So You Want to be a PWP?

This week Sam Torney, a Lead PWP from an IAPT service in the West Midlands, describes Trainee PWP recruitment from the service side. We’d like to extend our encouragement and support to everyone who is applying, and hope this post helps you to understand the process.

Update: Sam has collaborated on another post that we hope you will read alongside this one. Stepping Stones: The Teenage Years of the PWP World has a closer look at why people want to be a PWP, and how to do that well. Thanks for reading!

I love being a PWP.  I, like a lot of people applying to train, took a few applications to secure a position, but it was worth it.  My job is fast paced, energetic, and I have the pleasure of working with colleagues as enthusiastic about it as me.  It’s also hard work, occasionally frustrating, and often exhausting.  But despite that, I love the art to be found in taking a few simple techniques, and turning them into an individualised path for someone else to walk. 

Mostly, I get to work with people, and all the highs and lows that come with that. In a very short space of time, I get to build a rapport, gently encourage hope, and have a front-row seat to watch someone change their life. It’s a challenging and brilliant job: no wonder so many people want to do it. 

when you’re applying for a job, you should explain why you want to do that job, not a different one

This year in my service, we had over 250 applications for our 4 advertised PWP trainee positions.  We kept the job application open for just over 4 days before realising we were already completely overwhelmed.  When we sifted through them, most of those applicants would have been people we would have considered interviewing.  You can imagine then, how hard it is to stand out from the crowd.  I’m hoping, with help from others, to give some tips on what makes a really great application/interview, what we’re looking for, and what not to do. 

Apply to be a trainee PWP.

I know that sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many people miss this one.  It is perfectly okay to have career aspirations beyond Step 2!   Not everyone wants to do the same job for the rest of their lives (although if you do, great!) Plenty of new things to learn in an ever-developing role, and the more people that fight for opportunities, the more there’ll be).  But generally when you’re applying for a job, you should explain why you want to do that job, not a different one.  If your personal statement starts with “I want to be a PWP because it will help me with my long-term goal of becoming a Clinical Psychologist/Hi-Intensity CBT Therapist” (No, seriously.  That happens.) you’ve probably already lost us. 

It’s worth remembering that these placements are paid ones, and they are so for a reason: to increase the amount of PWPs working within the NHS.  That leads to a reluctance to employ people who intend to leave the role without doing the two years of experience as a qualified practitioner that is recommended.  I really would strongly encourage everyone to complete those two years – you gain a lot of skills and experience, and you pay back into a system that has supported you to develop, with the assumption you will use that to help the public. 

I’ve had numerous colleagues who have moved on from PWP work and developed into other areas, and I genuinely think they’re all fantastic.  My Service Lead fondly says that the HITs in my team that have developed from Step 2 remain PWPs at heart.  That’s because they learn skills unique to the role and use them to their (and their patients’) benefit further along the system.  To do that, to learn those lifelong skills, you have to take the role seriously and appreciate it for what it is.  Which leads me to my next point…

Know what you’re getting into

Do you feel like you fully know what a PWP is?  What low-intensity CBT means?  Because I can promise you immediately: there is nothing in it that lacks intensity in any way!  If you read the previous point and had no idea what I meant when I said “Step 2”, you probably don’t know enough for your interview.  The IAPT Manual is THE guidebook as to how all of this is supposed to work. As lengthy as it is, I would fully recommend reading it to get an idea of what is going to be expected of you.  The best candidates have done their homework and can talk about why IAPT is here and where it is going.  I also really encourage you to do a full reading of the other posts on this blog to help you go in fully informed.  I love my job, I’ll defend it to anyone, but it’s not easy money and it’s worth heading in with your eyes wide open.

A Psychology degree isn’t the be all and end all.

