to the public.

As part of this we’ve been working closely with NHS England and Health Education England to try and ensure counselling and psychotherapy are clearly factored into the new workforce plans for delivering both the NHS Long Term Plan. 

We ultimately want the Long Term Plan to be implemented to so that it incorporates a wide choice of mental health services that can be accessed when people need them and without long waits.

More paid therapists roles

This includes having more paid therapists roles within the service and addressing some of the barriers counsellors and psychotherapists currently face while working within the NHS; the issues that were raised as part of this survey.

The research findings have been published as the NHS is preparing for the implementation of its Long Term Plan, which includes a heavy focus on developing the workforce needed to deliver expanded services.

Matt added: “Hopefully the Long Term Plan, and its emphasis on workforce development to deliver the ambitions within the plan, will make Government and NHS England more willing to embrace the skills, knowledge and expertise that our members can bring to the NHS workforce.

“Ultimately, we want to see all people who want to access mental health services being able to do so and for those services to be offering everyone a full choice of evidence-based psychological therapies in a quick and timely manner. This ambition requires counselling and psychotherapy at its heart.”

This survey was the first research of its kind to look at the experiences of NHS therapists. It has been published in the Counselling and Psychotherapy Research journal.

Capacity to work more

Lead researcher Gemma Ryan, a Research Fellow at BACP, said: “Our members are telling us they have the capacity to work more and they want to work more for the NHS, even though they are also drawing attention to negative experiences.

“It’s important to understand both the opportunities and barriers for counsellors who work in the NHS at a time when the British government is pledging an expansion of the mental health workforce.

“This is an area we will continue to research to ensure that our members’ experiences can be used to help shape how the NHS mental health workforce is developed.”

Read the research paper.