Family therapy (also called systemic psychotherapy) is one of the modalities of psychotherapy recognised by the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). It places an emphasis on the importance of relationships and often works with couples, families and other relationship groups. It recognises the way in which social interactions shape a person’s life and addresses these relationships both directly and indirectly.
The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice is a member of the UKCP. AFT accredited training courses are designed so that successful graduates are eligible for registration with UKCP.
The training to become a Family and Systemic Psychotherapist is based on the assumption that students have already trained in and had experience in another relevant profession. To qualify as a Family and Systemic Psychotherapist it is necessary to undertake the four-year part-time training at Foundation, Intermediate and Qualifying levels.
The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice (AFT) was founded in 1975 and one of its key aims is to promote excellence in training. One of its main committees is the CRED Committee (the Committee for the Accreditation and Development of Family Therapy Training) which sets training standards, operates a system for course accreditation and supports the development of training across the UK.
Information on training and course requirements can be found in The Blue Book (PDF).
This is usually a part-time course, lasting for one academic year, consisting of a theoretical input and teaching in small and larger groups. There is a strong emphasis on active learning and there will usually be opportunities to work in pairs and small groups, and to be involved in role play and other experiential exercises. Admission requirements at this level will vary slightly from course to course. Some courses will only accept students who have a prior training in a relevant profession, currently psychology, social work, psychiatry, teaching and nursing. Other courses may accept a wider group of applicants but it may be difficult for some students without a prior professional training or current practice base to continue further with their training because of the additional requirements at Intermediate and Qualifying levels. There is a formal assessment and successful students may continue to the Intermediate level of training.
This level is also usually part-time and lasts for one academic year. There is a continuation of theoretical input and opportunities to process ideas in small groups. This year also places a firm emphasis on the application of theoretical ideas to practice and clinical work. Students are required to undertake a minimum of 50 hours of systemic practice during the year. It is important that potential applicants ensure that they have the opportunity to do this. This is usually done as part of employment but some students find it necessary to secure placements to fulfil these requirements. Some courses may demand additional hours of clinical experience. There is a formal assessment and successful students can apply to go on to the next level.
This is usually completed part-time over two academic years and must be at postgraduate level. Successful completion of an Intermediate level training is one of the admission requirements. There are also academic requirements to be met, such as a good undergraduate degree. Applicants will also attend selection interviews which assess readiness for training. Students at this level will be required to do at least 200 hours work based systemic practice over the period of the course. They will usually have a prior relevant professional training in one of the helping professions. Courses operate an APEL system (accreditation of prior experience and learning) to determine exceptions. It is important to enquire of specific courses if you are unsure whether or not you meet requirements. Courses have the following components:
It is advisable to read an introductory text in family therapy and/or attend one of the many workshops and conferences available. Many Foundation level courses welcome students to complete the first year, as a way of finding out about the systemic approach and the training in detail. Many institutes and universities have open days where you can find out more. View our list of accredited courses.
Although some qualified Family and Systemic Psychotherapists may work in private practice, there is a strong tradition of employment in the NHS, social services and the voluntary sector. Some graduates find opportunities to do family therapy within their original profession, while others seek designated family therapy posts. These continue to increase and develop, with the majority still within child and family mental health services within the NHS. Posts usually have a strong field of applicants and there are still many more trained Family and Systemic Psychotherapists than posts available.
You should discuss this with the individual courses. For exceptional applicants, courses may take into account previous experience and decide whether or not it is sufficient to enable applicants to be accepted on a training course. It is important to check requirements for moving on to further levels of training. It will be necessary to have the required practice experience.
The majority of students will be in relevant employment while undertaking the training. However, some students may have to find their own placements. Although some courses give assistance, it is important to be clear about the detailed requirements when approaching agencies and departments about the possibility of a clinical attachment. There may be a small charge if you are offered a placement. It is important to agree a contract for any placement negotiated.
Geographical location will usually be a deciding factor. The training is organised so that after one level is completed it is usually possible to move to another institute (or equivalent) if this becomes more convenient. You can usually take a study break between levels of training.
Some courses are larger than others, some have a particular theoretical leaning, and some courses are more firmly based in a health service setting or in the voluntary sector. Qualifying level training, in particular, is a huge investment in both time and money and it is worth investigating various courses before making a decision.
To maintain registration with the UKCP, psychotherapists have to fulfil continued professional development requirements. This includes ongoing supervision/consultation and attendance at training events. Many Family and Systemic Psychotherapists go on to train as supervisors and The Red Book outlines requirements for accreditation as supervisors. Some institutes in partnership with universities also run clinical doctorate programmes.
Over the past 30 years or so professionals in the helping professions have discovered the value of a systemic training in developing their own practice and helping clients to make positive changes in their lives. The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice (AFT) offers reassurance about the quality of trainings on offer. Membership of AFT is open to all those interested in family therapy and systemic practice. Membership includes an excellent journal and a lively professional magazine. This would be another way of checking if this is the field for you. If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us.