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Psychology careers

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Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and how it dictates and influences our behaviour, from communication and memory to through and emotion (British Psychological Society). Over 750,000 people in the UK currently work in an area which involves psychology as part of their role. The route to become a fully qualified psychologist involves significant work experience and postgraduate training after your Psychology degree. Find out more below, including how to find work experience relevant to the different fields of psychology.

Find out about psychology careers

The main source of information about career paths in Psychology is the BPS, British Psychological Society.  See the different career options in psychology, and their useful careers flowchart for information about the different fields of psychology.

You can also find information about the different roles in psychology, including training and some case studies, on the NHS Health Careers website.

See the sections below for more details about the different areas of psychology, and how to find work experience before your postgraduate training.

What skills do I need?

As well as specific qualifications you are likely to need:

  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • listening and counselling skills
  • open minded and non-judgemental approach
  • self-awareness and resilience
  • time management skills to manage a caseload
  • analytical skills
  • team work and collaboration
  • planning and research skills
  • awareness of the issues in the context in which you plan to work (eg issues facing the NHS, commercial awareness for occupational psychology)
  • a commitment to continuing professional development (CPD).

See more in the individual sections below.

Clinical psychology

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Work experience

Gaining relevant work experience can be crucial for success in obtaining an Assistant Psychologist or Research Assistant post, the traditional routes for gaining entry to clinical psychology training. This experience will also be useful for application to other jobs in mental health, including Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners (PWPs) who work within Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

Try to find a variety of experiences – think about the work that clinical psychologists are involved in, the types of problems they treat and the settings in which they work. Your aim should be to gain experience which will help you to develop your communication and care skills with different client groups, gain exposure to different mental health problems and understand how psychological theory can be applied to care and treatment. This should also help you to develop an understanding of the role of clinical psychologists and other professionals who work in mental health settings and help you decide if clinical psychology is really for you. It is not enough to simply complete placements – you need to reflect on what you have gained from them and the insights into Clinical Psychology they have provided you.

Maturity is highly valued in this profession; being self-aware and showing a strong understanding of the profession will help you to evidence your maturity. Try to gain experience early on, but please make sure to balance carefully any volunteering with academic and social lives (you are unlikely to gain entry into a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology without good grades).

Clinical settings

It’s important to try to gain some experience in a clinical environment, which could be in an NHS or private setting, hospital, residential or community based. You can find contact details for Trusts and Services, which you could use to request work or volunteering experience. Please be aware that confidentiality issues may make it more challenging to gain work experience within NHS mental health services. Do not be disheartened if you do not manage to gain an NHS placement. There are plenty of ideas for alternative experience in the ‘Care Work’ and ‘Other Opportunities’ sections below. However, students have found placements within clinical settings in the past, so with a tailored, sensitive application, you may be considered.

  • Research local mental health services to see if they can offer you any experience
  • Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust offers (currently unpaid) undergraduate internships

Providers of Mental health care in York

  • Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust (TEWV) provides the majority of outpatient services in York. This trust divides its services into Adults, Children and Young People, Older People, Learning Disabilities and Forensic and Secure.
  • Click on the specialism you are interested in on the left hand tab and then choose ‘Vale of York’ from the drop down menu to find out what is available.
  • Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust provides the majority of inpatient services in York. The trust offers a range of specialist services including, but not limited to, Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services, Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Services, Autism Diagnostic Services, Memory Services, Gender Identity Services, Deaf Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services and the Yorkshire Centre for Eating Disorders.
  • Stockton Hall (independent adult mental health services)
  • Most hospitals employ ‘bank’ staff who work shifts on a casual basis. If you already have some care experience you may be able to register with NHS Professionals as a care support worker. Alternatively you could contact the York Hospitals recruitment team for information (01904 725318). You will need at least 3 months’ experience of care work.

You can find out about private mental health providers on websites such as www.privatehealth.co.uk. Services are also provided by the not-for-profit sector, including:

Care work

Care work or support work is valuable experience and can be gained through working in residential care homes and day centres. Local authority Social Services departments will usually run some residential facilities and day centres for people with mental health problems and/or learning disabilities so they are a good place to start. 

Look for your local council and then search for jobs pages or for information about Social Services or Community Care departments, which may list facilities and contacts.

Some centres are run by private and not-for-profit organisations - local and national. Try approaching care homes and centres directly for work experience or check for vacancies through Careers and Placements, JobCentrePlus or recruitment agencies. 

