How to become a psychologist

How to train to become a psychologist in the UK

Interested in becoming a psychologist? 

Find out all you need to know including what a psychologist does, the different types of psychologist and the steps you need to take to become one.

What is a psychologist and what do they do?

A psychologist is someone who specialises in the mind and behaviour. There is often a connection made between psychologists and talk therapy when people think of what a psychologist does, but this profession has a variety of specialist areas, including cognitive psychology, health psychology, and social psychology.

A psychologist is someone who may:

  • use their knowledge of how people think and behave through study and research to work towards helping treat a patient’s mental disorder
  • practice in the field of social science to conduct research and teach in colleges or universities

How long does it take to become a psychologist?

Training to become a psychologist takes a minimum of five years. To qualify you need to go through the following steps:

  • Step 1
    Complete a degree accredited by the British Psychological Society
  • Step 2
    Choose a specialty
  • Step 3
    Study a postgraduate degree in your chosen specialty

Step 1: complete a degree accredited by the British Psychological Society

The first step in training to become a psychologist is to complete a psychology degree accredited by The British Psychological Society (BPS). Successful completion of these courses confers eligibility for graduate membership with the BPS. This is a requirement if you wish to engage with further study in psychology to achieve a professional qualification.

This may include a four-year undergraduate degree such as the BSc Hons in Psychology & Counselling at the University of Strathclyde. Choosing to study an undergraduate degree in psychology doesn't necessarily require any previous experience in psychology, but it may help to have some experience.

The MSc Psychology with a Specialisation in Business or Health is another option, which gives students with an undergraduate in a discipline such as Law or Social Sciences the opportunity to study in the field of Psychology at Masters level. This programme is a psychology conversion course that provides graduate membership with the BPS and is a condensed version of the BA Psychology programme offered at Strathclyde.

Step 2: choose a specialty

Once you've completed your undergraduate degree, you'll then need to consider what type of psychologist you want to be.

Dr Kellyanne Findlay, course leader on our MSc Psychology with a Specialisation in Business or Health, explains:

“Whether you complete the BA Psychology, or the MSc Psychology conversion course, you'll be introduced to many different areas of psychology including biological psychology, conceptual and historical issues in psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, individual differences, research methods and analysis, social psychology.

"During the course of your degree, you will have the opportunity to meet with experts in these areas, and ask questions to help you decide which area you might like to pursue.”

Step 3: study a postgraduate degree in your chosen specialty

The final step is to study an accredited postgraduate degree in your chosen specialty. Competition for postgraduate training is strong, so you can help strengthen your application by completing relevant work experience in the area you want to specialise in.

Students talking round a table

During the course of your degree, you will have the opportunity to meet with experts in different areas, and ask questions to help you decide which area you might like to pursue.

Dr Kellyanne Findlay
Course leader, MSc Psychology with a Specialisation in Business or Health

What are the routes into psychology?

There are various routes into the field of psychology, typically beginning at school. This usually involves applying for college or university after leaving school in order to obtain the right degree to move into a career in psychology.

Apply to university from school

Entry requirements

For school leavers, entry requirements from Strathclyde to study psychology are:

  • four As at first sitting
  • four As and one B at second sitting

Higher English and National 5 Mathematics with one of the following are expected for consideration:

  • a grade of B-C (or equivalent)
  • one A and two Bs, or three Bs at first sitting
  • three As, or one A and two Bs at second sitting
Subjects to study at school

While you don’t need to have all three sciences at Higher or A-level for a psychology degree, it is preferred that you have studied at least one out of chemistry, biology, physics, or maths.

Personal statement

Outside of these subjects, universities and colleges pay close attention to well-written personal statements, which highlight your knowledge of the course you are applying to, as well as your passion to study this course.

Apply to university from college

Alternatively, you may wish to enter university by studying at college first in order to get the right qualifications.

Coupling your school grades in English, maths and a science, with a social sciences qualification from college may enable second-year entry into a psychology degree at university. 

However, this is dependent on the:

  • marks you receive from your Graded Unit
  • entry requirements for the course you're applying for
  • number of students progressing to their fourth year

Choosing the right degree

Undergraduate study

If your goal is to become a psychologist, you need to ensure your degree is accredited by the British Psychology Society (BPS). "It's essential that you take a BPS-accredited degree, advises Lisa McGilvray. "Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership is the first step on your journey to becoming a Chartered Psychologist."

At Strathclyde, our BA Honours programme in Psychology is BPS-accredited. They provide an excellent foundation for your career in psychology and helps to provide you with a key understanding of human behaviour and the mind. 

