I see many psychology students who are keen to explore Clinical Psychology as a career. Relevant experience is crucial for gaining a place on the Clinical Psychology Doctorate – and also working out whether this is really the career for you, so read on to find out more on just how to go about building up that experience.
Start asap to gain breadth and depth of experience, using both your vacations and semesters to gain as much experience as possible.
And spend time reflecting on your experience – what you learned, how you learned it, your theoretical approach, experience you’re lacking etc etc (there may be an Edinburgh Award to help with this – check them out). Reflective practice is a key part of a clinical psychologist’s work – developing this practice now will be great for your future.
The Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology (you’ll get very familiar with this website when it comes to applying for the course!) gives good advice on what counts as experience:
“Relevant experience includes part-time or full-time, voluntary or paid work, involving caring or service roles with clients, whether in the public, private or charitable sectors. Although it is common for applicants to have worked in mental health in the NHS, work in other areas is also relevant. As examples, many successful applicants have worked in Social Services, in services for people with disabilities, or in the charitable sector. However, some course centres may value clinical experience which has been supervised by a qualified clinical psychologist over other types of experience. If possible, you should seek regular supervision or contact from a qualified clinical psychologist. If your job does not involve such contact you may benefit by making contact with local clinical psychologists.”
Sample job titles
Below is a list of sample job titles to give you an idea of the types of opportunity you could look for – some during your undergrad studies, some after graduation:
- Nursing assistant/auxiliary nurse
- Care assistant
- Assistant in special school
- Helpline volunteer eg Nightline, Childline
- Assistant psychologist
- Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) wellbeing practitioner
- Graduate Mental Health Worker
- Research assistant
- Support worker
Use the information below to give you a starting point for your search.
Staff bank, who recruit all supplementary staff to all areas of NHS Lothian, (including the Royal Edinburgh Hospital) and the rest of NHS Scotland, including auxiliary and non-registered care assistants. All jobs are advertised on the NHS website www.jobs.scot.nhs.uk
You’ll find care worker and support worker roles in this sector. For example, the Scottish Association for Mental Health (www.samh.org.uk) advertises vacancies such as ‘Support worker’, often available part-time position or as a member of a bank-staff team – particularly useful for fitting alongside academic commitments.
There’s also lots of volunteering opportunities in the charity sector – see below
Looking for vacancies:
- Specialist vacancy websites for the charity sector include:
- The resources under Charity & Development Work at www.ed.ac.uk/careers/occupations.
- Volunteering with mental health and other charities – a great way to gain experience, combined with your studies.
- You can work with a range of different groups including children, the elderly, people with learning disabilities.
- This is also a useful route into paid work – volunteers often hear about any paid vacancies before they are more widely advertised.
- Befriending and enabling schemes can be great experience too.
- The Royal Edinburgh Hospital has volunteers involved in a range of activities. The high demand from students for opportunities to volunteer at this hospital can create delays at certain times of the year. If you’re keen to volunteer during the academic year it pays to apply in advance, during the summer. Contact the Voluntary Services Manager to find out what opportunities are available (tel: 0131 537 6686).
- EUSA Volunteering (www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/volunteering) regularly advertises volunteering opportunities to work with people with mental health issues. Search their database or contact them directly.
- The Edinburgh Volunteer Centre (www.volunteeredinburgh.org.uk ) can put you in touch with opportunities in the local area. For volunteering further afield search online for local volunteering centres to help you get started.
- Edspace (www.edspace.org.uk) is an information service which covers Edinburgh mental health. Use their services directory to find local organisations to contact.
Working as a care assistant
You can work as a care assistant in the public, private and voluntary sector – read our hand-out on finding care sector jobs in Edinburgh
Research opportunities in private practice could be linked to your dissertation, or you could make speculative approaches to find opportunities. Use the BPS website www.bps.org.uk to find organisations to contact, and the online directory www.yell.com. Also try LinkedIn as a source of contacts. Find advice on using LinkedIn effectively via my previous post on this
Gaining research experience is also vital, and should be in addition to the research projects in your degree.
The Volunteer Research Assistant (VRA) Programme in the Psychology department offers 3rd and 4th year students (occasionally 2nd year students with outstanding academic performance) the opportunity to assist research staff with new or ongoing projects. More information at www.psy.ed.ac.uk/research
Research experience can be developed in a clinical or academic setting. Volunteer research assistant positions do sometimes come up with the NHS.
Follow up the resources in Finding out more for places to look for research opportunities.
Finding out more
Make the most of your university contacts. Talk to academics, practising psychologists, tutors and mental health professionals for insight as well as advice and information. Social media can be a great way to make contacts and gather information. Use the information on our website on making the best use of this – www.ed.ac.uk/careers/social-media
- The Division of Clinical Psychology. The BPS organisation devoted to furthering the development of clinical psychology both as a body of knowledge and skills and as a profession www.bps.org.uk/dcp
- Mental health jobs A recruitment website dedicated to mental health www.mentalhealthjobs.co.uk
- Psychminded News, courses and job vacancies for all who work in psychology, psychiatry and mental health www.psychminded.co.uk
- PsychNet-UK Mental health and psychology directory; information and action point on psychological sciences www.psychnet-uk.com
- ClinPsy The only website of its kind run by qualified Chartered Clinical Psychologists. Careers advice and information about entry to the profession plus a discussion forum www.clinpsy.org.uk
- Psyclick A resource for anyone seeking to train as a clinical psychologist, particularly in the UK. www.psyclick.org.uk
So start building up your body of experience now, if you’re keen to explore clinical psychology as a career – it’s vital for success in your application, and for ensuring it’s the right profession for you.