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How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

If you have always had an interest in understanding what other people think (and why they think it) then you could have what it takes to become a clinical psychologist. This is a career where your role focuses on helping others, and where you are dealing with those individuals with the most severe and complex mental illnesses. It requires a high level of academic and emotional intelligence and is considered to be as challenging as it is rewarding.

There are many different types of psychology careers, but the path of a clinical psychologist is a unique and specific one. From what clinical psychologist jobs entail to what your clinical psychologist salary might be, here’s everything you need to know about how to become a clinical psychologist:

What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychologists are not the same as regular psychologists: as a clinical psychologist your role will involve working with those patients with the most serious mental health conditions, and who need dedicated and committed support, often in an in-patient environment, to resolve these issues.

Clinical psychologists work with individuals with a wide range of mental health problems, using different forms of talking therapy to promote mental well being. Whilst clinical psychologists are highly qualified healthcare professionals, they are not medical doctors. This means that they cannot prescribe medicines, instead focusing on how people think, feel and behave, and helping them to overcome any problems they are facing in a healthier way.

Some of the most common mental health issues that you may find yourself treating and dealing with include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Neurological disorders
  • Addictive behaviours including, but not limited to, alcohol and drug addiction
  • Serious and enduring mental illnesses and psychosis
  • Childhood developmental and behavioural disorders, and the impact that these can have into adulthood
  • Personal and family relationship problems

Most clinical psychologists work for the NHS in some capacity, but some clinical psychologists also work in private practice or in a combination of the two. You will find clinical psychologists working in all of the following settings:

  • In both inpatient and outpatient hospitals and hospital departments
  • Within social services and in schools
  • Within prisons and detention centres
  • In local clinics and health centres
  • With community mental health teams, supporting those with mental health issues living within the wider community

Personal Qualities of a Clinical Psychologist

The role of the clinical psychologist is an incredibly difficult and complex one, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Your role will involve detailing with people experiencing emotional and mental distress on a daily basis, and so it is important that you have the following personal qualities in order to deal with the complexity of the role successfully:

  • Excellent verbal communication skills. The role of a clinical psychologist is largely a patient-facing role, so the ability to communicate with your patients will be vital
  • A keen interest in all aspects of human behaviour, and a genuine desire to help people to overcome their mental health difficulties
  • An honest and empathetic nature, able to deal with your patients with kindness and understanding
  • A reassuring and calming nature, able to make your patients feel at ease in your presence
  • Patience and tact. Working with individuals with mental health issues can be a long road, so you will need a lot of patience to spend time with your patients and help them to better their health
  • Excellent problem-solving skills
  • High level of written communication skills. You will create written reports and case files for each of your patients, and you may share these with other healthcare professionals, so it is important that your written reports are of a high standard
  • The ability to work well in high-pressure situations
clinical psychologist and client

What a Clinical Psychologist Does

The role of a clinical psychologist is both challenging and varied. The primary focus of your role will be to spend time with your patients and assess their specific needs. You will do this by using direct observations of their behaviour, interviews and introductory sessions, and other techniques such as psychometric testing. If it is deemed necessary to action a psychological intervention, then this will usually be determined by a clinical psychologist working alongside the individual patient and often their careers and family members too. Other aspects of your day-to-day role will include:

  • Working in partnership with your clients to help them overcome their mental health conditions or improve their quality of life using recognised techniques and interventions
  • Work with patients on a one-to-one basis as well as undertaking couple, family and group sessions when needed
  • Work with other clinical psychologist practitioners, helping to train and supervise junior members of staff. You may also use your knowledge to undertake research and lead teams of clinicians to advance the profession of clinical psychology
  • Work with patients of a wide variety of different ages and from across a full spectrum of social demographics. Their level of psychological distress and behavioural problems will also vary, and you should feel comfortable in all these situations
  • Help your patients to reduce their levels of distress and promote their psychological well being
  • Use your training and scientific knowledge to ensure that you bring positive change to the lives of your patient. You may use a range of different techniques to promote this including talking therapies and cognitive behavioural therapies
  • Writing reports and monitoring improvements or treatment impacts (both positive and negative) for each of your patients
  • You’ll also provide supervision and support to other professionals and teams and develop services and carry out research

How Much Does a Clinical Psychologist Earn?

Clinical psychologists are highly qualified individuals with extensive education and training, and this is reflected in the clinical psychologist salary that you can expect to achieve. The majority of clinical psychologists work within the NHS for a significant period of their careers and therefore are paid according to the NHS Agenda for Change pay scales.

