Psychotherapists and the Media

As mental health increasingly finds its voice in the public discourse, what roles do psychotherapists and the media play in that conversation?

My professional body, UKCP (UK Council for Psychotherapy), produces a magazine “New Psychotherapist” for its members.  Each issue has a theme and summer 2020’s theme is ‘Mental Health and the Media’.

The nation’s mental health feels to me as if it’s on a knife-edge.  We are focussed on the here-and-now of deaths due to Covid-19, but the mental health consequences won’t be known until way-after lockdown is a distant memory.

I have a particular passion as to how psychotherapy features in the public discourse and now is a time for my profession to step into the limelight.  Something we have perhaps shied away from in the past.

I’d like to share a precis of and my own reflections on three of the feature articles in this summer’s issue.  They cover a general view of the representation of mental health in the media, a perspective from the co-creator of The Great British Bake Off and a note from the UKCP chairman on the UKCP’s priorities in relation to publicity.  All of the them reflect on where psychotherapists fit in.  For me there are themes running throughout which is what I’d like to present to you.

Us vs them?

The articles all considered the perspectives of the two groups, media professionals and psychotherapists. The media professionals striving for the ‘hook’, whilst psychotherapists exist in an area typified by nuance and the detail of the subject. 

I was struck by the balance of arguments when considering the position both groups find themselves in, and no group or individual was derided.  Although this isn’t surprising as it reflects the empathic approach I would expect from therapists, the contrasting arguments may reflect the contrasting measures of success for the two professions.

A media ‘hook’

Attention was given to the media ‘hook’: we’re all aware of how media outlets are looking for the headline that will grab our attention; it’s all about clicks, view(er)s after all and that is the pressure media professionals face.  And, sadly, a negative headline tends to grab the attention more than a good news story.

I noted in one article the lack of specific training for journalists in the mental health area, yet the subject is nuanced and complex.


The complexity and nuance across the subject mental health was clearly articulated.  I did wonder though, to what extent that detailed knowledge makes it harder for us to find a way to successfully present mental health to the general public.

Working together

The repeated message in the magazine is a “call to arms” for us to help media professionals navigate the mental health landscape both at an UKCP-organisation-level and on a personal-level. 

This can be in terms of specific reports and articles on mental health, but also to help journalists and programme-makers include psychotherapists in their work and bring us more to the forefront.

I also believe we can also learn from media professionals to develop effective messaging, a bridge if you like between over-simplification and too-complicated.

UKCP is already working in partnership with Psychologies Magazine, so I think we are already making great steps forward.


Summer 2020

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