How to become a psychologist
Working as a psychologist, you will be required to review the thoughts, behaviours, motivations and emotions of your clients to help address problems they may have or to understand why they have reacted to a situation in a certain way. In doing so, you will try to help them control their behaviours and feelings to maintain their wellbeing and safety and that of others for the future.
£31,000 to £100,000
35 to 40 hours
What does it take to have a career as a psychologist?
Arguably one of the most fascinating careers in the world is that of a psychologist. Understanding how the mind work, what encourages humans to act the way they do and how we might ‘reprogram’ ourselves to ensure that we can live safely together in a civilised society is a job that captivates many.
Psychologists work in a broad area, covering clients who have criminal backgrounds through to those who have suffered from mental health illnesses and brain injuries. There is a great deal of study that is required in order to work as a psychologist and you are likely to specialise in one area.
What qualifications will I need to become a psychologist?
To work as a psychologist, you will need to meet a number of entry requirements, including qualifications and registration. To work as a psychologist, you will need to:
- Hold a degree in psychology. This will need to be a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited degree, which will lead to membership with the BPS on a Graduate Basis.
- Have work experience in the specialist field that you intend to work in.
- A postgraduate qualification that is BPS accredited for the specialist area that you will be working in.
You will also be required to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before you can work as a psychologist.
For those who want to enter a career in psychology but have a degree in a different subject, it may be possible to complete a BPS-approved conversion course. This would lead to approval for Graduate Basis membership once completed. Then you will be able to register with the HCPC and can begin work as a psychologist.
It will also be essential that you have Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance prior to working as a psychologist.
Essential Skills for Being a Psychologist
Psychologists will need a wide range of skills and experience to work safely and successfully. Their job involves high levels of patience and organisational skills and the ability to record all sessions, sometimes in audio and sometimes in writing.
There are a number of additional skills that a psychologist should develop, including:
- The ability to listen without interrupting.
- Constant attempts to empathise with patients and understand their feelings and triggers.
- Exceptional time management skills.
- Strong administration skills and the ability to keep thorough records of all patients.
- Excellent communication skills and the ability to make others feel at ease and confident to speak to you.
- The ability to liaise with other professionals including doctors, teachers and police.
- Strong decision making abilities.
- IT skills and the ability to use recording equipment when necessary.
- The ability to place personal opinions to the side in favour of approaching each case openly and professionally.
- A professional appearance.
- The ability to continue to learn and maintain up to date knowledge of your field.
- The ability to adhere to very strict regulations and practice methods.
- Scientific understanding.
- Maths skills, particularly for those who work in a private setting or who issue invoices and manage accounts.
Day to Day Work of a Psychologist
Psychologists will usually specialise in a specific area and this will determine what their day-to-day activities look like. Most patients or clients will approach you or be referred to you by a doctor, but some people may seek out the support and advice of a psychologist on their own. Depending on who you work for, you may need to tell these patients that a referral is necessary.
Your work could involve specialisms such as:
- Occupational. In this capacity, you would help businesses to improve their results and performance methods and to enhance the job satisfaction of employees.
- Criminal or forensic psychology. If you work in this field, you will be required to use your knowledge and psychology theories to help with the investigations of crime, to help asses the motives behind criminal activities and to help with the rehabilitation of offenders.
- Education. Working as a psychologist in the educational sector will see you assisting children to overcome complex situations, difficulties and trauma. You may support them in their development – both educationally and socially and will strive to improve their psychological development.
- Counselling. If you work as a psychologist in a counselling role, you will assist people in overcoming difficulties and trauma by helping them to make decisions. You will usually be working with people who are in the middle of difficult situations and will help them to clearly see their options and choose the next steps.
- Clinical. A clinical psychologist works with their patients to help them manage some mental health conditions like stress, anxiety and depression.
- Neuropsychology. A psychologist who works in the field of neuropsychology will work with patients who have sustained brain injuries or who have suffered from brain diseases to help them improve their quality of life and functionality.
- Sports and Exercise. Sports psychologists work with sports people and athletes to improve their motivation and enthusiasm with the aim to generating better performance levels.
Psychologists work in a wide variety of environments including hospitals, clinics, prisons, schools, community mental health facilities and offices.
How much does a psychologist get paid?
The amount that you will earn as a psychologist will depend upon the area that you specialise in, where you are based and who you work for. As a guideline, the expected salary you could achieve is:
- £31,000 to £41,000 for a starting salary for a newly qualified and newly registered psychology.
- An experienced psychologist can expect to earn between £41,000 and £57,000 each year.
- If you progress your career to be a head of service or to a managerial position, your salary should increase to between £58,000 and £100,000 per year.
The above figures are based on NHS salaries. Those who work for other employers may have significant differences in these salaries and this should be discussed in the application stage for a job.
Career Progression for a Psychologist
There are a number of ways in which you could progress your career as a psychologist. You may specialise further in your field and concentrate on an intricate area of psychology or you may opt for a more academic path. Some psychologists take on a research project that leads them to completing a PhD qualification.
You might also choose to move into a teaching position or train other psychologists at the start of their career.
Working Hours and Working Environment for a Psychologist
What hours you work and your working environment will depend on your area of specialism and the needs of your patients.
Most psychologists will work in an office or clinic environment. It will be essential for sessions to be undertaken in a confidential setting and so the environment will be intimate and quiet. Some meetings may be carried out in an external environment such as a client’s home or for criminal psychologists, a prison.