Mature student considering clinical/counselling psychology

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Mature student considering clinical/counselling psychology

Post by cappuccinomonkey » Fri Aug 22, 2008 3:15 pm

Hi guys

I'm David, a 31yo guy who's just starting a Psychology degree with the OU at the same time as a HE counselling diploma. If everything goes to plan, I should have both done in 3 years.

My inspiration comes from a decade of helping friends with a range of issues including suicide, relationship problems, bereavement and (in particular) sexual abuse. Over that time I've discovered I'm naturally empathic, and can quickly analyse complex situations and relationships. Without ever realising it, I became a pretty decent counsellor for my friends and family. I get on particularly well with teenagers (probably because I'm still 14 at heart :wink: ), and started volunteering with ChildLine over a year and a half ago. I've loved every minute there, and since the start of the year I've been helping with the training of new volunteers.

My professional background was originally IT, and latterly strategic planning & management in the community sector. This experience helps me understand the environment of statutory and voluntary health care.

When I started thinking about working as a counsellor, my research suggested it didn't offer the depth of engagement which I feel I need to work at my best. Then I came across counselling psychology, and it was love at first sight. Counselling psychology is just what I was looking for – she’s a great listener, and always understands my needs and how to help me. The only problem is that she’s really quiet and no-one really knows anything about her. Some say she costs a lot of money and doesn’t really commit to long-term relationships.

It turns out counselling psychology has an older sister who’s just as hot – she’s called clinical psychology. She’s the most popular girl in school and everyone wants to be her friend. She likes to play hard-to-get, and all the guys spend ages trying to get her to go on a date. Some of the guys say that she’d make a good girlfriend because although she’s hard to put up with, she’s really interested in a long-term thing, not like counselling psychology. I just don’t know if I have a chance at asking her out, and I’m not sure if I like her or counselling psychology more.

They’ve also got 2 cousins who are kinda cute – they’re called health and organisational psychology. I dunno if I could be in a relationship with them though, cos I think I might get bored. I think I’ll just become friends.

So since you guys all know clinical and counselling psychologist, I thought I’d ask you for some dating advice :D

1. Clinical or counselling psychology?
To try to get some idea of the work of clinical psychologists, I've read as much stuff as google can provide - 'day in the life of' articles, actual job descriptions, info from BPS, and of course this excellent forum :D

The BPS says that in clinical psychology "a wide range of psychological difficulties may be dealt with, including anxiety, depression, relationship problems, learning disabilities, child and family problems and serious mental illness."

What strikes me is that the majority of clinical psychologist posts don't seem to have this breadth and focus on serious mental health problems. Is this a feature of clinical psychology in general, or clinical psychology within the NHS?

As for counselling psychology, comparatively little information is available about this emerging field of expertise. I've read generalised comments which suggest that counselling psychologists deal with less serious cases than clinical psychologists, and I've read some fascinating posts on here about how little difference there actually is between the two, both in training and work, to the extent that some counselling psychologists are performing clinical psychologist roles within the NHS. During my research, I didn't come across a single job advertisement for a counselling psychologist.

On the face of it, counselling psychology would offer me the ideal blend of counselling and psychology, and a more natural path for an aspiring counsellor. Yet I am wary of undertaking an expensive 3-year journey which leaves me at the end of that path with a specialist qualification for which there seems (currently) to be little demand.

Would it be wiser to lay out a course for the steeper - yet more travelled - path of clinical psychology?

2. Improving my chances
I'm mindful that before I can confidently pursue clinical/counselling psychology I need (at least) to complete the psychology degree with a 2:1 or better, complete the counselling diploma, and then get some clinical hours under my belt, hopefully including BACP accreditation. At this point, I'll know if I'm ready & able to make a run for a psychology postgrad. I feel this is a measured approach which will ensure my reach never exceeds my grasp.

