Psychologists are concerned with human behaviour and consequently work in many different sectors and engage with all aspects of society. Working as a chartered psychologist is challenging in terms of the additional training and qualifications required. The main areas of clinical, educational, counselling, forensic, health and occupational psychology all require specific, accredited postgraduate study. Opportunities for psychologists also exist in other therapy and mental health roles. Psychology can be applied to careers in many other sectors, particularly where there is a link on human behaviour and attitude, such as recruitment, risk management, media, health and social care and education.
Other therapy and health care professions
|Speech and Language Therapist|
|Psychology Wellbeing Practitioner|
|Health Promotion Specialist|
Social care professions
|Human Resources Officer|
Psychology is as diverse a professional field as it is an academic subject and consequently any form of work experience needs to be tailored to the area of practice that interests you. However much can also be gained from less specific experience in broader fields such as the health and social care sector. It is important to think about what you want to gain from work experience opportunities; different opportunities will yield different benefits. For example, shadowing or speaking with a psychologist will meet one specific need, which is to gain an understanding of the job role. Working or volunteering with individuals experiencing mental health problems will offer relevant client experience should you wish to enter clinical psychology; similarly school based experience will be invaluable for educational psychology. On a less specific level, volunteering in a relevant context (charity, hospital, youth club etc) presents an opportunity to gain experience of working with people and to develop valuable transferable skills.
When you are considering work experience or relevant paid employment, networks and contacts are incredibly important. It is essential to think broadly and creatively as excellent learning experiences do exist outside the mainstream provision offered by the NHS and local authorities. Ensure that you are proactive in seeking experience; it is unlikely to come to you!
Useful resource: How to become a psychologist (BPS website)
Clinical & Health Psychology
A good starting point is to make contact with a clinical psychologist; the BPS website contains a searchable directory of chartered psychologists. Also get involved in networking groups. Across the UK there are psychology graduate and assistant groups that are a source of contacts, events and job opportunities.
Work Experience & volunteering
In terms of work experience and volunteering, find out about relevant provision in your area. In Durham, for example, the Primary Care Trust website details local mental health organisations as well as providing details of the statutory support provided through the various mental health teams. NHS Foundation Trusts usually offer volunteering programmes; this may not be specific to psychology but presents a useful means of gaining appropriate experience in a clinical environment. Experience may also be gained through local authorities who are responsible for the provision of a variety of support services, such as day care services. The Durham County Council website contains an excellent database of local community organisations as well as links to national organisations. Charitable organisations are an excellent source of experience and can present an opportunity to undertake very meaningful work. Charities like Sane, No Panic and the Samaritans provide a means to develop your listening skills while working with people experiencing mental health problems. Consider aspects of clinical psychology (anxiety, depression learning disability, mental health, brain injury etc) that interest you and research organisations accordingly. Neuropartners is an example of an organisation, concerned with neurological conditions, that has a history of recruiting Durham students in ‘support worker’ roles. It is not always easy to indentify charities working in fields relevant to clinical psychology; there are however some useful online directories that can help to make life a little easier!
It is also helpful to consider ‘advertised’ volunteering opportunities. The ‘Do-it’ website is particularly useful in search for volunteer positions linked to areas such as mental health, children, addiction and disability. Within the University, Student Community Action and Nightline are excellent organisations to get involved with.
As a graduate, the position of assistant psychologist is regarded as the most appropriate form of salaried experience but these posts are incredibly competitive. Other opportunities do exist, particularly in respect of the work undertaken by the NHS IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) programme. Graduates are eligible to apply for trainee Psychology Wellbeing Practitioner roles (low intensity therapy). The position involves working with people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety orders; trainees undertake further study at an approved HE institution as part of their professional development. IAPT providers also employ high intensity cognitive behavioural therapy workers; graduates can progress to these roles with training and experience. Refer to the IAPT website for more information. The IAPT provider in Durham is ‘Talking Changes’.
It is also useful to consider support or assistant level roles in a health and social care context (e.g. mental health support worker); the websites below will help you to research job opportunities. Many of these opportunities are with the NHS but also consider local authorities, private health care providers and charities that deliver front line services.
