When you ask the general public what Psychology is all about you usually get some surprising answers.
Some people say psychology teaches you to read minds; others that it is not truly a science.
While such misconceptions are common among those without a psychology background, it is surprising that two misconceptions can be found among people interested in Psychology. One is thinking that a bachelor’s degree is enough to become a psychologist. The second one is that many think that most psychology students become psychologists. While some undergraduate degrees lead directly to careers in these fields, becoming a professional psychologist requires two or three years of additional postgraduate study and supervised experience. While many students go on to pursue this goal, some students decide they do not want to invest in the additional time this takes. Others who persist find that there can be significant competition to get on to postgraduate courses.
If you are thinking of studying psychology because you truly want to become a psychologist, this article is not to dissuade you from doing so but to provide realistic information that can help you in.
Firstly, I would like to provide you with an overview of the traditional areas of psychology along with some emerging career paths you may not have thought about when you were considering Psychology as your undergraduate degree.
I will also discuss advice for acquiring work experience and applying to postgraduate programmes as well as exercises and information which can help you to better articulate your career goals and sell yourself both on paper and during work experience or admissions interviews.
This guide is still for you even if you are unsure about your career goals, since many students study psychology because it is interesting and offers a variety of options. It is not a coincidence that most psychology graduates go on to careers only loosely related to, or outside of psychology. The reason is that studying for an undergraduate degree in psychology can help you to prepare more broadly for a variety of careers by developing your mind, and improving your judgement and graduate skills.
There are still challenges ahead of course. For example, some psychology graduates struggle to find suitable job opportunities because studying psychology may in some way narrow the breadth of opportunities available to them, or maybe just because they keep changing or still have unclear career goals.
It is fine and even expected of you to be uncertain about what you want to do, but this can become a problem when career exploration and decisions are put off and you graduate in need of a job but without direction.
These facts are important for you to know. Not just to discourage you but to actually encourage you to contemplate career options earlier so you can be better prepared when you graduate.
This is what we call employability, and it is important for us to make sure that you start your career preparation as soon as you can and give yourself options, since you will have to consider where you want to apply the valuable skills and experience you will gain from our BSc in Psychology.
If you are not sure about your career direction, you can use this article to think about your interests and skills, so that you can think through some career options for yourself.
The first Career that I discuss is the classical Practitioner Psychologist; this position requires training beyond an undergraduate degree, typically about three years of additional study. For this type of career there are additional professional bodies such as the Health Professions Council (HPC), an independent organization that ensures professionals in health and social care meet regulatory standards in order to protect the public from poor professional practice. Since July 2009, the HPC has been regulating areas of applied psychology (mostly clinical psychology-related practice). Today anyone using the following titles has to be registered with the HPC, and to have successfully completed a HPC approved training course: registered psychologist, practitioner psychologist, clinical psychologist, counselling psychologist, educational psychologist, forensic psychologist, health psychologist, occupational psychologist, or sport and exercise psychologist.
In order to help you develop possible career directions, I will discuss:
- traditional psychology
- emerging psychology careers,
- health and social care related careers
- further directions that are a kind of “under-development” (with a potentially large number of job positions).
Although registration with the HPC cannot be gained by merely completing an undergraduate course, because, as I said, it requires further education (i.e., 2-3 years of additional training), it is important to choose a BSc in Psychology that awards the British Psychological Society (BPS) Graduate Basis for Chartered membership (GBC).
Why? This way you can be sure that the undergraduate degree you choose is suitable for gaining proper psychological skills, training and experience.
BPS serves as the core professional body for psychology, supports the development of the discipline, and provides training leading to qualifications in some areas of psychology.
