Healthily Psyched at Guy's

King's College London Health Psychology blog

Treading New Waters: Being an International PhD Student (and tips on how to survive)

When I first moved to London, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was lucky enough to have visited many times before, so I wasn’t thrust into the unknown quite like some of the other international postgraduates I knew, but there were still quite a few things I wish someone told me before I started my PhD. So, for anyone out there (especially international students) looking to start a PhD, here are the most important things I’ve learned so far:

1. Find the right supervisor(s) 

I can’t stress this enough. As an international student, it’s a lot less likely that you’ll meet your supervisor in person before you start your PhD. You may only communicate by email. Having a supervisor who is supportive and interested in your research is so important, and finding the right fit can make or break your experience as a student. Do whatever you can to have a few conversations outside of email, even if it’s over the phone or on Skype. I’m so glad I met my first supervisor once while I was visiting London- he really increased my confidence level and has turned out to be the perfect fit. 

2. Start your visa application long before you think you need to

Even as a US citizen, this took me the longest time and was considerably more difficult than I had imagined. I’d also suggest that you budget more than you think you might need. Because you have to pay for all of it up front, you’re usually left with about a £1200 bill for 3-4 years of residency. Plus, you need to budget extra time for going to different immigration offices and the potential that your application will get lost in the mail. Plan for disaster to strike! It makes life much easier. 

3. It’s okay to feel like you have no idea what you’re doing

This is relevant to every PhD student- not just students from other countries. Especially during the first few months, you’ll most likely feel a little lost and confused. In the US, even in graduate school, you’re told everything you have to do and when you have to do it. For better or worse, your schedule and classes are given to you on day one, with almost every second of your time planned out from the time you step on campus. This was probably the biggest difference I noticed once I started at KCL. I knew what my research was about and I knew vaguely what my plan was, but the first day I came in to the department and sat down, I didn’t have a clue what to do. The important thing to remember is that you’ll figure it out. Everyone has been there before. The best thing you can do is tell people you need help. The other PhD students are an amazing resource- we help each other out so much. So ask questions! Reach out to others! I promise someone will be there to give you help. 

4. Take some time to explore where you live

It can be easy to ignore everything going on around you when you spend all day wrapped up in your research and your every growing to-do list. London is an amazing city, so take advantage of where you are. Go see a show, try a new restaurant or bar, or spend a day walking around in the park. I personally recommend the sausage walk: every 3/4 months people with adorable sausage dogs get together and walk around different parks. I went to their Christmas walk and was surrounded by puppies in Christmas sweaters. Even if you’re on a tight budget, there are still plenty of free things like that to do! A quick google search will give you dozens of options. 

5. Find a schedule tracker that works for you, and keep it updated

Whether it’s online or a diary you write in- you need one. I shudder to think of all the times I thought “I don’t need to write it down- I’ll definitely remember to do it”. You’ll quickly start to have a million moving parts and you have to have a way to keep track of it all. You never want to be the person to forget a meeting or show up late to teaching. 

6. Plan for public transit to go wrong

This is related to my previous point- showing up late never looks good and panicking trying to get somewhere in record time doesn’t feel so great either. I’m used to being able to drive everywhere and it almost always taking the same amount of time to get from point A to point B. Public transportation was almost entirely foreign to me. Even though London has one of the best systems, there will be times when a customer incident stops the trains, a time when a bus just doesn’t show up at all, or a time when traffic doesn’t move at all. Always give yourself extra time. Pretend your meeting is 30 minutes before it’s actually scheduled. 

7. If you have any plans to stay after your PhD, start planning for it way ahead of time

Even if you don’t know exactly what your career plans are after graduation, your student visa has a definite end date. There are extension schemes and ways to stay here and work, but I’d suggest keeping that end point in the back of your mind. Just like with your visa the first time, it takes a lot of time (and potentially a fair bit of money) to apply for a new one. From everything I’ve researched, it looks like you need to plan this stuff at least a year out to get all of the forms together in time. You don’t want to be scrambling last minute to get the paperwork in, or potentially have to go back home before coming back to the UK. It’s much more difficult to find a job and get sponsored if you’re not here. 

8. Lastly, remember that you have a support system that can help you when things go wrong

Again, this is more general advice than specific to international students, but it is something to keep in mind. PhDs are hard. Life is known for throwing curveballs. When you put those things together, it can get rough. But whether it’s your supervisor, your fellow PhD students, your family back at home, or your friends, know that you have people there to help you. Reach out when you need help and remember that even though you’ll hit the metaphorical PhD wall eventually, you’ll get through it. 

Although it took me a bit of time to adjust, I’m so glad I decided to move across an ocean instead of staying in the US. This has given me so many more opportunities than I would have had at home and has helped me find what I’m most passionate about. So, if you’re thinking about it, it might just be worth taking the plunge. Just be prepared as you can be, remember that PhDs are meant to be challenging, and know that you’ll have a support system both here and at home. 

This blog post was written by Ashley Brown and edited by Elaina Taylor, PhD students at King’s. Hoping to leave you Healthily Psyched for more, until next time!

Treating yourself in a self-compassionate way can be your New Year’s resolution

What is self-compassion?

This is the question that I am frequently asked as I am pursuing my PhD research on self-compassion. While many of my inquirers are quite familiar with the idea of compassion, very few of them are truly aware about the definition of self-compassion. They have an idea, but they are not entirely confident about it.

When this is the case, I use a simple explanation and ask them: Do you know what it entails having compassion towards someone? This is no different than directing the same compassion towards yourself. This is treating yourself in the same way as you would do for a close member of your family or friend if they were going through the same hardship, suffering, and pain that you go through.

