UCL Doctorate In Clinical Psychology


Relevant Clinical Experience

Relevant Clinical Experience
In order to have a realistic chance of being selected it is essential to gain some relevant clinical experience before applying to the course. There are several reasons for this. It gives applicants a chance to test out whether work in this field is for them - it is much better to discover this before making a major career commitment. It also means that courses know that candidates' applications are realistic, and gives them an idea of how applicants have responded to the clinical work they have undertaken. Many trainees find that they make good use of their pre-training experience during training, so it is not 'wasted' time.

We know that asking for relevant experience causes people to think twice about applying for Clinical Psychology course. It means that there is a gap between completing an undergraduate degree and starting training, with no guarantee of getting on a course. This presents a real challenge to many people, not least a financial one. There is also a risk - widely recognised by courses - that potential applicants feel themselves obliged to work for a number of years in the hope of gaining enough experience to be taken onto a course. We know that most people work for around 1-2 years before getting on a course, and in most cases this should be sufficient.

Being clear about what counts as experience is hard to specify, especially because suitable posts vary enormously. As above, and very broadly, candidates should look for experience which gives them:

.  an idea of what clinical psychologists actually do
.  some direct clinical contact with the sort of clients psychologists work with
.  an idea of what work with clients actually entails
.  a sense of the organisational context in which clinical psychology usually operates

One common route is to find work as an Assistant Psychologist. These posts are advertised in the BPS Bulletin (distributed monthly to all members of the BPS) and also (although less frequently) in other relevant publications - for example, the health section of papers such as The Guardian. Click here to read more specific information on this subject:-

As assistant posts are in relatively short supply, it is important to emphasise that they are not the only route to gaining relevant experience. For this reason applicants should think broadly about the possible options open to them. For example, employment in a social work context or as a nursing assistant in a psychiatric unit, or as a worker in a MIND Day Centre would be extremely valuable; all would count as relevant experience. Another route is to take a post as a research assistant, though the research should usually offer at least some direct involvement in a clinical area. It is worth remembering that a very "academic" research post would not give candidates much of a sense of how the clinical world operates, or how they react to the sorts of clients seen in clinical contexts.

There is something of a myth that applicants need to build an extensive 'portfolio' of experience, with more than one client group, and with a mixture of research and clinical experience. Speaking at least for selectors at UCL, we are not looking for this. We are looking for people whose posts map onto the bullet-pointed criteria just above, and who can show (and reflect on) the benefits of this experience in the way they present themselves. Basically it is the quality of experience - and what the person makes of it - that is as important as the quantity of experience.  

Part-time work
Part-time work is an acceptable way of gaining experience. However, there can be problems if the work is very part-time. While working (say) for 3 hours a week could give candidates some relevant experience, this is inevitably going to be rather limited. If your circumstances mean that this is all the experience that you are able to gain then it is important to be clear about why this is so, and to show how (despite its brevity) the experience has been used to good advantage.

Voluntary work
Voluntary work in an appropriate area "counts" in the same way as paid work. It is the type of work being undertaken (rather than whether there is a salary) which determines its relevance.

Because of the shortage of posts a number of applicants take voluntary posts, and this can be one way of gaining entry to paid employment. Although these posts can offer high-quality experience, candidates should be careful not to accept inappropriate "terms and conditions". The Course is concerned that people should not place themselves in a position where their motivation to undertake training exposes them to exploitation. Despite their voluntary nature, these posts should offer supervision and support.  

Gaining experience outside the NHS
As above, relevant posts can be found outside the NHS. However, it is a good idea to work (at least to some extent) in a context which gives you a general sense of the statutory healthcare system. For example, a MIND daycare centre, or a stand-alone unit for people with substance abuse services might operate outside, but have links to, the NHS. Clients would almost certainly have (or have had) contact with NHS provision, and there would be opportunities to learn (albeit indirectly) about the way in which the healthcare system operates.