Update on the QLT, with clarity regarding accreditation and employability

Introducing the IFT Qualifying Level Training in Systemic Psychotherapy

Core belief, values and legacy

We believe that training should be tailored to fit the communities that we serve.

A core value at IFT is the importance of meaningfully increasing diversity and inclusivity of clients, trainees, ideas and contexts where we practice.

Systemic psychotherapy was born as a movement away from intrapsychic models and established itself a discipline committed to responding to the complexity and demands of ever-changing contexts. Family therapists have therefore always been part of a genuine force for social transformation, not conformity.

Shifting Contexts: The Case for Change

The ‘treatment gap’ (Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On – The Health Foundation highlights that the most vulnerable and the majority of families never meet the threshold for statutory services. For those who do meet the threshold, many state funded mental health and social care services are still struggling to engage with children, young people and families.

There is an evidence-base for systemic psychotherapy for as wide a range of mental health difficulties as any other single treatment modality.  We have a strong and secure presence in statutory settings as well as in third sector, and private contexts. So, the profession as a whole has reached a level of maturity and confidence to be able to introduce more difference, for example in training routes. This is the case for other psychotherapies such as psychoanalytic, cognitive behavioural, and child psychotherapy. It is a mark of maturity in a therapeutic modality that it has diversity in the paths to qualification and training, disseminating more systemic skills to more people in the service of those who need them. This is the only way we as a profession can help close the gap between the prevalence of mental health difficulties, and the availability of appropriate evidence-based interventions.

In this climate it is community-based and voluntary agencies who have exemplified best practice in this area, working with increasing complexity and demand at grass-roots and community levels.

Given that the needs of communities are constantly changing, there has been a movement towards increasing service –user involvement and co-production of services. The co-production movement is now calling for increased accessibility of lived experience into professional training, deconstructing and extending our notions of what constitutes ‘knowledge.’

According to the World Economic Forum, there is also a global shift in the nature of work and careers towards the right skills being prized over post graduate qualifications alone.

IFT’s university relationship has been a constraint for a number of years because of reduced student support and increased financial burden. People from community sectors or those with lived experience, who could train as Family and Systemic Psychotherapists do not see the training as ‘for them’ because of perceived academic elitism, financial barriers and oppressive experiences of academic settings and processes. For those who do enter into the training, a distinct pattern has emerged for this group where people are more likely to fail if they do not fit the traditional academic mould.

IFT seeks to increase accessibility of people more embedded within community organisations and those with lived experience into professional training. In doing so we are actively targeting capacity building at community level to address the social inequalities laid out above.

Our new model will reinvest funds that would normally go to universities directly back to trainees. This will enable us to;

  • keep fees significantly lower
  • invest in technology and resources to further support students with a diverse set of knowledges
  • give students more tutorials and tailored 1-2-1 support
  • privilege community-based research with community co-researchersto develop action research with real life impact where it matters


Some Frequently Asked Questions

How will this course be different from the traditional Masters courses and how will it stay the same? 

There will not be any difference with regards to the quality or standard of training received between this and other equivalent courses. The clinical training opportunities and hours requirements are all the same, as is the quality of teaching, and curriculum structure. All the robust elements of systemic psychotherapy trainings as identified by the UKCP Standards of Education and Training: The Minimum Core Criteria for Family and Systemic Psychotherapy standards (Systemic ‘SETS’) are met, and there will no lowering of academic standards or assessment of knowledge or skills.

The course will not be affiliated to a university but is directly accredited by the UKCP. We will therefore not be able to call this an MSc, but it is of an entirely equivalent standard. Because we do not have university constraints, we will have more freedom within the course and how learning needs are met. One example will be in the research elements of the course, which will be structured differently to the traditional dissertation, which is a huge opportunity to engage in innovative and community-based practice and action-based research practices. In this way our research will directly impact on communities in real time, and answer the questions that they think are important, as well as enabling trainees to learn about how to evidence good practice.