Some agencies recruit staff to work on a part-time basis. United Response provides support workers to people with mental health and learning disabilities and Keyfort provides communication support workers for students in further and higher education (local vacancies sometimes advertised in Careers Gateway).

Other Opportunities

  • Working as a Classroom/Learning Support Assistant in special schools or with pupils with special educational needs can also be useful work experience.  Some residential schools advertise 1 year posts aimed at graduates wishing to enter health and social care professions (see Educational Psychology section for more information).
  • Improve your counselling/listening skills by volunteering on the helplines of organisations such as the Samaritans or the University’s NightLine service
  • Volunteer with a national mental health charity such as Mind
  • Explore part-time counselling courses to gain relevant skills and knowledge.
  • Work with other local charities such as Age Concern, the Alzheimers Society, the British Red Cross or St Leonard’s Hospice
  • Work abroad with SLV.Global, a graduate-led volunteering organisation running Mental Health Placements in Sri Lanka and Bali, Indonesia.
  • Use the Careers and Placements Volunteering pages to find other organisations
  • Please also see the ‘other opportunities’ for educational psychology: experience supporting people with disabilities is valuable as you will gain a range of transferable skills.
  • YUSU has a number of ongoing volunteering projects, including Minds in Motion (supporting people with dementia and their carers)
  • Timebank advertises volunteering projects, including mentoring (nationwide but mainly London / Midlands areas).

Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to drive – it is a requirement for many Assistant Psychologist posts as they can involve travel to sites not always served by public transport.

Academic Research

Working as a Research Assistant can also be useful work experience. Academic staff in your department recruit students to assist with their research during vacations – look out for information - but you could also volunteer to help out. Also, think about whether your final year literature review and/or project can be tailored to your interests, perhaps by carrying out your research in conjunction with an outside organisation.

After Graduation

Assistant Psychologist vacancies and other related posts are advertised in the following:

Counselling psychology

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Work experience

Counselling is often a second career for people and will certainly require prior experience of working in supportive roles with lots of people contact. Many of the ideas mentioned in the clinical psychology section above will also be relevant for counselling, such as the clinical, care work and volunteering opportunities.

Gaining relevant experience

It is very important to test your suitability and interest in counselling by seeking out opportunities for voluntary counselling/listening services such as

Experience gained in clinical or care settings can also be valuable experience for counselling psychology, see those listed in the Clinical psychology section above.

After graduation, and with some experience, you could also look at the volunteer counselling programmes with organisations such as Relate, Cruse, and Victim Support. These organisations offer training, but expect long-term commitment in return. CharityJob advertises jobs and volunteering opportunities related to mental health, education, social welfare and other issues.

Pre-entry counselling training 

Counselling Psychology doctorate courses generally expect you to have already gained some experience of counselling (paid or voluntary) and may also look for pre-entry introductory level counselling qualifications (eg Certificate in Counselling Skills). The British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) has a searchable database of accredited training courses, many of which are available on a part-time basis (you need to be a member of the BACP to access this page; their student membership will give you access to resources and support).

Developing self-awareness and reflection

Counselling psychologists also need to be very reflective and self-aware. Try working through self-assessment activities and resources in Careers and Placements Explore ideas section. Take time to reflect on your skills and experiences - it could be useful to apply for the York Award.

Educational psychology

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To be considered for the doctorate qualification, you will need an accredited Psychology degree together with significant experience (at least a year full-time equivalent) working with children and young people in an education, health or social care setting.

Work experience

Teaching

Before applying to train as an educational psychologist you need to gain lots of relevant work experience with children and young people (the 3-25 age range), in an educational setting. Volunteering is good, but you will also need evidence of relevant paid employment. Teaching is an obvious way to get this experience. A good option is to enrol on a University-based PGCE, School Direct or Teach First Postgraduate course (see the Education job sector web pages). If you have a maths or science A-Level, you could train to teach this subject following a short funded course to bring your subject knowledge up to scratch. Teachers of STEM subjects are in demand currently and are eligible to receive a bursary of up to £30, 000. Please see Get into teaching for more details. You could also get school experience as a classroom assistant, learning support assistant or mentor.

To get into these types of jobs you will need to demonstrate prior experience of working with children, and both classroom and non-classroom based experience is relevant. For educational psychology it is really helpful if you can also gain work experience with children who have special educational needs (physical disabilities, learning disabilities, emotional/behavioural problems).

School based experience

The best way to gain work experience in schools is through York Students in Schools where you can work in a local school for ½ day a week for eight weeks. Arranging a placement can take a little time as the scheme operates on a termly basis and you need to obtain a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, so the earlier you start the better! 

