28 May, 2024

5 Unseen Challenges Faced by Psychotherapists

Psychotherapy is a popular form of talk therapy used to treat people who are struggling with their mental health and to help improve their mental well-being. Despite more and more qualified therapists setting up shop, the supply of psychotherapists is still failing to fulfil the growing demand for their services, with most private-practice psychotherapists overrun with inquiries and waiting lists.


So, if you’re a qualified psychotherapist considering starting your own practice, the time is most definitely right. However, while you may well end up swimming in clients, you could also end up facing unforeseen challenges.


Here are five of the most common unseen challenges you might be facing as a practising psychotherapist.

1.    Claims of Malpractice

Therapy might be able to protect your clients from mental health issues, but it can put you in the firing line if your clients make claims of malpractice against you. If you’re a psychotherapist, you’ll be aware that there is no ‘cure-all’ therapy technique that will resolve your clients’ issues. The kicker is that often, that’s exactly what your clients are after — in this case, unrealistic expectations can lead your clients to claim compensation against you for malpractice. No amount of expertise and qualifications can protect you from unrealistic expectations or malpractice claims.


The best way to protect yourself as a psychotherapy professional is to invest in comprehensive psychotherapy insurance. Advice that is both well-intentioned and coming from years of experience can still lead to compensation claims, and you’ll need a specialised insurance company to help you navigate this.


There are plenty of insurance companies that offer quality comprehensive psychotherapy insurance. It’s worth taking out a policy with an insurance firm that offers tailor-made policies for businesses like yours. Some insurance firms will offer a specialised service just for counselling and psychotherapy.

2.    The Emotional Toll

A 2022 study by the American Psychological Association found that almost half of mental health practitioners have signs of burnout. The emotional toll of psychotherapy should come as no surprise — after all, the intense emotional requirements of the profession are bound to have an impact on those who practise it.


Tackling burnout and reducing the emotional toll of psychotherapy can be done with the right strategies. If you’re a psychotherapist struggling, it’s important to find others who can empathise with you. Getting support from those who understand the emotional toll of practising will remind you that you are not alone — it might be worth reaching out to the therapists you undergo supervision with.


It’s also important to prioritise things in your life that keep you balanced — this might be hobbies, spending time with your loved one, or even just having a bath after you finish work for the evening. Making time for the things that reduce stress is imperative if you want a long career as a psychotherapist because, without it, burnout will catch up with you and make it increasingly difficult to continue.

3.    The Expense of Training

As with many professions, training to be a psychotherapist can be costly. Depending on where you train and what type of qualification you’re after — there are diplomas, foundation degrees and master’s degrees — courses can cost you between £2000 and £15,000. The expenses don’t stop after qualifying either. Supervision, personal therapy, insurance and BACP membership are all extra costs that are essential if you want to set up your own psychotherapy practice.


Some organisations can help you financially if you’re pursuing psychotherapy as a career. Family Action’s educational grants programme distributes grants of up to £300 to pay for additional costs that may arise from a further education course. While this won’t be enough to cover your qualifications entirely, it can help take the strain off. It’s also worth seeing whether Student Loans Company can provide a loan that will cover the cost of your qualification.

4.    The Difficulty of Finding Suitable Work

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) advises that newly-trained counsellors and psychotherapists avoid going straight into private practice, and instead seek employment from somewhere where freshly qualified therapists can be ‘allocated appropriate clients’ and ‘receive peer support’.


But even BACP notes that there are not enough jobs in psychotherapy and counselling for everyone who is professionally trained. So, what to do if you’re just qualified and looking for work?


The first place to start is the BACP Therapy Today journal which includes counselling job openings. If you’ve exhausted these options, you can also find counselling and psychotherapy jobs advertised on The Guardian, Times Educational Supplement, Times Higher Education, NHS Jobs and Community Care. It’s also worth considering taking on a volunteer role (which you’ll be well acquainted with if you’ve recently finished your training). Of course, this might be a strain for you financially, but it can be a sound place to start and springboard into a full-time salary role.

5.    Managing Client Boundaries

When it comes to psychotherapy, it’s all about creating (and maintaining) boundaries with your clients. All psychotherapists will have a set of professional boundaries they communicate to their clients. However, whether or not a client will understand or respect these boundaries is another matter altogether. Due to the nature of the profession, boundaries are harder to maintain and at the same time crucial to implement.


There are a few ways psychotherapists can establish healthy boundaries with their clients — the more established these boundaries are, the easier they are to maintain.

Firstly, make sure you strike the right balance when it comes to therapist self-disclosure. The BACP advises the use of authentic self-disclose to ‘maintain a spontaneous presence for the client’, however revealing too much about yourself can leave the client (and you) confused regarding the nature of the relationship. Considering this, it’s best to keep the location of therapy sessions as neutral as possible, and if they are taking place in your home, removing all pictures displaying your personal life is a good way to ensure boundaries don’t get muddled.


A final way to ensure your professional boundaries are managed correctly is to have firm systems of communication in place. Communication channels can vary, but make sure you’re using channels that will maintain professionalism.

Protecting Yourself From These Challenges

Regardless of these challenges, psychotherapy is one of the most rewarding and selfless career paths to pursue. It is also quite possibly the profession that demands the most emotion from its patrons. To protect yourself from mental and financial burnout, invest in comprehensive psychotherapy insurance, research grants and loans to help with qualification expenses and make sure you prioritise your own mental health just as much as your clients.

Claire James