Working life (medical psychotherapy)

This page provides useful information about the roles and responsibilities of medical psychotherapist, where they work, who they work with and what they feel about their role.

“Working as a medical psychotherapist is immensely rewarding. Not only do I get the opportunity to find out what drives people, their motivations, fears and aspirations - I also see the real difference that talking treatments can make to a person’s  wellbeing.  A former patient contacted me recently just to say how she continues to do well and lead a productive life. She is still putting into practice the more helpful ways of coping that she learned during her CBT sessions with me several years ago.” - a medical psychotherapist

Work can be based in community centres or within hospital outpatient departments. Some medical psychotherapists run in-patient units. The working week is usually a combination of individual and possibly group psychotherapy, teaching, training and meetings.

The number of therapy sessions given to each patient can vary. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy can last for a long time – sometimes two years or more. Cognitive behaviour therapy and cognitive analytic therapy are time-limited – perhaps between six and sixteen sessions and sometimes longer.

The number of patients seen in a day in this specialty varies considerably, depending on the working circumstances of the medical psychotherapist.

Therapy sessions usually last 50 minutes, although this can be adjusted according to patient need or ability to concentrate. Assessment and therapy contact time is usually greater in psychotherapy than in general psychiatry. Detailed case notes are kept, and these are prepared by the therapist after the session.

There is little out-of-hours requirement for a medical psychotherapist, so most generally work Monday-Friday, 9am to 5pm. However, most medical psychotherapists now opt to take part in general on call rota work. 

The EU Working Time Directive limits the working week to 48 hours. It is also possible to work part-time once you are consultant, or to train on a less than full-time basis (conditions apply).

  • Medical psychotherapists work as part of large multidisciplinary teams.

    They work with:

    • clinical psychologists
    • mental health nurses
    • community practice nurses
    • occupational therapists
    • arts therapists
    • other psychotherapists
    • other mental health professionals
    • social workers
    • medical secretaries and administrative staff
  • The chance to hear patient’s stories is a thoroughly enjoyable element of the work, and more than any other sub-specialty of psychiatry, there is time to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with patients. The way that patients are able to recognise their strengths and overcome their difficulties is fascinating.

    Developing a close therapeutic relationship with a patient can be an emotionally demanding experience.  Due to the slow progress patients sometimes make, it can be frustrating for therapists (especially early on), but once this frustration is overcome the role is very rewarding.

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