Clinical psychologists make up the single largest specialty area in psychology.
Clinicians are psychologists who assess, diagnose and treat mental illnesses. They frequently work in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), private or group practices or hospitals.
Within the area of clinical psychology, there are also a number of sub-specialty areas. Some professionals are generalists and work with a wide range of clients, while others specialize in treating certain types of psychological disorders or a certain age group. For example, some clinical psychologists might work in a hospital setting with individuals suffering from brain injuries or neurological conditions. Other clinical psychologists might work in a NHS setting that specialises in individuals or families coping with stress, mental illness, substance abuse or personal problems.
Clinical psychologists usually perform a wide range of tasks on a daily basis such as interviewing patients, conducting assessments, giving diagnostic tests, performing psychotherapy and administering programs. Work settings can vary based on the specific population that a clinician is working with. Common work settings include hospitals, schools, universities, prisons, mental health clinics and private practices.
Criteria for success
Candidates need to meet some basic academic criteria. After that, they also need to demonstrate (by gaining some relevant clinical experience) that they have some awareness of the roles undertaken by clinical psychologists, are familiar with the sorts of clients psychologists see, and have an idea of the contexts within which psychologists work.
In addition, they need to show that they have the appropriate personal characteristics needed to work effectively with a wide range of potentially vulnerable individuals, and to contribute to the work of fellow professionals in the NHS or equivalent organisations.
Generally, all candidates need to have obtained a good pass in an undergraduate honours degree in Psychology. Additional postgraduate study will also help.
In order to be considered for a place on any training course in Clinical Psychology, it is essential to have Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) with the British Psychological Society (BPS), usually at the time of applying.
Not all Psychology programmes confer eligibility for GBC. If you are unsure whether you are entitled to GBC you can use the Accredited Course Search on the BPS website.
Relevant Clinical Experience
In order to have a realistic chance of being selected, it is essential to gain some relevant clinical experience before applying to the course. Often, people work for around 1-2 years before getting on to a course, and in most cases this should be sufficient.
Some suggested routes to gain experience are:
- Assistant Psychologist
- Social work
- Nursing assistant in a psychiatric unit, or as a worker in a MIND Day Centre
- Research Assistant (though the research should usually offer at least some direct involvement in a clinical area)
Work experience can be part time or full time, paid or voluntary and relevant posts can be found within or outside the NHS.