How to become a psychologist (with definition and steps)

Updated 6 September 2023

Psychologists use their skills and knowledge of the human mind to help a variety of people. As a popular person-centred career path, working as a psychologist provides the opportunity to work in many different environments with a broad spectrum of people. If you're interested in understanding how people feel and think and applying that knowledge to varied circumstances, including occupational psychology, counselling and forensics, this career path may suit you. In this article, we explain the steps for how to become a psychologist, plus tips for finding a job in this competitive market.

Related: Forensic Psychologist Job Profile

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What is a psychologist?

A psychologist is a trained professional that applies scientific study and research of the human mind to solving different problems. Psychologists work across various industries, acting in a supporting, advisory or research-based role to provide insight and to help individuals or groups of people resolve issues relating to behaviour, attitude or mental health difficulties. For example, as a trained psychologist, you may specialise as a counsellor, directly helping people through mental health crises, or as an occupational psychologist, improving job satisfaction and productivity in the workplace.

As psychology covers a range of disciplines, this career path offers the opportunity to work in clinical settings, one-on-one situations and expert advisory roles. For instance, a criminal psychologist may work with the police to investigate crimes and build profiles in forensic cases, while a neuropsychologist may work in a research lab or with patients to help them recover from brain injury or disease. You may work directly with patients or prefer working in a lab and running experiments to further your understanding of how the mind and behaviour affect people or animals.

Related: How to become a psychologist in the UK

How to become a psychologist

Completing the necessary training and registering with the correct boards is vital when considering how to become a psychologist. Depending on the job you want, you have different options to expand your training and gain valuable skills. Some of the steps to take to become a psychologist include:

1. Achieve relevant GCSEs

Good grades at GCSE level, or equivalent qualifications, are necessary for this academic career path. As psychologists require degree-level training or higher, GCSEs are the first step to getting accepted into college and university. Some schools offer GCSEs in psychology and sociology, which are valuable starting points for learning and developing skills, while maths, English and science are typical requirements for this competitive field.

Related: What it takes to be a social psychologist (with definition)

2. Continue onto A-levels

Relevant A-level qualifications in psychology-related subjects are necessary for acceptance onto many accredited degrees. For example, an A-level in psychology provides experience in how psychology works and its key disciplines. Other A-levels relevant to your university applications include biology and sociology, covering different physical and social sciences areas. If you plan to go into research, science-based A-levels help you understand the processes and practices involved in experiments and testing.

Related: Why study A-level psychology? A comprehensive guide

3. Apply for an accredited degree

Completing a degree accredited by the British Psychological Society is your next step to qualifying as a psychologist. BPS-accredited courses provide the information and knowledge necessary to be eligible to work, allowing you to practice psychology once you've continued your education in a specialised area. Many universities offer different options to study psychology, but not all courses have accreditation, leading to additional requirements for training once you've finished your degree. If you plan to become a psychologist, choosing a BPS-accredited course is the ideal way to achieve that goal.

Related: What are the different types of psychology degrees?

4. Apply for Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership

Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership is an achievement that proves you meet the necessary level and standard for a career in psychology. Membership with the BPS is a part of achieving GBC and allows you to pursue specialised training. Passing your BPS-accredited degree makes you eligible for Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership and lets you use the 'MBPsS' title after your name. Once you've achieved GBC, you may continue to a postgraduate degree in occupational psychology to work in your preferred specialist area.

5. Choose a specialist area

After graduating and joining the BPS on GBC, narrow down your choice of training for psychology to your specific area of interest. Each specialised area of psychology has different requirements and specific training, which is vocational to the role you want to work in. For example, training as an educational psychologist with a postgraduate degree has different content than a degree in sports and exercise psychology. Some of the speciality areas you may consider include:

  • counselling psychology

  • clinical psychology

  • educational psychology

  • forensic and criminal psychology

  • health psychology

  • neurological psychology

  • occupational psychology

  • research psychology

  • sports and exercise psychology

Related: 8 psychology counselling careers (and how to start yours)

6. Continue onto postgraduate training

Postgraduate qualifications are necessary to become a chartered or practitioner psychologist, allowing you to work directly with patients or in labs. A master's degree is the typical next step for trainee psychologists, with many courses requiring work experience for you to be eligible. Gaining experience in placements or through internships is valuable, while a history of working with patients, children or vulnerable people may be helpful for person-centred areas of psychology, such as counselling.

7. Consider a doctorate in psychology

Doctorate programmes are necessary to qualify in some regions of psychology, such as educational or clinical psychology. Upon completing your master's degree, you may apply for a three to four-year doctorate programme to qualify in your chosen field. Depending on the area you want to work in, you may select a course accredited by the BPS or The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which is more common in roles that involve medically-related care.

8. Apply for jobs as a qualified psychologist

Once you've fulfilled your training requirements and have a membership with the BPS or HCPC, you may apply for jobs as a graduate. Junior psychologist roles or assistant positions on a larger psychology team are typical starting positions for graduate psychologists. You may also apply for roles related to your degrees, such as positions in marketing, user experience design or research.

Related: Your guide to psychology jobs and related careers

9. Complete additional study with the BPS

If you're already working in an area of psychology with relevant qualifications and have a strong work history, you might also consider completing a BPS qualification in a specialised area. For example, the BPS offers a range of stage 2 qualifications to allow you to become a Chartered Member with the BPS, providing more work opportunities. Completing specialist training enables you to advertise within specialist registers and permits the use of the 'CPsychol' title.

Tips for finding a psychologist job

If you're considering a job as a psychologist, it's essential that you understand the required training and experience to achieve this goal. As a highly trained professional, years of experience and education are necessary to qualify as a psychologist. Some of the tips to consider when applying for psychologist jobs include:

Start by looking for assistant psychologist positions

As a fully qualified psychologist in a competitive industry, it's helpful to be realistic about the positions available to you. While you're fully accredited, many employers require years of experience in practice for higher-level roles. Positions as a junior or assistant psychologist help you gain experience and prepare you for promotion or applying for higher-level positions.

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

Gain experience working with people by volunteering

Volunteering is an effective way to gain experience, both for applying for your master's degree and for applying for roles as a trained psychologist. Seeking opportunities in your desired sector, such as volunteering at a domestic violence shelter or supporting patients in rehabilitation clinics, provides real-life experience of the people you may work with. If you're unsure what area of psychology to go into, volunteering allows you to experience different career paths to help you decide.

Decide whether you want to work vocationally or in research

Psychologists work in a wide range of working environments and specialisations. For example, you might work with individuals to provide counselling services or use your skills in a laboratory environment to study behaviour. Deciding which pathway you want to take allows you to gain the necessary training and skills to progress in your career. Many psychologist jobs separate into research and vocational positions, such as forensic psychology.

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

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