Our guide to specialised psychology courses


Psychologists diagnose and treat people with mental disorders. They strive to reduce the distress caused by mental problems and greatly improve the psychological wellbeing of their clients. Psychological problems might include depression, schizophrenia, adjustment to physical illness, addictive behaviour, eating disorders, relationship problems and learning disabilities. As you can imagine, psychology is an emotionally demanding job. But knowing you can make a huge difference to the lives of others makes it extremely rewarding too.


Where could a specialised psychology course lead?

A clinical psychology course will typically lead to a career as a clinical psychologist, offering psychological assessment and psychotherapy in hospitals, schools, universities or clients' homes. You will usually work as part of a team with other health professionals. Most clinical psychologists are employed by the NHS.

Some psycholgists specialise in specific psychological disorders, while others work with clients suffering from a diversity of problems. All types of psychologists spend a lot of time with clients who can be argumentative or unstable, so it can be very demanding. But this is by no means always the case.

Besides assessing, diagnosing and treating psychological disorders, psychologists work in a variety of professions. They might offer forensic testimony in court, teach university-level courses, conduct research or treat drug and alcohol addiction.

There is often a substantial amount of paperwork involved in any psychology specialism. Keeping detailed records of client assessments, therapeutic goals and treatment notes helps clinicians track their clients' progress.


What specialised psychology courses are available?

To become a qualified clinical psychologist you need to hold a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited psychology degree. You must then spend three years of postgraduate study to get a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Doctorate degree courses are sponsored by the NHS, who fund all the available places. Because of the restricted number of places, getting on a course is very competitive. Courses consist of taught lectures, seminars and workshops as well as supervised placements in a range of clinical services.

Once you have qualified as a clinical psychologist you are obliged by the British Psychological Society (BPS) to continue taking courses. There are opportunities to take additional courses so you can move into different specialisations such as child mental health, adult mental health, clinical neuropsychology, forensic psychology, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, substance abuse, geriatrics and health psychology.


Work experience

Because psychology is a very competitive course, you will need to undertake work experience to increase your admission chances. Ideally, you will have gained experience as an assistant psychologist or research assistant. Voluntary experience, for example, as a nursing assistant, care assistant or social worker, will help you get on a good course.


What kind of person do I need to be?

To undertake a course and a career in psychology you should be:

·         an excellent communicator in order to deal with people in distress.

·         calm, understanding and patient to help people with difficult psychological problems, such as depression and schizophrenia.

·         tolerant of stressful and emotional situations.

·         able to apply your knowledge of academic psychology and research to clinical problems.

·         a good teamworker to collaborate with colleagues from other disciplines such as doctors, nurses, social workers, education professionals, health visitors, psychiatrists and occupational therapists.

·         aware of current NHS issues.


Treatment approaches

Often psychologists use a selection of different theoretical methods to develop the best treatment plan for a client. Some of the key theoretical methods are outlined below.


Cognitive behavioural therapy encourages clients to change the thoughts and behaviour that cause psychological distress. A clinical psychologist who adopts this approach will focus on how a client's behaviour, thoughts and feelings interact.


The psychodynamic perspective was born out of the work done by Sigmund Freud, who believed that the unconscious governed a lot of human behaviour. Techniques arising from this perspective include free association, which encourages a client to explore their undetected, unconscious motivations.


The humanistic perspective was introduced by humanist psychologists like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. It looks at a client in his or her entirety and focuses on helping people achieve their full potential.   


Try this quick colour psychology quiz

1.    What colour attracts the most attention? a) black   b) yellow   c) red

2.    Villains usually wear what colour? a) black   b) red   c) blue

3.    What is the colour of royalty? a) white  b) purple  c) green

4.    People lose their temper more easily in rooms of what colour?

a) black  b) yellow  c) pink

5.    What relaxing colour are most hospital rooms? a) pink   b) white   c) green

6.    What colour is associated with being genuine? a) green  b) black  c) brown


Answers:   1) c   2) a   3) b   4) b   5) c   6) c


By Nick Kennedy

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