I am often contacted by people who are interested in becoming a Clinical Psychologist but aren’t sure how to go about it. For those who are considering Clinical Psychology as a career, I thought I would outline the typical process.
Undergraduate degree in Psychology
The first required step in becoming a Clinical Psychologist is the completion of an undergraduate degree in Psychology that is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). This is normally a Bachelor of Science degree but can also be a Bachelor of Arts degree. It is typically a three year degree. Most Clinical Psychologists have a degree of at least a 2:1 classification. For a full list of BPS accredited courses in the UK, click here.
The next step is to gain relevant experience to Clinical Psychology. I would recommend starting to gain any relevant experience as early as possible, ideally prior to or during the undergraduate degree. Relevant experience can involve anything that demonstrates an interest in helping people or understanding people. Undergraduates could consider voluntary work at a helpline for people suffering with mental health problems, such as the Samaritans; or perhaps work as a Care Assistant in a nursing home or hospital.
Following the undergraduate degree, it is normal that psychology graduates would then need to gain a minimum of a year of further experience before gaining a place on a doctorate training programme to become a Clinical Psychologist. Graduates can gain experience by working as an Assistant Psychologist with a mental health team, as a Research Psychologist with a University or by carrying out further training to become a Graduate Mental Health Worker or Increasing Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) Low or High intensity worker. It is not uncommon for graduate psychologists to complete a Masters degree or even a PhD prior to their doctorate training. Of course, any relevant clinical experience or qualification gained prior to the undergraduate degree will also be helpful.
Doctorate in Clinical Psychology
The next step is to be successful in gaining a place on a doctorate degree programme in Clinical Psychology. There is a lot of competition for these places, with most universities offering fewer than 30 places a year, hence the need for relevant clinical experience in order to try and stand out from other psychology graduates who may be applying for a place. All applications are made through the Clearing House. More information can be found here.
The doctorate degree programme is 3 years and will involve carrying out supervised clinical placements with children, adults and older adults with a range of mental health problems. You will also be required to conduct a significant research project, to a standard that could be published. Trainee Clinical Psychologists are paid a salary by the NHS throughout their doctorate training.
Following successful completion of a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, you will be eligible to become a Chartered Member of the British Psychological Society and will need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council in order to practice as a Clinical Psychologist.
I was fortunate in that I knew that I wanted to work with people in a helping capacity from a reasonably young age. Therefore, I chose to do my school work experience placements in a hospital and in a school for children with Learning Disabilities. Whilst I was studying for my A-Levels, I got a job in a nursing home, which was invaluable experience in developing an understanding of suffering, resilience and the importance of the caring relationship. I continued to work in the nursing home throughout university holidays. During my degree I chose any modules that related to Clinical Psychology and carried out my dissertation under the supervision of the Professor of Clinical Psychology.
Getting an Assistant Psychologist post was a challenge, as they are so competitive. I was fortunate to have made links with the local hospitals in my university town whilst carrying out my dissertation. I was then successful in acquiring an Assistant Psychologist post in a Clinical Psychology department at the local hospital and also worked as a Research Assistant at the university under the Professor that supervised my dissertation. I did whatever I could to get a varied experience whilst working as an Assistant Psychologist. After one year I knew that it would be important to get as broad an experience as possible to be successful in my application for Doctorate training and therefore I applied for an Assistant Psychologist post in a very different type of service. Soon after gaining this post I applied for the Doctorate training and was successful.
Although it was a long and, at times, stressful journey I have no regrets and definitely feel that it was worth it. Being a Clinical Psychologist is incredibly interesting and rewarding. I feel very privileged to be able to say that I love my job!
I now work both in the NHS and privately. I work with adults with a broad range of difficulties so my work is really varied and interesting. If you would like to talk to me about becoming a Clinical Psychologist or if you are thinking about having therapy yourself, then please do contact me. I am always happy to answer any queries either by email or on the phone.