By the time you reach Year 4, you'll choose an area of psychology to study in greater detail. You'll study up to eight topics and write a dissertation based on your research project.

It's essential that you take a BPS-accredited degree. Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership is the first step on your journey to becoming a Chartered Psychologist.

Postgraduate degree

Student in cafe working on laptop.

Following completion of your Honours degree, you'll need to complete a postgraduate degree in order to become a professional psychologist.

At Strathclyde, we offer three Masters degrees:

All our programmes take twelve months to complete full-time. The Clinical Health Psychology and Psychology with a Specialisation in Business or Health courses offer part-time options that take 24 months to complete.

These additional courses are an essential route on the road to becoming a psychologist, but also give you the opportunity to develop specialist knowledge through modules that you can cater to your own interests.

Types of psychologist

There are different areas of psychology that you may wish to explore and specialise in while studying your undergraduate degree. To make an informed decision, it is important to understand more about them and how you would go about specialising in this area.

Clinical psychologist 

A clinical psychologist is someone who works with people suffering from a range of psychological difficulties in mental and physical health. These can include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • addiction
  • eating disorders
  • learning disabilities
  • personality disorders
  • or family/relationship problems

Through working as a clinical psychologist, you'll work with individuals dealing with these issues in order to improve their quality of life.

The MSc in Clinical Health Psychology is offered on a full-time and part-time basis at the University of Strathclyde and is specifically designed for those interested in further professional or research training in Applied Psychology at Doctoral level or a career as a Practitioner Psychologist.

In order to apply for this course, you need a first or upper second-class Honours degree in Psychology. This is a very competitive programme and we receive a high volume of applications. We encourage those interested in specialising in this area to apply as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

Sports Psychologist

A sports psychologist is someone who works with athletes and those working in the field of sport (for example, coaches and referees). Their primary goal is to aid in performance through psychology.

Through working as a sports psychologist, you'll work with individuals who play sport for a living, helping them prepare for competition and how to manage stressful situations that may arise within their role.

Counselling session.

Counselling psychologist

A counselling psychologist is someone who works with individuals to examine their past experiences and underlying issues. They treat a wide range of mental health problems such as:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • eating disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • trauma
  • bereavement

Through working with these individuals, you’ll understand how they think and behave and how they see the world through their lens based on their own life experiences.

The MSc in Counselling & Psychotherapy is offered on a full-time basis at the University of Strathclyde and focuses on person-centred therapy. The programme has recently been restructured to meet evolving standards for evidence-based practice, rising educational standards, increased professional regulation, and rapid social and economic change.

In order to apply for this course, you need a 2:1 or above undergraduate degree or a previous Master’s degree. In addition, you'll need a certificate in Counselling Skills, which can be gained through acquiring at least 40 hours of counselling skills, teaching the basics of person-centred counselling and make use of large or tutor groups for processing.

This is a highly competitive course and we receive a large number of applications each year, so we emphasise submitting an application as early as possible. Interviews are included as part of the selection process in order to select candidates for the course, further emphasising the competitive nature of the programme.

Career prospects

Psychologist careers

After studying a degree in psychology, there are a number of fantastic career opportunities directly linked to your degree, including:

  • clinical psychology
  • counselling psychologist
  • educational psychologist
  • forensic psychologist
  • further education teacher
  • health psychologist
  • occupational psychologist
  • sport exercise psychologist

Psychologist salary

The salary of a psychologist is dependent on the area of psychology you enter. However, according to the National Careers Service*, the starting salary of a psychologist is over £31,000 per year. Experienced professionals can earn upwards of £87,000, the website adds.

*Last accessed 21 September 2021

Other careers

There are also jobs outside of this in which a psychology degree may be useful, including:

  • advice worker
  • careers advisor
  • counsellor
  • education consultant
  • human resources officer
  • marker researcher
  • mediator
  • neuroscientist
  • play therapist
  • psychotherapist
  • social researcher

These career opportunities show the true range of vocations where a psychology degree can be useful for your future career.

Other employers of psychology graduates

A degree in psychology provides a useful foundation for a range of careers and employers. Major employers of psychology graduates include:

  • careers and counselling services
  • commercial and industrial companies
  • financial organisations
  • human resources departments
  • legal firms and organisations providing advice
  • local and national government
  • marketing companies
  • the media
  • the NHS
  • police forces, the National Probation Service and prisons
  • schools, sixth form colleges, colleges of further education and higher education institutions
  • social research organisations
  • social services