Career Profile – Psychologist

If you are interested in how people behave and in helping them to deal with challenges, this career could be perfect for you.

Psychologists study people’s behaviour, motivations, thoughts and feelings and help them overcome or control their problems.

You will need to complete a degree in psychology and then approved training. If you already have a degree in another subject, you may be able to do an approved conversion course.

Psychology requires openness and honesty. You also need good communication and listening skills.

The work

As a psychologist, you would normally specialise in one of the following areas:

  • educational psychology – helping children and young people to overcome difficulties and further their educational and psychological development
  • occupational psychology (also known as organisational psychology) – helping businesses improve their performance and increase employees’ job satisfaction
  • health psychology – promoting healthy attitudes and behaviour, and helping patients and their families to cope with illness
  • counselling psychology – helping people resolve their problems and make decisions, particularly at stressful times in their lives
  • neuropsychology – helping patients with brain injuries and neuropsychological diseases to recover or improve their quality of life
  • forensic or criminological psychology – using psychological theory to help investigate crimes, rehabilitate offenders and support prison staff
  • clinical psychology – working with people to help them deal with conditions ranging from anxiety and stress to depression and mental illness
  • sports psychology – work with individuals, teams and organisations to improve motivation and performance in coaching, training and competition, and also to promote participation in sport more generally.

You may be referred to by your specialism or as a chartered or practitioner psychologist.

Please see the forensic psychologist, clinical psychologist and sport and exercise psychologist job profiles for more information about those particular branches.

Some areas of psychology have no direct training route. For example, to become a child psychologist you might first train as a clinical or counselling psychologist and then specialise in working with children. Or you could train in educational psychology and work with children in education.


Your working hours would vary depending on what you specialise in, but would typically be 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Part-time hours and job sharing opportunities may also be available.

You could be based in a hospital, school, prison, rehabilitation unit, university research department or sports facility. You would usually have an office base, but may also use consultation rooms or visit clients in their own home.


Salaries vary widely, depending on the employer.

Chartered psychologists in the NHS can earn between £25,500 to £34,000 a year. With experience, this can go up to £40,000 or higher. Managers and consultants can earn up to £80,000 a year.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Entry requirements

To work as a chartered or practitioner psychologist, you need to complete training in psychology approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Your training would begin with a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited degree in psychology leading to the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC).

To start a degree course you will usually need five GCSEs (A-C), including English, maths and in some cases a science, plus three A levels. Equivalent qualifications, such as an Access to Higher Education or Level 3 Diploma may be accepted. Check with course providers for exact entry requirements.

If you already have a degree in a subject other than psychology, you may be able to achieve GBC by completing a BPS-approved conversion course.

See the BPS course search facility for a list of all accredited programmes.

Once you have completed your BPS-accredited course and are eligible for registration with the HCPC, you will need to achieve the following, depending on your specialism:

  • educational psychology – an accredited doctorate in educational psychology (in England, Northern Ireland and Wales)
  • occupational psychology – a master’s degree in occupational psychology plus two years’ supervised practice
  • health psychology – a master’s degree in health psychology and two years’ supervised experience
  • counselling psychology – an accredited doctorate in counselling psychology or the BPS Qualification in Counselling Psychology
  • neuropsychology – training in either clinical or educational psychology, followed by the BPS Qualification in Clinical Neuropsychology
  • forensic psychology – a master’s degree in forensic psychology plus two years’ supervised practical experience
  • clinical psychology – an accredited doctorate in clinical psychology
  • sport and exercise psychology – a master’s degree in sport and exercise psychology plus two years’ supervised work experience.

Competition for postgraduate training is strong. Entry requirements will often include a first or upper second class honours degree, evidence of your research skills, plus relevant work experience.

It is important to check that your postgraduate programme is approved by the HCPC. See the Register of Approved Programmes page on the HCPC website.

Training and development

Once you are qualified, you may have the opportunity to specialise further within your branch of psychology or pursue a research project leading to a PhD qualification. This would be helpful if you wanted to go into teaching or research as a career.

Throughout your career you will be expected to take part in continuing professional development (CPD) activities in order to keep your knowledge and skills up to date. See the British Psychological Society (BPS) website for more details.

Skills, interests and qualities

To become a psychologist you will need to have:

  • resilience
  • honesty and integrity
  • the ability to build effective working relationships
  • good team working skills
  • excellent communication and listening skills
  • good problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • the ability to organise a complex workload to meet deadlines
  • an accurate, logical and methodical approach
  • IT skills.

More information

NHS Careers (Opens new window)
PO Box 2311
Tel: 0345 60 60 655

Health and Care Professions Council (Opens new window)
Park House 184 Kennington Park Road
SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

British Psychological Society (Opens new window)
St Andrew’s House
48 Princess Road East
Tel: 0116 254 9568


You will find most opportunities with local authority education or social services departments, and in the NHS. You could also work for the Prison Service, some government departments or in the private sector.

Alternatively, you could specialise in teaching and research work in colleges and universities.

Related industry information

Industry summary

The health sector is represented by Skills for Health Sector Skills Council, which comprises three sub?sectors:

  • National Health Service (NHS)
  • Independent Healthcare Sector (such as private and charitable healthcare providers)
  • Third Sector (healthcare) (such as small local community and voluntary groups, registered charities, foundations, trusts, social enterprises and co?operatives)

The health sector is made up of hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, dental practices, the ambulance service, nursing homes, residential care homes, complementary medicine and a huge range of other health related activities, from sight tests in opticians to research in medical laboratories. Most people in the health sector work in the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS), which includes:

  • primary care (organisations which the public goes to first) – Doctors/General Practitioners (GPs), NHS Walk in Centres, NHS Direct, Out of Hours Emergency Care
  • secondary care (organisations which the public are referred onto) – Ambulance Trusts, NHS Trusts/hospitals, NHS Foundation Trusts/hospitals, Mental Health Trusts, Care Trusts (provide joint health and social care activities)

NHS policy in England is directed from the centre by the Department of Health. Local organisations, known as Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), are in charge of providing and commissioning services, controlling the majority of the budget. PCTs are overseen by 10 regional organisations called Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs).

The independent sector includes companies and charities that offer hospital and specialist services usually after referral from a doctor. Operations and other work are carried out in private hospitals, independent treatment centres, mental health units and hospices.

Key facts:

  • The health sector is the largest employer in the UK, representing 5.5% of the working age population of the UK and 7.3% of the working age population that are currently in employment.
  • It is estimated that the sector employs over 2 million people, including:
    • over 1.5 million people in the NHS (72%)
    • over 0.5 million people in the Independent Healthcare sector (26%)
    • almost 40,000 in the voluntary sector (2%)
  • 56% of the workforce has a higher education qualification (or equivalent).
  • The age profile for the sector shows an older than average workforce, which is due in part to the fact that it takes some professions a long time to train and can mean that people enter the sector later.

There is a varied list of jobs in the sector ranging from a diverse number of clinical roles, to support and infrastructure staff, for instance: Allied Health Professionals (AHPs); Ambulance Staff; Dental Staff; Doctors/Medical staff; Nursing staff; Midwifery Staff; Healthcare Scientists; Health Informatics Staff; Management; Wider Healthcare Team; Complementary Therapists.

Further sources

NHS Careers has sections on: