The Job and What's Involved

Psychology is the study of people and how they think. Psychologists use scientific methods, such as observing, measuring, testing and statistics, to understand why people behave as they do, as well as the thoughts and feelings underlying their behaviour. They aim to help people to improve their everyday lives, overcome problems and make positive changes.

Psychologists specialise in many different fields, including:

  • Helping people to manage conditions such as stress or depression.
  • Working with people with learning disabilities.
  • Helping people to overcome problems such as eating disorders or drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Working with young people to help them deal with problems (such as family issues or bullying) that prevent them from learning.
  • Understanding the psychological problems associated with criminal behaviour, and helping to rehabilitate offenders.
  • Educating and motivating people to make lifestyle changes (such as giving up smoking or taking more exercise) to improve their health.
  • Working with people suffering from brain injuries or other neurological disorders to improve their quality of life.
  • Advising organisations on the recruitment and training of staff, and promoting good relationships between employers and employees.
  • Helping sports people to improve their performance.
  • Researching and teaching in institutions of higher education.

For further information on some of the specialist areas of psychology, see Clinical Psychologist, Educational Psychologist, Forensic Psychologist, Health Psychologist, Occupational Psychologist and Sports Psychologist. Other psychology specialisms include counselling psychology and neuropsychology. New areas of psychology, such as environmental psychology, are developing all the time.

Psychologists may work with groups of people or on a one-to-one basis. They are also likely to spend time in meetings and producing reports on the work they have done.

Working hours vary from job to job, but psychologists typically work around 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Part-time work may be available.

Psychologists are usually based in offices, but may spend time in other locations depending on their specialism. These can include clinics, hospital wards and other healthcare settings, schools, prisons, young offender institutions, workplaces and lecture theatres.

Assistant psychologists can earn around £15,000 to £23,000 a year. With experience, this can rise to between £30,000 and £40,000 a year.

Managers and consultants can earn up to around £80,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The British Psychological Society (BPS) has more than 45,000 members. There are opportunities throughout the UK in areas such as education, marketing, human resources, the NHS, Civil Service and the armed forces.

Competition for training opportunities and some posts may be intense. Self-employment may be an option for experienced psychologists in certain disciplines, for example sports and exercise psychology.

Vacancies are advertised in Psychologist Appointments, which is available to members of the BPS. Jobs may also be advertised in national newspapers, as well as specialist publications and websites.

Education and Training

The basic qualification for anyone aiming at a career as a professional psychologist is a degree in psychology. Graduates then undertake relevant work experience before applying for postgraduate training in their chosen specialism.

The BPS accredits a number of degrees for the Graduate Basis for Registration (GBR). Graduates from these degrees are eligible to join the BPS as graduate members. The BPS website has a list of accredited courses. Only candidates with GBR are permitted to apply for BPS-accredited postgraduate training and become chartered psychologists. Graduates from courses that are not accredited for GBR must either take a conversion course or sit the BPS's qualifying examination.

From summer 2009, the profession will be regulated by the Health Professions Council, which will set standards and accredit courses. However, existing routes to chartered status will still be approved.

The minimum requirements for a degree course are normally two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications. Entry requirements vary and candidates are advised to check with individual institutions. Psychology degrees are increasingly popular, with intense competition for places, so entry requirements are usually set higher than the minimum.

Most higher education institutions are flexible about subjects required at A level, but candidates are expected to demonstrate that they are numerate, and capable of handling scientific concepts and developing writing skills. Some universities prefer a science subject at A level. A level psychology is not required for degree entry, although it does provide a useful background to the subject.

To work with children or vulnerable adults, applicants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Degree courses include modules on:

Biological psychology - how the brain works, and how it can be affected by drugs and hormones.

Cognitive psychology - e.g. how we remember, learn, think and understand.

Developmental psychology - how humans develop in childhood and adolescence.

Social psychology - how behaviour and experience are affected by social context.

Conceptual and historical issues - e.g. how psychological explanations have changed over time.

Other modules include personality and individual differences and research methods.

Psychology graduates who intend to take up a career as a professional psychologist usually need to gain considerable work experience in their chosen field before applying for a relevant BPS-accredited postgraduate qualification.

Registration as a chartered psychologist is open to BPS members who:

  • Hold a Graduate Basis for Registration (GBR).
  • Have completed a BPS-accredited postgraduate qualification in psychology along with any period of supervised practice that may be required, or have completed a PhD in psychology.
  • Have been judged fit to practise psychology without supervision.

Becoming a chartered psychologist reassures employers that individuals have been properly trained and qualified, and are answerable to an independent body.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A psychologist should:

  • Have excellent problem-solving skills.
  • Have excellent listening and communication skills.
  • Have a good grasp of scientific techniques.
  • Have motivational skills.
  • Have patience and empathy.
  • Be able to inspire trust and confidence in people from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • Be able to explain complex issues to people who have little or no specialist knowledge.
  • Be observant and able to interpret people's body language as well as what they say.
  • Be able to produce clear, concise written reports.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion opportunities vary according to a psychologist's specialism and employer. Psychologists with chartered status may progress to become senior psychologists.

There may be opportunities for freelance or consultancy work.

Get Further Information

Association of Business Psychologists (ABP),
211/212 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HG
Tel: 020 7917 1733

Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP),
4 The Riverside Centre, Frankland Lane,
Durham DH1 5TA
Tel: 0191 384 5912

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP),
BACP House, 15 St John's Business Park,
Lutterworth LE17 4HB
Tel: 01455 883300

British Association for Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES),
Leeds Metropolitan University,
Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education,
Fairfax Hall, Headingley Campus, Beckett Park,
Leeds LS6 3QS
Tel: 0113 812 6162

The British Psychological Society (BPS),
St Andrews House, 48 Princess Road East,
Leicester LE1 7DR
Tel: 0116 254 9568

The Health Professions Council (HPC),
Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road,
London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 60 60 655

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