Self-compassion is not a new concept as its roots originate in ancient spiritual and religious traditions (Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas, 2010; Kirby & Gilbert, 2017). However, it became an area of interest to the discipline of western psychology in recent years, especially after the publication of the first self-compassion scale by Neff (2003). Neff states that self-compassion embodies three aspects. Firstly, it means that you will need to be kinder towards yourself in face of difficulty instead of being self-critical, blaming, or pitying yourself (self-kindness). Most of us – myself included – find it easier to criticise ourselves and find it difficult to treat ourselves in a kind way, as sometimes it can be tough to control negative thoughts and emotions. Secondly, you need to be aware of your suffering, rather than denying it, and realising that this suffering can be experienced by anyone else and that there are, in fact, other people who experience similar problems that you face (common humanity). This awareness would make someone feel less isolated and a part of their community. Finally, self-compassion teaches us the importance of experiencing the moment that we are in (mindfulness). Here and now, not in the past and not in the future. I know that it is easier said than done, as most of us find it easy to identify ourselves with the painful thoughts and feelings that we harbour. Therefore, being in the moment and practising mindfulness in our daily routines will help us to see our problems for what they are, instead of over-identifying our problems with ourselves or exaggerating them (Neff & Dahm, 2015).

Yeah, I understand what it is. But… it is not clear for me how it contributes to your wellbeing?”

This is the second popular question that I have been asked to answer. As the conversation goes on, the concept of self-compassion becomes clear and people gain a clearer understanding of why it is better than being self-critical or consistently blaming yourself. However, people can be sceptical about the ways in which it may work as a therapeutic approach. For instance, how can it help someone dealing with depression or anxiety? Is it scientifically investigated? Does it really work? I agree with their points as when I first heard about it, I questioned it too, as the idea of self-compassion seemed quite simplistic. Love yourself, be kind, and treat yourself like a friend. Is it really helpful?

Various forms of research have demonstrated that self-compassion is positively correlated with positive psychological outcomes including happiness, optimism, positive affect, wisdom, personal initiative, curiosity and exploration, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extroversion. Even though it can be too early to say for sure, there are some studies demonstrating that self-compassion negatively correlates with depression and anxiety and self-compassion can be used as a treatment method. Moreover, another study shows that self-compassion is also associated with wellbeing, which entails having a sense of purpose in life, low perceived stress, low negative affect, and high life satisfaction (Barnard & Curry, 2011). Combined, these factors show that self-compassion can be beneficial for your psychological wellbeing and you can add it into your list of New Year’s resolutions this year as a way of being kind to yourself.

I really like this video as it is a nice illustration of self-compassion. Why not try one of the methods that they mentioned? Also, let us know what you think about self-compassion in the comments underneath. This post was written by Aysenur Killic who is conducting a PhD at King’s. Hoping to leave you Healthily Psyched for more, until next time.


Barnard, L. K., & Curry, J. F. (2011). Self-compassion: Conceptualizations, correlates, & interventions. Review of general psychology15(4), 289.

Goetz, J. L., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: an evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological bulletin136(3), 351.

Kirby, J., & Gilbert, P. (2017). The emergence of the compassion focused therapies. Compassion: concepts, research and applications. London: Routledge, 258-85.

Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and identity2(3), 223-250.

Neff, K. D., & Dahm, K. A. (2015). Self-compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In Handbook of mindfulness and self-regulation (pp. 121-137). Springer, New York, NY.

A Very Merry PhD Christmas

It’s that time of year again. Christmas lights are twinkling and the evenings are getting colder. For the PhD student, this means wrestling (futilely) with the guilt of leaving unfinished work and joining in with the festivities. But even while we are ice-skating around the Tower of London, thoughts of regression modelling are never far away. (Will the speed at which I’m skating, the number of people on the ice rink, the amount of time I’ve been skating, or whether I do a fancy twirl, contribute to the likelihood of falling flat on my face? *).


In solidarity with our hardworking fellow PhD students we’ve decided to compile a list of Christmas presents for PhD students, for jolly, goodhearted people/family members who are stuck for ideas. This may help to avoid any potentially odd presents such as binoculars built into the face of a stuffed toy monkey, which one of our blog members received last year. We’ve taken inspiration from our Health Psychology Department at King’s, but if you’re a PhD student, we’d love to hear from you (good and bad presents of Christmas past and future).


1) For the hard workers

  • Moleskin diary. (We need the planning!)
  • Noise cancelling headphones. (For when everyone’s talking about their weekend plans and you have a paper to write).
  • Suitcase/travel bag. (Presumably for conferences).
  • Motivational quotes. (We need these to ‘be a light in dark places when all other lights go out’ J.R.R Tolkien).

2) Sustenance

  • Re-usable coffee/water cups e.g. chilly’s bottle. (We need the caffeine + hydration).
  • Alcohol (To enjoy responsibly while reading reviewers’ comments on our hard-wrought journal articles).
  • Snacks (specifically chocolate). (To positively reinforce us while we re-write said article).

3) Gifts for the procrastinating PhD student (or for those seeing the light at the end of the tunnel)

  • Rubix cube. (To feel like you’re doing something intelligent but actually just procrastinating).

4) And lastly because we asked budding Health Psychologists.

  • Mindfulness colouring book for stress management. See example below.
  • Gym equipment. (To ensure we’re prepared to fight off the critics).
  • Gym membership. (To work off the chocolates and alcohol: see above).


Here’s one we prepared earlier.


We hope you enjoyed this festive edition of the Healthily Psyched blog, written by Elaina Taylor and edited by Hema Chaplin. Stay tuned for an additional short festive post later in December. Hoping to leave you Healthily Psyched for more until next time.

