14 ways to gain clinical psychology work experience

Updated 20 April 2023

Clinical psychology is a popular discipline within psychology and can offer a stimulating career in a diverse range of settings. Becoming a clinical psychologist entails completing a doctoral degree, for which work experience is a prerequisite. If you're interested in becoming a clinical psychologist, learning how to attain the required work experience can help you gain admission into your desired programme. In this article, we summarise why clinical psychology work experience is necessary and list 14 ways to acquire this essential experience.

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Why do you need clinical psychology work experience?

In addition to a British Psychological Society accredited undergraduate degree, entry requirements for applicants to clinical psychology doctorate programmes include a minimum of 12 months of full-time equivalent clinical psychology work experience. It's essential that this work experience is relevant to the types of environments and clientele that clinical psychologists work with and provides you with the following:

  • an understanding of what practising clinical psychologists do

  • experience with the types of clients clinical psychologists work with

  • experience working within clinical psychology settings

Related: What is a doctoral degree? (Entry requirements and benefits)

14 ways to gain clinical psychology work experience

Here are 14 roles, including volunteer positions, in which you can attain relevant clinical psychology work experience:

1. Assistant psychologist

Gaining employment as an assistant psychologist is one of the most common ways to gain work experience in clinical psychology. An assistant psychologist often has a high level of responsibility and usually works closely with a clinical psychologist to deliver the associated assessments and interventions. In addition to searching for assistant psychologist jobs, you may also be able to find roles by searching for therapy assistant and assistant practitioner positions.

Related: What's the difference between clinical and counselling psychology?

2. Work within the prison service

His Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is one of the largest employers of forensic psychologists, a type of clinical psychologist. As such, working within the prison service can be a good place to gain work experience in the field of clinical psychology. Relevant roles within HMPPS for graduates with a degree in psychology include assistant psychologists and intervention facilitators.

3. Trainee placement within the prison service

Trainee placement opportunities can provide suitable experience for those interested in becoming a clinical psychologist. The Youth Custody Service Trainee Counselling Psychologist Placement is a programme that provides the opportunity to work with young people aged 15 to 18 within custodial settings. Placements can be for six months but they prefer placements lasting up to one year.

Related: What is a forensic psychology degree? (Plus, career options)

4. Mental health support roles

Many organisations that support people with mental health needs offer opportunities for psychology graduates to gain work experience. As a mental health support professional, you may encounter clients with various psychological needs. Mental health support positions can be found in the private and public sectors. Employees in this area often work closely with GP surgeries, hospitals, local authorities and other agencies.

Related: Your guide to psychology jobs and related careers

5. Substance misuse recovery roles

Roles supporting individuals with substance misuse issues often involve working with clients who have a range of other mental health needs. Psychologists in this area usually work within a team and may engage with individuals from an initial assessment through to ongoing support and recovery. Substance misuse recovery roles may be in residential rehab centres, community settings or the criminal justice system.

6. Volunteer positions at a mental health charity

Many of the mental health charities that provide support for people with mental health needs offer volunteer opportunities. In some circumstances, volunteers can work alongside permanent staff to provide talking therapy and support groups. This role can be an excellent way to gain first-hand experience working with clinical psychology clients and insight into how communities deliver mental health services.

Related: A guide to what you can do with a psychology degree

7. Volunteer positions in a residential programme

Some mental health charities offer residential programmes that provide intensive support for people with mental health needs. Volunteering in a residential programme can offer a fantastic opportunity to gain a lot of work experience in a short space of time. One such programme is the one at Revitalise, a national charity that provides respite holidays for people with disabilities, including those with mental health needs.

8. Brain injury support specialist

Psychology graduates may find clinical psychology experience by working for organisations that offer brain injury support. As a brain injury support specialist, you can experience working within a multi-disciplinary team alongside professionals, including clinical psychologists, speech and language therapists and other rehabilitation clinicians. This role provides an excellent opportunity to gain experience working with clients who have neurological conditions and can be very rewarding.

Related: Types of psychologists: a guide to choosing your speciality

9. Special educational needs (SEN) teaching assistant

SEN teaching assistants work closely with children and young people who have special educational needs. This type of role can involve supporting children with a range of diagnoses, including autism and ADHD. In some circumstances, an SEN role may count towards the work experience requirements to pursue a career in clinical psychology.

Related: Children's psychology jobs (with main duties and salaries)

10. Psychology research assistant

Research assistants work in academia, the public sector and private research organisations to collect and analyse data. The opportunity for direct involvement in clinical psychology research is necessary for a research position to count as work experience in clinical psychology. Research assistant roles often focus on a specific project, so check that any positions of interest to you involve this type of research.

11. Volunteer research assistant

Some universities offer opportunities for people to volunteer as research assistants on a variety of projects. University volunteer research assistant programmes often run on a full-time basis over the summer or part-time during the autumn term. Some universities run official programmes that they advertise on their websites, while others allow informal arrangements between academics and individuals. As with a paid research assistant position, ensure that a voluntary position meets the requirements for work experience in clinical psychology.

Related: How to find volunteer work (with tips and benefits)

12. Mental health crisis line call handler

As a mental health crisis call handler, you're often the first point of contact for people experiencing a crisis. This work involves providing emotional support and practical information and directing callers to appropriate services. This type of call handling role can be very demanding but it can offer excellent insight into the range of problems that people with mental health difficulties face and give you an understanding of what mental health services are available.

13. Volunteer abroad

Volunteering abroad in a mental health role can be a great way to gain experience and could offer more clinical work opportunities than you might find locally. Organisations that offer volunteering opportunities abroad often have placements open to psychology graduates. Do your research before applying for one of these roles, as some organisations have specific requirements such as a certain level of psychology training and foreign language skills.

Related: The highest-paid psychology jobs (with salary info)

14. Shadowing a clinical psychologist

When you spend time observing someone at work to learn about their profession, this is job shadowing. Although you're unlikely to be able to shadow a clinical psychologist during their work with clients due to the confidential nature of clinical psychology work, job shadowing is valuable as it helps demonstrate that you're aware of what clinical psychologists do on a day-to-day basis and that you have a genuine interest in pursuing a career in clinical psychology..

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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