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Psychology is a popular, fascinating subject that affects everyone. Giving insight into the behaviour and thoughts of both individuals and groups and the environmental factors that influence these; psychology is both a stimulating and wide discipline, covering many areas and theories.
There are more than 1000 psychology postgraduate courses available in the UK, for both those with an entirely unrelated undergrad degree and those wishing to specialise or pursue professions such as Clinical Psychology. The latter typically lasts three years, but other courses can be as short as a year-long PgDip or Msc.
If you want to become a clinical psychologist with chartered status, a three year doctorate is required. These courses are accredited by the HCPC and NHS funded, with limited places, so competition can be stiff. Having work experience and a good undergraduate degree are basic requirements. Often people will also have an MSc or PgDip in an area of psychology to demonstrate their commitment and ability. Warwick University run a programme with the sole purpose of equipping students for the application process of the doctorate. See below for our interview with the course founder and director, discussing applicants, graduate routes and the course content.
Applications go through Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology and according to their figures; one in six applicants will receive a place. You can apply to up to four centres.
The universities in London offering this course receive considerably more applications than other UK institutions, but offer slightly more places on their courses. See our interview below with Lucia Valmaggia, senior lecturer in Clinical Psychology at King’s College, London.
Gaining some experience will inevitably boost your chances. This could range from work as an assistant psychologist, to other areas, like nursing, social work or mental health. Work as a research assistant in an area of psychology is particularly helpful, more so if the research is leaning toward the clinical side, as its good to have a balance of both academic and clinical experience.
If you are offered a place you will have to pass various checks before you begin the course, as it will involve working with vulnerable adults and children. This will include criminal records (other wise known as a CRB), health checks, both physical and psychological and your employment history.
Salary and Progression
Trainee clinical psychologists start at band 6 (£25,528) of the NHS Agenda for Change Pay Rates. When you are qualified, in the NHS you will start at band 7 (£30,460). More experiences clinical psychologists will earn up to £46, 621 (band 8a).
The NHS also pays a 'London high cost area supplement’ which is 20% of basic salary for inner London, 15% for outer London and 5% for the 'fringe' areas.
Other Options at Postgraduate Level
Other psychology courses are priced between £4,500 and £9,000, varying from one institution t another and whether you do an Msc or PgDip. Focused courses cover the following areas and others within these categories:
Courses for non-psychology graduates vary in their requirements and subject focus. However, the majority ask for a good honours degree and an interest in the subject.
A general course aimed at other grads and those who completed a non-accredited undergrad is the Msc at Liverpool Hope, see this video for an interview with Lourna Bourke, Principal Lecturer in Psychology. Conversion courses, many accredited by the BPS (The British Psychological Society), are ideal for those who are considering a career in the field or a related area, but studied another course for their first degree.
Michael Ziessler, professor of Cognitive Psychology and Head of Department at Liverpool Hope, spoke to us about the conversion course, explaining the diversity of the students on the course and the career ambitions they have. “Students hold very different first degrees and come from very different backgrounds. They hold science degrees as well as degrees in arts and humanities. Some students have already work experience in an area for which they would like to qualify as professional psychology. For example, they might have worked in hospitals, in schools or in prisons. This work experience led them to their goal to become a clinical psychologist, an educational psychologist or a forensic psychologist.”
What are the entry requirements?
“The applicants must have Bachelor degree in any subject with a minimum grade of 2:1. In addition, work experience in a related area can support the application.
Third, the course is accredited by the British Psychological Society. With successful completion of the course students qualify for professional training courses in Psychology. Our course includes a strong research component. Half of the taught modules are in research methods and data analysis and cover quantitative and qualitative methods to equal parts.”
When was this course started and why?
This course took its first cohort in the academic year of 2010-11. Prior to this, I had taught abnormal psychology to undergraduates and seen many students struggle to make progress towards becoming competitive candidates for doctoral training entry. Typically, most highly motivated students had strong academic records up to and including their undergraduate work, but the difficulties they faced were:
1. They could not get any experience in NHS environments, which made it difficult to get interviewed for, and successfully gaining, assistant psychologist posts. These assistant posts are usually the best route to becoming competitive for DClinPsy interview calls.