Even though I could be talking about postgrad entry as far away as 2013, I've read enough to know that getting onto a counselling or clinical postgrad course needs a bit of planning ;)

By 2013, I should have:
- 2:1 (or better) psychology degree with GBR
- Diploma HE Counselling Studies
- 2 years' post-qualifying counselling experience (part/full-time position)
- BACP accreditation
- 7 years' volunteering experience with ChildLine, including volunteer training

From what I've read, this should be enough to get into a counselling psychology postgrad course. However, I'd welcome some thoughts on what could complement this list to improve my prospects for a clinical psychology application. For example, a MSc with a strong research element, or a specialist counselling placement?

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts.


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Post by miriam » Fri Aug 22, 2008 5:27 pm

Hi David,

Welcome to our forum. You seem like an articulate and thoughtful guy, and I'm confident that you will be able to work out the right path and find success at the end of it. However it is really hard to get a feel of professions like ours without actually being exposed to them, and the nature of our work means that we aren't very "public" with what we do (and we can't have people sit in and see for themselves) because we are dealing with personal and confidential issues.

I'm a clinical psychologist, and I love what I do. Of course, there are lots of things that aren't ideal (demand exceeding supply, lots of admin and red tape, and an increasingly businesslike approach to services) but I can't imagine anything I'd enjoy better and feel privileged to earn my living doing something I enjoy and feel is of value to society. I don't think that all the work we do is in the domain of severe and enduring mental health problems. I know psychologists who work in early intervention, in proactive support to vulnerable populations, in brief solution focussed models, and in all sorts of different populations. For example, I work with children with neurodevelopmental disorders, and children who are in the looked after and adopted system. Very few of them have a diagnostic severe mental health problem, most just have complicated lives or something they were born with that makes it more difficult to understand the world around them. My work is very varied, and I've always had a lot of scope to be innovative and to work in areas I am interested in.

You are right that functionally the main differences between clinical and counselling psychology are in terms of whether you pay for training or are paid for it, and in how established the role is. I would argue that the competitive nature of Clinical means that we set our standards very high, and the rewards we get reflect this. But you need to play it by ear once you get nearer the point of applying, as the picture changes year by year. There are now also IAPT posts and training too.

The only concern I'd have with your post is this:
Without ever realising it, I became a pretty decent counsellor for my friends and family
and I'd refer you to this thread to think more about the boundary between personal and professional (also, a reminder that confidence is often a symptom of not knowing what you don't know).

But stay involved with the forum as you progress on your professional journey, and let us know how it is going.

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Post by cappuccinomonkey » Fri Aug 22, 2008 7:06 pm

Thanks for that insightful reply Miriam, including that link to a great discussion.

I particularly welcomed your comments about variety and innovation - two values I look for in any work I undertake.

I can certainly see the profession is in constant flux, and I've no doubt things will be quite different in a few years when I have a decision to make. I guess you could say I'm trying to make the best educated guess I can!

I can also see why the comment about counselling friends/family alarmed you. It wasn't really the most accurate description - you'll be happy to hear this role has never extended beyond the sort of support usually expected from friends or family. I've made it clear to them why counselling and friendship don't mix. However, I'm happy to signpost them to resources and then jump out. I respect my friends too much to cross-contaminate our friendship with 'work'; I respect their health too much to subject it to compromised, second-rate therapy; and I respect the therapeutic professions too much to misrepresent myself as a professional therapist.

As for confidence, I might not know what I don't know, but I do know there's a helluva gap... I'm looking forward to having a crack at filling it 8)

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Post by miriam » Fri Aug 22, 2008 7:39 pm

Great response, just the kind of reflection that goes down well at interviews! :D

I think at your stage of the career the key is to do well in your degree. If you can get a first, then everything else falls into place more easily than with a 2:1, but there is even a difference in having a better score within the 2:1 category, so do give this top priority. Then, if you have time, you can consider adding experience that is relevant - eg picking up some voluntary work with a psychologist, or getting involved in some research. These experiences help you to get short-listed for the more valued 'relevant experience' jobs after you graduate, such as AP and GMHW posts. These will give you a feel for the type of work you enjoy, and expose you to the work of qualified psychologists in the field, hence allowing you to make an informed choice about which post-graduate courses to apply for.

