Clinical Psychologist

    If you are wondering how to become a clinical psychologist, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of psychology, as well as social services job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Clinical psychologists use scientific knowledge, counselling and therapy to help people make positive changes to their thinking and behaviour. They aim to understand their clients’ thoughts and actions and work with them to manage or overcome their condition.

    As a clinical psychologist, you would work with people with psychological difficulties such as:

    behavioural difficulties
    eating disorders
    relationship problems
    learning disabilities.
    You could specialise and work with a particular group, such as children, young offenders or older adults.

    To make a clinical assessment of your clients’ needs, you would use a range of techniques including:

    psychometric tests
    direct observation of behaviour.
    After an assessment, you would decide on the most appropriate form of treatment, which can include counselling, therapy and advice. Sometimes you would also provide counselling and support to carers. During treatment, you would apply your understanding of psychological research and theory to help your clients, and you would contribute to this area by carrying out research and evaluating treatment programmes.

    You would work closely with other professionals such as doctors and probation officers to achieve specific goals with your clients, for example, rehabilitating an offender into the community. With experience, you could be involved in producing legal reports and acting as an expert witness in court.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good clinical psychology professionals include:

    excellent communication skills
    the ability to relate to a wide range of people
    an interest in how people behave, their abilities and temperaments
    good problem solving skills and a logical approach
    the ability to act in the client’s best interests and maintain confidentiality
    a sympathetic and patient manner
    a responsible attitude and the ability to maintain a professional distance
    the ability to work alone and as part of a team with other professionals
    an accurate and methodical approach, especially when gathering and using data
    computer skills.

    How to become a clinical psychologist
    The first step to becoming a clinical psychologist is to take a psychology degree accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). When choosing a course, you need to make sure it is recognised as the Graduate Basis for Registration (GBR) with the BPS.

    You can find a full list of accredited courses on the BPS website.

    The entry requirements for an approved degree in psychology are likely to include five GCSEs (A-C), plus three A levels. Exact requirements will vary depending on the college or university, but relevant A level subjects include:

    social sciences
    If you are a graduate with a degree in a subject other than psychology, you can achieve GBR by completing a BPS approved conversion course, or by sitting the BPS Qualifying Exam. Please check the BPS website, or contact them for further details.

    Many employers will prefer you to be registered with the BPS as a Chartered Clinical Psychologist. Having chartered status is not, however, a legal requirement. Check the BPS website for details.

    Relevant experience
    You may increase your chances of gaining a (trainee) post if you also have experience of working with people with disabilities or mental health needs. You could find opportunities, for example as a care assistant, in the public, private or voluntary sectors, through part-time, full-time, voluntary or paid work.

    Research skills
    You may also need research experience in both academic and clinical areas. You can achieve this through your undergraduate project and by carrying out research during your practical work experience (clinical research with users of clinical psychology services would be particularly helpful).

    Training and Development
    When you have completed a BPS accredited psychology degree, you need to gain a place on an NHS funded training course leading to a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Once you are on an approved training programme, you become an employee of the NHS and work as a trainee clinical psychologist.

    Competition for a place on an approved training programme is strong. Entry requirements will often include:

    a first or upper second class honours degree in psychology
    evidence of research skills
    relevant work experience.
    Training is a combination of clinical work-based practice with theoretical study and research. You can apply for a place on an approved training programme through the Clearing House for Postgraduate Training Courses in Clinical Psychology. This website links to all approved providers and contains advice about how to gain relevant work and research experience, which some providers demand. Training is full-time and takes three years to complete.

    You can gain relevant work and research experience as an assistant psychologist or research assistant, supporting a clinical psychology team in the NHS. As an assistant, you will have direct contact with service users and psychology professionals. You need a degree in psychology to apply and competition is strong. The BPS publishes an ‘Appointments Memorandum’, which includes job advertisements for assistant posts; see Further Information for BPS details.

    When you apply for a place on an NHS programme you will have a criminal record check. This is made by your training provider or employing NHS Trust, and through the Criminal Records Bureau (for England and Wales) or Disclosure Scotland.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    An assistant psychologist in the NHS may beteen £16,000 and £25,000 a year.
    Trainee clinical psychologists can earn up to £32,000 a year.
    Qualified clinical psychologists can earn up to around £37,000.
    Senior clinical psychologists can earn up to £43,000.

    Job Prospects
    You will find most opportunities within the NHS. You could search for job vacancies on the NHS Jobs website. You could also try the psychologist appointments section of the BPS website.

    You will also find work within social services, and in education, as a teacher or researcher in a university.

    There is a national shortage of qualified clinical psychologists and promotion prospects are good. Organisations like the NHS have a clearly defined career structure. You may need to relocate to find your first job, or to progress in your career.

    With experience you could set up in private practice or work as a freelance consultant, advising other professionals and clients.

    Useful social services resources:
    British Psychological Society
    St Andrew’s House
    48 Princess Road East
    LE1 7DR
    Tel: 0116 254 9568

    This page is for clinical psychologist careers advice and training opportunities.

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