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Becoming a clinical psychologist
What do clinical psychologists do?
What they do
Clinical psychology aims to reduce psychological distress and to enhance and promote psychological well-being. A wide range of psychological difficulties are dealt with, including anxiety, depression, relationship problems, learning disabilities, child and family problems and serious mental illness.
To assess a client, a clinical psychologist may undertake a clinical assessment using a variety of methods including psychological tests, interviews and direct observation of behaviour. Assessment may lead to therapy, counselling or advice.
Where they work
Clinical psychologists work largely in health and social care settings including hospitals, health centres, community mental health teams, child and adolescent mental health services and social services.
Who they work with
They usually work as part of a team with, for example, medical practitioners, social workers and other health professionals. Most clinical psychologists work in the National Health Service, which has a clearly defined career structure, but some work in private practice.
The work is often directly with people, either individually or in groups, assessing their needs and providing therapies based on psychological theories and research.
Clinical psychology is a rapidly developing field and adding to the evidence base through research is very important. Some clinical psychologists work as trainers, teachers and researchers in universities.
How much do they get paid?
Assistant Psychologists are normally paid on the NHS Agenda for Change bands 4 to 5. Qualified Clinical Psychologists start from band 7. Details of the most recent salary scales can be found on the NHS website.
To become a Chartered Member of the Society through the clinical training route, you will need the following qualifications:
- Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC). This is achieved by completing a Society accredited degree or conversion course
- Society accredited Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
In order to use the title Clinical Psychologist, you will need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This involves completing a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (or equivalent) that has been approved by the HCPC. Contact the HCPC for more information on their entry requirements.
The NHS funds the Doctorate programme. Applicants who are successful in gaining a place on the programme are employed by the NHS as trainee clinical psychologists. If you are a non-EU applicant it is difficult to gain a place on a Clinical training course as the NHS is unlikely to employ someone who needs a work permit to work in the UK.
The Clearing House for Postgraduate Training Courses in Clinical Psychology (CHPCCP) manage the applications for courses and funding for the majority of doctorate programmes. Please contact the CHPCCP directly for more information on the application process.
Applications for the doctorate programmes at the University of Hull and Queens University Belfast are managed by the universities themselves. For advice with applications please get in touch with either university directly.
How do I improve my chances of getting on an NHS funded training course?
There is a lot of competition for places on clinical training courses - fewer than 30 per cent of applicants are successful each year. To increase your chances, you would need a good degree classification, (normally a 2:1 or above), relevant work experience and demonstrable research skills. It is also a good idea to attend open days and conferences to further your understanding and knowledge of the profession.
It is sometimes helpful to talk to course directors to get a better idea of the profile of successful applicants.
What is relevant work experience and how do I get it?
The most sought after experience by clinical courses is that of 'assistant psychologist' or 'research assistant'. You will find that some courses lay down more specific requirements or give advise on how to go about gaining experience.
The Society is not in a position to advise on where to find experience. We publish the Psychologist Appointments as part of our monthly magazine The Psychologist, where job vacancies for psychology graduates, including assistant psychologist posts, are advertised.
You might also want to contact the Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology. Their handbook gives information about what sort of work experience is desirable for each course.
Please be aware that competition for assistant psychologist positions is also fierce. It is important to think about gaining relevant work experience as soon as you decide this is your preferred career path. Voluntary experience and related paid positions such as nursing assistant, social worker, care assistant or other opportunities in relevant settings will all help to build your skills and understanding of the profession.
What to do with a 2:2?
Clinical psychology courses will not normally accept graduates with a 2:2, unless they have achieved some higher qualification as well. This would normally involve completing a Masters qualification.
An ideal masters would involve direct patient contact, the collection of psychological data and would be pertinent to clinical problems. A taught Masters would be less relevant unless there is a heavy emphasis on research methods.
Clinical courses are looking for evidence that the person has the necessary academic and research ability. Usually this means an MSc or MPhil in which the candidate has successfully completed an applied research project, preferably in a clinically relevant area. The Society does not accredit this type of course.
Please contact universities directly for more specific information on their entry requirements.
What if I'm a mature student?
Mature students often ask us if their age will prevent them from succeeding in a psychology career. You can find more information in the Change of Career section.
Where are jobs advertised?
- Assistant psychologists posts and qualified positions at all levels are advertised in Psychologist Appointments which is part of The Psychologist the Society's monthly publication.
- On the NHS Jobs website
- In the National Press (e.g. The Times, The Guardian, The Independent)
- In specialist publications such as the Health Service Journal.
Where do I find out more?
- Making a Difference with Clinical Psychology DVD: a purpose-made video that informs sixth formers and undergraduates about a career in clinical psychology.
- Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology: gives information about the application process, funding for the training and courses in clinical psychology.
- The Society's Division of Clinical Psychology. Access to publications, conferences, and special interest groups. The Division also has a pre-qualification group which is composed of, and represents Trainee and Assistant Clinical Psychologists. The assistant groups are organised geographically and some are open to psychology graduates.
- Careers resources: published work covering clinical psychology and other areas of psychology.
- BPS Shop: Find an array of clinical psychology publications through our online shop, including The Alternative Handbook For Postgraduate Training Courses in Clinical Psychology.
- Contact us: request form for further specific information.