This post is by associate Triage Practitioner, and guest blogger, Anna Fialkowska
The Mental Health Sector – How do you become a Clinical Psychologist?
Working within the healthcare sector can be both challenging and highly rewarding, and there are many different pathways to working within the mental health field. From mental health practitioners, to counsellors, psychotherapists, CBT therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists, the field has a lot to offer to those interested in mental health. However, with so many different options, those pathways can often seem confusing and unclear.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, initially trained in medicine followed by a specialism in psychiatry. However, for those who have not undertaken a medical degree, perhaps due to having more interest in the way people think, behave and act over treating disorders, becoming a psychologist is often the end goal for many. Embarking on a journey to become a clinical psychologist in the UK can be very challenging and requires dedication, a high level of education and a real passion for helping others. Clinical Psychologists play a crucial role in providing support, assessment and therapeutic intervention to individuals facing psychological challenges. This article may be helpful to those considering their options within the mental health field, particularly the pathway to becoming a clinical psychologist.
Step 1: Building a Psychological Foundation
One of the first steps to becoming a clinical psychologist is to obtain an undergraduate degree in psychology or another related field such as sociology, neuroscience or social work. Often, it is important to check that a course is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) as this allows students to obtain graduate status once they have completed their degree. It ensures the course provides a broad understanding of key psychological principles, such as statistics, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology and social psychology.
Step 2: Obtaining Practical Experience
Once you have your psychology undergraduate degree, what next? Many people are not aware that this does not really allow people to practice as psychologists so further education and experience is needed. It is vital that aspiring psychologists start to build their practical experience as early as possible. This could initially involve volunteering in the mental health field, or working as an assistant psychologist, a psychological wellbeing practitioner (PWP) or support worker, particularly for a company that specialises in mental health. Other options might include training as a mental health nurse, a social worker or working as a research assistant to boost relevant experience.
Step 3: Postgraduate Study
Whilst it is possible to apply to a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy), it is rare that people get onto this course without 3-5 years of work experience and additional educational attainment. Because of how competitive the DClinPsy is known to be, many people pursue an additional Masters Degree to help them stand out. This might be in neuroscience, social psychology, research methods or other related fields which provide additional training and experiences.
Step 4: Earning the Title
The most common next step is to look to earn a doctoral degree in psychology (PsyD) through either the DclinPsy course mentioned previously or a Doctorate in Counselling Psychology, Educational Psychology or as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The most popular choice is the doctorate in clinical psychology which consists of a three-year program, funded by the NHS, and involves both academic study, practical placements and a final year thesis which builds in-depth knowledge of clinical psychology. There is a large emphasis on practical training and students will need to pass 4 clinical placements across the first two years and then an extended, more specialised placement in the final year which is carried out over a six-to-nine-month period. These can be in various settings, working under the guidance of licensed psychologists and could involve placements within eating disorder services, psychiatric liaison services, community mental health teams and many other placements. Conducting research is vital throughout the training and will run alongside placements. Trainees will be encouraged to develop the ability to integrate research findings into their clinical practice, using a variety of approaches from Systemic Therapy to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Step 5: Registration and Professional Accreditation
Once qualified, students are then eligible to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) and this is a legal requirement to practice. Calling yourself a clinical psychologist is a title that is protected by law in the UK, along with the titles practitioner psychologist, registered psychologist, forensic psychologist, counselling psychologist, health psychologist, educational psychologist, occupational psychologist and sport and exercise psychologist. These titles, along with registration, indicate someone has completed an accredited post-graduate degree and indicates high standards of practice.
Step 6: Working as a Psychologist
Once registered, it is important for a psychologist to remain up to date with the latest research, news and therapeutic techniques to ensure the highest standards of care can be provided for patients. A psychologist may also decide to further specialise by completing additional training such as the Certificate in Clinical Neuropsychology Practice. This will provide the practice competencies required for entry on to the Specialist Register of Clinical Neuropsychologists.
Once licensed, a psychologist can work in many different settings from NHS hospitals, primary care settings, mental health clinicals, private practices, neuropsychological rehabilitation centers and academic institutions. It is a long and demanding road, yet it can be a hugely fulfilling journey. These steps can help aspiring psychologists to embark on a career that contributes to improving wellbeing in society, helping individuals live healthier, happier lives.
About Anna Fialkowska
Anna Fialkowska is a Trainee Doctor - Health Psychologist and is completing her doctoral training at the University of the West of England, currently working as a Heath Improvement Practitioner. She has worked within the field of mental health dysfunction and cognitive rehabilitation over the last six years. Her main areas of research include the development of behaviour change interventions, the impact of stress on individuals’ physical health and the effect of chronic conditions on psychological well-being.