By David Murphy
Clinical psychologists help a huge range of people, of all ages, with an increasing number of mental health problems. Here are my top tips for getting into clinical psychology training.
(1) Firstly, and probably most importantly, when you are at University, do your best consistently in your Psychology degree. Relevant experience can always be gained later down the line, but you only have a limited time to work on your degree and then your marks stay with you. Your degree transcript containing your marks from every module is used in selection.
(2) Once your degree is in the bag then you need to get relevant experience. Not just to put on your application form but to make sure that working in this field is really what you want to do. Getting a paid assistant psychologist posts is very competitive; in fact nowadays it is actually more competitive than getting onto a doctoral training course. If you can’t get a traditional assistant psychologist post, there is a wide range of other types of relevant clinical experience; nursing assistant posts and/or some voluntary work are also a useful first step on the ladder.
(3) When you do come to filling in your application form, try and communicate something about yourself, what you have learned, and what skills you have developed through your clinical experience and also in your other activities. Think of ways to set yourself apart from other applicants.
(4) Choose your referees wisely and support them. It’s true that you can’t write the references but you can choose who you ask and help your referee by providing them with information about what the courses are looking for, particularly if they are not used to writing forms for clinical psychology. It’s such a shame when you see a great form accompanied by a clinical reference from someone who has only recently met the applicant or who can’t really comment on their clinical work, or an academic reference from someone who appears to have forgotten all about the applicant. If this information is lacking then it makes it very difficult for a course to know whether or not you meet the selection criteria.
(5) Reflect and review. I’ve heard a lot of people say they were told not to even think about applying for Clinical Psychology training because of how competitive it is. Nevertheless, each year several hundred applicants do get places, so it is certainly possible. You may well not get a place on your first attempt but don’t let that put you off. However, you also need to be realistic and reflect on your progress. It’s true that you generally need to have 1-2 years of relevant experience to maximize your chances but if, after a number of attempts you find you still haven’t been successful, it is probably time to rethink. There are plenty of other ways in which you can apply your psychology degree within healthcare and also within many other fields.
Whatever way it turns out I wish you all the best!
David Murphy is the Joint Course Director of the University of Oxford Clinical Psychology Doctoral Training Programme, and co-editor of What is Clinical Psychology? He trained as a clinical psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London and worked for over 20 years as a full-time clinical psychologist in acute hospital settings within the National Health Service before taking up his current position.