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A career as a Clinical Psychologist

What is Psychology?

Psychology is the study of people, the mind and behaviour. Studying psychology at GCSE, A Level or equivalent gives you a good basic knowledge and provides an insight into what it might be like to be a professional psychologist. Even if you decide to work in a non-psychology related field, the skills and knowledge that you develop studying psychology will be helpful. It is a good way of keeping your options open.


Psychology is a very popular subject at university. The number of students wishing to study psychology has risen dramatically over the last few years, which means that good A Level grades (or equivalent) are required to get on a course.


A or AS Level or equivalent Psychology is not normally required for entry to a psychology degree course, but you may find that having GCSE, A Level or equivalent in psychology gives you a head start when you begin your degree. Applicants also normally need to demonstrate good numeracy and literacy skills, as well as the ability to handle scientific concepts.


The Times Good University Guide reveals that many institutions require at least one science A Level, which can be Psychology. Entry requirements for accredited psychology degree courses vary from one institution to another. Psychology, Biology, Mathematics, English, History, Economics and similar arts and social science subjects are all useful preparation for an accredited psychology degree course. You can ascertain specific entry requirements at individual institutions by checking their prospectuses/websites or contacting them.


You may find it helpful to get some work experience by volunteering whilst you are doing your GCSEs, A Levels or equivalent. This will be a useful addition to your CV and will help you get a better idea of whether psychology is the career for you. You could try contacting psychologists in your local area by searching the Directory of Chartered Psychologists. But be aware, opportunities may be limited due to confidentiality constraints.

Types of Psychologists

Studying to be a psychologist is a lengthy but rewarding process – at least seven years.

There are nine areas of psychology in which it is possible to become a registered psychologist with the HCPC (the governing body). This means that the below are protected titles and there is a legal requirement to have certain qualifications and experience to use these titles:

  • Clinical Psychologist

  • Counselling Psychologist

  • Educational Psychologist

  • Forensic Psychologist

  • Health Psychologist

  • Occupational Psychologist

  • Practitioner Psychologist

  • Registered Psychologist

  • Sports and Exercise Psychologist

What do Clinical Psychologists 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, trauma, eating disorders, 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 a variety of interventions.


Where do 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.


Whom do they Work With?

They often work as part of a team with medical practitioners, social workers and other health professionals etc. Most clinical psychologists work in the NHS, which has a clearly defined career structure, but many work in private practice such as here as Socrates Psychological Services.

The work is often directly with people, either individually or in groups, assessing their needs and providing therapies and interventions 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 Does a Clinical Psychologist Differ From a Psychiatrist?

Often, Clinical Psychologists and psychiatrists work in the same settings, and as part of the same teams. Some of the things that they do are the same, but they are different in some important ways. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, who study medicine for their degree and specialise in psychiatry. They can prescribe medication. Clinical Psychologists are also doctors but this is because they have a doctorate; they are not medical doctors. They cannot prescribe medication. They have particular training in research methods, brain, behaviour and development, as well as being able to undertake cognitive/neuropsychological testing.

The Traditional Pathway to Clinical Psychology

Psychology at GCSE

GCSE and equivalent courses are designed to give students an introduction to the science behind people's behaviour and how it can be used to improve quality of life. Course content varies depending on the exam board, but all courses include practical work and an opportunity to explore some of the main areas of psychology such as memory, stress, prejudice, phobias, gender and social influence.

By the end of your course, you should have developed a critical approach to scientific methods and evidence, and a knowledge and understanding of how psychology works and its role in society.

You will also develop skills including:

  • oral, visual and written communication problem solving

  • numeracy and statistics

  • critical and creative thinking

  • decision making

  • organisational skills

  • teamworking

  • IT and data analysis skills

Psychology at A Level

In A Level courses, you will look at how ideas and theories in psychology have developed, learn how to critically analyse evidence, and undertake some practical research. You may also get the opportunity to create your own experimental project.

By the end of the course, you should be able to understand, analyse and form opinions on theories, and present and communicate your knowledge in a clear way.

The exact content of courses varies depending on the exam board, but you can expect to study subjects such as social psychology, how we process information (cognition), memory, stress and the processes of development for children and adolescents.

Psychology at Undergraduate Level

Entry requirements for accredited psychology degree courses vary from one institution to another. They tend to ask for high grades as the content is academically demanding and courses are popular. Psychology, Biology, Mathematics, English, History, Economics and similar arts and social science subjects are all useful preparation for an accredited psychology degree course.

Many universities will require at least one science A Level; Psychology counts as a science A-Level. We recommend that you contact individual institutions or check their prospectuses to find out about specific entry requirements.

Do I Need A Level or GCSE Psychology?

No, you don’t have to take GCSE or A Level Psychology to be accepted on to an accredited psychology degree. However, if you have the opportunity to do so, it will give you an idea of what psychologists do and knowledge of the subject.

Psychology at Degree Level

Degrees in psychology can often be taken as a single, joint or combined honours course.

As psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour, you will cover a variety of content in these areas. The exact content of psychology degree courses varies from university to university, but all courses accredited by the British Psychological Society will include:


  • Biological psychology  - how the brain influences behaviour, the effects of hormones, how it can be affected by drugs.

  • Cognitive psychology - how we remember, learn, think, reason, perceive, speak and understand.

  • Developmental psychology  - how humans develop physically, mentally and socially during childhood and adolescence and their life span.

  • Social psychology  - how human behaviour and experience are affected by social context such as in groups and relationships.

  • Conceptual and historical issues - how psychological explanations have changed over time and key debates which shape its future.

  • Research methods - quantitative and qualitative methods, research design, data collection, analysis and interpretation.

Many degrees allow students to select their own modules in addition to core content. Most also include some form of independent project and practical work including a research project and dissertation.

After the Degree

To become a Clinical Psychologist, you will need to gain some relevant experience before going on to complete a doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

Relevant experience can be paid or voluntary. Many hopefuls gain jobs as Assistant Psychologists or Research Assistants, where they can undertake various types of work, supervised by a Clinical Psychologist, in a variety of settings. Clinical Psychology is a popular career choice, and there is stiff competition for Assistant Psychologist posts.

Next, you need to be accepted onto a doctorate course. There are a number of courses nationally and the number of places they offer has grown over the years. But again, competition is fierce, and it can take a few years before a place is gained.

Clinical Psychology Doctorate

This is a three-year course. On the course, you will undertake placements in key areas of Psychology such as adult, child and older adult mental health and learning disabilities. Your third year will typically involve a specialist placement in an area of your choice. You will also be required to complete academic work such as essays, exams and case studies. In addition, there is a strong research component, consisting of small-scale and larger projects. Some courses require the completion of a doctoral thesis.

Whilst on this course, you will be employed by an NHS Trust, and will be earning a salary.

Further Information

Below are some websites which can provide further information:



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