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After 20 years working for a housing association, Marie Boardman successfully started a new career as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) – her story may inspire others considering a change in employment.
I left school at 16 to study social care at college and began my career in 1992, working for a housing association. Over the next 20 years I worked there in a variety of roles, supporting vulnerable adults who were experiencing addiction and offending issues. Due to funding priority changes I was eventually made redundant; this turned out to be a surprisingly positive result as it led to a new career working as a PWP.
For my next step I started working in primary care mental health, in a service that provided care for people with common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. I led a team which developed ways to engage hard-to-reach groups, and worked alongside therapists. I noticed their work reflected some of the things I had done in my previous job – supporting people to achieve goals, challenging ways of thinking, encouraging patients to engage positively with work and welfare opportunities. The opportunity for one-to-one interaction to help people make positive changes in their lives was something I found inspiring – and it attracted me as a career.
Around this time, my local Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service was recruiting for trainee PWPs and I was fortunate the Birmingham course encouraged applicants from backgrounds other than degree level. Even though I had continued my career development through training courses and studies at post-graduate level, the prospect of returning to education in my late forties to train for a new career was daunting. Fortunately, there were a couple of other mature students in my cohort, who had also been out of formal education, and that helped to alleviate my initial apprehension. As the one-year, full-time course progressed I also sought support from the tutors when necessary, such as for advice on writing and revision skills. It was at times a difficult journey, but my attitude was stay focused on the learning and take it one step at a time.
I have now been in my role at Wellbeing Matters, a site focusing on mental health long-term conditions, in the Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust for 10 months. I’ve worked in the local community to develop links, increase engagement with local people and encourage conversations about mental health and wellbeing, whilst promoting the service.
After just five months in post, I was honoured and surprised to be nominated for an ‘Employee of the Season Award’ for promoting Wellbeing Matters proactively in the area. The nomination said: ‘Marie took the opportunity to take the service out to the community, organising and delivering a number of community engagement sessions, a vital part of reducing stigma and increasing service awareness and subsequent referrals.’ This proved to me that you really can make a difference within your team and community, even in a short time.
There are exciting times ahead for careers in psychological therapies. Services have developed the Senior PWP role to support the growth of teams and are beginning to develop new opportunities, such as the Lead PWP role which contributes to service developments at a strategic level, and influences change. Depending on how services are organised locally, a Lead PWP might also be responsible for managing several senior PWPs across several sites.
This shows a clear career path and progression and I hope it will encourage people to consider these roles as a viable second career option. Special interests such as older adults, perinatal mental health, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities and supporting people with long-term conditions and medically unexplained symptoms have allowed the PWP workforce to develop interests and skills in new areas.
I am passionate about my role as a PWP, encouraging and supporting more mature people, and those who have not followed the traditional route of university, to consider it as a second career. I am excited about the opportunities opening up as the role becomes more established within mental health and physical health services, and the diversity that will be created through PWPs having the opportunity to develop specialisms within the service.
I am working with colleagues to develop a West Midlands Senior PWP Forum. One of its aims is to support recruitment, retention and development of the PWP role. However, for me the patient journey remains at the heart of all I do to ensure stigma is reduced, people feel they can access services earlier in their journey and the team are supported to achieve this in a positive manner.
- The role of PWP Practitioner has been a cornerstone of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) since the programme began in 2008. PWPs help people with anxiety, depression and other common problems, and give information to reduce the stigma that can surround mental ill-health.