*NB this was checked by a statistician.





Identifying Transgender Participants and Measuring Gender in Health Research

What’s the most common demographic question asked in any piece of health research? Usually, it looks something like this:

What is your gender?



There’s a small amount of variety, of course. Sometimes the word “sex” is used instead of “gender”, sometimes the words “man” and “woman” are used instead of “male” and “female” and sometimes, as for other demographic questions, a “prefer not to say” option is also added. But almost invariably, there will be a single question about which binary gender or sex category you fit into.

However, this type of question has its issues. Firstly, sex and gender, though often used interchangeably and talked about as if they’re one monolith, aren’t really the same thing. Sex is biological and made of up things like chromosomes, hormone levels and reproductive anatomy, whereas gender is social and psychological and made of up things like identities, social roles, behaviours, and self-expressions. For sex, “male”, “female” and “intersex” are used, with the latter referring to people born with differences of sex development or variations of sex anatomy, whereas for gender “man”, “woman” and “non-binary” are used, with the latter referring to people who identify as neither, both or something in between.

For approximately .4% of people, the sex they were assigned at birth and the gender they identify as don’t coincide (Collin, Reisner, Tangpricha, & Goodman, 2016) and as many as 1.7% of people could be considered intersex (Blackless et al., 2000). So not only is the question potentially wrong in its conception, it excludes a non-negligible minority of participants and could result in inaccurate data! With transgender awareness week approaching (November 12th – 19th), I thought it would be a good idea to talk about how we can more accurately identify transgender participants and measure and report on sex assigned at birth and gender identity in health research. Let’s look at some research on this topic.

In an influential series of studies, Dr Charlotte Chuck Tate and her colleagues (2013) assessed the effectiveness of two solutions to this problem, one which tried to ask participants their gender and whether they were transgender in one question and another which used two questions which asked about gender identity and sex assigned at birth separately. Using samples of university students, they found that the single question method identified some transgender participants, but that it had higher rates of missing data than the two-question method. They also found that the two-question method identified twice as many transgender participants. On top of this, the two-question method produced nearly no missing data in community samples. Further research has indicated that the two-question method is easily understood by cisgender (non-transgender) and transgender participants alike (Lombardi & Banik, 2016; Reisner et al., 2014), that it’s preferred by most participants in gender diverse samples and opinions in cisgender samples are evenly divided (Broussard, Warner, & Pope, 2018), and that for 97% of patients these kinds of questions are not distressing (Rullo et al., 2018). Based on these data, it’s clear: the two-question method is an effective and acceptable means of both assessing sex assigned at birth and gender identity and identifying transgender people in research.

Dr Tate and colleagues used a variety of phrasings in their studies and recommend tailoring these questions to fit your own research needs, with the caveat that you should make sure to include an option for non-binary genders. For most purposes, I would recommend the following phrasing:

  1. What is your gender?



Non-binary (please specify your preferred term):

Another gender not listed here (please specify your preferred term):

  1. What sex were you assigned at birth?




Note that I put “woman” and “female” before “man” and “male”, because there’s no good reason that it’s usually the other way around! I also gave participants the chance to specify their own gender term, as some people feel like “man”, “woman” and “non-binary” aren’t enough to describe themselves.

Finally, you might be wondering, what if you’re looking at a dataset and the questions didn’t do a good job of separating our gender and sex? Don’t worry, gender and sex researchers have you covered! Or maybe I should say gender/sex researchers. Dr. Sari van Anders (2015) recommends using “gender/sex” when gender and sex are difficult to disentangle, which, to be honest, is most of the time! You can explain that the data are limited in that they don’t separate out these related but distinct constructs and that you’ll use the term “gender/sex” to talk about what was measured. Problem solved!

Good luck in doing more inclusive and accurate health research! Please get in contact if you have any questions. This blog post was written by Dr Liadh Timmins, a research associate at the Cicely Saunders Institute in King’s College London. Liadh’s research is on the psychology of sexual orientation and gender identity and they’re currently conducting ACCESSCare B, a project on partner bereavement and sexual orientation. You can read about ACCESSCare B here, find out more about Liadh’s research here, and follow them on Twitter at @DrLTimmins. The post was edited by Elaina Taylor. Hoping to leave you healthily psyched until next time!



Blackless, M., Charuvastra, A., Derryck, A., Fausto‐Sterling, A., Lauzanne, K., & Lee, E. (2000). How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of Human Biology, 12(2), 151-166. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6300(200003/04)12:2<151::AID-AJHB1>3.0.CO;2-F

Broussard, K. A., Warner, R. H., & Pope, A. R. D. (2018). Too many boxes, or not enough? Preferences for how we ask about gender in cisgender, LGB, and gender-diverse samples. Sex Roles, 78(9), 606-624. doi:10.1007/s11199-017-0823-2

Collin, L., Reisner, S. L., Tangpricha, V., & Goodman, M. (2016). Prevalence of transgender depends on the “case” definition: A systematic review. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13(4), 613-626. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.02.001

Lombardi, E., & Banik, S. (2016). The utility of the two-step gender measure within trans and cis populations. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 13(3), 288-296. doi:10.1007/s13178-016-0220-6

Reisner, S. L., Conron, K. J., Tardiff, L. A., Jarvi, S., Gordon, A. R., & Austin, S. B. (2014). Monitoring the health of transgender and other gender minority populations: Validity of natal sex and gender identity survey items in a US national cohort of young adults. BMC Public Health, 14(1), 1224. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-1224

