Case study

Clinical psychologist — Jen

Find out how Jen completed the highly competitive path to become a qualified clinical psychologist…

How did you get your job?

Clinical psychology is a very competitive profession so you need to be determined to enter it.

There are currently around 600 training places and each year almost 4000 people apply. It is an essential requirement that applicants have undertaken an undergraduate degree that meets the graduate basis for registration criteria.

After obtaining mine, I spent three years gaining relevant experience working in hostels and children's homes. This secured me my first assistant psychologist job, working in a child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHs).

After that I obtained a place on the Psychology Associate Pilot Scheme in Northumbria, which entailed two years training in CAMHs. When I completed the Associate Course, I obtained one more psychology assistant post in a Neuropsychology department before being accepted on to the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology in Sheffield. This was the second time I had applied.

Is your degree relevant to your job?

Having a Psychology BSc and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology is essential to be a Clinical Psychologist.

What are your main work activities?

I see around five clients per day, for between an hour and an hour and half each.They have a variety of mental health presentations, including severe anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and postnatal depression.

I use a variety of psychological therapies to help the clients to manage their mental health symptoms, to lower their distress and to develop new coping mechanisms.

As well as this I have a lot of administration to complete in ordser to record the content of the sessions, to track client progress and to write to allied professionals.

Supervision is also an essential part of being a clinical psychologist and I attend supervision sessions with a more senior psychologist on a regular basis.

What are your career ambitions?

I am a self-employed clinical psychologist and most of my referrals come from larger clinical psychology and mental health companies, who refer the clients to me. The majority of clinical psychologists work within the NHS, usually as part of a multi-disciplinary team.

My career ambitions are to work predominantly with perinatal mental illness (the period between conception and when a child is two) to alleviate psychological distress for the parent (usually the mother), to improve the attachment relationship between parent and baby and to improve outcomes for both parent and child.

What do you enjoy about your job?

My job is varied and very busy; involving a mixture of leadership, training, supervision and research and evaluation skills, as well as the direct work with clients.

I feel it is a privilege to work with people when they are at their most emotionally distressed, to be able to build a therapeutic relationship with them at this time and to be able to support them in their journey to recovery.

I also enjoy the daily liaison with a range of mental health, educational and social care professionals.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Working with clients who are very distressed and often have histories of abuse, neglect, loss or trauma can be highly emotive. It is therefore very important that a clinical psychologist has supervision and other avenues to manage the potential impact of being exposed to such high levels of distress on a daily basis.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

Clinical psychology is a very rewarding, but highly competitive career path. It is essential to obtain good grades at undergraduate level (a first or very high 2:1) on a psychology course.

Usually applicants for the doctorate also have several years of relevant experience in a social, educational or healthcare setting (most commonly and assistant psychologist position) and may have a further degree (post graduate certificate, post graduate diploma, Masters or Phd).

More information on entry criteria for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology training course can be found on the Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology website.

Other routes to becoming a psychotherapist include training as a psychodynamic psychotherapist, cognitive behavioural therapist, nurses or social workers with further mental health training and counsellors.

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