- BPS Division of Clinical Psychology
- Health Service Journal
- NHS Jobs
- Great Social Care
- Mental Health Jobs
- Community Care Jobs
- Fish4Jobs Health
- Sector 1
Much of what has been said in respect of clinical will apply to educational psychology although the focus of your experience needs to be with children and young people. This does not exclusively mean school based experience but this is undoubtedly important. An important starting point is to approach an Educational Psychology team and enquire about opportunities to find out more about what they do. Work experience in schools is very useful, particularly if you work directly with children experiencing difficulties. Contact with the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) and external workers (e.g. Social Worker, Speech Therapist, Welfare Officer) is valuable. In addition to school based experience, involvement in activities such as summer camps and play schemes provides additional evidence of working with children. Mentoring projects are occasionally available through Student Community Action. Volunteering opportunities through children’s charities and local authority youth and children’s services are further means of getting involved.
Salaried experience is available in the form of assistant and support roles in teaching, social work, learning support, health care, youth work and speech therapy in addition to assistant psychology positions. Cover supervisor positions, which essentially involves managing a classroom in the case of a sick or absent teacher, can be occasionally sought via recruitment agencies in the education sector. One such example is Capita Resourcing which advertises both cover supervisor and HLTA (Higher Level Teaching Assistant) positions.
- Association of Educational Psychologists
- Charity People (job website)
- Community Service Volunteers
- Do-it (very useful volunteering site)
- TimeBank (volunteering website)
- Volunteering England
- Community Care jobsite
- National Youth Agency
- eCarers (social care jobs)
- TES (education jobs)
- LG Jobs (local government jobs)
- National Council for Youth Voluntary Services
Forensic psychology involves working with a very specific type of client and consequently it is necessary to consider your work experience accordingly. As forensic psychologists work primarily in secure environments (hospitals or prisons) it is important to seek experience, where possible, in this context. One option is to be a prison volunteer; this is an opportunity to provide support to the families of prisoners or to act as an ‘Official Prison Visitor’. In Durham, Student Community Action works in partnership with NEPACS to enable students to gain this type of experience.
Experience of working with offenders or those at risk of offending is of great value. There are numerous charities working in this field, such as NACRO (crime reduction charity), that provide volunteering opportunities. In the north east, NORCARE works with disadvantaged young people, including those who have, or are at risk, of offending.
Shorter term employment opportunities exist with the statutory services that work in this field such as the Probation Service, Social Services and Youth Offending Teams. Assistant Psychology opportunities exist within the Prison Service but also consider other roles in the shorter term, such as working as an OSG (Operational Support Grade); this is a very practical role within a prison but is an excellent means of building experience.
- BPS Division of Forensic Psychology
- Direct Gov - public sector direcrtory (use the directory of local councils to identify relevant services e.g. children’s services, youth offending/justice teams, social services etc)
- Youth Justice
- Probation Trusts
- Nacro (charity working with offenders)
- Revolving Doors (charity concerned with the criminal justice system)
- Victim Support (variety of volunteer opportunities across the UK)
As approximately half of counselling psychologists are employed in a health and social care setting, the information in respect of clinical psychology is very relevant. Counselling psychologists also work in industry as well as the public (including prison and probation services) and charitable sectors; consequently opportunities for work experience and contacts are varied. As a starting point you could consider the counselling provision offered by Durham University; although counselling is distinct from counselling psychology the client centred approach is consistent. Nightline represents a structured means of volunteering, including appropriate training; also speak with a representative of the University’s Counselling Service. Counselling and listening services are provided by charitable organisations across the UK; often volunteering opportunities, that include training, are available. The Counselling Services website is a useful resource with which to identify organisations; the Counselling Directory lists individual counsellors and psychotherapists as does Help 2 Heal.
Vacancies for assistant counselling psychology posts are rare and consequently shorter term employment opportunities may have to be sought in the broader context of ‘supportive’ work. Opportunities to work with individuals and groups exist in health care organisations, schools, colleges, universities, charities and local authorities. An introductory course in counselling is a useful means of building your counselling skills and experience. Introductory courses are widely available at local FE colleges.
