How to become an education mental health practitioner

Updated 13 June 2023

Ensuring the mental health of children and young people in education is increasingly becoming a priority for educators and policymakers. New roles are available that focus on providing this mental health support, such as education mental health practitioner (EMHP). If you want a rewarding career that supports children's mental well-being, you might wish to learn more about this job. In this article, we explore what an EMHP is, how to become one, what duties the job entails, several key EMHP skills and some tips for pursuing this profession.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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What is an education mental health practitioner?

An education mental health practitioner is a specialist who provides children with mental health support within education. The role exists as part of the government's Children and Young People's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies initiative. EMHPs provide evidence-based early intervention, much of which is low intensity, to children and young people within an educational setting. They mostly aim to guide students with self-help. They might use cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, either in a one-on-one or group setting.

EMHPs assess and support children and young people with common, mild-to-moderate mental health issues. This might include depression, anxiety or behavioural challenges. These individuals also advise schools and colleges on organisation-wide activities and initiatives they can implement to support the well-being and mental health of students. Depending on the specifics of the support they provide, EMHPs may liaise with parents and carers about how best to support a student.

Related: Mental health practitioner qualifications and duties

How to become an EMHP

If you're interested in pursuing this career path, here are some steps you can follow to become an EMHP:

1. Complete an undergraduate degree

Perhaps the most common pathway into the profession is via a postgraduate diploma. This Level 7 programme often requires candidates to possess undergraduate-level training. Specific entry requirements might vary between universities, but you generally require at least a second-class honours undergraduate degree. If your degree is in a relevant subject area, this might also be an advantage. Related undergraduate degree areas include:

  • psychology

  • education

  • health and well-being

  • children and young people

Related: A list of education degree jobs (with duties and salaries)

2. Secure a trainee role

A requirement for acceptance onto a diploma programme is to be working as a trainee mental health practitioner with a mental health support team (MHST). The diploma programme is a mixture of classroom study and professional practice. You can find trainee EMHP jobs online. Some voluntary agencies might also advertise opportunities. Once you've secured a trainee role, you can apply for a training course.

3. Apply for a postgraduate diploma

Once you're working as a trainee, you can apply for a postgraduate diploma programme at a higher education institution local to and having a connection with the MHST you're working with. Check university websites for specific information regarding entry requirements and how to apply for the course. The postgraduate diploma is a one-year employment training programme. Course delivery is a mixture of academic and theory elements delivered by the university, practical work-based placement in a school or college and self-directed study. Specific modules might vary between institutions, but some common course elements include:

  • fundamental skills for assessment and engagement with students

  • common challenges and processes in school settings

  • fundamental skills for children's and young people's in mental health settings

  • interventions for emerging mental health challenges in educational environments

  • working, assessing and engaging in an educational setting

4. Apply for a graduate diploma (as an alternative to a postgraduate diploma)

You can train to become an EMHP without an undergraduate degree. If you can display a relevant portfolio of work and have sufficient professional experience, some universities might accept you into a postgraduate diploma programme. Alternatively, there's a Level 6 graduate diploma programme. To apply for this programme, you first need a role as a trainee mental health practitioner and to demonstrate an ability to study at a degree level. The course delivery and structure are similar to the postgraduate diploma, enabling you to develop your theoretical and practical knowledge through a mixture of taught sessions and work-based placement.

Related: How to become a child psychologist (plus specialisations)

5. Start applying for jobs

Upon completing the graduate or postgraduate diploma, you typically move into an EMHP role within the same MHST where you've been working as a trainee practitioner during your studies. Although the MHST might be your employer, you may work in an educational setting, such as a school, college or pupil referral unit. You might also work at a healthcare organisation. MHSTs may also work in association with local councils or voluntary agencies, so check the websites for these bodies for employment opportunities.

With a graduate- or postgraduate-level qualification, your CV becomes more competitive. You may wish to pursue an EMHP role with a specific authority, or in a specific area, rather than simply transitioning into a position within the MHST you worked with during your training. As you gain experience as an EMHP, potentially also completing further vocational training, you might also want to apply for more senior, related roles, such as that of an EMHP supervisor.

Related: 40 education mental health practitioner interview questions

EMHP job duties

A variety of full-time, part-time, permanent or fixed-term EMHP positions are available, according to the needs of schools or local authorities. Roles typically involve working during normal office hours, although there may be a need for flexibility to occasionally work evenings, depending on the needs of the school or college. As an EMHP, you might also frequently travel between education providers within the local area.

Broadly speaking, your job as an EMHP is to provide mental health and well-being support to children and young people within education settings. You assess and assist students with common mental health challenges, such as mild-to-moderate depression or anxiety. Much of your work involves providing one-to-one support for students, although you also assist schools and colleges in implementing organisation-wide support initiatives and assessing their overall approach to supporting mental health and student well-being. Common EMHP duties might include:

  • advising students on techniques for handling panic attacks

  • educating students about sleep hygiene and promoting positive practices

  • helping students develop problem-solving techniques

  • promoting general approaches to improve individual mental and emotional health and well-being

  • educating school and college staff on the best ways to support students and directing them to further resources on the matter

Related: 14 types of mental health professional (with salaries)

Find education mental health practitioner jobs

Key EMHP skills

To meet the demands of the role and execute their duties effectively, EMHPs tend to have the following skills:

  • strong communication and interpersonal skills, which allow them to build a good rapport and solid therapeutic relationships with students

  • excellent teamwork skills, enabling them to be an effective contributor to a multidisciplinary MHST unit

  • a strong ability to work independently and use initiative to quickly find solutions when facing challenges

  • excellent knowledge of the prevalent mental health issues facing students and evidence-based interventions to manage them

  • effective time management and a good ability to multitask and manage workloads

Related: How to become a child well-being practitioner

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Tips for pursuing an EMHP career

Here are some tips to consider if you're thinking about the EMHP career path:

Get practical work experience

Although not a formal entry requirement, many universities list prior experience of working with children and young people and/or working in a mental health or educational setting as a desirable prerequisite for candidates. It helps give you a foundational knowledge of many of the aspects of an EMHP's job. It also shows universities and potential employers that you have a passion for helping young people.

Practical work experience might be beneficial in helping you decide whether you want to commit to this career path. Working with young people, particularly in mental health, can present challenges along with rewards. Pursuing practical experience can help you determine whether this sort of work is suitable for you before you commit to graduate- or postgraduate-level training.

Related: How to become a child counsellor: a step-by-step guide

Invest in continuing professional development

Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of a mental healthcare role. You can undertake relevant training for your role after completing your EMHP diploma. This training might cover areas such as safeguarding or data protection. As an EMHP, you may also register with the Wider Psychological Workforce Register. Accredited by the Professional Standards Authority, this register contains a list of practitioners and serves to confirm that they have sufficient knowledge, experience and skills to perform their duties to the highest standards for clinical practice.

Being part of the register requires a certain amount of CPD. Once on the register, you have access to CPD resources and knowledge exchange and networking platforms. Be sure to use these and commit to lifelong learning and development to ensure you keep up to date with professional trends and developments and remain effective in your role. Committing to learning and development may also lead to career development opportunities. It might be possible to complete training opportunities to qualify in new, more advanced occupations within the psychology profession.

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