Why have you given up your university partnerships? 

We highly value academic rigour, and contexts within which people can work together to understand how best to serve families. We have not given up our relationship with universities and have good links with many researchers and academics that input into our courses. However, having our qualifying level course accredited by a university just to get a title of MSc without this kind of joint working that is meaningful and progressive no longer makes sense. It is prohibitively expensive, and we have not experienced enough added value at this level to the quality of the courses, or people’s experience of study and we are rather constrained by it. What we are asked to do does not support us or our trainees to access the course in ways that work for them or feel supported in their journey towards being psychotherapists. We are working with different university faculties currently to understand where there will be added value for us in a partnership – for example in sharing research and knowledge at different levels of training. We don’t know yet how this might look, but we know that the way things are currently structured at master’s level doesn’t make sense for us or our trainees and the families they continue to serve.

How does this compare to other systemic psychotherapy trainings?

Currently other family therapy systemic trainings at qualifying level are called an MSc, and are affiliated to a University that awards masters degrees. We are the first organisation to free ourselves from this constraint since this became the precedent in our profession, although it is a relatively recent move to have the trainings as a master’s course at all. The UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy) are supportive of multiple ways to access trainings. This is true for other psychotherapies of different modalities such as group psychotherapy trainings run by the IGA (a close relation of family therapy). The UKCP argue that this is much healthier for the profession and represents real choice.

 How will academic standards be maintained?

We are committed to transparency and absolutely clear that our standards for academic and clinical practice are openly moderated and subject to external scrutiny.

Our academic and professional standards are set and monitored through external advisory boards. This also includes how we are including families, trainees, and stakeholder voices in all our developments.  There are three external boards monitoring our work and guiding our standards: 1. Academic Standards; 2. Professional standards; 3. Participation. Professor Robbie Duschinsky, University of Cambridge, Leads the oversight of our academic standards.

We will continue to meet the standards for the European Family Therapy Association (EFTA) in so much as their membership concern is regarding hours of clinical experience in courses, and in this respect which we exceed their requirements.

Will I be able to register with UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy) when I have completed it?

All of our graduates will be eligible to register as a Family and Systemic Psychotherapist with the UKCP.

Will I be able to get a job in the NHS at the end of it?

It is our understanding that judgements regarding interpretation of equivalence under Agenda for Change rules reside with the employer.

It will remain with employers to interpret the Agenda for Change statements on equivalence as they have done since the Agenda for Change legislation was put in place for all professions. It is clear from Agenda for Change legislation that university validation is not a required part of ensuring equivalence under Agenda for Change.

Our course is accredited by UKCP at Level 7 which is at ‘master’s level’. It is ‘masters level’ that is mentioned as a marker required for NHS banding at Band 7.

The Agenda for Change legislation says the following from the NHS Employers Handbook:

There must be a further clear step in knowledge between levels 6 and 7, equivalent to the step between a post-graduate diploma and master’s degree, in terms of both the length of the period of knowledge acquisition and the depth or breadth of the knowledge acquired.

This additional knowledge may be acquired by various routes:

  • formal training and accreditation to master’s or doctorate level, as for clinical pharmacist, clinical psychologist or a qualification deemed to be equivalent, eg health visitor Community Practice Teacher, Diploma in Arts Therapy
  • other forms of training/learning eg long or combination of short courses or structured self-study
  • experience (but see below)
  • some combination of (b) and (c).

In broad terms the additional knowledge for level 7 should equate to master’s level (that is, between post-graduate diploma and doctoral level), but there is no requirement to hold such a degree.

Indicative qualifications are given in the guidance notes. This does not mean that there is a requirement to hold any particular qualification for a job to be scored at the level in question, but that the knowledge required must be of an equivalent level to the stipulated qualification.

IFT courses are accredited by the UKCP.

