Clinical psychologists aim to reduce the distress and improve the psychological wellbeing of their clients. They use psychological methods and research to make positive changes to their clients' lives and offer various forms of treatment.

They work with clients of all ages who have a variety of different mental or physical health issues, such as:

  • depression and anxiety;
  • mental illness;
  • adjustment to physical illness;
  • neurological disorders;
  • addictive behaviours;
  • challenging behaviours;
  • eating disorders;
  • personal and family relationship problems;
  • learning disabilities.

Clinical psychologists work in partnership with their clients over a series of sessions in order to diagnose, assess and manage their condition. They often work alongside other professionals in multidisciplinary teams in order to deal with their clients' complex problems.

Responsibilities

Clinical psychologists tend to work with one particular client group, such as children or people with learning disabilities. They also often work in a particular setting, for example a hospital or through social services.

Tasks can include:

  • assessing a client's needs, abilities or behaviour using a variety of methods, including psychometric tests, interviews and direct observation of behaviour;
  • working as part of a multidisciplinary team alongside doctors, nurses, social workers, education professionals, health visitors, psychiatrists and occupational therapists;
  • devising and monitoring appropriate treatment programmes, including therapy, counselling or advice, in collaboration with colleagues;
  • offering therapy and treatments for difficulties relating to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction, social and interpersonal problems and challenging behaviour;
  • developing and evaluating service provision for clients;
  • providing consultation to other professions, encouraging a psychological approach in their work;
  • counselling and supporting carers;
  • carrying out applied research, adding to the evidence base of practice in a variety of healthcare settings.

More experienced clinical psychologists may be called on to write legal reports and act as expert witnesses. They keep detailed paperwork about clients in order to monitor the progress of the clients' treatments.

Salary

  • Trainee clinical psychologists start at Band 6 (£26,041) of the National Health Service (NHS) Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. After qualification, salaries within the NHS start at Band 7. A typical starting salary would be in the region of £31,072.
  • More experienced psychologists (Band 8a) can earn up to £47,559. Band 8b-d roles apply to senior experienced psychologists, possibly managing departments or large specialist sections with responsibility for the psychology service and its staff. Salaries in these posts range from £46,164 to more than £81,000 for top-level posts.

The NHS pays a London high-cost area supplement at 20% of basic salary for inner London, 15% for outer London and 5% for fringe areas. Salaries in private hospitals and private practice vary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are generally 9am to 5pm, with the possibility of extra hours in the evening or at weekends. Occasionally, an on-call system covering emergency situations may be in operation.

What to expect

  • Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible. Opportunities for private or clinical practice, and for industrial or commercial consultancy, are available.
  • Jobs are available in most large towns and cities, with fewer opportunities in rural areas.
  • The following groups are currently under-represented in the profession: men; people from ethnic minority backgrounds; and people with disabilities.
  • The work can be challenging as it involves contact with many different types of people who are often distressed in some way. Supervision by colleagues is important. Occasionally, situations of potential personal risk may be encountered.
  • Local travel within a working day is common. Absence from home overnight may occasionally be necessary. Overseas work or travel is uncommon.

Qualifications

In order to use the protected title clinical psychologist, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which involves completing three years of postgraduate training leading to a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, or equivalent, approved by the HCPC.

In order to get a place on a Doctorate course, you will need Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC), which is achieved by completing a psychology degree or conversion course accredited by The British Psychological Society (BPS). For a full list of GBC qualifying courses see the BPS Accredited Psychology Courses.

Most Doctorate course providers are looking for a first class honours degree or a good 2:1, although some may accept a 2:2 if you have a relevant Masters degree or above.

Applications for most Doctorate courses are made through the Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology. However, the University of Hull and Queens University Belfast operate their own admissions process. Applications open during September and the closing date is early December. All training courses are full time and there are no part-time or distance learning options available.

On successful completion of the Doctorate, you are eligible to apply for registration with the HCPC and chartered status with the BPS.

Funding for most places on the Doctorate training courses is provided by the NHS and you will be employed by the NHS as a trainee clinical psychologist while you study. Places that are not funded by the NHS are available from the University of Hertfordshire and Salomons, Canterbury Christ Church University.

Competition for entry onto a Doctorate training course is stiff, with just one in six applicants gaining a place in 2015. It is common for people to apply more than once.

Skills

You 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 training often involves local travel, having a full driving licence and access to a car is important.

Work experience

A minimum of six to 12 months of relevant clinical work experience is essential in order to secure a place on a Doctorate course. Most course providers have specific requirements on the amount of experience they require or give advice on how to go about gaining the necessary experience.

Some course providers are particularly keen on experience gained as an assistant psychologist in an NHS clinical psychology department, or as a research assistant and competition for these posts is fierce.

Voluntary or paid work in other areas such as nursing, social work, care work, mental health work or services for individuals with disabilities is also relevant. Mental health workers provide additional, specialist services for people experiencing mild to moderate mental health problems. People recruited to the role come from a range of backgrounds but are often psychology graduates, amongst other professionals.

Research experience as a research assistant in a branch of psychology is also relevant, 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. See the Clearing House for Postgraduate Training Courses in Clinical Psychology for more tips on where to find relevant work experience.

Employers

Many clinical psychologists are employed by NHS England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales or Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland (HSC), although there are opportunities to work on a self-employed basis and in private practice.

Opportunities are available in a range of health and social care settings, including:

  • hospitals;
  • psychiatric units;
  • local clinics and health centres;
  • community mental health teams;
  • child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS);
  • social services;
  • schools and universities;
  • prisons;
  • Improving Access to Psychology Therapy (IAPT) services.

Look for job vacancies at:

Some specialist recruitment agencies handle vacancies.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

The majority of those accepted onto the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology course are employed as trainee clinical psychologists through the NHS England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales or Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland.

Training includes a combination of academic teaching, clinical experience in a range of clinical settings and the completion of a research project. You are continuously assessed during the three-year training period and assessment can take various forms such as practice placement evaluations, essays, clinical case reports, video assignments, project work, online tests and a clinical viva.

Once qualified, you must keep your skills up to date and follow the ongoing developments in research. Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of continuing registration with the HCPC and chartered membership of BPS and should include a mixture of directed and self-directed activities.

Directed activities can include attending conferences, workshops and events, taking post-qualification training courses, writing for journals and undertaking and presenting research and papers at conferences.

Training and development opportunities are available through the BPS Professional Development Centre. It is also possible to undertake further research at PhD level.

Self-directed activities can include undertaking personal psychological counselling and reflecting on your own practice.

In addition, if you have an area of specialty, such as forensic clinical psychology, you must work a minimum of ten days per year in this area.

Career prospects

Career prospects for qualified clinical psychologists are generally good, although the situation varies according to geographical region, the overall number of jobs available in each specialist area and the popularity of particular fields.

After qualifying and gaining experience, some clinical psychologists choose to specialise in a particular area of clinical psychology such as:

  • addiction;
  • clinical health psychology;
  • forensic clinical psychology;
  • oncology and palliative care;
  • psychosis and complex mental health.

To be eligible to apply for a consultant-level position, you will usually need a minimum of six years' experience working and developing in the profession. At this level, there are a small number of heads of specialty posts available (in areas such as adult mental health) with progression to overall head of a psychology service.

With experience it may be possible to move into clinical academic research and teaching. There are also opportunities to apply for a position as a trainee high intensity therapist, providing cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to patients with complex issues related to anxiety and depression.