During your training period, you will be paid at the band 6 pay level: the salaries available at this level are between £32,306 and £39,027 (with the figure growing in direct correlation to your years of experience within the organisation. Once your training period is complete you will move to the band 7 pay level, with salaries ranging from between £40,057 if you have less than two years’ experience up to £45,839 if you have more than five years of experience as a clinical psychologist. As a clinical psychologist, you will also have the opportunity to progress to more senior positions, such as adopting the role of senior clinical psychologist. This could see your salary potential increase to the band 8 grade, which ranges from between £47,126 and £90,387 at the most senior level (band 8d).

If you work in a London hospital then you will be eligible for London weighting of up to 20% of your salary for an inner London setting, and weighting of up to 15% of your salary for an outer London hospital or clinical setting.

What’s more, many clinical psychologists choose to balance their work within the NHS alongside private practice, which would significantly boost their earning potential. If you are employed outside of the NHS then the terms of your employment and the pay and conditions available will vary wildly. If you opt for a self-employed private practice position, then you would be able to set your own hourly rate.

Qualifications Needed for a Clinical Psychologist

If you are considering a career as a clinical psychologist, then you will need to secure a degree that has been accredited by the BPS (British Psychological Society). The BPS accredits a huge number of courses, but some of the most popular include: BA or BSc in Psychology, BSc in Health Psychology, BA in psychology and counselling skills. If you have already completed undergraduate study in a subject that is not related to psychology, then you could also study for a single year Masters (MA) course in an accredited psychology-related subject to make use of your transferable skills.

Once you have secured your degree that is accredited by the BPS, your next step will be to complete three years of postgraduate study. This will lead to a doctorate level qualification in clinical psychology and will give you the academic background that you will need to work as a clinical psychologist. You will also need to demonstrate that you have at least a year of relevant clinical work experience.

Because roles within the clinical psychology field are so competitive, you may find that access to the courses you wish to study is also incredibly competitive. To help your application stand out from the crowd, you should consider undertaking as much relevant voluntary work as possible and securing additional certification in psychology will also show your commitment to the course (if you are applying to study psychology at an undergraduate level) as well as to the field of psychology in general. Some great examples of courses that might be worth exploring for this purpose include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy Level 3
Psychology diploma level 3 course
TQUK Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills

There are only 30 training programmes for clinical psychologists available in the UK: a reflection of both how demanding and how highly sought-after these roles are. Working hard to give yourself the competitive edge will be essential if you want to succeed.

On the Job Training

Once you have completed your training to become a clinical psychologist and settled into the role, you may wish to specialise in a particular area of work. There are many different areas that clinical psychologists can specialise in, with the most common of these being clinical neuropsychology, working with children or young people, working with offenders or providing support to people with dementia. Each specialism will require further study and further qualifications.

To work within the field of clinical neuropsychology, for example, you will need to undertake further training to understand the relationship between brain and neuropsychological function. Clinical neuropsychology experts work almost exclusively with patients who have brain injuries and your role will involve assessing these patients and then forming part of a multidisciplinary team (including neurosurgeons, and neurologists) to agree to the best treatment plan for each patient. To secure this role you will need to undertake the British Psychological Society’s (BPS) Qualification in Clinical Neuropsychology (QiCN) and create a portfolio over two years of relevant neuropsychology cases.

Even if you choose not to specialise, on the job training will be a key part of your role. As a clinical psychologist, you are required to submit a written record of your continued professional development (CPD) each year. In order to maintain your licence to practise you should be able to demonstrate that you have devoted 40 hours to CPD each year, and at least 30 of those hours should be focused on coaching psychology and psychological techniques to others. The safety and quality of the patient and carer experience that you can offer will be directly impacted by the amount, and the quality, of the CPD that you do so it is important to ensure that you continue to meet this requirement and focus on this ongoing on the job training to the best of your ability.

Professional Bodies

If you wish to practice as a clinical psychologist in the UK, then you must be registered as a practitioner psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). When you register with the HCPC you will do so as a practitioner psychologist, but this is a generic term which applies to all HCPC registered psychologists. But contrast, the title clinical psychologist is a protected one: that means that you can only use the title of clinical psychologist if you are:

  • Registered as a practitioner psychologist with the HCPC
  • Have the qualifications required to operate as a clinical psychologist within the UK

You may also wish to consider membership to the British Psychological Society. This is a professional body that provides information, support and guidance to those who use psychology in their work. Some of the benefits of membership to this organisation include the opportunity to join online communities where you can engage with your peers, access to professional development and training opportunities, and the opportunity to appear on a register or directory of registered professionals. This would be particularly beneficial if you are working in private practice and hope to acquire new clients.

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