All of UKCP’s psychotherapy programmes are required to be postgraduate masters’ or equivalent, as outlined in their training standards section 1:

  • 2. The training for Psychotherapists must be at postgraduate masters’ or masters’ equivalent level and categorised as a specialist level of training.

The UKCP Education, Training, and Practice Committee ensures that the training standards documents are meeting QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) measures for those equivalencies. And all of the training standards documents (adult, child, family) have this equivalency embedded in them, including length and depth of training, ability to write and study at postgraduate level, external examiners, research, dissertation or extended piece of writing at the end of training.

IFT is externally moderated by the UKCP review evidencing equivalence. It is also externally moderated in an ongoing basis for Academic Standards, Professional Standards, and Participation. The Academic Standards committee is led by Professor Robbie Duschinsky and includes independent academics who moderate all elements of academic practice and IFT’s oversight of them, which independently ensures our standards at level 7 and robust oversight of academic procedures.

Regarding NHS funding it is the case currently that applicants for this course cannot access NHS Family and Systemic Psychotherapy funding through their NHS trusts. This is because, like all professions, the NHS only has one recognised course accrediting body for this particular funding stream opportunity.

In our experience UKCP is currently the recognised registration body for family therapists for most employers in NHS Trusts. While we cannot guarantee how NHS trusts will respond to applications for employment for our graduates, we have confidence in NHS employers to understand the principle of equivalence in the NHS across all professions that currently exists, and also applies to family therapy. Like us, most Trusts are committed to and aligned with our values of inclusion and promoting equity and diversity. Trust want to be responsive to the local communities that they serve, and IFT’s courses are designed to increase access to psychotherapy trainings for diverse groups.

Will there be a 2 tiered system? Will some graduates be viewed as better than others because they have a masters?

It may be very important to some people to receive the master’s degree award and we understand this very well, including the global recognition of this kind of recognised standard. We wish to acknowledge the global meanings and importance ascribed to education, particularly the embedded colonial histories of the English Education system. Should a 2 tiered system emerge from our profession, we may risk ‘othering’ the already ‘othered.’  For some people it is the academic award that legitimises the work and their achievement at a level of study, and we would never want to dismiss this as an important element of the achievement at qualifying level for a lot of people. They will choose to study where this is possible, and we wholeheartedly support other courses who continue in the university context. For us at this master’s level it no longer makes sense, and we want to move on.

To some people this won’t matter as much as being trained as a psychotherapist does when people have received an innovative and quality training where they are supported to be effective practitioners and where there is no difference in qualification or employability. Given that most other therapeutic trainings already have more than one route into qualifying supported by the UKCP and given the equivalence precedence that already exists with statutory organisations, the only reason for there to be a 2-Tiered system is if we as a discipline create one. If people are thinking and working in a systemic way there should be a great deal of room for difference, and we believe the profession values this as a basic premise.

As with all system change, we have a collective and moral responsibility as a profession not to allow this to happen. We also believe that once this relatively subtle change is embedded, like any other change, it will become the norm.

What are people saying about this change?

IFT recently had a UKCP review where they highly recommended IFT as an Organisational Member and accredited the course wholeheartedly. Some people are concerned that not having a master’s award will somehow discredit the profession and we have given the reasons we don’t agree above.

A great many people have asked us to persist with this change because of the options it gives people for alternative ways of training in systemic psychotherapy. We are regularly asked by people who want to apply if we are going forward with the course. They want to train with us because of our clear commitment to social justice, how this translates increasingly into our trainings in a real way, how this increases access to trainings for marginalised groups, and how learning with us will have a reciprocal relationship with communities and how they can experience the impact of their work on communities for the better as they learn. These things are placed alongside our existing and long-standing reputation for robust and high quality trainings. A great many people who have been in the profession for a long time recognise that the profession has always been radical and have been hoping that training courses would be reinvigorated through working towards change that will reignite this radical and progressive value base in action. A great many have expressed their wholehearted support.

If you have a question that is not answered here, then do please talk to us.

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