Make up your mind

A psychology degree can lead to a rewarding career in the public sector working with children, says Diana Hinds

One of the most satisfying moments of Brian Harrison-Jennings's career as an educational psychologist was working with a young boy from the Asian sub-continent, who was referred to him as being intellectually incapable. The boy had had no access to health care and spoke no English. Harrison-Jennings quickly ascertained that the boy was deaf.

One of the most satisfying moments of Brian Harrison-Jennings's career as an educational psychologist was working with a young boy from the Asian sub-continent, who was referred to him as being intellectually incapable. The boy had had no access to health care and spoke no English. Harrison-Jennings quickly ascertained that the boy was deaf.

"His deafness was confirmed, bilateral hearing aids were fitted, and the boy learnt English within four weeks," says Harrison-Jennings, now general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists. "He was bursting to learn."

Another child was thought by his teachers to be a bit dopey, and "away with the fairies", but when Harrison-Jennings had the chance to observe the child in depth, he diagnosed epileptic "petit mal" seizures.

Cases like these are what give educational psychology its excitement and challenge, according to Harrison-Jennings. The task of the educational psychologist is to apply psychological theories, research and techniques to help children, in conjunction with their teachers and families, overcome learning difficulties and emotional problems.

Sometimes there may be no ready solution and improvements may be long coming. But as Harrison-Jennings says, for someone with the public service ethic the "opportunities for making a difference" are very real.

Would-be educational psychologists need a first-class degree in psychology, followed by a Postgraduate Certificate in Education and at least two years' teaching experience, before applying for a one-year Masters. This one-year course comes complete with salary, but persuading local authorities to fund it can be difficult; last year there were 483 applications for only 110 funded places. Once you get on this course a job at the end of it is guaranteed, with many local authorities now struggling to fill posts.

A more lucrative - but intensely competitive - option for the psychology graduate is to pursue a career in clinical psychology. "Clinical psychology probably has the highest profile of psychology careers, and is the one we get asked about most often," says Emily Huns at the University of London careers service.

The field has expanded dramatically over the last 25 years, according to Professor John Hall, former head of clinical psychology in Oxford (and co-author of What is Clinical Psychology?): "When I trained in the 1960s there were only about 250 clinical psychologists - now there are 5,000."

There are 450 training places - with six to eight applicants chasing each one - for the compulsory three-year doctoral course. Successful candidates have to demonstrate their commitment to the field, by working for one to two years as an assistant psychologist in a clinic or prison.

Chartered clinical psychologists may choose to work in mental health dealing, for example, with substance abuse and eating disorders. Alternatively they can work with people who have learning disabilities, or with children in a paediatric department or young-offenders institute. The rewards for the clinical psychologist, according to Hall, lie in the intrinsic interest of the work, as well as the range of problems and the range of ways in which you respond to them.

"Every new person you see is a challenge," he says. "You are working with people who are seriously damaged, and often distressed. So you need to be empathetic and compassionate at the same time as keeping some sort of perspective. You need to be able to stick with people for years, sometimes for decades."

Forensic psychology, chiefly concerned with the rehabilitation of offenders, is another popular but oversubscribed area. Dr Colin Gill, chief psychologist at Psychological Solutions, thinks applicants probably need a first-class degree, plus related experience, before embarking on the required five years of supervised practice.

"If you're working in the prison service, hopefully the reward is changing people's lives and preventing convicted criminals from becoming recidivists," he says. Some categories of criminal, however, are thought to be more receptive to such work than others, and Gill says the profession presents many opportunities for research.

Sports psychology is beginning to attract the attention of sporting organisations such as football clubs keen to find ways to improve players' concentration and deter them from retaliating against provocation on the pitch.

As yet, there are no training courses accredited by the British Psychological Society, and most of the work in sports psychology is done in universities. But all this could change when the BPS votes, in April, on whether to make sports psychology one of its accredited divisions.

News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?