My job explained: Clinical psychologist

Get a glimpse of what it’s like being a clinical psychologist and see if you have the personal attributes for the job...

Why did you decide to become a clinical psychologist?
I studied psychology before deciding to train as a clinical psychologist. During my degree I became interested in mental health and I liked the idea that I could do a practical job in the health services, helping people with mental health problems and using what I had learnt from the study of psychology as a science.
How long did it take to train and what did the training involve?
Training consists of a three-year doctoral course after you have completed a degree in psychology. This course is a mixture of teaching and supervised clinical work in the NHS, where you learn the tools of the trade for real. Usually, people do a year or two of work in the NHS as an assistant psychologist before doing this doctoral training.
Can you describe a typical working day?
Actually it’s hard to describe a typical working day because clinical psychologists work in a very wide range of settings, like hospitals, doctor’s surgeries, psychology departments and prisons. They also work with lots of different kinds of people – children, adults, older adults, people with learning disabilities to mention just a few.

For me, the working day would normally consist of a team meeting, where we discuss cases we’re working on and new cases that have come up, which we allocate to a psychologist. Then I would probably have several appointments with clients (in my case children and their families). After each session I write up my notes and have a think about the case and where I would like to take the work I’ll be doing with them next time.

I might also need to communicate with other professionals involved in the care of a family to share information (agreed by the family) and discuss any issues that might have arisen. Other things that I might be do include going to a supervision meeting with a more senior colleague to talk about my clinical work, meeting with non-psychologist members of the team to help them think about their own cases from a psychological perspective, and writing psychological reports.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The challenge of using psychological theory and techniques to help children and families find new ways of thinking, acting and relating to each other in a way that, hopefully, alleviates the difficulties they are experiencing.
What do you like least about your job?
Probably the stress of keeping pace with all the different cases you are dealing with and not always having enough time to feel really on top of the work.
What personal attributes do you think a clinical psychologist should have?
Clinical psychologists need to have a mixture of personal and academic or intellectual skills. On the one hand, they need to be thoughtful, compassionate, and interested in other people’s circumstances, experiences and feelings. On the other, they need to be able to step back and think rigorously about how psychological theory and evidence should inform the conceptualization of the case and the way in which the psychologist should put together his/her assessment or intervention.
What single piece of advice would you give someone considering this career?
Get some experience of what clinical psychologists do, so that you know what to expect. This will also show people reviewing your application to study that you take getting into clinical psychology very seriously. Clinical psychology training courses are very popular, so you need to show that you know a lot about the field and that you’re committed to it.
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