2. Even the academically strong students found it difficult to get called to interview for posts involving clinical research, or service evaluation/audit related activity because there is a skill/experience gap between undergraduate research experience (typically the 3rd year project) and what is required in the field.
3. Few undergraduate courses train students in psychology as applied in clinical settings. This includes research design/methods teaching tailored towards clinical research, understanding of evidence-based practice and guidance systems such as those issued by NICE, issues in health/clinical research ethics, and consideration of psychological distress at the individual level in the context of normative research.
Our MSc offers coursework geared towards addressing these aspects of preparation, and it also includes a 6-month placement in an NHS team, supervised by clinicians, which leads to delivery of a service evaluation or audit project as one of the pieces of formal output. The placement also gives students exposure to clinical work, which varies according to the type of setting.
What are the backgrounds of typical students?
The students who gain entry to our course typically have strong 2(1) or 1st class degrees in Psychology. They also have a track record of engaging in care giving activities over some time, mostly in the voluntary sector, but sometimes in paid roles. Most are recent graduates.
Note that candidates shortlisted on the above criteria are then invited to a face-to-face interview process that is modelled on DClinPsy interview style and content. Final selections are based on interview performance.
We have around 16-18 places available each year. There are over 100 applications for these places.
What do you look for in applicants? –How can they strengthen their ap plications?
As above, we look for a strong 2(1) or 1st class degree in psychology (providing GBR or equivalent) and a sustained record of care giving activity. The best thing that applicants with the requisite academic background can do is acquire experience in working in care settings.
Do all graduates apply for the DClinPsy or do some change direction?
Most of our students aim to apply for DClinPsy entry. A few have gone into PWP (psychological wellbeing practitioner) training with the goal of working in IAPT services. Similarly, a few have gone to do a funded PhD on clinically related topic areas.
What is the success rate of those who apply for the DClinPsy after this MSc?
Six students out of the first two cohorts (of 16 students each) have already been successful at DClinPsy selection. The majority each year have gone into paid Assistant Psychologist posts within a year of graduating, and they will apply for DClinPsy entry as they accumulate experience. Note that our intake is overwhelmingly recent graduates who have either just finished their undergraduate degree before entering, or done so the year before. The typical level of postgraduate experience of successful candidates for DClinPsy entry tends to be 3 years+.
Do you believe this course gives them a unique advantage? Why?
Most of our students get multiple interview calls for Assistant Psychologist and similar posts, with several every year obtaining job offers before they complete this course. We believe that the number of interview calls is the clearest indicator of the value the course adds to the candidates' resume. Analysis of the job descriptions suggests that prospective employers highly value the training we are providing along all the three points I have outlined above. It would not be easy to draw out an alternative, feasible route for acquiring the combination of skills and experience we offer, let alone one that does so in the space of one year.
There is increasing interest in offering a course like ours in other universities, and I very much welcome this. The students with a strong ambition to become clinicians will benefit from the wide availability of structured means of gaining the experience required for DClinPsy entry.
According to figures from Clearing House’s website, King’s is one of the most competitive institutions for this particular programme. How can applicants stand out?
We look for candidates who are academically strong, have the equivalent of at least one year’s relevant clinical/research experience or employment, either paid or voluntary, prior to submitting their application. This work must be relevant to the field of clinical psychology. They must also have good academic and clinical references
What personal qualities do you look for in applicants?
Candidates are expected to take an active, mature, professional and self-reflective approach to becoming a clinical psychologist. We are looking for people keen to contribute to clinical psychology through developing theory, research and clinical practice.
How is the course structured?
The programme is intensive. In each year, trainees spend three days a week on supervised clinical practice placements, and two days are for teaching and research. The curriculum is delivered through lectures, seminars, workshops, reflective practice meetings and small group tutorials. Its delivery reflects the sequence of practice placements to enhance theory-practice links and builds core competencies in theory, practice and research developmentally across the three years.
What is the average age of students who gain a place on the programme?
Age is not taken in consideration when screening the applications. The age range of students on the Programme varies from year to year. For the 2013 intake, our oldest student was 42 and the youngest 24, with the average age being 29.
At the point of entry for the 2012 intake, the oldest student was 38 and the youngest 23, with the average age being 27.
Has the profession itself changed much in recent years? If so, how has affected those wanting to train and become clinical psychologists?
There is more emphasis on leadership, service development and the supervision of other professions.
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