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Clinical psychologist: Entry requirements

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In order to become a qualified clinical psychologist you will usually need to hold a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited psychology degree with a degree classification of 2:1 or above, although some courses will accept a 2:2 and a Masters degree. For a full list of psychology courses in the UK, search BPS Accredited Psychology Courses

If your course is not accredited or your degree is not in psychology, you can obtain Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) in one of the following other ways:

  • by sitting the British Psychological Society's qualifying examination;
  • via an appropriate society-accredited postgraduate qualification;
  • by taking an appropriate society-accredited conversion course.

Entry with just an HND is not possible.

A further three years of postgraduate study leading to a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology is also needed in order to be eligible for chartered status. You will then also be eligible for entry onto the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)  register, which entitles you to use the protected title clinical psychologist.

A minimum of 6 to 12 months of relevant clinical work experience is essential in order to secure a training place. Some course providers have specific requirements or give advice on how to go about gaining the necessary experience.

Relevant experience can include work as an assistant psychologist in NHS clinical psychology departments, sometimes on a voluntary basis. Work in other areas, however, is also relevant, e.g. in nursing, social work, mental health work or services for individuals with disabilities. Mental health workers provide additional, specialist services for people experiencing mild to moderate mental health problems. People recruited to the role come from a wide range of backgrounds but are often psychology graduates, amongst other professionals.

Research experience as a research assistant in a branch of psychology is relevant, too, particularly if the research is clinically oriented. It is helpful to have a good balance of experience in both academic and clinical areas. It is also useful to get work experience working under the supervision of a qualified clinical psychologist within the NHS.

Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:

  • empathy and a person-centred approach to clients;
  • tolerance of stress;
  • the ability to recognise your own limitations and respond to difficult situations;
  • the ability to apply your knowledge of academic psychology and research to clinical problems;
  • the capacity to be critical and analytical and to work in a self-motivated, independent way;
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills in order to deal with people in distress;
  • the ability to collaborate with colleagues from other disciplines;
  • the determination to succeed;
  • a strong understanding of the profession and the role of a clinical psychologist, and an awareness of current NHS issues.

As posts often involve local travel, having a full driving licence and a car is a definite asset.

Applications for most three-year Doctorate courses in clinical psychology are made through the Clearing House for Postgrad Courses in Clinical Psychology . The closing date for courses is early December but it is recommended you apply before mid-November. Competition for entry is stiff, with just one in six applicants currently gaining a place; it is common for people to apply several times. It is not usually possible to fund yourself or to use funding from sponsorship or scholarships in order to gain access onto the course, as the NHS provides enough funding for all the places available.

Entry onto accredited postgraduate training courses is competitive. Many of the successful applicants for the Doctorate course have a postgraduate qualification such as a Masters and at least two years' relevant experience.

Gaining relevant experience will improve your chances of getting onto the course. On average, it takes around three years after graduating to get onto the Doctorate course and the average age of applicants is 26. However, it is illegal to discriminate against applicants on the grounds of age and there are some courses which favour undergraduates.

For more information, see work experience and internships and search postgraduate courses.

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Written by David Bond, Birmingham City University
October 2013

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