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Psychology | The Careers Service Psychology – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

One of the major attractions of becoming a psychologist is the opportunity to help others and while the job can be stressful at times, many psychologists describe their work as very rewarding.

Psychologists can work in a wide variety of different sectors, but perhaps are best known for their work within health and education. Psychologists are also employed within commercial settings, penal establishments and the sports sector, to name but a few. As jobs in this sector are highly vocational, it is important to identify which specialism you are interested in before embarking on further professional training.

All practising psychologists have to register with their regulatory body: the Health and Care Profession Council (HCPC). The British Psychology Society (BPS) accredits undergraduate courses and other Stage 1 qualifying courses for the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC); however, the HCPC are responsible for approving Stage 2 qualifications and the three doctorates (Clinical, Counselling and Educational).

Types of job

An initial requirement to embark on a psychology career is a BPS-accredited psychology degree that confers the GBC (Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership of the British Psychological Society – previously known as GBR). In the UK 20% of psychology graduates become professional psychologists, but even without a psychology degree it is still possible to obtain the GBC through completing an accredited conversion course.

Conversion courses often require applicants to have studied 60 credits of psychology at degree level beforehand. Some universities offer certificates/courses that will bring you up to this required entry level, e.g. Oxford Brookes University and London Metropolitan University. The BPS has a list of accredited conversion courses; check individual university websites for application details.  When choosing a conversion course you may find the following points helpful:

  • Check the course is accredited by the BPS.
  • Consider whether you have a preference in terms of location, which in itself can impact on your living costs. If you are choosing a part-time course then look into availability of part-time work to help fund yourself.
  • Research the course fees as there can be quite a variation, not only between part-time and full-time courses but also between courses of the same length of time.
  • Talk to psychologists who have completed a conversion course; search our Oxford Careers Network on CareerConnect or use LinkedIn.
Entry points

Clinical Psychology is the specialism that we receive the most enquiries about, so whilst this information covers all psychology professions, we have given clinical psychology greater coverage.

Clinical psychologist

The majority of clinical psychologists work in hospitals and community settings within a healthcare team. Whilst most work in the NHS, some work in private practices. They see clients individually or in groups, helping with a variety of psychological difficulties. Most work with a particular client group, e.g. adult mental health or learning difficulties.

To train as a clinical psychologist you need to first obtain the GBC from the BPS either through an accredited psychology degree or a conversion course. You then need to obtain relevant work experience, e.g. assistant psychologist or research assistant, before embarking on a three-year doctorate in Clinical Psychology. These are NHS-funded, and there is considerable competition for places.

Applications for most clinical psychology doctorate courses are made through the Clearing House for Postgraduate Training Courses in Clinical Psychology, with closing dates in late November to early December, although you are advised to apply before mid-November. Each course has a slightly different structure and ethos, so spend time thinking about your interests and research courses to find one that reflects these. You’ll find more information about courses in The Alternative Handbook For Postgraduate Training Courses in Clinical Psychology and from the Clearing House website. Queens University Belfast operates its own admissions process; please contact them for more information.

It is usual to gain two years of relevant experience before embarking on an HCPC-approved doctorate in Clinical Psychology, and the ideal pre-application experience would be an assistant psychologist or a research assistant post, although competition for these jobs is fierce. Often voluntary experience or related work, such as a nursing assistant or a care assistant, can help secure these sought-after positions. It is usual to spend a year building up relevant experience (volunteering and / or paid work) to help you secure these sought-after positions. Some examples of opportunities to look out for include:

  • Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) wellbeing practitioner (search NHS Jobs using keyword facility)
  • nursing assistant/auxiliary nurse
  • care assistant
  • helpline volunteer with organisations such as Nightline or Childline
  • graduate mental health worker
  • support worker

Recruitment websites such as Mental Health Jobs and others listed under the External Resources below can be a useful source of vacancies.

You may find it helpful to visit the discussion forum on ClinPsy which is run by qualified Chartered Clinical Psychologists, providing advice and information about entry to the profession.

It is worth attending our OX Postcode Fair as local organisations which offer part-time and full-time care work often attend. Life as a student in Oxford can also provide opportunities for building up relevant skills and experience, for example by getting involved in welfare or peer support in your college, or by volunteering with organisations such as Nightline.

Counselling psychologist

Counselling psychology is a relatively new specialism concerned with the integration of psychological theory and therapeutic processes. Practitioners need to have a high level of self-awareness, and relationship building with the client is very important. Counselling psychologists will be helping clients who are facing difficulties or life issues and they will aim to help people improve their sense of well-being and ability to problem-solve. They work with individuals, couples, families and groups in the NHS, private practice or other organisations.