Furthermore, the HPC requires students to complete certain approved postgraduate courses and these courses typically require a 2.2 grade or better from a BPS-approved undergraduate course to gain admission. GBC requires graduation from a BPS accredited undergraduate degree course (such as the one offered at NCIUL) or an equivalent overseas qualification. However, for those who have not graduated from an accredited course (e.g., a non-psychology BSc) there is the option of taking a one-year conversion course in order meet this requirement. This is called a MSc conversion course in Psychology and it is also offered by NCIUL. So, for instance if you are coming from Biology and you are considering Psychology as your career, this is possible.
After obtaining their BSc, those students interested in becoming one of the types of psychologists mentioned above (i.e., practitioner psychologist) should then make sure that the postgraduate course they choose is accredited by the HPC. A list of approved courses is available on the HPC website (www.hpc-uk.org). However, for those seeking a role which is not necessarily clinical-psychology related, the BPS offers its own accreditation of undergraduate and postgraduate courses which leads to ‘Chartered Psychologist’ registration (i.e., CPsychol). While the position of Chartered Psychologist is not required to practise in the fields outlined above (for which HPC is necessary), having Chartered Psychologist status is a long established and widely recognised qualification; therefore students may still wish to pursue it in addition to, or in replacement of the required HPC registration, because this will show a strong mark of confidence about the skills, training and experience you received. This is particularly important if you are seeking a career which is not necessarily in clinical psychology (e.g., occupational Psychology, human error, HR, consumer behaviour analyst, social worker, and so on).
Students who are interested in becoming Chartered Psychologists must first acquire the BPS Graduate Basis for Chartered membership (GBC), which is awarded by our BSc in Psychology at NCIUL.
Then, if they wish to become Chartered Psychologists and obtain this benchmark status with the BPS, they can enrol in our clinical MSc. While there can be competition for places on postgraduate courses, competition can vary based on the course and the institution. Those considering particular courses would do well to check the websites of individual departments to determine what makes for a strong applicant and then work on what is necessary to become competitive.
I have provided you with an overview of traditional ‘psychologist’ career paths for those interested in becoming professional psychologists, such as HPC regulated areas of applied psychology.
However, please note that the BPS on its career pages provides more comprehensive coverage of each of these areas as well as the required qualification routes for additional opportunities in a wide variety of new, emerging and related areas of psychology that do not currently fall under HPC regulation (for which I strongly suggest you to go to www.bps.org.uk/careers). Furthermore, the Psychology Network’s student career information page provides videos featuring psychologists talking about their work (www.pnarchive.org); this is another good place to have a look at.
While additional training or postgraduate qualifications are necessary to enter or to advance in some of these other areas related to Psychology, for others an undergraduate degree may be enough. For instance, GP practice manager and management trainee are positions that require less psychology-related knowledge, as they are more broadly about the healthcare sector. Other roles that provide basic healthcare in a variety of health and social care settings may be (but not limited to) assistant practitioners, healthcare assistants, nursing assistants and care assistants.
There are also opportunities in the NHS for assistant psychologists, psychology assistants and research assistants.
Some opportunities that are related to psychology will require further training or experience; these may include psychologists working in clinical, counselling, health or forensic psychology, social workers, mental health nurses, occupational therapists, arts therapists, psychotherapists, graduate mental health workers, psychiatrists and roles emerging through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies initiative (IAPT, see https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/the-iapt-manual.pdf ) such as psychological wellbeing practitioners and high intensity therapists.
For these positions and others our clinical MSc at NCIUL can provide the necessary extra training for successfully entering the professions which may not be necessarily regulated areas of applied psychology by the HPC.
Other opportunities for psychology graduates can be positions within health and social care either within the public sector (e.g. NHS www.nhs.uk), the private sector (e.g. Priory www.prioryhealthcare.com), or the voluntary/third sector (e.g. Rethink www.rethink.org), which is becoming a major provider of health care, and particularly of mental health.
I hope this article has helped you to improve your knowledge on the possible professional routes in Psychology and brought a clearer idea of the potential careers that can be followed if you choose Psychology as your main professional skillset.
Dr. Massimiliano Papera, PhD, CPsychol, MSc, BSc, PGCert HE
Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA)