Family Therapy UK

Training to be a Family Therapist in the UK


This is a question I am asked many times, so I decided to tell you a little about my own training and to direct you to training establishments in the UK. The AFT (Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice in the UK) is the governing body for family therapy in the UK and hold a list of training establishments.

I took a degree in social science with a view to becoming a social worker. This was way back in the 1970’s. The degree gave me quite a broad knowledge of mental health, social policy and legislation and introduced me to social science philosophers such as Karl Marx, Durkheim, Malthus, John Stewart Mill and Freud. The course included quite a lot of psychology, economics and statistics. This was a time of radical thinking about social work and psychiatry and these ideas made me question social and medical models of good health and to explore issues of hierarchy and social injustice in society.

After the degree, I went off the idea of becoming a social worker and spent a few years developing my skills as a photographer and writer. Eventually, I became a professional advertising photographer. I enjoyed this very much. As time went by, I became involved in training junior photographers and enjoyed this so much that it made me reflect on whether or not to go back into social work.

My first job in ‘social work’ was on a government training scheme for young people called the ‘Youth Training Service’. This was working with teenagers who had left school and were unemployed. It involved social skills training and practical work assignments. I also did some voluntary work for a few months in a children's home. Having picked up some skills in these posts, I decided to do formal training in social work. I choose a course at Manchester University which combined a CQSW (certificate of qualification in social work) with a Diploma in Psychiatric Social Work. It included two placements in hospital settings and was a valuable learning experience.

After qualifying as a social worker, I had the choice of moving into mainstream social work or working with children in residential care. I chose residential care because I wanted to do direct therapeutic work with children. I gained a post as team leader in a residential school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. The work focussed on reintegrating children back into their families and mainstream school and included direct work with children and families.

Around about that time, I became aware of family therapy. I read Minuchin’s first book ‘Families of the Slums’ and was impressed with his ideas about family structure and how to implement change in families. The fact he had developed his theories whilst working with children in residential care in the United States was relevant too. I was also impressed by Virginia Satir's book, 'People Making' which is probably my favourite family therapy text.

I was so impressed with the ideas expressed in systemic family therapy that I took a Diploma in Family Therapy at Manchester University and introduced family therapy practice into the residential school I worked in at the time. It was a rich period of learning and this was aided by a generous allocation of time and resources by the school (Taxal Lodge School) for which I am indebted.

After ten years of residential work, I moved into the NHS (National Health Service). This was in a child and adolescent mental health clinic. I am still there and enjoying the therapeutic work as much now as I did when I first began.

Over the past few years I have enjoyed taking students and lecturing to social work students at Keele University about systemic therapy as a guest speaker.

Our CAMHS service has a multidisciplinary family therapy team which meets for one session a week. This team works with complex family therapy cases. We run a number of training workshops focussed on work with families to a range of professionals working with children and families. Family therapy thinking and practice has changed considerably since I qualified. The family therapy team is a forum for our own training and for keeping up with current ideas and practice in the world of family therapy.

I recently begun a CYP-IAPT course to train as a family systemic practice supervisor. Things never stop changing and we have to adapt and grow.

Family Therapy Training in the UK

A list of establishments offering training in the UK can be obtained from AFT (Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice in the UK). AFT set guidelines for the different levels of training listed below:

Foundation Level

Open to relevantly qualified practitioners, such as teachers, social workers, psychologists and other people working with families and children. These courses aim to provide a general theoretical background and explore the application of family therapy/systemic ideas into practice.

Typically, such courses develop awareness of systemic therapy, its practice, its research base and ethical practice. There may be reading groups and professional and development groups as part of the course programme.

At the end of such a course you should have a general understanding of family therapy/systemic approaches.

These courses are typically over a period of a year and include at least 60 hours direct study on the course and 120 independently.

The foundation level is a spring-board to more advanced training, if you want to take it

Intermediate Level

Open to relevantly qualified practitioners, who have completed the foundation level.

At the end of the course you should have knowledge of a broad range of family therapy/systemic literature and theory and how this is applied to practice.

Courses at this level will include at least 60 hours direct teaching on the course, 60 hours of systemic practice and 180 hours of independent study.

The training institution will have to assess whether you are suitable for qualifying training before you can be accepted for it.

Qualifying Level

This is at post-graduate level, though there are paths into these courses without having a first degree. Typically, these courses are two years long, but can be up to five. It will include clinical group supervision (300 hours), direct work with clients (40 of the 300 hours), 200 hours of working systemically outside of the course and include personal and professional development (in direct teaching and in supervision groups).

At the end of the course, students should be up to date with current systemic and ethical practice and be able to practice independently. This will be assessed by a variety of means such as supervision, dissertation and presentation of clinical work.

Dennis Neill

Family Therapist

Family Therapy UK


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