How hard is it to get onto clinical psychology training?

Information about qualifications, experience and the typical career path
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Re: How hard is it to get onto clinical psychology training?

Post by miriam »

Statistically, getting on courses is not getting more difficult, although it may seem that way! The odds have been similar for about a decade, but have actually improved over the last two intakes. There is some variation if you look back further, because the number of training places really expanded under the labour government until the recession that followed the banking crisis. Intakes have expanded again more recently in response to growing need for mental health services to respond to the pandemic.

Of course it is still tough competition, and there are a lot of very strong candidates, and getting some relevant experience is still a must. I haven't been able to find any comprehensive data, but I think an increasing proportion, and possibly around half of successful applicants for the doctorate already have a post grad qualification of some sort, and typically at least two years of relevant experience. That means there is still a very high threshold for getting interviews, but that will probably always be the case because of the high number of psychology graduates and the high expense and supervision demands of training to local services. However it would be misleading to say that it is getting tougher, when it actually appears to be quite a steady level of competition (with much improved odds in 2020 and 2021).

Year Apps Places Success Rate
2020 4,225 770 18%
2019 4,054 614 15%
2018 3,866 593 15%
2017 3,932 594 15%
2016 3,730 595 16%
2015 3,698 591 16%
2014 3,796 583 15%
2013 3581 583 16%
2012 3857 586 15%
2011 3528 569 16%
2010 2969 617 21%
2009 2269 616 27%
2008 2239 583 26%
2007 2293 579 25%
2006 2442 554 23% (agenda for change led to reduction in places)
2005 2125 588 28%
2004 1914 556 29%
2003 1968 539 27%
2002 1670 484 29%
2001 1486 454 31%
2000 1538 413 27%
1999 1556 378 24%
1998 1597 347 22%
1997 1642 314 19%

As you can apply for four courses, the chances of getting a place on an individual course you apply to are about 1/16, though there is quite a lot of variation from course to course, but the overall chance of getting on is about one in four. However, some people are offered lots of interviews and places on several courses, so there is a reserve place system.

My understanding is that courses offer firm places to their favourite candidates, for as many people as they have places. They then offer reserve places to other people who they think have what it takes to be on the course, in order of how strong a candidate they feel they are. Sometimes the reserve lists are very long to reflect the fact that many people have what it takes, rather than a realistic chance that they will use all reserves. People who are not considered to be ready for training are not offered places. If the reserve list doesn't prove long enough (and this does happen from time to time) sometimes they have to interview more candidates from the interview reserve list....

So, should we encourage or discourage people from this path in light of the competition?

We need to give people advice that balances realism with encouragement. After all, many people come out of a psychology degree with quite unrealistic expectations of going straight into a psychology-related career. That just doesn't happen. The path to clinical psychology is long, hard and competitive. If you start that path in a disadvantaged position (eg with a 2:2 or low 2:1, or with no experience whatsoever, or without GBC) then it is only fair to know the obstacles that lie ahead of you, and how long and effortful the route to qualifying will be, so that you can make fair comparison with alternative career choices.

Likewise, it is only right that people know that there is typically two or more years between degree and doctorate, and that there are usually several hundred psychology graduates competing for every AP post, and high competition for other valued posts like those in IAPT or relevant RA posts, which means that many people do voluntary work or care/support work before getting one. Similarly at least one in three (and possibly now more than half) of successful applicants for clinical training now already have a postgraduate qualification.

Almost no-one gets straight onto training from their degree (I think this is typically 2 people per year, normally with prior experience and an exceptional academic record and application form). If you look at the experiences successful applicants have when they gain places on training (we have a thread about this) you can see the strength of the competition!

However, with all the negative sides to realism given above, people tend to get stuck in a doom and gloom frame of mind and there is a mythology about how impossible it is to get places on training. However, there are more training places than there used to be, and over 600 do people get on every year. I don't know anyone who is good enough to get on training that hasn't done so once they have had sufficient experience - and most of us look back and feel that we got onto training when we were ready for it (personally and professionally). We can also enjoy the whole path and process, as each aspect is interesting and satisfying in its own right (for all the minor draw-backs in graduate and AP posts, most are a great learning curve and give us experience with colleagues, clients and systems that is both stimulating and satisfying). And it doesn't always take forever (most people qualify in their thirties). It seems the typical path is to get onto the doctoral course 2-4 years after graduating. I see all three components as being part of the training to be CPs: a degree, a few years of seeing how to put the ideas into practise and a doctorate to equip you with the therapeutic academic and research skills you will need to continue to develop for the rest of your career.

So, is all that competition worth it?

I'm sure I sound like a broken record, but I feel totally privileged to do a job that I love, that challenges me with new things every day, and pays me respectably to do something I enjoy. And I enjoyed every step of getting here (despite the day to day gripes) and I feel proud to be part of a profession that sets its standards so high. That said, I probably had an easier path than most, and qualified aged 26, as I managed to cram things in and had a few lucky breaks.

Recommended Reading

Clare, L. (1995). Successful Applicants for Clinical Training: A Descriptive Profile of One Trainee Cohort. Clinical Psychology Forum, 77, 31-34.

Hatton, C., Gray, I. & Whitaker, A. (2000). Improving the Selection of Clinical Psychologists. Clinical Psychology Forum, 136, 35-38.

Roth, T. (1998). Getting on Clinical Training Courses. The Psychologist, 11, (12), 589-592. ... icleID=290

Roth, T. & Leiper, R. (1995). Selecting for Clinical Training. The Psychologist, 8, 25-28.

Phillips, A., Hatton, C. & Gray, I. (2001). Which Selection Methods Do Clinical Psychology Courses Use? Clinical Psychology, 8, 19-24.

Phillips, A., Hatton, C. & Gray, I. (2004). Factors Predicting the Shortlisting and Selection of Trainee Clinical Psychologists: A Prospective Cohort study. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 11, 111-125.

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Content checked by qualified Clinical Psychologist on 17/4/2021
Last modified on 17/4/2021

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