This section covers initial training as well as routes to the main specialisms. 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. All specialisms are also included under BPS careers and there are also specific descriptions of many of the specialisms within the Prospects job profiles.
Initial training including conversion courses
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 LinkedIn.
Clinical Psychology is the specialism that we receive the most enquiries about. 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.
Recent changes in funding means that if you have received NHS funding for a different psychological profession (eg Improving Access to Psychological Training (IAPT) Psychotherapeutic Counselling Training) then you will have to wait for 2 years from when you've finished that training before being eligible to receive funding for the Clinical Psychology doctorate.
Applications for most clinical psychology doctorate courses are made through the Clearing House for Postgraduate Training Courses in Clinical Psychology; applications open in September with closing dates in mid November 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 common to spend a year building up relevant experience (volunteering and/or paid work) to help you secure these posts. Some examples of opportunities to look out for include:
- Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) wellbeing practitioner – search NHS Jobs using the keyword facility. As outlined above, be aware that if you receive NHS funding to train in a role such as this, you will be unable to access another NHS funded training in the psychological professions until two years after you qualify. As IAPT roles are increasingly competitive, it is worth searching NHS Jobs using keywords such as 'mental health support' which will help you identify entry level roles which are more suitable if you are needing to build up initial relevant experience.
- 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 Health Jobs and others listed under the External Resources below can be a useful source of vacancies. Agency Central allows you to search for recruitment agencies which focus on mental health roles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
For information on routes into other specialist areas including sport and exercise psychology, health psychology, neuropsychology, and teaching and research in psychology, please visit the careers section of the British Psychological Society.