Find out about pursuing a career in psychology.


One of the major attractions of becoming a psychologist is the opportunity to help others and while the job can be stressful at times, many psychologists describe their work as very rewarding. 

To practice as a professional psychologist, you first need to take a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited undergraduate degree course that confers the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) - The University of Edinburgh offers accredited degrees. If your first degree is not in Psychology, and you are considering a career change, then you will need to take a conversion course accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) prior to embarking on the relevant postgraduate training. 

Clinical Psychology is the specialism we get asked about the most, so whilst the information on this page covers all psychology professions, there is a greater emphasis on clinical psychology. 


What’s it like? 

Clinical psychologist 

Most clinical psychologists work in hospitals or community healthcare settings. Whilst most work in the NHS some work in private healthcare or have their own practices. Most will work with specific client groups such as adult mental health or neurological disorders. 

Clinical psychologists use psychological methods and principles to assess and treat psychological problems. They promote and enhance mental well-being and research and evaluate new models of psychological therapy. 

They will evaluate the efficacy and outcome of treatments as well as develop and evaluate service provision for clients. 

More experienced clinical psychologists will supervise less experienced colleagues and provide teaching and training. 

Further information on the responsibilities of a clinical psychologist can be found on this job profile. 


Counselling psychologist 

Counselling psychology is a relatively new specialism concerned with the integration of psychological theory and therapeutic processes. As a counselling psychologist you'll use psychological theory and research in therapeutic work to help clients with a range of difficult life issues and/or mental health conditions. Clients can include children, adults, families, couples and groups. 

You could be helping people deal with things like bereavement, sexual abuse or trauma and treating conditions such as anxiety, depression and psychosis to name a few. 

Counselling psychologists work in a range of settings from the NHS and private healthcare to consultancy and education. 

Further information on the responsibilities of a counselling psychologist can be found in this job profile. 


Educational psychologist 

Educational Psychology is the application of psychological theory, research and techniques to support children, young people, their families and schools to promote the emotional and social wellbeing of young people. Educational Psychologists also support those with learning difficulties to achieve their full potential through the use of assessment, monitoring and evaluation.       

Educational psychologists work with children and young people experiencing difficulties. For example, to promote learning, develop emotional, social and behavioural skills and support psychological development. They work mainly in consultation with parents, teachers, social workers, doctors, education officers and other people involved in the education and care of children and young people. 

The Association of Educational Psychologists have further information on becoming an educational psychologist 


Forensic psychologist 

Forensic psychologists apply psychology to criminal and legal issues, working mainly in the prison and probation service to develop intervention techniques and treatment programmes for use with both offenders and those under supervision. They also liaise with other professionals and agencies. They work directly with prisoners and also help prison officers. The largest single employer of forensic psychologists is HM Prison Service, but opportunities also exist within the health service and the social services. 

Further information on the responsibilities of a forensic psychologist can be found in this job profile. 


Occupational psychologist 

Occupational psychologists are involved in assessing the performance of people at work, how organisations function and how individuals and small groups behave at work. The aim is to increase the effectiveness of the organisation and to improve the job satisfaction of the individual. Opportunities exist to work within private and public organisations and also in consultancies. 

Further information on the responsibilities of an occupational psychologist can be found in this job profile. 

Wider psychological workforce 

A variety of roles such as assistant psychologist, psychological wellbeing practitioner and mental health and wellbeing practitioner are open to those with BPS-accredited undergraduate/conversion degrees. Further study may be required to fully qualify in these roles but trainee positions are available where relevant.  

Further information on these roles is available through NHS Careers and the BPS. 


Other specialisms 

There’s a variety of other specialisms in psychology such as sport, health and research. Further information on these routes can be found on The British Psychological Society interactive guide that gives an overview of each strand of Psychology and how to pursue a career in each. 


How do you get into the sector?  

To practice as a professional psychologist you first need to take a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited degree course that confers the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC). 

To work as a clinical, counselling, forensic or health psychologist you have to take further study, typically at doctorate level, approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). You can search for HCPC-approved courses using the NHS Careers course finder. 


For all of the psychology specialisms it is possible to work in positions related to them, such as assistant psychologists, but specialising will require further study as outlined below. 


Clinical psychologist 

To train as a clinical psychologist you need to first obtain the GBC from the BPS either through an accredited psychology degree or a conversion course. You then need to obtain relevant work experience, e.g. assistant psychologist or research assistant, before embarking on a three-year doctorate in Clinical Psychology. These are NHS-funded, and there is considerable competition for places. 