Rullo, J. E., Foxen, J. L., Griffin, J. M., Geske, J. R., Gonzalez, C. A., Faubion, S. S., & van Ryn, M. (2018). Patient acceptance of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on intake forms in outpatient clinics: A pragmatic randomized multisite trial. Health Services Research. doi:10.1111/1475-6773.12843

Tate, C. C., Ledbetter, J. N., & Youssef, C. P. (2013). A two-question method for assessing gender categories in the social and medical sciences. Journal of Sex Research, 50(8), 767-776. doi:10.1080/00224499.2012.690110

van Anders, S. M. (2015). Beyond sexual orientation: Integrating gender/sex and diverse sexualities via sexual configurations theory. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(5), 1177-1213. doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0490-8


Tips on Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) with Young People! (Part 2/2)

Following on from last month’s blog introducing Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE), I’m going to focus on PPIE with Young People! It is important that children and young people are offered the same opportunity as adults to be able to shape and influence research that concerns them.

Although the general idea is the same, working with children and young people is slightly different as there are additional things to consider which I have tried to cover here. Again, I’m sharing some of my tips that I have learned along the way with some help from colleagues (@UCL_RheumAYA / @YourRheum) to support researchers to involve children, young people, parents and families in research. We’ll cover advice from some of the people who were involved (with examples from Keldra and Jeremy), and also from Voice Up, a group of researchers at the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility’s Young Person Advisory Group (@researchdialog).

Tips for running a Focus Group with Young People

Before the day:

  • Try to combine studies/focus groups with other projects/researchers.
  • Best to run groups on school holidays or Saturdays (11-13:00 or 14:00-16:00) (e.g. avoid lunch as often people will want to go out somewhere) but avoid exam times (January, March to June).
  • Clarify how you reimburse for travel expenses (i.e. if receipts are needed and/or if forms need to be completed) and the maximum reimbursed beforehand.
  • Best to not have parents present so the young people feel more comfortable to share things or have a separate parents’ focus group in parallel–explain this clearly beforehand but let young people bring friends and siblings if they want to.
  • Good to consider different age groups-e.g., 12-16, 16-24 or gender groups if age or gender-sensitive topics are being discussed.
  • Email reminders a few days before and ask for a telephone contact number and send them your work telephone number so that they can contact you in case of last minute changes.
  • Send a brief overview of the day and questions you want them to think about beforehand.

On the day:

  • Provide snacks and drinks, and if the group lasts more than 3 hours, lunch as well (consider food allergies/diet requirements)
  • Provide £15 thank you vouchers to show appreciation for their time for a focus group lasting 1-2 hours (suggested in the guidance linked below – this will depend on your budget but should appropriately reflect the time/activity).
  • Have someone help take notes or audio record the session and take photos (with permission)!
  • Get to know everyone first and remember their names
    • What would you be doing on a normal Saturday?
    • Did they go anywhere on the break?
    • How long did you travel to get here today?
  • Thank them for coming, explain the purpose of the day and what you hope to achieve.
  • Start off with asking general questions about the topic to make them comfortable with further discussion.
  • Make it informal and allow young people to ask lots of questions and ensure that there is time for the young people to speak to each other.
  • Thank individuals for participating and let them contact you with further comments.
  • Reimburse attendees as previously discussed. In some cases I’ve gone to the tube station with them and topped up their oyster card for close to what the journey would cost, if they have forgotten to get a receipt or paper ticket. This isn’t always feasible so no receipt means no reimbursement.

Young People’s Tips for their involvement:

Keldra’s Top Tips for Researchers for Involving Young People:

  1. Ask the young person which areas they feel that research/care is lacking.
  2. Make sure that the information is easy to understand.
  3. Make sure that the session is not too time consuming

Jeremy’s Top Tips for Researchers for Involving Young People:

  1. Having someone to share experiences with is very cathartic, so allow enough time for extra chats.
  2. Researchers should be nice and non-judgmental.
  3. It’s important to establish a relationship between participants and researchers.
  4. Once that relationship is there and it’s obvious that the person is engaged, don’t be afraid to chase them for responses/follow up/remind them to attend. Most people are super keen to get involved/sign up but then life gets in the way and people forget!

Voice Up’s Dos and Don’ts for Researchers                                               


  • Provide Hand-outs
  • Be Interactive
  • Ask about the audience’s opinion/point of view
  • Use of social media/adapted vocabulary
  • Think about your audience
  • Try using different formats to communicate
  • Use questions (rhetorical questions) to make the audience think about the answers
  • Use infographics
  • Focus on the results (what does it do)
  • Try to explain it to friends and family
  • Use different ways to get your point across
  • Empathetic
  • No jargon
  • Humanise
  • Clarity
  • Try different forms of communication
  • Include bare necessities
  • One-to-one and group conversations


  • Be too (scientifically / technically) detailed
  • Feel the need to justify everything (why wouldn’t this or that work)
  • Use too much jargon – make it understandable to the average public member
  • Be patronising (see what people already know)
  • Do too much badgering – allow people to speak without trying to persuade
  • Don’t be too formal

Further resources

We hope you’ve enjoyed the latest issue of our Healthily Psyched blog. Please get in touch if you have any questions. In the meantime, we hope to leave you Healthily Psyched for doing some PPIE of your own! The post was written by Hema Chaplin and edited by Elaina Taylor.

Tips on Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE): How to involve patients in research, writing it up for ethics/grants and tips from those who have been involved! (Part 1/2)

Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) is becoming more and more popular with funding bodies and academics, and rightfully so! It is the most important way to establish whether your research is relevant for those whom it is supposed impact and benefit.