I may be a bit biased here, because I don’t have a degree in Psychology myself.  I would say roughly 80% of our applicants do, and I believe the universities do tend to look favourably on it, as it’s a good indicator of someone able to do the work and pass the course.  It’s certainly not a bad thing!  But as long as you can prove you can work at degree level, I wouldn’t worry about not having the in-depth psychology knowledge that a lot of people do.  It’s more important to show a genuine love of learning, especially as it relates to the field.  The beauty and nightmare of IAPT is it is still hugely in development and ever changing.  A willingness and excitement to keep up with that is what we look for in my team, rather than a qualification within itself.

I love being a PWP

There is a lot of buzz (and controversy) about PWP apprenticeships about at the moment, and personally I’m all for them.  We need more PWPs!  And I think the same standard can absolutely be achieved with the right training, course and placement.  It’s a heartbreaking reality that we turn so many incredible applicants away from training, but quite often struggle to fill qualified positions.  More diversity, more numbers entering, and more people with the qualification can never be a bad thing in my opinion.

Experience is everything

Working in mental health isn’t for everyone.  It’s a tough gig and you spend a lot of time battling with what you’d like to do for people, and what you can actually do with the funding and resources you have.  The only way of truly demonstrating how you handle and understand that is by working in it.  Volunteer experience is great and shows dedication, but there’s nothing quite the same as earning your living by doing a support worker role or similar.  My local university are often reluctant to put anyone through that doesn’t have at least one year paid experience, because people who have already done this type of work are the ones you can depend on to complete the course. 

Show us your passion

When I think about the recruitment rounds we did this year in my service, the number one thing that stands out to me about our successful candidates is how clearly they showed their passion for the role. It’s what made their personal statements stand out – they told us why mental health was important to them, why they wanted to help people, what mattered to them personally.  At interview they spoke enthusiastically about their values, and their beliefs shone through.

You don’t have to have lived experience to do this, although if you have, it’s okay to talk about it.  I know there is still some concern out there that disclosing your own mental health difficulties can go against you, and sadly I suspect in some areas it still would.  Perhaps I’ve been fortunate but I’ve never found that to be the case.  I would suggest any service that would mark you down for being open about your own difficulties isn’t a service that would be pleasant to work for.

Don’t tell us that your approach is a patient-centred one, show us with your examples and answers. 

The vital thing is to make us believe that you genuinely care and mean what you say, and that you aren’t just giving us a text-book answer.  Don’t tell us that your approach is a patient-centred one, show us with your examples and answers.   The thing I am most fiercely proud of in my team is that if one of my loved ones needed support, I would happily see their case passed to any of my colleagues.  I know that they would give that person the same care and consideration that I would give a member of their family.  That’s a huge thing, and whenever I am thinking about someone new coming into our team, that is ultimately the standard I am comparing them against.

I remember how disheartening and upsetting it was to send application after application to be a PWP and not get an interview, and it seems to be getting more competitive year on year.  I hope this is useful for anyone who is applying, about to apply, or thinking about applying in the future.  Remember that most of us interviewing you have been through the same thing and have made it to the other side!  Please don’t give up: I believe there is so, so much more for Low-Intensity Therapists to come, I hope you join us!

A Note From the University Side…

This is NotaGuru. I agreed with Sam that I’d add a short note at the end of her post to explain what a training provider might look for in their part of the recruitment process. I echo what Sam has said, this is an incredibly competitive process, in my service we typically have 600 applicants for 5-10 training places and always have to close the job advert early. Please remember that this is not an assistant psychologist role and IAPT services need PWPs who will stay in the job. Without a consistent low intensity workforce the IAPT programme isn’t viable.

In most IAPT teams the course provider has to be part of the recruitment process. In my area trainee PWPs have an interview with the IAPT service and then the service proposes their preferred candidates to the University who do a second interview. The university asks the service to send more candidates than there are places. This process works a bit differently in every area but I thought it would be helpful to let you know what my course team look for in their candidates.

Some training providers keep it simple. Candidates are asked to write a short reflection to demonstrate that they can write to a suitable academic standard, there is a short role play during the interview to demonstrate core skills in establishing a therapeutic alliance and eliciting and making sense of information about common mental health problems. Other providers will also include a group discussion and a written exercise in exam settings.

