Psychology and Counselling skills and careers
In the UK many graduates enter employment where a degree in any subject would be acceptable. In this instance what they offer the employer is evidence of the range of competencies which have been developed through their academic study, rather than the specific subject content of their degree. This page will focus on careers directly related to Psychology, but if you want to explore all of the choices open to you, also refer to the sources of help available in Further resources for planning your career.
Given the current economic climate and the increased competition for graduate positions, it is important to consider a range of occupational areas. Bear in mind that many careers require further study, training and/or work experience beyond your degree.
The knowledge and skills developed as an OU psychology student or graduate provide advantages when seeking challenging job opportunities in very diverse areas, such as education, research, counselling, the health professions, police and social services as well as professional psychology.
The professions in psychology
Professional psychology is a highly competitive field. We recommend that you consider all the options before making your career choice.
The nine specialist areas in which it is possible to become a Chartered Psychologist are:
- clinical psychology
- counselling psychology
- educational psychology
- forensic psychology
- health psychology
- occupational psychology
- sport and exercise psychology
- teachers and researchers in psychology.
Seven of these areas are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and you must be registered with the HCPC to practise in the UK as a Clinical, Counselling, Educational, Forensic, Health, Occupational or Sport and Exercise Psychologist. The register shows the public that practitioners are part of a profession with nationally recognised standards set by law.
Becoming a professional psychologist
The OU BSc (Hons) Psychology degree is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) to provide Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC). This is the first step towards achieving the professional qualifications required to become a Chartered Psychologist.
You should be aware that an undergraduate degree does not qualify you to practise as a psychologist, and you will also need to undertake postgraduate education and supervised practice for this. You should consult the British Psychological Society website for up to date information.
You can find out more about professional psychology routes after graduation in the Routes into professional psychology podcast, part of our series of psychology and counselling podcasts. It covers the steps that are required as well as accreditation and registration.
Getting work experience
Careers in professional psychology are highly competitive and relevant work experience is a prerequisite for postgraduate study. We have produced a workbook for OU students containing more information.
The OU Foundation degree in Counselling will prepare you to become a professional counsellor, equipping you with the theoretical understanding and practical skills required to work in this field. You can use the knowledge and skills you develop in studying this degree to seek job opportunities in areas within health, social care and education such as:
- Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP)
- Family Support Worker
- Career Counsellor.
There is more information on how to get into counselling on the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website.
For entry onto many study pathways, particularly those at postgraduate level, you need to demonstrate an interest in, and some prior experience of counselling. This is usually gained as a volunteer, after completing some basic counselling training. Entry to counselling does not require a psychology background and there are other study options available.
Find out more about jobs, careers and training in counselling and psychotherapy in our series of psychology and counselling podcasts.
Other careers as a psychology graduate
The BPS estimates that only 15-20% of the over 40,000 psychology graduates per year go on to practise as professional psychologists.
You can find out more about other related roles and careers including Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, Clinical Associate and Assistant Psychologist on the BPS website.
Other career options with a psychology degree include:
- human resources
- advertising and marketing
Read case studies of Psychology students using their degree in other careers (PDF, 492). In this guide, students describe the skills they gained and how their qualification enabled them to develop their careers.
Health and character requirements
To work in some professions you need to have a ‘fitness to practice’ or pass a ‘suitability test’. This confirms you have the skills, knowledge, character and health to practise safely and effectively. This is particularly relevant if you have a health issue, a disability or have a criminal record.
You need to be registered with a professional association, council or regulatory body. The register shows the public that practitioners are part of a profession with nationally recognised standards set by law.
Becoming a health and care professional if you have a health issue or disability
The HCPC has information and advice for people with disabilities thinking about becoming health and care professionals regulated by them. It outlines the steps that need to take place from both course providers and individuals, before and during any necessary training period, right through to undertaking employment.
You may find the following webinars put together by the Careers and Employability Team useful in your career planning.
These resources will help you explore careers in further detail.
You will also find information about general job vacancy sites, work experience and volunteering at:
Postgraduate study is required for those intending to practise as a professional psychologist, but many Psychology graduates seeking to work in non-psychology roles also undertake further study on completion of their first degree and/or after gaining some relevant work experience. Reasons for doing so include wanting to further or change their career or because a specific postgraduate qualification is either an entry requirement for their chosen career or would be an advantage if entry is competitive.
Generally postgraduate study can provide opportunities to work in higher education and teaching at other levels and in related professional areas such as health and social care, human resources and market research.
It is important to research further study options comprehensively by exploring the range of postgraduate courses and research opportunities on offer, and funding possibilities, to ensure you make the correct choice, for the right reasons and importantly that you can afford it, as funding for postgraduate study is very different to the undergraduate system.
You can find out more about BPS accredited courses, conversion courses as well as funding on the British Psychological Society site.