Before starting my PhD here in the KCL Health Psychology Section, I worked as the PPIE Lead at the Centre for Adolescent Rheumatology at UCL for three years ( the website itself was designed through PPIE contributions based on what young people wanted!). I’m sharing some of my tips that I have learned along the way, supporting researchers to involve patients, families and members of the public, as well as advice from some of the people who were involved, in true PPIE style!

This post will be split into two parts: Part 1 will be a general introduction to PPIE and Part 2 will be focused on how to involve young people specifically.

 Introduction to PPIE

What on earth is PPIE?
“Research being carried out ‘with’ or ‘by’ members of the public/patients rather than ‘to’, ‘about’ or ‘for’ them.” INVOLVE

Participation – where people take part in a research study – complete questionnaires or give blood.

Involvement – where people are actively involved in research processes and management.

Engagement – where information and knowledge about research is shared with the public.

Sometimes the term engagement is also used to mean involvement as seen here by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement definition:

“Two-way process, involving interaction and listening so that the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.”

“No matter how complicated the research, or how brilliant the researcher, patients/carers and the public always offer unique, invaluable insights. Their advice when designing, implementing and evaluating research invariably makes studies more effective, more credible and often more cost effective.” Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, England, 2009

There are several levels of involvement:
Consultation – researcher(s) asks for views/advice from patients/public
Collaboration / co-production – researchers and patients/public work together, e.g. to identify research questions
User led / controlled – patients make the decisions about research, e.g. principal investigator

Ways to involve:
• Research prioritisation and validation of importance
• Developing Ethics application
• Patient partners/co-applicants on grants
• Writing lay summaries for grants
• Membership on patient steering group/advisory board as patient/public representatives
• Changes to study design and methodology, including selection of final study measures e.g. which questionnaires to include or not and why
• Suggestions on practicalities/feasibility of data collection e.g. recruitment strategies
• Developing and reviewing any materials that potential participants may see as part of the research (e.g Patient Information Sheets, Consent Forms and/or Interview Schedules), to make these more patient centred and relevant
• Content development for dissemination events and on social media

Most important considerations before conducting any PPIE activity:

(Image obtained from

Hema’s General Tips
1. PPIE is not always expensive but needs funding!

2. Quality over Quantity – a few key statements or suggestions from 3 or 4 people that is implemented to change the project is better than involving 15 people without actually changing anything.

3. When involving patients, remember you are talking to someone who has a long-term illness – be sensitive and age-appropriate when working with young people and parents.

4. Prepare for rejection and disappointment – not everyone wants to be involved or will actually turn up to your planned event.

5. Try to have at least 5 people confirmed for an activity, and maximum 10 (usually 2-3 do not show up).

6. Appreciate how much time is involved beforehand, on the day and afterwards when writing up – Start recruiting about 1-2 months ahead and offer a few different dates and times for people to choose from, e.g. meetings after 6pm or on weekends, so that patients/carers who work or go to school can be included.

7. Focus groups are not the only way! Feedback via Email, Interviews or Clinic approaches are also helpful.

8. PLAN PLAN PLAN ahead but…be flexible! Not everything will go to plan but activities can still be engaging and successful if you’re able to adapt.

9. Use the research team’s strengths (and others!) – if someone is creative in your department get them involved in your event too!

10. What about afterwards? Will you keep the patients involved, updated with the research activity? What have they received in return? Think about what young people/parents will get out of this activity – opportunity to chat to someone about their experiences, work experience, provide references/certificates for involvement.

Public Engagement and Outreach
Here are some questions to think about when doing public engagement which is subtly different to activities mentioned above:

What message do you want to disseminate? Who is your audience?
How can this be explained in a fun and interactive way?
What things can you give out? Leaflets/Pens?
What activities can you run?
Can you turn this into involvement? Can this be a two-way conversation?

Here is an example of a research stand at a public engagement event (taken from @UCL_RheumAYA), where you can see we tried to explain rheumatology and immunology through an interactive game “When Cells Attack!” and we had bone pens as cool freebies!

Writing up PPIE activities for ethics/grants
When writing your PPIE work up for both grant applications and ethics, the key aspects you need to demonstrate is what PPIE you have carried out and what has changed as a result in your research study.

For example, state the number you have involved (and age ranges and diagnoses if appropriate) and how they were involved (e.g. focus group to discuss proposed study measures) and what changes were introduced (e.g. selected to use the brief version of the questionnaire as young people felt the long version was repetitive and too long and included a mood questionnaire as this was felt to be missing from the study and important to include).

Ongoing PPIE and particularly training and support for your patient partners needs to be included as well as appropriate costs.

Tips from KCL Musculoskeletal (MSK) Expert Patients:
The group is involved with all areas of departmental research, teaching and health service improvement. In addition to this, the group helps shape a series of Patient Education Evenings which are a collaboration between academics, patients and clinic staff, and the topics are suggested by patients, for more information about these evenings please click here.

Carol and Kate have been contributing to research studies at KCL for several years through the MSK Expert Patients Group and shared with me what they find helpful for patients when entering into a PPI project. To see more from the KCL MSK Expert Patients check out their blog here.

Carol’s Top Tips for Researchers for Involving patients:
1. My involvement firstly depends on what I think I can usefully contribute (I am not good with figures and collating data). So it is useful for researchers to have some knowledge of the folk they would like to involve (clinic staff can help here) or maybe a short questionnaire to find out their skills or interests without being intrusive (basic tick box usually works).

2. It’s essential to provide comprehensive information on what is involved, time required and travel requirements – both for health reasons and general scheduling. Vagueness puts me off.

3. Keep everyone informed of what is happening on a regular basis. Long gaps make people lose interest!

4. For focus groups you need a strong Chair. Groups of folk with chronic conditions like to air their problems/issues and focus groups give the perfect opportunity. Researcher/Chair needs to keep everyone on track/time but give some ‘rant’ time at end of session!