Applications for most clinical psychology doctorate courses are made through the Clearing House for Postgraduate Training Courses in Clinical Psychology, with closing dates in late November to early December. However, the University of Hull and Queen's University Belfast operate their own admissions process. Courses have slightly different structures so it’s important to research each one to establish the most relevant to you. 


Counselling psychologist 

To practise as a counselling psychologist in the UK you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), which involves training at postgraduate level. 

To begin training you'll normally need GBC. You'll then need to complete either a BPS-accredited Doctorate in Counselling Psychology or the BPS Qualification in Counselling Psychology (QCoP), which is the independent route to training as a counselling psychologist. 


Forensic psychologist 

To practise as a forensic psychologist in the UK you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), which involves training at postgraduate level. 

To become a chartered forensic psychologist, you'll need GBC. You’ll then need a BPS-accredited Masters in Forensic Psychology, followed by Stage 2 of the BPS Qualification in Forensic Psychology. Stage 2 involves a minimum of 2 years’ supervised practice that requires you to provide evidence of applying psychology in forensic practice. It's possible to complete this stage while working as a trainee forensic psychologist. 


Occupational psychologist 

You must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to work as an occupational psychologist. This involves completing The British Psychological Society (BPS) Qualification in Occupational Psychology (QOP) Stage 2 approved by the HCPC. 

First, you'll need Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC), which is achieved by completing a BPS-accredited psychology degree or conversion course. You must then complete a BPS-accredited Masters in occupational psychology, which usually takes one year full time or two years part time. 

This is followed by the BPS QOP (Stage 2), which is a doctoral-level award consisting of a minimum of two years full-time (or part-time equivalent) supervised practice that builds on the knowledge gained during your Masters degree. You'll need to be employed as a trainee occupational psychologist in a role (either paid or voluntary) related to occupational psychology for the duration of the training. 


How can I get experience? 

The skills required can vary according to the particular specialism, but generally the following skills are important: 

  • Empathy 

  • Communication/interpersonal skills 

  • Resilience and ability to cope with stress and, sometimes, clients’ disturbing situations 

  • Tact, assertiveness and administrative skills (particularly for educational psychology) 

  • Ability to establish a relationship, work with different client groups, and a non-judgemental approach 

  • Ability to influence other professions, managers and staff (particularly for occupational psychology) 

It is important to gain relevant work experience according to the specialism you are interested in. For example, experience in personnel/human resources and business and management would be an advantage for occupational psychology, whereas working with clients, e.g. as an assistant psychologist, is highly desirable if you want to be a clinical/counselling psychologist. 


Clinical psychologist 

It is usual to gain 1-2 years of relevant experience before undertaking a clinical psychology doctorate. Most programmes won’t admit you immediately after completion of your Masters study as they expect you to gain the necessary work experience before entry. Ideally this would be as an assistant psychologist or in a research position but competition for these roles is fierce. Some other examples of roles that can be good experience include: 

  • Nursing assistant/auxiliary nurse 

  • Care assistant 

  • Helpline worker/volunteer with organisations such as Samaritans, Nightline, Childline 

  • Graduate mental health worker 

  • Support worker 


Occupational psychologist 

Try and get some administration experience with an occupational psychology consultancy or a human resources (HR) department and volunteer, if possible, to take on more people-focused activities. 

You can also contact a local occupational psychologist to see if you can work shadow them. For a list of psychologists, see the BPS Directory of Chartered Psychologists. 


Forensic psychologist 

Competition is fierce for entry-level forensic psychologist jobs. To succeed, it's crucial that you build up as much work experience as possible. You'll have an advantage if you can show that you have mentored young offenders or done voluntary work with organisations such as the Witness Service or Victim Support. 

Other worthwhile settings for forensic psychology experience can be drug or alcohol treatment centres, youth offending services and secure hospitals and units. 


Psychology is a competitive field no matter the specialism so work experience, volunteering and building a network in the sector will increase your chances of securing a position. Consider volunteering for a charity, community group or NGO that is connected to psychology or healthcare.  

Getting a graduate job  

For many areas of psychology, jobs are within the public sector, NHS and local governments, and are advertised.  Jobs will typically include psychologist in their titles but it’s also worth searching for terms like ‘Interventions practitioner’ and ‘therapist’.  

NHS Jobs  

MyJobScotland – Local government jobs in Scotland. 

HM Prison and Probation Service jobs  - Jobs board for roles in the Prison and Probation Service, typically most relevant for forensic psychologists. 

Jobs In Psychology – sector specific jobs board with roles in a variety of specialisms.