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Post by kooky » Sat Aug 23, 2008 1:03 pm

Just a comment on the counselling psychology side. You don't need a full diploma to apply to the doctorate course, they normally accept a certificate. Most places just want to know how well you understand counselling, doing a diploma would take an extra year on doing the certificate. But if you want to practice as a counsellor before you apply to a postgrad course then you can complete the diploma. I'm sure you know already but completing the diploma would cost a lot of money. To become accredited costs even more and requires a fair bit of work. A lot of counsellors who work in the NHS aren't accredited for this reason, but this may change as the government pushes everyone to work to similar standard by 2010.

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Post by Enigma » Tue Aug 26, 2008 10:00 am


I am a Counselling Psychologist. I chose this training because it gave me the autonomy I needed in terms of choice( training), I could choose pretty much what I wanted to specialise in. Money aside (and yes it is costly), I qualified last year and am now in a Specialist neuro job skipping band 7 because 18 months of my training was neuro. The other 18 months training was a specialist training in psychodynamic psychotherapy. However, i went through the ususal assistanships for about 5 years and loved it before I made my mind up. I was a mature student at 36 having switched careers. I also work part time teaching on the doctorate course in Counselling Psychology, so they employed me straight after training with them. Got loads of diversity in my employment. If you do Clinical, you will probably get more diversity in training, but again, you could choose to do that in counselling psychology. The structures are changing next year in terms of funding so prices may be doubled for counselling psychology training. Look out for this while you are deciding! And good luck!

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Post by hettie » Wed Aug 27, 2008 8:32 pm

Hi there,
You sound like me a few years ago! I have ended up accepting a place on a Counselling Psychology Doctorate, partly for personal reasons (the training is more compatible) and mostly for professional reasons. I felt that in some ways the ‘new kid in the block’ status of counselling psych gives the profession a freedom and reach that clinical doesn’t have. If your serious about the variety innovation comment then you may find yourself sucked in! It was a hard call for a while for me because I knew I was turning down the more ‘prestigious’ career but in the end heart won over head! There are some interesting insights in the BPS Counselling Psychology Review, think you have to be a member but I have 2 issues as PDF’s if you’re interested. Also why not try and get some work shadowing of both roles to get a better feel for the day to day stuff.
Anyway as others have said, you’ve a way to go before making a decision- good luck with it. :)

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Post by Spatch » Wed Aug 27, 2008 10:15 pm

Hello david.

I liked your post. To extend your analogy, I would say you need to actually go on a few dates with the psychology sisters before you can make a pitch at doing something more permanant. Unfortunately neither of the sisters are "easy", so you are going to have to show some inventiveness to get to know them a little better.

However, it is critical that you do because you dont want to be stuck with one when you really have the hots for the other. (Think how awkward Christmas dinner will be). However, at your stage set the groundwork for your real "dating season" by doing well in your degree and talking to as many trainees/psychologists as possible (in real life preferably).

Be warned they can be cruel mistresses at times....

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Post by cappuccinomonkey » Wed Aug 27, 2008 10:47 pm

Thanks for all your input, which has now been gratefully absorbed :)

As much as I enjoy the idea of clinical work, I also want the freedom to research, write, teach and work with other applications of psychology (such as social issues, business). I'm getting a picture of counselling psychology as an evolving specialism for which this kind of diversity comes naturally.

I'm taking onboard your collective recommendation to 'date' the counselling and clinical psychology sisters :) I'll do a bit of networking with the counselling contacts I've got here for some advice/signposting and maybe even an introduction. I'll also be joining the BPS and BACP soon, so hopefully both will have some events in the locale I can schmooze at.

Thanks again everyone!

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Post by cappuccinomonkey » Sun Mar 28, 2010 1:07 am

Hi folks,

After nearly 2 years, I thought I'd drop by with an update.