5. With children, getting them to talk can be a problem – make sure you have a couple of confident kids to get the ball rolling and get some humour in there – and not too long. Short attention span normal!

6. Getting patients involved is historically difficult, partly I think because in the past one attended focus groups, sessions and then never heard the outcome of the research. Patients/public need to feel their contribution is valued. Let them see outcome.

Kate’s Top Tips for Researchers for Involving patients:
1. Be clear and fully explain about set project and what is expected of the patient representatives and what will be reciprocated. For example, it’s so important to communicate fully, especially in relation to deadlines etc.

2. It is essential that patient involvement is not seen or felt to be ‘tokenistic’.

3. It is important to keep the patient in the loop after they are no longer involved, so often we are not and it is disappointing and disconcerting as we have a genuine interest and have given up our time!

Dr Heidi Lempp is an Academic Medical Sociologist who set up the KCL MSK Expert Patient group suggests:


  • Inform patients/carers clearly in advance what you expect them to do.
  • Arrange an honorary/visiting contract with the Institution to raise patients/carers profile.
  • Discuss potential boundary issues, e.g. researchers/patients/carers.
  • Provide opportunities to meet clinic/research staff – facilitate acceptance and team building
  • Agree realistic deadlines for feedback – so plan ahead for major projects
  • Ensure patient/carer researchers know that contributions are appreciated
  • Recognise contributions and show appreciations through annual dinner or event.


  • Overwhelm patients/carers with work, start gradually with constructive positive feedback. Promise too much that you cannot deliver.
  • Exclude patients/carers from your activities, create ways to contribute.
  • Patronise patient/carer researchers – value their contributions.
  • Assume your colleagues will welcome these new roles – earn respect.

Further resources
Training courses for researchers:

Training courses for PPIE members:
Generic guidance
• (Including their Enabling Involvement Fund if applying for peer-reviewed funding e.g. NIHR grants)

We hope you’ve enjoyed the latest issue of our healthily psyched blog. Please get in touch if you have any questions. In the meantime, we hope to leave you Healthily Psyched for part two of our PPIE post, which will be coming out soon. The post was written by Hema Chaplin and edited by Elaina Taylor.

Stage 2 in Health Psychology – The Professional Doctorate

So, you are interested in pursuing a career in psychology and have come across the field of Health Psychology. You do a Health Psychology MSc course accredited by the British Psychology Society (BPS), and then…?

In order to become a chartered Health Psychologist, you need to do ‘Stage 2’. However, to do this, there are multiple routes you can take:

  1. the doctorate (taught) route
  2. the independent route (via the BPS) and
  3. PhD + Stage two route (offered by a few universities).

From my own experience I found the choice between the independent route and the taught route to be quite a confusing one – there are lots of things to consider.

I am going to try and shed some light on the taught doctorate route, which is the route I decided on. I’ll provide examples and experiences (both my own and from others who have taken this route) by examining ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.

A little bit about what the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology involves:

  • You enrol with a university for the duration of the programme.
  • You must undertake at least 2 years of supervised practice.
  • Usually, you need to organise your own health-related placement/job(s) which make up a full time equivalent (voluntary or paid, or a combination). Having said that, a few funded places which include a placement are being made available. Part-time is also an option.
  • During your time on the course you create your portfolio, documenting the work you undertake within five competencies: 1) Psychological Interventions, 2) Teaching, 3) Consultancy, 4) Research Methods and 5) Professional Skills (these competencies are the same as the independent route although the write up for each may differ slightly between courses).

You are required to regularly attend university, typically every two to four weeks, depending on your year of study. This is where you will cover the competencies and also be provided with supervision.

So now we know a bit of the background details, let’s find out more by hearing from students past and present…

Dr. Katrin Hulme – Health Psychologist & Post-doctoral Associate.

Anjulie Dhillon – Trainee Health Psychologist

Harpreet Sohal – Trainee Health Psychologist

Dr. Dan Masterson – Health Psychologist & Consultant for local authorities on urban planning designs.


Why did you decide to do Stage 2 via the taught route?

What really interested me about Health Psychology is the application of research and theory into real-world settings. I wanted the chance to get practical experience based in different settings, where I could work with patients, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders, so I didn’t think a PhD was for me. Another main reason I had for doing this route is the ‘Dr.’ title, which the independent route via the BPS does not give you. Although both allow you to practice as a Chartered Health Psychologist, I felt the Dr. title was an important addition. I also liked the idea of the university setting, giving me access to regular supervision and meeting course-mates in the same boat as me. (Katrin)

I decided to apply for the Professional Doctorate after seeing a post for a funded bursary for this role. I had always wanted to study further in this area and this was the perfect opportunity for me. I was exposed to many different aspects of Health Psychology in this role; I had the opportunity to work with patients, teach staff and deliver group interventions, which really helped me broaden and progress my skills. (Anjulie)

I decided to pursue the doctorate as I wanted to expand my knowledge and skills in the field of health psychology. Specifically, I believe this branch of psychology offers a holistic approach in the development and delivery of health care interventions, aimed at improving, preventing and managing health and well-being issues. (Harpreet)

At the time of undertaking my Masters in Health Psychology (stage 1), I was still exploring career options and had not yet made the decision to become a health psychologist. I was very fortunate to be taught by an excellent Health Psych team including Prof. Sarah Grogan and their passion, drive and teaching inspired me. During the Masters, the available routes were presented in detail but the key consideration for me was that I wanted to learn and work alongside an experienced team. (Dan)


What was your placement/job during the doctorate?