You can also approach schools in your home area for the possibility of some work experience during University vacations or after graduation. Your local education authority will have contact details for local schools, but remember that many schools are no longer under local authority control so search also for academies, free schools and private schools.

Education Related

Students also gain experience of working with children in other ways. Some of these opportunities are offered through the university, some you will need to arrange for yourself:

Other opportunities in the York area

  • YUSU runs voluntary activities with children, including KEEN (sports/activities for children with a disability) and Open Minds (delivering mental health awareness workshops)
  • SNAPPY (activities for children and young people with special needs) 
  • The Island (support for vulnerable children and young people as they make the transition from primary to secondary school).

Other

  • Assisting with Cubs, Scouts , Guides or Brownies
  • Assisting with Sunday School teaching
  • Assisting with Youth Clubs – Local Authority Youth Services departments should be able to advise you on volunteer or part-time opportunities
  • Working as a Counsellor in American Summer Camps with organisations such as BUNAC or Camp America
  • Work (paid and voluntary) with voluntary sector organisations such as Barnardo’s and Volunteering Matters.

After graduation

It you need to gain classroom based experience after graduating then you should ask about volunteering opportunities or look out for jobs as a Classroom Assistant, Learning Support Assistant or Learning Mentor. These are usually advertised in local press and on local authority vacancy listings, under Education, or you could try www.tes.co.uk/jobs. or recruitment agencies listed in our Teaching sector page.                                                                                                     

If you already have school based work experience, why not consider training as a teacher, through a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or employment based route such as Teach First or Schools Direct? This would give you substantial experience in school settings and also develop skills and knowledge appropriate to educational psychology. See our Teaching sector page for more information. 

Some residential special schools, such as Lord Treloar, offer 1 year posts for graduates who are planning a career in education or social care related roles, to assist with learning support and residential activities. Sometimes these are advertised in newspapers such as the Guardian. You can also search for special schools for speculative applications and job vacancies.

Forensic psychology

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  • Health Careers: Forensic psychologist
  • Prospects: Forensic psychologist
  • BPS: Forensic psychology
  • The work of psychologists in HM Prison & Probation Service
  • Reference books available at Careers and Placements
    • So you want to be a Forensic Psychologist?, Brendan O’Mahoney
    • The Routledge Guide to Working in Criminal Justice: Employability Skills and Careers in the Criminal Justice Sector, Ragonese, Ress, Ives and Dray.

Work experience

If you intend to apply to Forensic Psychology postgraduate courses or Psychological Assistant posts it will help your application if you are able to demonstrate some relevant experience. It is acknowledged that gaining work experience in forensic settings is very difficult (though not impossible) for reasons such as security and confidentiality, so you will need to consider alternative ways of demonstrating interest and experience. 

Working with offenders can be difficult, emotionally and mentally, so any experience that shows you have experience of working with ‘difficult’ people in challenging situations and are able to cope with an element of personal risk will be helpful. This could involve experiences as diverse as working in a bar, security or customer services/complaints handling. 

However, you will need to demonstrate an understanding of the needs of offenders and approaches to working with them, plus knowledge of the role of the Psychologist in the criminal justice system, so some relevant work experience would be helpful. The following sections provide some suggestions for finding directly relevant work experience:

Criminal Justice Related

  • Volunteering in the Criminal Justice system: there are a range of organisations and charities working in this area.  The Prison Reform Trust produce a useful guide to volunteering 
  • The Probation Service is going through a process of change and contraction at present. See the website for probation services in the Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire area for possible voluntary opportunities.  
  • Youth Offending Teams (YOT):  Multi-professional teams which work specifically with young offenders and those at risk of offending. The York YOT often has opportunities for volunteers to work as Support Volunteers, Appropriate Adults (to be present during police interviews if a family member is not available) and Referral Order Panel Members. See also the Youth Justice Resource Hub.
  • Clinks and Nacro have information on volunteering and mentoring in prisons and with ex-offenders.
  • Victim Support:  Recruits and trains volunteers who support witnesses and victims of crime. Volunteers also give information about practical and personal issues, and help victims find their own ways to overcome the effects of the crime.
  • Special Constables: Work with local police forces and offer support to regular police officers in the community as a current student and/or after graduation.

Other

  • Final Year Project: Could you select a topic in forensic psychology for your final year project?  This might provide an opportunity to link your research with a local forensic setting. If this is not possible, try to select an area of psychology that might be relevant to forensic psychology. If you haven’t studied any forensic psychology on your course do some self-directed reading in the subject, enrol on a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), try to attend conferences – great for networking! 