I'm now just 18 months away from completing the BSc Psychology, and on course for a (hard-earned) 1st. A good 1st, too ;)

I'm also in the last 14 months of the counselling diploma, and about to start two placements: one working with individuals with an ASD diagnosis, and the other with drugs and alcohol addictions. Two very meaty, challenging placements!

Over the last 2 years, I have fallen totally, utterly and completely in love with psychology. I just can't wait to finish the degree, and develop my skills still further with postgrad study.

On that subject...
As you may have read in my earlier messages, it seemed to me that counselling and clinical psychology are separated by the width of a cigarette paper. I've been following developments closely, and have had no reason to change this view. In fact, I read an article by one of the founders of the BPS counselling psychology division in which it was suggested counselling psychology should now be merged with clinical.

My original research suggested the two major differences were the funding of training and employment prospects. While I might be able to get on a counselling psychology course in a couple of years, assuming I can fund it...somehow, it carries much less of an employment guarantee. This has drawn my focus to clinical psychology, and how I can best prepare myself to apply in 2 years.

For those already practising as CPs, could you give me some idea of the perceived value of ASD and addictions counselling experience?

Beyond this, and based on what I have read from successful applicants, it would seem I need to add research experience and 'exposure' to a CP. Certainly, I could complete a masters for the research experience (e.g. MRes). The exposure to a CP is a slightly trickier proposition. I'm open to the idea of offering myself up to a CP on a voluntary basis for, say, one day a week. While I was organising my counselling placement, I had the opportunity to chat to the head of psychology in my local health trust - a pretty useful contact, I thought! I know they are plagued with requests like this, so before I ring again I'd like to be able to offer something of added value - perhaps something to take advantage of my counselling experience, or from my 'day job' of advising businesses. I was wondering if any of you kind and wise CPs had any suggestions? :)

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Re: Mature student considering clinical/counselling psycholo

Post by Amusicum » Sun May 05, 2013 9:00 am

Hi there David,

I enjoyed reading your previous pst. I just wonder what you decided upon in the end? Are you on a clinical/counselling psychology doctorate now?

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Re: Mature student considering clinical/counselling psycholo

Post by cappuccinomonkey » Mon May 06, 2013 7:49 pm

Hi there,

Yes I've just finished the first year of a Counselling Psychology doctorate.

In terms of clinical skills, it looks like the doctorate will replicate the integrative counselling training I've already done. While I will get the chance to add some research skills and experience to my portfolio, research is regarded as a 'second class citizen' within my programme.

I deeply regret my decision to pursue this doctorate. I gave up a lot to move to mainland UK, and it most definitely hasn't been worth it. While it will allow me to compete for band 7 psychologist jobs in the NHS, this is of no interest to me. In retrospect, I wish I had pursued an offer of a psychology research PhD back in Northern Ireland. However, having got this far, and given up so much already, I've decided to finish the DPsych here.

I'm sorry I don't have a more positive update :)
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Re: Mature student considering clinical/counselling psycholo

Post by ell » Mon May 06, 2013 8:23 pm

I am sorry to hear you regret your decisions, though appreciate your honesty with us here. It can be hard to admit when thongs have not turned out as hoped. I hope you are able to make some positives out of it all in the future.

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Re: Mature student considering clinical/counselling psycholo

Post by BlueCat » Mon May 06, 2013 10:44 pm

Thank you so much for giving an update five years after the original post. Like ell, I am sorry that things aren't as rosy as you had hoped, but feel sure you will find your way through to take positives from the experience.
There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Billy Connolly.

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Re: Mature student considering clinical/counselling psycholo

Post by lizzabadger » Mon May 06, 2013 11:11 pm

I am not sure why you would do a clinical or counselling doctorate if Band 7 jobs in the NHS are of no interest to you. This is what the training is for, surely? What were you hoping for?

If you would like an academic psychology post and don't want to work in the NHS then in your shoes I'd consider getting another PhD offer and quitting the counselling.

I am sorry things are not working out as you had hoped.

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