Over the course of the two and a half years, I worked at King’s College London on a few intervention development projects, as well as volunteering part-time at Milton Keynes Hospital in the Health Psychology department for a period of six months. (Katrin)

The job I had whilst on the doctorate was based at a local hospital. The role involved working as part of a clinical health psychology team with paediatric burns patients and their families. I also worked with adult diabetes and cardiac patients as well. (Anjulie)

I am currently working within a pain management service as an Advanced Wellness Practitioner. As part of my role, I deliver CBT-based techniques to support patients with developing self-management strategies for a better quality of life. I work within a wider team of physiotherapists, nurses and occupational therapists and we aim to deliver a biopsychosocial approach to pain management at both individual and group level. My role is largely focused on working with patients who are struggling to come to terms with the psycho-social impact of living with a chronic condition. (Harpreet)

As is the case for most early career researchers, I had a number of placements due to short-term contracts. These were predominantly research based at Staffordshire University with elements of consultancy. Prior to applying for the Professional Doctorate, I was conducting two behaviour change interventions with the emergency services as well as bits and pieces of other research. I acted as a research consultant for what was then a Primary Care Trust, a research associate on a project exploring the health benefits of natural environments, and then became a senior researcher in healthy urban planning. (Dan)


What is the best part of doing the doctorate?

I really enjoyed having a cohort (albeit a small one) to do the course with, particularly as we became firm friends. I also liked being ‘taught’ again; learning from experts in the field. Being able to discuss my work, get feedback on drafts and have designated hand-in dates, meant the course was structured and supportive. I think this made it easier to combine with working full time. (Katrin)

The best part of doing the doctorate is being able to apply the theory we learn as part of teaching to real world settings, and being able to do that through many projects, which are diverse and add to your skill set. (Anjulie)

The best parts of the doctorate for me were: i) the guided learning in a classroom environment (which I preferred over the independent route), ii) the collaboration between your university supervisors and workplace supervisors, iii) working with, and learning from, fellow colleagues on the course, which has been a wonderful experience. (Harpreet)

The best thing about the doctorate is that I came away with the confidence and ability to reflect on how to develop as a Health Psychologist, a researcher and a critical thinker. (Dan)


What have you found most challenging and what should potential stage two students bear in mind?  

Although do-able, it isn’t easy at times to combine the doctorate with working full time. The trick is to find opportunities to fulfil competencies through the things you are doing at work anyway. Good organisation is key – to do lists, keeping up to date with a diary, summary emails and file notes of meetings, making sure to take time for you too – I found all of these helpful. (Katrin)

I have found the time aspect most challenging. Projects have always taken longer than anticipated, especially working in the NHS. If you are thinking about applying for the course I would advise individuals to have ideas about how they can meet each competency and to also consider the time that it takes to complete the course, as it has taken me longer than I had anticipated! (Anjulie)

Something that is worth being mindful of, is that the course does require you to be an independent learner and good at self-motivating, although seeing your university supervisors regularly definitely helps! Also, managing your time between your work and the doctorate – in hindsight I would have either worked less hours, or gone part-time on the doctorate as it has been difficult at times to manage both. One other thing before committing to the course, would be to ensure that your workplace supervisor can both accommodate your needs to fulfil the competencies of the doctorate but also provide any necessary support. (Harpreet) 

Self-confidence. Imposter syndrome. That nagging self-doubt that I imagine many people feel, despite all their hard work, that they don’t belong, or that they have somehow duped the system and will be found out. My initial reflection skills were embarrassingly self-critical and developing those to be constructive and useful was challenging at first. I think that for people who do question whether they are ready to undertake the professional doctorate, or whether they are good enough, to bear in mind, that they might not feel they are at the beginning but that they will be ready at the end. Considering our professional limitations is an essential and required skill for a psychologist and at the end of the doctorate, you quickly realise that the development of a career in health psychology has only just begun. (Dan)


Did anything surprise you?

How much I enjoyed being taught again – the university days were great! I also realised just how important supervision and reflection is for personal development. (Katrin)

I knew Health Psychology was applicable to many areas of work but it has still surprised me to learn about its application in areas I hadn’t thought about previously. (Anjulie)


Any advice for budding health psychologists considering what route to take?

Take some time to think about the things you enjoy and are good at, and try to structure what you do around that. Then, even if it is difficult at times, you’re still doing things you enjoy. Also, think about what you might like to do in the future and consider the route and opportunities that might help you fulfil that best – i.e. if you would like to work clinically the doctorate route may be able to provide you with more applied experience than a PhD (independent route), for example. (Katrin)

I would look at the differences between the taught and independent route and think about how this fits in with your life/job role. I chose the taught route because I liked the idea of taught sessions plus independent learning. (Anjulie)

Having only experienced one route I could not advise on which route to take but I can offer thoughts on what to consider when making a decision. As either route will be challenging, it may be best to focus on your learning style and approach,  strengths and weaknesses, and consider a route that suits you. My weakness was putting my placement (work) demands ahead of my personal development, which slowed me down. By undertaking the taught route, there was a structure to guide me, focus upon and also to justify why I needed one day per week to work on my doctorate. Had I undertaken the independent route, I may have struggled with this issue as I rarely got that one day per week to study once the structured teaching sessions had ended. (Dan)


What questions did you have when looking at your options?

