Emma joined First Step, which is now NHS North Cumbria Talking Therapies, as a trainee and has progressed to become a fully qualified CBT Therapist and High Intensity Practitioner. She shared with us some of the opportunities that working in IAPT has given her, and how much she’s come to appreciate the area’s amazing landscape as a therapeutic resource…

Emma originally trained as a social worker, spending time working as a Mental Health Advocate for the charity Mind and delivering mental health training for other services. “The more I worked in mental health, the more interested I became in the therapeutic side of things – but in my roles as a social worker there weren’t many opportunities to explore that,” she explains. “Once I learned about the service and what Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services did, I had my eye on that as a career.”

She soon applied for the one-year fully funded training scheme to become a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner. After her training finished, Emma spent two years in this role before progressing on to the High Intensity Practitioner training. She completed this last November, and since then has been working for the service as a fully-qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Therapist. “Working in the service allowed me to develop through that CBT training structure, and that clear progression route is one of the things that attracted me to this service,” Emma explains.

Emma lives near Allerdale and works at North Cumbria Talking Therapies Workington base – though like most of her colleagues she is currently delivering therapy virtually from her home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She admits that most of the team were a bit apprehensive about delivering therapy over the phone and video conferences at first, “but it’s been far more successful than we dared hope. Although some clients were sceptical at first, most people have found it’s worked well for them.”

Alongside the regular work of treating clients, North Cumbria Talking Therapies staff also get opportunities to take on projects and responsibilities that interest them. “I like loads of variety in my work, so in the last few years, I’ve been involved with restarting our Ways to Wellbeing groups, a big effort to review all our self-help materials, and took part in our pilot of a program called  SilverCloud. That’s now used across the service and seems to have gone down very well with clients.”

person at a camp fireHaving grown up in Cumbria Emma feels a strong attachment to the area, and she finds it the perfect place to live and work as a CBT Therapist. “I’m not what you’d call a ‘hardcore’ walker or outdoors enthusiast, but I love having so many beautiful places on my doorstep to go and explore and unwind – there’s something here for every level of ability,” she points out. “It also means we can encourage clients to get outdoors, and it’s very accessible for them. There’s so much evidence that getting out in nature has a lot of therapeutic value, and we’ve seen that during lockdown.”

Emma is keen to remind people that there’s more to Cumbria than the Lake District. “I don’t technically live in ‘the Lakes,’ but this area is quite different from what

people expect – don’t write places off just because they’re outside the National Park. We still have all of the benefits here; from one side of my house you can see the sea and from the other side the fells!”

During lockdown, she and her colleagues have developed a new appreciation for where they live. “I feel for people living and working in big cities who don’t have such easy and free access to the countryside. We’ve been able to share ideas for walks with clients, which they can easily get to and do for nothing, maybe just a few quid for parking or transport – and they come back to their next session talking about how much that helped them. The landscape around us is just such a great resource.”

Most importantly, Emma feels that she is surrounded by a fantastic team at North Cumbria Talking Therapies. “Working as a High Intensity Practitioner can be a high-pressure job at times, but the North Cumbria Talking Therapies team offer a lot of flexibility and the whole team is so supportive. I felt so welcomed when I was a new trainee, and as I’ve progressed the level of clinical supervision and support from the team has always been excellent. It’s a really rewarding job too, of course, and that makes any difficult parts worthwhile.”