"Psychology is the study of the mind and of thought, feeling, and behaviour. It is an academic and applied discipline which involves the scientific study of mental functions and behaviours" to understand individuals and groups more effectively. It's not just limited to humans though it can also be applied to animals.
If you feel that you could have a positive effect on people's lives and help them understand themselves better then becoming a Psychologist could be the perfect career path for you.
1. Research the Profession
The first step to take before deciding on pursuing a career in psychology is to learn more about the duties these professionals need to perform, as well as any skills that can help distinguish you in this profession.
A lot of Psychologists spend their time helping people cope with issues - both personal and mental - using scientific methods. This makes psychology - contrary to popular belief - a primarily scientific field, rather than a social one. It means that this profession shares more similarities with doctors than social workers and as such, an affinity for medical studies is essential for this role.
They are trained to cope with situations that are stressful to clients, overcome addictions and manage chronic illnesses. They are also trained to perform tests and assessments and interpret data to diagnose conditions or understand more about their patients.
You get to perform a number of other duties, but these duties vary depending on the speciality you’re interested in. For example, educational psychologists help children overcome learning disabilities, while clinical psychologists help people overcome medical conditions such as depression.
To become a psychologist you need to be a responsible and reliable individual as people will depend on you to help them manage their mental health. You also need to possess high levels of empathy to be able to deal with people in distress.
To succeed in this field, you’ll also need excellent decision-making skills and a methodical approach to data. You will also need excellent communication skills, both verbal and listening and as the field is primarily scientific you will also need to be good at math and science.
But, the most important skill you’ll need to succeed in this sector is enthusiasm for learning and understanding human nature. As this is one of the most popular scientific fields there are new studies and a lot of research happening all the time and in order to succeed you need to be interested in continuous learning.
As there are many specialities within this sector, different professionals work in different settings. Many, for example, work in school environments such as elementary and secondary schools, while others work for the NHS in hospitals and clinics. Other psychologists work in labs performing research, while many also run their own practice. It’s also common for psychologists to be employed in offices and HR departments to help with employee motivation.
Because of how extremely diverse the work of psychologists is, their earnings can be as diverse as well. Running your own practice for example may be more profitable than working for a HR department, while senior level NHS psychologists will earn much more than recent graduates.
To get a rough idea of the earning potential of this profession here are some figures to keep in mind:
- Starting: £31,000 to £41,000
- Experienced: £41,000 to £57,000
- Senior: £58,000 to £98,500
Bear in mind that these figures are indicative, to get a better understanding of what you can expect you should look up details of your preferred specialisation.
The hours you’ll need to work will also depend on your specialisation. For example, psychologists who work in hospitals may be required to do shift work and weekends.
Professionals in schools, on the other hand, will generally be required to work for as long as the academic year runs and will keep to school hours or similar.
Clinical psychologists who run their own practice may need to work odd hours, as well as weekends to accommodate their patients’ work schedules.
2. Get the Qualifications
Academic qualifications are necessary in this field. To receive chartered status you’ll need to hold a relevant Bachelor’s degree or postgraduate degree in your specialisation. You may be able to do a conversion course as well. The key is to select a path that will make you eligible for the Graduate Basis for Chartered Memberships.
You should always choose programmes that are accredited by the BPS as they carry more weight in the professional world and they will maximise your employment potential in the future. You can check accreditation status of universities through BPS course finder tool. Universities that are not listed are not accredited.
Postgraduate degrees in psychology typically take at least three years to complete and generally include both academic and practical work.
Popular Specialisation Areas Include:
- Health: Health psychologists help people deal with health and illness and support people who are chronically ill. They generally work in hospitals and clinics and may be also employed by consultancy companies.
- Clinical: Clinical psychologists help people cope with many mental and physical health issues such as addiction, depression and anxiety. Some of these professionals work in private practice, while most of them often work in the health sector (NHS, health centres, social services)
- Educational: Educational psychologists hep children and young people tackle emotional and social problems as well as learning disabilities. They are typically employed by education authorities, while many of these professionals also work as independent or private consultants.
- Occupational: Occupational psychologists strive to make organisations more effective by improving employee morale. They work with organisations and businesses across the private and public sectors.
- Neuro: Neuropsychologists work with patients who’ve had serious issues like traumatic brain injury, strokes, tumorous and neurodegenerative diseases. They generally work in rehabilitation centres.
Based on the Guardian’s ranking these are the top ten universities for psychology:
- Royal Holloway
3. Land Your First Job
Getting a job in this field can be very difficult as there’s a lot of competition. To beat the odds you should start planning your career as early as possible. This generally means that you’ll need to gain work experience as early as possible, as well as make professional connections which you’ll be able to capitalise on at a later date.
Gaining Work Experience
As you won’t be able to practice psychology until you receive chartered status, it’s likely that you won’t be able to gain work experience in your exact field as a graduate. You can, however, volunteer at not-for-profits and other organisations which will allow you to work with people who require counselling.
As this field is extremely competitive, making connections with other professionals can help you find out about internship opportunities, as well as hidden job vacancies. Your university tutors are always a great place to start networking, but it’s important that you expand your professional circle as much as possible.
Where to Look for Work
Some of the best job boards and career sites for psychology graduates include:
You can also look for vacancies for psychologists on other job boards and job search apps.
4. Develop Your Career
To become successful as a psychologist you need to be enthusiastic about the constant developments in the field. Keeping current and remaining up-to-date may well be the only way to remaining employed.
There’s big earning potential for professionals in this sector but to benefit from everything the sector has to offer you need to be able to distinguish yourself from the competition.
A career in psychology will help you learn more about people, their motives and drives, but you should also understand that helping others cope with their own problems can take quite a toll on your life as well. I suggest that before you dive head-on to this profession you take an aptitude test to ensure that being a psychologist matches your career potential.
Do you think you’d enjoy a career in psychology? Let me know in the comment section below.