Psychologists can work in many 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. The aim of this page is to give you an overview of the most popular psychology specialisms.
It is worth bearing in mind that the minority of UK Psychology graduates become professional psychologists - the Higher Education Academy Psychology Network Employability Guide is a great resource if you are a Psychology student and unsure of your future career direction or think that you might like to work in an area outside mainstream psychology.
Clinical psychologists deal with a wide range of mental and physical health problems including addiction, anxiety, depression, learning difficulties and relationship issues. They may undertake a clinical assessment to investigate a clients’ situation. There are a variety of methods available including psychometric tests, interviews and direct observation of behaviour. Assessment may lead to advice, counselling or therapy (BPS).
Clinical Associate in Applied Psychology (CAAP) in Scotland
There are two postgraduate courses in Scotland which enable graduates to work in the role of clinical associate in applied psychology. Both of these courses are funded by NHS Education for Scotland (NES) and are a mixture of study and work placements:
Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service in England
Counselling psychologists deal with a wide range of mental health problems concerning life issues including bereavement, domestic violence, sexual abuse, traumas and relationship issues. They understand diagnosis and the medical context to mental health problems and work with the individual’s unique subjective psychological experience to empower their recovery and alleviate distress. (BPS)
Counselling and Psychotherapy
Educational psychology is concerned with children and young people in educational and early years settings. Educational psychologists tackle challenges such as learning difficulties, social and emotional problems, issues around disability as well as more complex developmental disorders. They work in a variety of ways including observations, interviews and assessments and offer consultation, advice and support to teachers, parents, the wider community as well as the young people concerned. They research innovative ways of helping vulnerable young people and often train teachers, learning support assistants and others working with children. (BPS)
In Scotland educational pscychologists cover the age range of birth - 24 years, which is worth considering when looking for relevant work experience.
The key daily tasks of forensic psychologists may include; piloting and implementing treatment programmes, modifying offender behaviour, responding to the changing needs of staff and prisoners as well as reducing stress for staff and prisoners. Forensic psychologists also provide hard research evidence to support practice, including undertaking statistical analysis for prisoner profiling, giving evidence in court plus advising parole boards and mental health tribunals. (BPS)
Health psychologists use their knowledge of psychology and health to promote general well-being and understand physical illness. They are specially trained to help people deal with the psychological and emotional aspects of health and illness as well as supporting people who are chronically ill. Health psychologists promote healthier lifestyles and try to find ways to encourage people to improve their health. For example, they may help people to lose weight or stop smoking. Health psychologist also uses their skills to try to improve the healthcare system. For example, they may advise doctors about better ways to communicate with their patients. (BPS)
Neuropsychologists work with people of all ages dealing with patients who have had traumatic brain injury, strokes, toxic and metabolic disorders, tumours and neurodegenerative diseases. Neuropsychologists require not only general clinical skills and knowledge of the broad range of mental health problems, but also a substantial degree of specialist knowledge in the neurosciences. Neuropsychology is a post qualification discipline, in which you first need to be a Chartered Psychologist within the field of clinical or educational psychology. The clinical side of neuropsychology overlaps with academic neuropsychology, which provides a scientific understanding of the relationship between brain and neuropsychological function. (BPS)
Occupational psychologists aim to increase the effectiveness of the organisation and improve the job satisfaction of individuals. The speciality is broader in scope and less formalised than many areas of psychology and it touches on diverse fields, including ergonomics, personnel management and time management. Work can be in advisory, teaching and research roles, and to a lesser extent, in technical and administrative roles.
Sport psychologists carry out work including counselling referees to deal with the stressful and demanding aspects of their role, advising coaches on how to build cohesion within their squad of athletes, and helping athletes with personal development and the and the psychological consequences of sustaining an injury. Examples of the work that exercise psychologists do include optimising the benefits that can be derived from exercise participation and helping individual clients with the implementation of goal setting strategies. Practitioners’ typically specialise in either the sport or exercise branches though some work equally in both fields. Drawing extensively from research and practice in sport psychology, ‘’’performance psychology’’’ explores how psychology can contribute to maintaining and enhancing high-level performance across a variety of domains such as sport, business, performing arts, military and emergency services. (BPS)
Teaching and research in psychology usually go hand in hand. Some teaching staff will have qualified in one of the applied psychological fields. They may return to teaching to develop professional practice and conduct research or simply to share their knowledge. All university lecturers are expected to help extend their subject by gathering psychological evidence on key research questions and telling others what they have found by publishing articles. Administration is a large part of a lecturer’s life. It includes student selection, devising new teaching programmes, sitting on committees which allocate resources and coordinating aspects of the life of the department. (BPS)
|Key attributes needed for the role||Where you could develop these skills or attributes|
|Critical thinking and analytical skills||
These are most likely to be developed and evidenced through your academic studies.
A research internship, such as those offered by the Laidlaw Undergraduate Internship in Research and Leadership Programme will also be beneficial.
Excellent communication skills
CAPOD regularly runs courses covering a number of communication skills within its Professional Skills Curriculum.
Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put them into practice.
Volunteering as a Nightline Listening Volunteer or taking part in an SVS project in the local community will help to develop your communication skills with the kinds of people you might work with in a future psychologist role. This kind of experience would also help you to reflect on whether or not you possess the key attributes listed below.
Other key attributes demanded for the role: do you possess them?
In the UK, postgraduate study is a requirement for all would-be practitioner psychologists. Each of the main routes, apart from teaching and research, requires a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited undergraduate degree or conversion course which confers Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC), usually followed by a BPS-accredited postgraduate professional training course. Relevant work experience is usually a pre-requisite and often continues during the training course.
The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the body which regulates practitioner psychologists in the UK. In order to offer services to the public as a psychologist in one of the seven applied areas regulated by the HCPC, your programme of training also needs to be HCPC approved. The areas of psychology regulated by the HCPC are Clinical, Counselling, Educational, Forensic, Health, Occupational and Sport and Exercise Psychology.
Applications for Doctorate programmes in Clinical Psychology at UK course centres are made via the Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology. The website gives detailed information about eligibility, entry requirements and how to apply, with links to the individual course centres for specific requirements. Some course centres consider people who do not have GBC when they apply, but some do not.
Applications for the Educational Psychology Doctorate courses in England are made through the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP). The University of Cardiff and Queens University Belfast operate their own admissions processes, as do universities in Scotland.
Most other postgraduate courses invite direct applications. Universities give details of entry requirements, deadlines etc. on their individual websites.
Why are networks important?
Networking is particularly important and can really help you find out about roles, gain work experience and succeed with your applications for professional training.
Where alumni work now
St Andrews graduates have gone on to work as psychologists in all of the practitioner areas listed above.
There are several ways to make contact with alumni.
In order to acquire the experience necessary to obtain a place on most professional postgraduate training courses you will normally need to have a 1st or 2:1 degree and have relevant work experience. Check individual institutions’ websites for advice on relevant experience.
For aspiring and qualified clinical psychologists Clinspy is an excellent resource which includes a discussion forum. The site also has a gigantic list of questions that have been asked during interviews for Assistant Psychologist, Research Assistant, Clinical Psychology Training, Support Worker and Graduate Primary Care Mental Health Worker posts.
The links below are vacancy listings. It may be useful to use a range of search terms such as "assistant", "'worker", "graduate", "trainee" and, where appropriate, "special needs","mental health" and "CAHMS":
Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:
So you want to be a Psychologist? (produced by the BPS)
Relevant Careers A-Z pages (with work experience advice and information):
The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.
The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.