Psychology Careers – The Training and Qualifications Needed to Become a Psychologist in the UK

Psychology is a people based science – the science of mind and behaviour. It is one of the most challenging of professional careers and offers a wide variety of specialities and types of practise.

Psychology is one of the most popular university degree subjects, and the critical thinking and scientific analysis skills it provides means that a university graduate with a psychology degree can apply their skills to, and find employment in a wide range of non psychology related jobs.

Psychology Degree Entry Requirements

If you are looking to complete a university degree in psychology it is essential you check that the relevant body – Health Professions Council and/or British Psychological Society, accept it as an accredited qualification.

This usually means a starting with single honours degree in psychology, completion of which confers eligibility for Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership of the British Psychological Society.

Places on psychology undergraduate degree courses are sought after and the A level grades / points needed for entry are usually quite high. Although an A Level in psychology is not always required, you should check with the university to which you are applying – most will specify at least one science A Level since the content of a psychology degree is highly science oriented and an ability to grasp the scientific method and the underpinning mathematical and statistical concepts is essential.

Completing an A Level in psychology is, however, a good way to show that you have some understanding of, exposure to and affection for the subject. Consequently your choice of psychology degree will be better informed.

When you come to apply for a Masters degree / Professional Doctorate in your chosen area, a 2.1 in your psychology degree will be the likely minimum requirement – even a first class honours degree for very popular courses. Again, competition for places on postgraduate psychology degree courses can be intense s0 some relevant work experience is almost compulsory.

You should also keep checking that the university route you choose will ultimately confer eligibility for entry onto the Health Professions Council HPC register. A Post graduate PhD degree, for instance, will not, as it is a research rather than a practitioner degree.

Legal Regulation of Psychologists in the UK

On 1 July 2009 the Health Professions Council (HPC) became the statutory regulator for practitioner psychologists and opened the psychology section of their Register. The Health Professions Council provides a code of conduct which members of the register must abide by.

There are numerous other prefixes which psychologists may use which are not legally recognised or protected such as business psychologist, child psychologist, criminal psychologist, social psychologist, cognitive psychologist, consumer psychologist or animal psychologist, but these terms are not legally protected and there is nothing illegal in a person using one these titles.

The advantage of using a psychologist who appears on the register is that you can have faith in their qualifications and standards of professional conduct. If using a psychologist, it is wise to check the nature of their professional qualifications and status.

Practitioner Psychologists treat, practise or deal with members of the public and are regulated under the Health Professions Council. Non-practitioner Psychologists do not have to be Health Professions Council registered, and so cannot use one of the HPC Protected titles.

Entry onto the appropriate section of Health Professions Council (HPC) register allows you to use one of the following legally protected titles -

Clinical psychologist
Counselling psychologist
Educational psychologist
Forensic psychologist
Health psychologist
Occupational psychologist
Sport and Exercise psychologist

It is necessary to be registered with the HPC to practise in the UK under any of these titles. All psychologists who are on the HPC register may additionally use the titles Practitioner Psychologist and Registered Psychologist.

The single term psychologist, and any other prefix other than those listed above, can be used by anyone, whether qualified or not. If using a psychologist, it is wise to check the nature of their professional status.

Teaching and Research in Psychology

In theory, you don’t need any qualifications in psychology to teach it! One does not need to be a Registered Psychologist with the Health Professions Council to teach psychology, since teaching psychology is not actually the same as practising psychology. This can be quite common at A Level where the tutor may be a qualified teacher rather than a qualified psychologist.

However, at university degree level this would be a rare situation and many university psychology lecturers are at a minimum Chartered Psychologists, even though they may not be qualified to use one of the protected titles as their work is is essentially academic in nature and they do not practise with members of the public.

At university, teachers at psychology degree level not only teach, but also have an active research role as well, and are expected to regularly publish the results of their research. Their training may be purely academic (e.g. research PhD based) rather than practitioner based. Psychology students studying for a postgraduate research degree, such as MPhil or PhD, in a university will often also work as a research or teaching assistant.

However, many university based psychologists, especially those involved in the postgraduate training of Practitioner Psychologists, also work as Practitioner Psychologists in their own right, and so are registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC).

Psychology research is not the sole preserve of universities. Many HPC registered Practitioner Psychologists also carry out their own research to inform and support their own professional practise.

Professional Bodies for Psychologists

The British Psychological Society states its aims as setting standards of training and practice in psychology, raising public awareness of psychology, and increasing the influence of psychology practice in society.

Originally, the British Psychological Society was a ‘learned body’, but gradually took on a voluntary regulatory function. Until Psychologists became regulated by the Health Professions Council in 2009, the British Psychological Society was the only regulatory body for psychologists in the UK. Although even then membership was non-compulsory and any non-member could still use any of the (now) protected titles. One has to be a Chartered member of the British Psychological Society to use the title Chartered Psychologist.

The BPS also has a number of specialist divisions, full membership of which currently allows immediate entry onto the relevant part of the Health Professions Council Register.

In summary – to use a protected title and practise in one of the protected areas, entry onto the Health Professions Council register is essential. The qualifications required to gain entry onto the Health Professions Council Register are stipulated, approved and in some cases awarded by the British Psychological Society. This is likely to change in the future as the Health Professions Council begins to accredit courses directly – it will then be possible to apply for entry onto the register without having to join the BPS at all.

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