How to become a qualified mental health social worker

Think Ahead training programme student sitting with someone outside

Mental health social workers build relationships with individuals experiencing mental illness and empower them to make a difference to their lives. - Credit: Think Ahead

If you're passionate about supporting others and are looking for a challenging, varied, and rewarding role, mental health social work may be for you. 

Think Ahead is a charity dedicated to offering graduates and career-changers the training and qualifications they need to pursue a career in this field. 

We asked Ivan Wise, programme director at Think Ahead, a few questions about the programme, which is the only one of its kind in the UK. 

Q: What is a mental health social worker?  

A: It's a social worker that helps people who have mental health difficulties. Their job is to support them in their day-to-day life. This could be advocating for someone to help them with housing, or assisting them to navigate legal services, for example.  

A social worker is there to guide and empower someone with mental health problems.  

Q: Why might I want to pursue a career in mental health social work? 

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A: There are multiple benefits; it's a field that offers lots of opportunities for progression. 

Unlike some other professions jeopardised by the rise in technology, there is always going to be a demand for mental health professionals. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people in need - the amount of people with mental health problems has increased, particularly in the last few years.  

Being a mental health social worker is rewarding, above all else. You can have a direct impact on individuals and help them lead better, happier lives.  

Q: What’s involved in the Think Ahead programme? 

A: It’s a two-year training programme for graduates - people who have already got a degree - to gain the qualifications and skills needed to become mental health social workers. 

As the only course in the country of its kind, the programme is unique and has been running for five years.  

It is fully-funded, and you will receive a bursary in the first year, and a taxable salary in the second, so it is very accessible.  

The training itself is a mix of practice and theory; you will be embedded within an NHS Trust or Local Authority and work alongside other professionals and trainees on the course. For the 2021 intake starting in July, we have places available in Ipswich.  

Students learning academically on the Think Ahead programme

Upon completion of the Think Ahead programme, you will have gained a postgraduate diploma and a master's degree. - Credit: Think Ahead

Q: What qualifications can I get?  

A: The Think Ahead programme helps you gain a postgraduate diploma in social work, which is essential to entering the profession, as well as a master's degree. You will also learn transferable skills, such as how to communicate with different people, and effectively lead others. 

Q: What will I do during the programme?  

A: Our programme has a strong focus on on-the-job learning. On an average day, you would be learning under a Consultant Social Worker alongside other participants. You would visit people in their homes and work out a plan with them to help them achieve their goals or support them to apply for jobs, for example. Some of your work may also be based in a hospital.  

You would work with psychiatrists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals on a daily basis.  

Q: What are the potential job prospects?  

A: The leadership training provided on the programme gives you the skills to go onto more senior roles within the sector.  

Once you complete the course, you automatically become part of Think Ahead’s alumni network which can support you in your career, and provide ongoing training. 

Potential roles you can go on to do include: Approved Mental Health Professional, social work manager, and a position within a specialist team - for example, working with people experiencing substance misuse.

Student on the Think Ahead programme smiling

Those with a 2:1 degree in any subject except Social Work and at least a grade C GCSE in English and Maths can apply for the programme. - Credit: Think Ahead

Q: How do I know if I’m eligible? 

A: To apply for our programme, applicants need a 2:1 undergraduate degree - or be working towards one in their final year of University - in any subject except Social Work. You also need to have at least a grade C GCSE in English and Maths. You don’t have to have any previous experience in the sector, but it is an advantage if you already possess relevant skills. 

Because the training is based in Ipswich, we are looking specifically for local people.   

Q: How can I apply for the programme?  

A: There are three stages of the application process: register and complete a short online assessment, fill out the application form, and complete a group assessment, which includes an interview.  

Applications for Ipswich are open now and you can apply online. The programme is due to start in mid-July, and I would encourage anyone interested to get their applications in as soon as possible.

Visit for more information or check out their FAQs page to learn more about the programme. Contact them on

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