After obtaining your GBC through an accredited psychology degree or conversion course, you will need to obtain relevant experience before either embarking on an HCPC approved Doctorate in Counselling Psychology or gaining the BPS’s Qualification in Counselling Psychology. It is common for people to enter this specialism as mature applicants and the postgraduate training is usually self-funded. Volunteering with a support service such as Nightline would give you an opportunity to develop relevant listening skills whilst also finding out if you are suited to this sort of work.

Educational psychologist

The training route in England and Wales requires an HCPC approved Doctorate in Educational Psychology. Entry requirements for the Doctorate include eligibility for the GBC (a relevant degree or conversion course needs to be passed before you can apply) and at least one year’s relevant experience of working with children within educational, childcare or community settings. This could be from working in a variety of roles such as a teacher, a graduate assistant in an Educational Psychology Service, a Learning Support Assistant or a Care Worker. Information about the Doctorate course (including course providers) and the application process can be found from the Department for Education and also from the Association of Educational Psychologists who handle the applications. In your application you will be expected to demonstrate how you have applied the knowledge of psychology in your work experience.

The postgraduate training route in Scotland involves a two-year Masters programme followed by the BPS’s Award in Educational Psychology, which includes a year of supervised practice that has been approved by the HCPC.

Forensic psychologist

Forensic psychologists apply psychology to criminal and legal issues, working mainly in the prison and probation service to develop intervention techniques and treatment programmes for use with both offenders and those under supervision. They also liaise with other professionals and agencies. They work directly with prisoners and also help prison officers. The largest single employer of forensic psychologists is HM Prison Service; however, opportunities also exist within the health service and the social services. To become a forensic psychologist you need to obtain the GBC through an accredited psychology degree or conversion course, and then complete the BPS’s accredited Masters in Forensic Psychology followed by Stage 2 of the BPS’s Qualification in Forensic Psychology (two years of supervised practice) that has been approved by the HCPC.

Occupational psychologist

Occupational psychologists are involved in assessing the performance of people at work, how organisations function and how individuals and small groups behave at work. The aim is to increase the effectiveness of the organisation and to improve the job satisfaction of the individual. Opportunities exist to work within private and public organisations and also in consultancies. To become an occupational psychologist you will need to obtain the GBC through an accredited psychology degree or conversion course, and then complete the BPS’s accredited Masters in Occupational Psychology followed by Stage 2 of the BPS’s Qualification in Occupational Psychology (two years of supervised work, or a Doctorate in Occupational Psychology).

Other specialisms

There are other specialist areas within psychology, which include sport and exercise psychology, health psychology, neuropsychology, and teaching and research in psychology. For further information about these routes please visit the British Psychological Society.

Skills & experience

Skills needed

The skills required can vary according to the emphasis of the job, but generally the following skills are important:

  • Empathy
  • Communication/interpersonal skills
  • Resilience and ability to cope with stress and, sometimes, clients’ disturbing situations
  • Tact, assertiveness and administrative skills (particularly for educational psychology)
  • Ability to establish a relationship, work with offenders, and a non-judgemental approach (forensic psychology)
  • Ability to influence other professions, managers and staff (particularly for occupational psychology)

Getting experience

It is important to gain relevant work experience according to the specialism you are interested in. For example, experience in personnel/human resources and business and management would be an advantage for occupational psychology, whereas working with clients, e.g. as an assistant psychologist, is highly desirable if you want to be a clinical/counselling psychologist. For the latter specialisms there are more opportunities to work as low-intensity therapy workers through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme (search NHS Jobs using keyword facility). Likewise, you can gain insights into the work through our online Oxford Careers Network which allows you to contact Oxford alumni who are working as psychologists, or try contacting psychologists in your local area by searching the BPS’s Directory of Chartered Psychologists.

Volunteering is a good way of building up relevant experience e.g. look for opportunities through Do-it, TimeBank  or Volunteering England. See also our information on Social Work.

If you do arrange work experience, there is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpage’s on the National Minimum Wage.

Getting a job

Employers use various publications and websites to advertise posts, and examples include: the BPS’s Psychologist Appointments; the national press; Civil Service job bulletins; the NHS Jobs website (searching using keywords such as ‘IAPT’, ‘low intensity’ or ‘well-being’ can identify vacancies which are suitable prior to embarking on specialist postgraduate training); NHS Trust job bulletins; Jobs in Research, Science, Academic and Related Professions website; the Prison Service; and local education authorities. Be aware that some Assistant Psychologist jobs may only be advertised for a very short timescale so be prepared to apply quickly. Some charities that offer volunteering opportunities, such as Turning Point, can also keep you up to date with their current job vacancies via email alerts. It is worth checking the vacancies on our website by logging into CareerConnect and searching by the most relevant job function to the specialism you are interested in.

Employment rights & equality

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Our resources

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • What to do with your Psychology Degree, Matthew McDonald, Susmita Das
  • Psychology Uncovered, Owen Davies
  • So you want to be a Psychologist?, The British Psychological Society
This information was last updated on 11 September 2017.
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