- BPS Division of Counselling Psychology
- British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – Jobsonline (must be BACP member)
- Therapy Today (BACP publication – refer to ‘noticeboard’ for useful trainee and voluntary opportunities
- Community Care Jobs
- Cruse Bereavement Care
- Jobsgopublic – health and social care related opportunities
- Opportunities – public sector recruitment
- Times Educational Supplement
- Nursing Times
- NHS Jobs
This field is a little different to the aforementioned areas in that it is concerned with organisations as well as people. The primary employer of occupational psychologists is the Civil Service (including the prison service, Home Office and Department for Employment and Learning, Department for Work and Pensions) but they also work in the private sector for large companies, publishers of psychometric tests (e.g. SHL) and consultancies (e.g. Pearn Kandola, Mendas). Consequently organisational and commercial experience is very useful, particularly in a relevant department such as human resources. Exposure to recruitment and assessment processes, staff training and development and organisational culture in any context is valuable. As occupational psychology also relates to issues such as stress management, access to work, redundancy and returning to work, experience in a ‘supportive’ context is equally important. This could potentially be sought through organisations such as Remploy and EmployAbility that are concerned with helping disadvantaged people access employment.
Making contact with an occupational psychologist is a useful starting point as there is not specific pathway to follow in terms of relevant experience. It is not unusual for occupational psychologists to be self-employed and as a result ‘entrepreneurship’ is a useful quality to have!
Relevant shorter term employment includes positions within human resource departments or involvement with organisations concerned with the recruitment, assessment or training of employees.
Sources of vacancies
It is difficult to produce an extensive list of the main sites for psychology job vacancies as the job search resources are actually quite limited. This is partly because of the specialist nature of the role but also of the diverse sectors and employers in which psychologists work. Consequently it is important to think both broadly and creatively when searching for psychology posts and related opportunities. Although a large number of opportunities are found in the public sector, particularly organisations like the NHS, local authorities, HM Prison Service and the Civil Service, it is also very possible to be employed in the private and third sectors. When searching for vacancies it is helpful to be very focussed in terms of the type of psychology related work that you are interested in as this will help you to identify the most appropriate job search resources and employers. Someone with an interest in working in industry as an occupational psychologist will not necessarily employ the same resources as a budding health psychologist.
The resources below illustrate some example job sites in respect of psychology and associated career opportunities. As professional psychology can be a difficult career to access it is important to explore related job opportunities, including entry level positions, as a means of developing your experience.
Job vacancies and recruitment agencies
Specialist health and social care recruitment consultancies, such as Randstad Care, represent one means of accessing paid employment in a relevant health and social care context. Opportunities will be tend to be limited to more practical support and care roles without specific experience and qualifications. Refer to the Recruitment Employment Confederation website for details of other appropriate organizations. There are some very good not-for-profit, education, health and social care jobsites that you can use to search for vacancies appropriate to the psychology pathways that you are considering. One of the easiest ways to identify such jobsites is to use the sector specific resources on the Prospects website.
Unfortunately graduate schemes are generally not available in respect of psychology careers but they may be available in related areas. For example, a graduate HR scheme may be appropriate to someone considering occupational psychology. Market research is an area that is relevant to the skills developed by psychology graduates and in which graduate schemes are available. Ipsos Mori and GfK are two examples of organizations that offer graduate programmes. Psychology graduates are eligible to apply for a diverse range of graduate opportunities across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Some employers do specifically target psychology graduates. Recent examples include:
- TRL – concerned with transport research including road behaviour
- NATS – Human Factors division concerned with researching and minimising human risk in aviation
- Arcadia – Merchandising graduate scheme requires analytical skills; psychology highlighted as a preferred subject.
- Atos – express interest in graduates with an understanding of organizational psychology in respect of their HR scheme
- HSL – no graduate scheme as such but opportunities for those with a background in occupational psychology and ergonomics.
- Dunnhumby – consumer analysis company that recognises the relevance of the skills developed by psychologists to the data led work that they undertake.
When searching for psychology, or related, jobs it is still worth trying a keyword search of ‘graduate’ or ‘trainee’ as individual graduate opportunities do occasionally arise.
