Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) interventions can be beneficial beyond the field of mental health and used in prisons and occupational health, says Senior PWP Carolyn Houghton. Reflecting on her own career development so far, Carolyn says the role of PWP can provide a long-lasting, rewarding and diverse career.
The publication in 2005 of The Layard Report saw the proposal and development of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) initiative and when I completed my university psychology degree in 2008 this was just beginning to come to life. Upon graduating, I was lucky enough to be offered a Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) role at Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. I spent a year working as a trainee while attending the University of Nottingham one day a week to be taught the theoretical underpinnings and clinical skills of the role.
Once I was a fully-fledged PWP I began to grow as an autonomous practitioner and my passion for the role increased. I recognised the huge benefit it could have for individuals and saw real-life examples of how the PWP remit, as a standalone therapeutic intervention, could improve the wellbeing of individuals – exemplifying ‘least intrusive, most effective’.
In 2013 I completed the IAPT PWP Supervision course at the University of Nottingham which allowed me to share with trainee and qualified PWPs my passion for the role, and guide and support clinical delivery. I got more involved in service development and mentoring, taking on line management responsibilities and completing various leadership and management programmes such as NHS Leadership at Every Level and ILM Service Management. Whilst developing in leadership and management through the attainment of a Senior PWP role, I was also keen to widen my clinical expertise. I began running large-scale groups based on the Jim White Stress Control programme, working into 6th form centres and doing groups with a physical activity element in conjunction with local sports providers. I began looking at different areas within IAPT to further refine and develop my skills. A number of special interest areas had already been identified nationally by IAPT including children and young people, forensic populations and Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups.
In May 2015, I secured a Senior PWP post for Rethink Mental Illness who had been appointed by Tees Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust to implement a step two service into the seven North East prisons. This has given me the opportunity to be directly involved in the set up and delivery of a brand new service. It has also allowed me the challenge of adapting a classic PWP role to fit a prison population – who would often be excluded from community IAPT services due to substance misuse, risk factors, poor engagement and other socio-economic factors. This opportunity was everything I wanted, and the benefit of adding the PWP role into the prisons has been huge.
Rethink Mental Illness have afforded me the opportunity to become a service manager, so I now oversee recruitment, operational issues and the day-to-day management of a step two IAPT service, reporting to a National Head of Prisons and Criminal Justice and to senior management within the trust. I have insight into local and national policy. This has allowed me to remain clinical, developing programmes suitable for the population and problem-solving the demands of the contract whilst meeting the needs of the establishments and ensuring processes allow staff to retain a good work/life balance. The role has seen me attend multi-agency management level meetings, become trained and skilled in elements of service management, but also to use my clinical background and passion to create a positive working environment where staff can flourish and succeed whilst meeting commissioner and patient expectations.
As part of a wider team of professionally qualified and experienced mental health practitioners, the role of PWP is crucial in helping to deliver a transformation of mental health services in England. In accepting the recommendations contained in the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health the NHS has committed to increasing access to evidence-based psychological therapies to reach 25 per cent of need so that at least 600,000 more adults with anxiety and depression can access care (and 350,000 complete treatment) each year by 2021. The role of PWP has a significant part to play in that transformation programme.
For PWPs, I strongly suggest diversity in terms of roles, looking at special interest groups and considering teaching, leadership and management. Many of these skills can be gained by presenting posters or seminars at conferences and networking events, or through integration into national special interest groups and forums, which often open up avenues to pilots and research.
The PWP discipline is I believe highly valuable to services, regardless of other therapeutic disciplines employed. It provides low-cost, high-turnover, evidence-based interventions, providing individuals with life skills over as little as a few weeks. The application of these skills can be beneficial far beyond the realms of traditional mental health patients – PWP interventions can be used in any occupational health department, in corporate wellbeing, team-building and life coaching at a relatively low cost.