The work of a clinical psychologist
A clinical psychologist works with people experiencing a range of difficulties that can occur at any time in their lives. This means they work with children, young people, adults and older adults. They work with people who may be experiencing mental health, physical health or disability difficulties.
These difficulties can relate to problems with:
- adverse life events
- unusual experiences
- drugs and/ or alcohol use
They aim to reduce psychological distress and promote psychological well-being.
Clinical psychologists also provide consultation, training and supervision to other professionals and other agencies.
Clinical psychologists are not medical doctors and will not prescribe medication. Their work is focussed on how people think, feel and behave and the impact this has on them and on their relationships with others.
Many psychologists are involved in research and evaluation of services.
Clinical psychologists work with people with a wide range of illnesses, conditions and disorders. These might include:
- serious and enduring mental illness
- adjustment to physical illness
- neurological disorders
- addictive behaviours
- childhood developmental and behaviour disorders
- personal and family relationship problems
The work involves interaction with, and receiving referrals from, a wide range of other professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers and occupational therapists. Most clinical psychologists work in Health and Social Care, but some do work privately and in other agencies.
To assess a client, a clinical psychologist may do a clinical assessment using a variety of methods, including:
- psychometric tests
- direct observation of behaviour
Assessment may lead to psychological therapy. A significant part of the clinical psychologist’s role is to provide consultation, advice and supervision for other professionals involved in the care or treatment of an individual.
Essential skills required to be a clinical psychologist include:
- good interpersonal skills
- an enquiring mind
- an interest in all aspects of human behaviour
- want to help people to overcome personal difficulties
- maturity and objectivity
The following undergraduate programmes are available in Northern Ireland. Both courses are full-time three year programmes. Contact the universities for the latest information on entry requirements.
Postgraduate Doctoral level (three year) courses are required in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland, this training is provided through the School of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast.
Places on this training programme are advertised on the university's website at the end of September each year of intake. See: Doctorate in clinical psychology.
Following qualification, graduates can expect to work and further develop in the profession for a minimum of six years before being eligible to compete for a consultant level position.
At that level, a small number of clinical psychologists might expect to become Heads of Specialty – for example, Adult Mental Health, Child and Adolescent or overall head of a psychology service.
Clinical Psychologists must be registered with the HPC before they can practice in the UK. The title ‘practitioner psychologist’ is the generic but protected title which can be used by any HCPC registered psychologist. 'Clinical psychologist' is a protected title and only a registered psychologist meeting the HCPC criteria for a clinical psychologist can legally use the title.