Useful job search websites
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Postgraduate study is critically important if you are considering a career as a professional psychologist. More detailed information on postgraduate study linked to different areas of psychology can be found on the BPS website; this information includes a comprehensive directory of recognised postgraduate course options.
In respect of clinical, educational and counselling psychology you are required to undertake a three year doctorate that is recognised by the BPS and accredited by the Health Professions Council (HPC). Gaining a place on a recognised doctorate, particularly in respect of clinical psychology, is incredibly competitive. Some institutions stipulate a period of relevant paid employment as a basic entry requirement; consequently it is not unusual for graduates to work for a number of years before being successful in gaining a place. Academic entry requirements are high, reflecting the intellectual challenge of doctorate level study; a 2:1 at undergraduate level is generally expected. It is possible to bolster your academic profile by undertaking a relevant psychology masters. While this can enhance your application it should not be seen as a substitute for relevant employment and experience. Furthermore, it will not necessarily counter balance a 2:2 degree; individual institutions have very specific academic entry requirements so please consult them in respect of the value of a 2:2 degree and masters.
Other areas of psychology, including health, forensic and occupational, can be worked towards via an accredited one year Masters qualification. This is usually followed by a 2 year period of supervised practice leading to recognition by the HPC. Competition for places on a recognised Masters course is not as high as it is for a doctorate in clinical psychology but focussed, relevant experience is actively sought. Entry requirements do vary but in a general a 2:1 in a BPS accredited psychology degree (Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership) is normally expected.
- BPS accredited courses
- Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology (central application for clinical psychology doctorates)
- Department for Education: training to become an Educational Psychologist
Emerging areas of psychology
The application of psychology continues to grow and evolve meaning that there are interesting study and career options outside of the main psychology professions. Examples include marketing or consumer psychology, animal and pet psychology, environmental psychology, human computer interaction (user experience field, e-learning), neuropsychology and security (defence, terrorism). While postgraduate study options exist in emerging areas of psychology it is important to research the related job opportunities very carefully; in some cases it may not be straightforward to translate academic knowledge in to the job market. It is also useful to note that emerging areas of psychology are not necessarily recognised by the HPC as chartered psychology professions; consequently postgraduate courses in fields such as consumer or environmental psychology will not be accredited by the BPS.
Academic study and research
In addition to professionally recognised courses in psychology there is also a wide selection of academic postgraduate programmes to consider. Academic study in the field of psychology, while very relevant to applied psychology, is an important consideration for anyone wishing to develop their interest in a specific aspect of psychology (e.g. developmental, cognitive neuroscience) and/or considering a research based career in this field.
Further information on postgraduate courses can be found on the Prospects and FindaMasters websites. Research the courses on offer before you apply; don't assume that they are all the same, particularly as the range of options linked to psychology is so diverse. It is vital to approach admissions tutors at an early stage to establish specific entry requirements.
For those with a degree other than psychology it is possible to undertake a conversion course; the programmes normally have the title of ‘Graduate Diploma in Psychology’. This will confer the GBC (Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership), which is the basic requirement for anyone wishing to pursue a career as a Chartered Psychologist. Entry requirements vary but usually applicants will be expected to have studied some psychology at degree level, usually 60 credits. If psychology has not been studied previously, some institutions offer foundation courses and the OU delivers an equivalent distance learning course entitled ‘Exploring psychology’.
Teaching has always been a difficult issue in respect of postgraduate study for psychologists. If you are considering a PGCE in primary education, a psychology degree is relevant to many aspects of the curriculum at this stage and is less of a problem. At secondary level it can be more challenging to apply for a PGCE as psychology is not a core subject within the curriculum. It is possible to teach other subjects, possibly linked to A-level study or the content of your degree but you will have to consult individual training providers. A small number of institutions do offer a psychology PGCE for those specifically interested in teaching psychology. Further details can be found on the GTTR website.
- Psychology Student - Employability Guide (PDF) (last modified: 26 September 2012)
Psychology Student - Employability Guide
The Employability Guide produced by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) is an excellent resource for psychology students. The CV examples are particularly helpful!