After graduation

  • The Prison Service recruits Psychological Assistants. Vacancies are usually advertised in local press and on the Prison Service website. There may also be opportunities to undertake voluntary work in a prison (see the Prison Reform Trust guide to volunteering).
  • Gain experience of police work with the new Police Now Graduate Leadership Development Scheme. Work as a community based Ward Officer for 2 years then either stay in the Police or move on.  
  • The next stage in becoming a Forensic Psychologist is to take a BPS accredited MSc or Doctoral programme.

Occupational psychology

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Work experience

If you are interested in a career in occupational psychology, you will need work experience. Although you may be able to obtain a place on a Masters programme after graduation, you may find it more difficult to obtain subsequent employment if you can’t offer any relevant work experience. However, there isn’t necessarily one type of employment experience which is favoured, what is most important is that you develop commercial awareness and gain an understanding of different work environments. Many aspects of the work are similar to Human Resources (HR) work so you could consider graduate training programmes in this area, or in other management or consultancy roles in which you might work with varied clients. 

Occupational psychologists work across different economic sectors, with a large number employed in the Civil Service, so work experience in different sectors can be helpful (eg retail, manufacturing, public sector). They work in three main areas: organisational consultancy; recruitment, assessment and training; ergonomics/health and safety. Within the Civil Service some occupational psychologists work to support socially excluded or otherwise disadvantaged adults, including those with disabilities or long term health conditions to access and stay in employment.

Whatever type of work experience you do, pay attention to the recruitment and selection procedures of the organisation, their management policies and practices, and the working environment. Consider what the challenges are within particular organisations or sectors, eg staff motivation, high staff turnover, mergers, introduction of new technology. 

Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to undertake research or gain work experience in any of these areas, for example:

  • Vacation internships in Human Resources/Personnel and other areas of work.
  • If you have a part-time job or are doing an internship or year in industry, ask if you can spend some time with human resources staff 
  • Experience in recruitment consultancy is also helpful as you will gain experience of drafting vacancies, reviewing applications, and staff selection and monitoring. This is more likely after graduation.
  • Work experience with psychometric test publishers and consultancies. Some test publishers advertise vacancies for psychology graduates, but for work experience you might have to approach companies speculatively or check company websites for information.
  • Office based/administrative experience, either during or after University, will be useful.  Vacancies are advertised in a wide range of sources but recruitment agencies may also be able to help you to find temporary office based employment.
  • Networking can be useful. Try to attend occupational psychology conferences organised by test publishers or the BPS Division of Occupational Psychologists
  • Knowledge of career management and psychometric tests can be important in some roles.  Taking control of your own career management is important. Familiarise yourself with the resources available for self-assessment and career matching in Careers and Placements, and on the Careers and Placements website: career ideas and psychometric tests.

Useful Resources

  • Internships are advertised by the larger organisations, typically in the finance, business services, retail, manufacturing, IT and engineering sectors and offer a structured programme of work experience. Opportunities are mainly aimed at penultimate year students, and deadlines can be as early as November for internships the following summer. Search for internships on HandshakeRatemyplacement, and company websites.
  • The Student Internship Bureau (SIB) offers a range of project based internships in local organisations. These are excellent for developing project management and commercial awareness skills and occasionally HR related opportunities. Vacancies are advertised on Careers Gateway (Exclusive opportunities @ York) and the SIB Facebook page.
  • Students also find work experience by applying speculatively to organisations they would like to work with.
  • The Civil Service offers summer internships as part of its diversity programme. If you don’t meet the criteria for this programme you can apply directly to departments – a list of which can be found on the Civil Service Fast Stream website
  • The STEP programme offers undergraduates and graduates the opportunity to undertake a project based placement with a local small/medium sized company
  • Recruitment agencies - Agency central lists agencies nationwide.

Health psychology

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Work experience

Work experience or shadowing is essential for securing a place on a postgraduate course. As with the other fields in psychology, work experience can be paid or voluntary, and you should aim to gain a range of experience in both care and academic settings. Please see the section on Clinical psychology above for suggestions that will also be helpful for Health psychology.

Sport and exercise psychology

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Work experience

As a sport and exercise psychologist you could be working at a sports club, fitness centre or health centre, in a prison, or for the local council. You should look for work experience that offers you the chance to experience different groups and settings, to develop listening and counselling skills, and to work with people who need support for example to increase their confidence, or to manage anger and cope with setbacks.

