Clinical Psychology - A Profile

Clinical psychologists consider the problems connected with illness and health. They use psychological theories and techniques to do this. Clinical psychologists are the psychologists most likely to be confused with psychiatrists.


What is a psychiatrist? A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has specialised in the treatment and prevention of psychiatric illness, the same as some doctors will specialise in working with children, heart disease etc.


Clinical psychologists will have studied for a degree in psychology before undertaking further training in clinical psychology. They will work in a number of settings, such as clinics, hospitals and so on, all connected with mental health. There is often no definite boundary between the role of the clinical psychologist and the psychiatrist. The difference is their background and approach to the difficulty the patient experiences.


Within the UK, clinical psychologists will work within the NHS, psychiatric or general hospitals, clinics for mental health problems, in the community working with people with mental health problems and disabilities. They may also work in prisons, old people’s homes, youth training centres, young offender institutions.


Clinical psychologists have to be able to work with many different professionals, such as doctors, nurses, criminologists, legal psychologists, educational psychologists, social workers, youth workers and so on. They should be able to contribute to multidisciplinary team work and provide a contribution to the care of the client.


The main role of the clinical psychologist is problem solving. They will be looking at the problems of individual clients, institutions and families. The clinical psychologist will use their understanding of psychology and people’s behaviour to help them find out of their difficulties. See other articles on Clinical Psychology for examples of the type of work the clinical psychologist may do.



Qualifications will vary depending on the country in which you live. In the UK for example, there is a clearing house, to which potential clinical psychologists apply. They will then complete a clinical psychology course, usually at post-graduate level. Practical experience can be gained by working with other groups, such as people with disabilities, people with mental health problems, the elderly, children and adults.

The pay received depends on the country you are working with and the area you specialise in. In the UK for example, Assistant Psychologists are usually paid lower wages, but qualified Clinical Psychologists will usually receive around above average to very good levels of income for very senior positions.

Pathways to become a Psychologist

The interesting thing about people like you who care about people and set out to become a psychologist will often find that through their journey of studies and life experiences they find themselves working in an area that they had not anticipated when they first began their studies. Often opportunities arise to move into a job or a profession related to welfare or psychology, but not exactly what was originally planned. Some studies indicate this is what happens to half of the people who start out wanting to be a psychologist; less than 10% become a psychologist, and the remainder move off into something totally different. This is not to put you off your studies in psychology, rather to show you that there a many opportunities that you may not have even considered yet that are open to you.


To become a psychologist, you will first need to study a Bachelor degree. Before doing a Bachelor degree, many people will complete shorter courses to get a feel for whether or not psychology is for them. Upon completing the degree (which is 3 years of full time study), a small proportion of graduates are outstanding enough to get into post graduate studies for a further couple of years at university. At the end of all of that, some are able to secure a job as a psychologist, whilst others will go on to specialise in a specific area of psychology, or move into areas such as counselling, human relations, sales and marketing, social work or something else altogether.

Becoming a social worker doesn't usually require as much study, but there are many more opportunities for social workers. You may not initially get the job you desire, but after gaining experience in one job, you may be able to move into a more ideal role. For example, there are many carer jobs available for youth, mental health, disabilities, and aged care. You may initially work as a carer then move into a case management, team leader, or managerial role. 

In our experience, the most successful people are those who take small steps that move towards their goal. Doing a certificate or diploma first is a wise move because the experience of that study will raise your awareness of the industries served by psychology, and allow you to better decide on what to study next. It is also a good idea to undertake relevant work experience, volunteer work, or paid work to develop skills and understanding so you are more employable when you finish your studies.

From there, you may well keep building and eventually end up doing a PhD in psychology; but then you may veer off on a tangent to do other studies and modify your career path as you go along.  Keeping your options open is a wise move.