All psychology graduates are psychologists, aren't they?

Information about qualifications, experience and the typical career path
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All psychology graduates are psychologists, aren't they?

Post by miriam » Mon Mar 26, 2007 10:17 pm

In the UK a psychology degree does not make you someone who can practise psychology. You need a post-graduate qualification to do that, normally at doctorate level, which includes supervised practise in your area of work as well as academic teaching and a research thesis. You can then work in a specific area: educational psychologists in schools (eg advising how to meet the needs of children with disabilities or emotional or behavioural problems), occupational psychologists in businesses (eg advising how to recruit the most suitable candidates, how to build teams, how to ensure people with disabilities can function at their best in the workplace), and clinical psychologists in health and mental health settings (eg assessing and diagnosing mental health conditions, developmental disorders, learning disabilites, working with mental health conditions through evidence-based therapeutic techniques, and helping people come to terms with life events such as abuse, trauma, head injury, physical illness etc). More recently counselling psychologists have emerged as practitioner psychologists and tend to work either privately or in the NHS in similar therapeutic roles to clinical psychologists, or with those who want therapy rather than needing it to alleviate an active concern that would reach NHS referral levels.

These professional groups who apply psychology in practice are known as 'practitioner psychologists' and are regulated by the Health Professions Council - that is you have to have been verified as meeting certain standards of qualification and continuing professional development to work as a practitioner psychologist, and there is a formalised complaints and fitness to practise system if someone has concerns about one.

Many people think that the generic term "psychologists" means someone who can competently deliver therapy, but that isn't true. Technically anyone can call themselves a "psychologist", as the title is not protected by law (unlike say General Practitioner). However, the term 'chartered' is protected by the BPS, who only award it to psychologists who meet their standard in one of the core practitioner groups. The term 'clinical psychologist' is protected by the HCPC, and people can be accused of misrepresentation if they use it unlawfully. So it might be helpful for you to know what it takes to call yourself a "clinical psychologist" in the UK.

A Clinical Psychologist is a psychology graduate (with a Bachelors degree, normally at 2:1 or 1st class) who has gained relevant experience in research and clinical skills (normally for at least two years, under supervision) and then competed for a place on a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology program. There are about 550 funded places on this program (so very few of the 15,000 psychology graduates each year manage to get on them, and they are very competitive). This course is a 3 year full-time course, with 3 main components: supervised clinical work, academic teaching, and a doctoral research thesis (the depth and standard of a PhD but generally less broad in remit). Only after attaining a clinical doctorate can the person work as a "psychologist" clinically in the health service. Some people who qualified in clinical psychology before 1998 may have a masters level qualification rather than a doctorate and still be suitably qualified and experienced, whilst others have chosen to 'top up' to the doctorate level.

If someone qualified abroad (or has worked for many years in a closely related area) there is also a process to convert a foreign qualification in CP to make it "equivalent" to a clinical doctorate, and to allow the person to work in the UK. They have to meet the criteria of the HCPC and an individual assessment is required. Under EU rules, there is a reciprocal arrangement to allow CPs from other European countries to work here. Thus there may also be examples of internationally qualified psychologists who the HCPC have (rightly or wrongly) declared to be equivalent enough to practice in the UK, who do not have doctoral level qualifications.

So how do CPs fit into mental health services?

Traditionally, the Clinical Psychologist is a highly valued part of the multi-disciplinary service. There is a perception that we are given salary and responsibilities that are typically above the nurses, OTs, physiotherapists, social workers and other professionals on the team. Typically we are paid more than everyone else, apart from the psychiatrists who are medically trained and can prescribe, do more emergency work and have more statutory responsibility. However, a clinical psychologist's role in an MDT may change as legislation is debated in parliament, for example becoming an approved professional for the mental health act, or being able to prescribe certain medications.

Modern MDTs are now encouraged to work fairly non-hierarchically, although this does not always feel like it is the case in practice. Whilst the structure above (in which pay makes the medic the highest ranked professional, then others) is still true to a large extent, professionals within a team are not told to think of themselves as above or below other disciplines. Moreover, teams are increasingly being managed and led by social workers, psychologists, nurses and occupational therapists, which further break down traditional structures.

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Content checked by qualified Clinical Psychologist on 21/01/2018.
Last modified on 21/01/2018

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