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How to become a clinical psychologist

Clinical Psychology is studied at postgraduate level. You'll need an undergraduate honours degree in Psychology to access training to become a clinical psychologist.

What is a clinical psychologist?

Clinical psychologists use psychological methods and research to offer evidence-based help. Their goal is to support people to make positive changes to their lives.

With highly developed research skills, clinical psychologists carry out research and evaluation to inform their decisions. They provide training and supervision while also promoting reflection on evidence-based practice. Their training allows them to directly or indirectly support other clinicians to deliver psychological therapies.

Starting your career as clinical psychologist

Choosing subjects at school

To become a clinical psychologist, you need a good standard of education. Useful subjects include:

  • Psychology
  • Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies
  • English
  • Human Biology
  • Maths

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

College and university

Clinical psychology is studied at postgraduate level, this means that you will need an undergraduate honours degree in psychology to gain access to clinical psychology training.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Accessing clinical psychology training

Your psychology degree will need to be accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) for the Graduate Basis for Chartership (GBC).

You are likely to need at least a 2:1 Honours degree from a BPS-accredited psychological degree programme to meet the entry requirements for clinical psychology training. If you already have an undergraduate degree in a different subject, you can undertake a conversion course in psychology to gain the GBC.

In Scotland, you can study for a doctorate in clinical psychology. These programmes must be approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and usually take 3 years to complete. The universities that offer this course are:

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know the role

As a clinical psychologist, your aim is to reduce the distress and improve the psychological wellbeing of your clients. You will work with clients with a variety of mental and physical health conditions, including:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • adjustment difficulties
  • interpersonal and relationship difficulties
  • addictive behaviours
  • eating disorders
  • neurological disorders, including dementia or stroke
  • learning disabilities
  • psychosis
  • offending behaviour

Tasks include:

  • completing clinical assessments to help develop an understanding of the patients’ problems and how they came about
  • using psychological models and evidence-based intervention to process these assessments and help address the problems
  • assessing patients and their families through interviews, observations, and psychometric tests
  • planning a programme of treatment, including therapy, in partnership with the client
  • developing and evaluating service provision for clients
  • providing training and consultation to other professions, encouraging a psychological approach to their work
  • counselling and supporting carers

You’ll need these skills:

  • active listening
  • compassion
  • empathy
  • persuasion
  • planning
  • teamwork
  • relationship-building

You’ll work with a range of people, including:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • allied health professionals
  • mental health professionals

You’ll also work with a variety of clients to reduce psychological distress and promote psychological well-being. This includes:

  • children
  • young people and families
  • people with learning disabilities
  • adults of working age
  • older adults
  • couples
  • families
  • groups
  • organisations

You could work in:

  • hospitals
  • community health centres
  • schools
  • social services
  • prisons
  • psychiatric units
  • rehabilitation units

Learning and development

Once qualified and registered with the HCPC, you can use the title ‘practitioner psychologist’. You will then be eligible to apply to become a chartered member (CPsychol) of the BPS.

Continuing professional development

As a clinical psychologist, you would be expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This is in order to keep your knowledge and skills up to date. You must undertake an average of 40 hours of CPD per calendar year, over a 3-year period. Your CPD should be varied and balanced. It can include:

  • post-qualification training courses
  • received professional supervision
  • personal psychological counselling for professional purposes
  • systematic reflection on practice

You must also do this to maintain your registration with the HCPC.

Career progression

Gaining qualifications will help your career prospects. As your career progresses, you could move into a more senior roles such as principal clinical psychologist or clinical management. You could oversee your own team, planning for future development or balancing budgets.

You could apply to train as a neuropsychologist by completing the BPS Qualification in Clinical Neuropsychology (QiCN).

More experienced clinical psychologists may decide to move into clinical academic research. You might be called upon to write legal reports and act as an expert witness.

You can also move into teaching, lecturing or research with further experience or completing a PhD.

Professional bodies

British Psychological Society (BPS)

The BPS is the professional body for psychologists in the UK. They offer 3 levels of membership:

  1. Student membership is open to everyone studying on a BPS accredited undergraduate degree or conversion course.
  2. Graduate membership of the society is the starting point to your career as a psychologist. It is a prerequisite for many accredited post-graduate and doctoral programmes.
  3. Chartered membership reflects the highest level of psychological knowledge and expertise.

Find out more on the BPS website.

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is an independent, UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards for health, psychological and, in England, social work professionals. It maintains a public register of qualified professionals and works to improve industry standards and education.

Find out more on the HCPC website.

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