What we’re looking for

  • The ability to meet the academic requirements of the course
  • A demonstration of the ability to reflect on their own work and acknowledge and learn from their own mistakes
  • A plan for self care during a very demanding year
  • To establish that the candidate has not already been on a funded IAPT Low Intensity training place and will not try to do more than one academic course in the year
  • Core practical skills; reflective listening, empathy, a basic understanding of common mental health conditions and NICE guidelines
  • An understanding that psychological work has to be adapted to meet diverse needs and examples of the ability to do this
  • A sense that the candidate knows what IAPT is and the principles that underpin the programme (hint: look up the IAPT standards)
  • A sense that they know what a PWP is and values the role

If you’re thinking about joining the Low Intensity workforce, good luck. We really hope this post has been helpful and hope to meet you in the future!


9 thoughts on “So You Want to be a PWP?

  1. This is a great blog, thanks. Represents the increasing satisfaction with the role and several reasons why. Some great advice, especially if you apply for the role, then demonstrate why you want the role and not another one. Needless to say when I have interviewed if this is done interviews tended to be exceptionally short. However, I’d like to stress two things. 1. There are now increasing opportunities for progression in the PWP role. I know of several PWPs now leading services at Band 8. Many doing a great job and as such hope to see more. 2. Want to stress not all University training providers favour psychology graduates. Some favour applicants with a wider range of experiences that can better suit people from the communities they serve. One of the aims of the Doncaster pilot. To facilitate this some Universities (like my own) offer training at academic level 5 to train at Level 6 (degree level) to supplement those with a degree to study at PG Cert. In fact was stressed at the outset of IAPT as a goal. But not all Universities offer this and one reason why a poorly used route currently. However, aside from limited level 5 entry, I’ve been funded to identity reasons for this and develop guidance to try to attract wider participation. Outcomes will be available to all when done. Many many thanks for this blog, really demonstrates increasing satisfaction with the PWP role. Another indication the role has turned a corner.


  2. What a great article. Really enjoyed going through your blog
    I’m thinking about applying for a PWP role but I have friends who do this and say they are exhausted. They’ve requested to go part time but they’ve always been told either full time or nothing. They both work in different services in different parts of the country.
    Do you know of any reason why part time isn’t permitted as PWP in IAPT? I feel that would be a good way to increase numbers and retention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sheny, thanks for your comment and it’s great to hear about your interest. I know lots of PWPs who work part-time, including myself! The training year is usually full time so that you can fit in attendance on the course while accumulating enough clinical experience to pass the training requirements. After the training year many services will be open to negotiating hours.


  3. This is a really helpful article thankyou! I’ve always wanted to work in mental health due to my own experiences looking after family – this has highlighted to me that I need to gain some real experience before I apply!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What would you recommend for someone with no prior professional experience of mental health who can’t afford to take a step down in salary to work as a support worker? I have extensive personal experience dealing with it (my own mental health and an ex partner), but I am also in significant debt due to my own mental health issues in the past. Am I just not likely to get anywhere? I am very passionate about it, but I have no qualifications and no work experience.


    1. If you can get some volunteer work with a mental health charity alongside your day job, that can provide useful experience. A foundation of the common factor skills can be gained through level 2 and 3 counslling courses that are widely available as well. Interpersonal skills and the ability to reflect and learn from your experience are very helpful. Best of luck!


      1. Thank you for your quick response. I have no money to take a course, and my local charities are not accepting volunteers other than to work in their shops. Never mind!


  5. Hey Cob. My experiences with mental illness have led me to financial difficulties also. If you aren’t working and on UC for example-they can fund a counselling course/mental health first aid course or any course that would help you to progress. I know what you mean about taking a pay cut and becoming a support worker, it isn’t easy but may be the first step towards a more promising future, if this is your passion- to work in mental health. Hope it all works out, wishing you the best x


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