Relevant work experience can be paid or voluntary and could include:

  • Sports coaching or volunteering with a sports team
  • Competing in sport
  • Work on a children's activity/sports camp in the UK eg Kings Camps or Activate Camps
  • Working as a counsellor or sports coach in American summer camps with organisations such as BUNAC or Camp America
  • Sporting Opportunities offers volunteering and internships in various countries (costs attached to these projects)
  • The English Institute of Sport runs an annual Skills for Performance course (June, applications by end of May) and can give you a great insight into the role of sport psychologists working in elite sport
  • Contact sport psychologists in your network (LinkedIn, Twitter) to ask if you can attend one of their workshops
  • See if you can attend a conference run by the BPS Sport and Exercise Psychology division or BASES
  • YUSU runs voluntary activities with children, including KEEN (sports/activities for children with a disability) and Open Minds (delivering mental health awareness workshops)
  • The Island in York recruits volunteer mentors to support vulnerable children and young people to build their confidence and self-esteem
  • Improve your counselling/listening skills by volunteering on the helplines of organisations such as the Samaritans or the University’s NightLine service
  • Volunteer with a national mental health charity such as Mind
  • Explore part-time counselling courses to gain relevant skills and knowledge.
  • Assisting with Cubs, Scouts, Guides or Brownies
  • Assisting with Youth Clubs – Local Authority Youth Services departments should be able to advise you on volunteer or part-time opportunities - or volunteering with the City of York Council Youth Offending Team

Academic Research

Working as a Research Assistant can also be useful work experience. Academic staff in your department recruit students to assist with their research during vacations – look out for information - but you could also volunteer to help out. Also, think about whether your final year literature review and/or project can be tailored to your interests, perhaps by carrying out your research in conjunction with an outside organisation.

After Graduation

Assistant Psychologist vacancies and other related posts are advertised in the following:

  • The BPS Psychology Appointments
  • The Guardian sometimes carries vacancies for Assistant Psychologist posts
  • www.jobs.ac.uk for research posts
  • Local newspaper websites occasionally carry Assistant Psychologist vacancies, but will also advertise Care Assistant and Support Work vacancies
  • NHS Jobs

Psychological wellbeing practitioner

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A degree is not essential for this route but many Psychology graduates choose this career option and take a postgraduate certificate accredited by the BPS.

Work experience

Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners are trained to assess and support people experiencing common mental health problems – principally anxiety disorders and depression – in the self-management of their recovery, via a range of low-intensity, evidence-based interventions, informed by underlying cognitive/behavioural principles (BPS).  The kind of work experience valuable for this role is similar to that listed in the Clinical psychology section above.

Psychotherapist

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Prospects: Psychotherapist

NHS Health Careers: Psychotherapist

Training is accredited by the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), the Association of Child Psychotherapists, or the British Psychoanalytic Council.  The NHS offers a limited number of four year training posts.

Work experience

Relevant experience and life experience is essential; this role is often a second career. As with the other careers in this section, work experience should include working with likely client groups, see Clinical psychology above for suggestions.

Finding jobs

The following may be useful for jobs after graduation:

What can I do at York?

If you want to enter one of the psychology professional pathways, you should use your time at York to get some relevant experience which will help you when applying for future postgraduate training.

Volunteering

You can apply to volunteer with one of the Careers and Placements projects or YUSU:

Other volunteering in York - look for opportunities with York CVS, Do-it, York Hospital

Paid employment

See the Look for work page and use the following for vacancies

Other

Formal, structured work placements or internships are rarely advertised in the way that they are for some other areas of work, so you will need to be proactive and creative in your search for opportunities. This means using a variety of resources to find opportunities, being prepared to make speculative approaches to organisations and to undertake voluntary or unpaid work. You will need to be persistent and patient when it comes to seeking work experience. If you are making speculative approaches you won’t always receive a reply, but don’t be put off! Your application may be held on file and considered when a suitable opportunity becomes available. Reflecting on and learning from your experience is crucial. You need to be able to consider challenges and how to overcome them, cope with distress and build your self-awareness.

Driving licence: don’t underestimate the importance of being able to drive – it is a requirement for many Assistant Psychologist posts as they can involve travel to sites not always served by public transport. If you have time, and can afford it, consider having driving lessons and taking your driving test.

York graduate profiles

Read about York graduates and their experiences of training and working in Psychology, and connect with them via York Profiles & Mentors to find out more:

Find the full list of graduate profiles on York Profiles & Mentors.