The vast majority of psychologists working in the NHS are clinical psychologists. This means they’re applying the principles of psychology to healthcare issues – for example, working with people struggling to come to terms with mental health problems, those living with chronic illness or those who’ve experienced a severe trauma. You’ll also find psychologists working in counselling, education, forensics, occupational health and academia.
Patients are referred to clinical psychologists by general practitioners, consultants or senior nurses who’ve identified that they need specialist help with emotional issues. They’ll see a psychologist for group or individual therapy and, although treatment can sometimes take several months, on average about five appointments are needed.
As a psychologist, you may see patients on home visits, in a primary care setting such as a GP’s surgery, in hospitals or in schools if you’re a child or educational psychologist. You can even work from home if you’ve set up your own private practice. It’s a diverse workforce and the services lend themselves to flexible working practices such as part-time work and flexitime.
Your aim as a clinical psychologist is to help patients help themselves and improve their own well-being using psychological theory and therapies, so you’ll often work closely with a team that includes allied health professionals and patients’ carers. An important part of any psychologist’s work is to support colleagues; patients may have enduring mental health problems, be coming to terms with a terminal or chronic illness or have been disfigured in an accident, and it can be tough working with people in distress or pain.
- Resilience – it can be frustrating and upsetting working with people with complex problems
- Compassion and empathy
- Practical skills such as teamworking and listening skills
There are a number of protected titles involved in this profession. This means that in order to practice with those titles you will have to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The main areas that graduates can specialise in, in this field, are:
- sport and exercise
The training you need to register with the HCPC varies depending on which discipline you want to go into. Each area requires you to have completed the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC, previously known as GBR) before completing further accredited training which will lead to eligibility to register with the HCPC. The easiest way to achieve the GBC is by completing a degree or conversion course which is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). For example, to register in clinical psychology you must complete a BPS accredited degree to obtain GBC, before then completing a BPS accredited doctorate in clinical psychology.
There is a lot of competition for places on the postgraduate doctoral training programmes, so to be accepted it’s likely you will need to have relevant paid or voluntary work experience (often for a minimum of 12 months) – for example as a psychology or research assistant, or in a caring role.