  • Do I have to live near the university? No – the important thing is you are able to travel to the university to attend study days.
  • How do you get on the course? Once you have decided you would like to pursue the doctorate route, you need to apply to the course at your chosen university(ies). The application process includes writing a personal statement, references and an interview. Details can be found on each university’s website.
  • When are the application deadlines? Again, these vary by university so we recommend you check the websites for exact dates.
  • So which universities offer the Doctorate route? The BPS website provides an overview of the accredited courses:
  • How much does it cost? This depends on whether you are a UK or international student, and the university you choose. We recommend you check the websites for details but typically fees are around £6,000-£6,500 for full-time UK/EU students.
  • How often will I have deadlines? This varies from course to course, so we recommend you look at the websites and/or get in contact with the course leaders to find out about their specific course structure.
  • How long will it take me to complete the course? How quickly you complete the course depends on the individual and route taken. You will have to complete two years minimum of supervised practice. Then, taking writing up time, submission and doing your viva into account, it will take at least 2.5-3 years. It may take longer – depending on your opportunities to fulfil competencies and your circumstances, and whether you decided to do the course part-time or full-time.
  • Are there any exams? There are no written exams, although you will have to defend your portfolio in a viva voce examination at the end.


Now that we have heard from some students past and present, let’s answer some FAQs with Professor Karen Rodham – Director of the Health Psychology course at Staffordshire University and Past Chair of the BPS.

Typical questions about the course

  • What jobs are suitable placements?

Broadly, any setting where health psychology is practised would be appropriate (e.g. hospitals, primary healthcare, health promotion and academic settings) and where you would be able to get the opportunity to complete most of the competences (i.e. teaching, research, psychological interventions and professional competence). Placements can be paid or voluntary – the most important thing is that you get the right experience(s) through your placement

  •  I have a job already but it is a short-term contract job. What happens if I get a new job but it is not suitable for a placement?

Before you start the course, your placement, and any subsequent placement you take, needs to be formally approved. It is your responsibility to find a placement that is suitable for you to meet the competencies. If your new job is not appropriate, there would be a couple of options:

1) You arrange a voluntary placement (in addition to your job) that would meet the criteria.

2) You could ‘Intermit’ – see answer to the question below about taking a break from the course.

  • I am a bit worried because I am working in an academic setting. Can I complete the competencies based in this academic setting?

You are expected to arrange learning opportunities to ensure that you are able to attain the competencies required on the Professional Doctorate. It is rare for one placement to enable the completion of all the competences. It may be that you need to develop relationships with other organisations, perhaps on a voluntary basis in order to be able to complete some of the more practice-based competencies.  We are also sometimes able to help you find opportunities because people approach us asking for help with consultancy or teaching, for example.

  • Do you provide placements?

We do have contacts with placement providers who may be willing to provide voluntary positions, but we are not able to provide placements I’m afraid.  Candidates are required to find these themselves before they apply.

  • What happens if I need to pause the course during my studies?

Sometimes ‘life happens’ and students need to take time out from their studies. If this happens to you, you have the ability to ‘Intermit’. Intermitting means that students take a break from their studies because of illness, financial or personal reasons for example.  A student can intermit at any point during the academic year.  During the intermission period you remain as a student at the University and can continue using the University facilities such as the library, Students Union, Careers etc. but you cannot attend any classes or submit work.

  • What do you think are the positives of the taught doctorate route?

Students tell us that the main reason they choose to complete the taught doctorate route, rather than the independent route, is so that they have a cohort of other trainees, with whom they meet regularly on campus and in so doing, form a supportive community. We, like many other programmes, also encourage students to engage in a formal mentoring scheme to further facilitate this.

  • Final word: things to think about/do.

A key thing to do when thinking about Stage 2 is to look carefully at the course structure. Some courses require students to complete competences in a set order at a particular time. Other courses (like ours at Staffordshire University) have more flexibility built in so that students can take advantage of opportunities as and when they arise. The different approaches will suit different students. So think about your preferences when exploring the different courses.

Contact the course leaders by email if you have any questions – you will find that course leaders are very happy to answer queries. Sometimes it is possible to put potential applicants in touch with current trainees so that you can quiz them about their experiences.

If a course has an open day, do go along and see the facilities that you will have access to and get a sense of the feel of the place – you will be spending a big chunk of time at the university, so you need to know that it suits you.


To summarise the key differences for the Professional Doctorate route compared to the independent route are:

1) The doctorate is based at a university – you attend study days where you are taught/discuss/do group work on all of the competencies.

2) After completing the doctorate you are able to use the Dr. title.

3) Everything is included within the course structure – teaching, supervision, support services (if needed), handing work in (for each competency and then the final completed portfolio) and the viva examination.

4) You are part of a cohort of students – everyone has different placements and experiences which can create a really interesting and stimulating learning environment.


Thanks for reading our latest post. This post was written by Katrin Hulme and edited by Elaina Taylor. We hope you enjoyed this post and we will be back again on 1st September with our next post. Hoping to leave you Healthily Psyched until then!






A day in the life of a health psychologist: Academia and Industry

In our final blog post of this series, we look at the differences between working in industry and in academia. We talk to three different commercial organisations who work with health psychologists to explore the benefits and challenges of working outside academia. We hope this gives some insight into the different career paths available to health psychologists, and how you can take your academic skills and apply them elsewhere.


Atlantis Healthcare

Anna O’Sullivan 

Anna is a Clinical Health Psychologist (New Zealand registered), and Health Psychology Specialist at Atlantis Healthcare.

International company that designs, develops, and delivers support programmes for people with long-term conditions to improve health outcomes, quality of life, and patient self-management


What is it like to work in the industry compared to academia/NHS?

Working in the patient support industry I have learnt a lot from my non-health psychology colleagues who have a great deal of commercial and pharmaceutical experience. I work closely with account managers, digital and print designers, and digital operations colleagues, meaning that I have built new skills that I would not have had the chance to learn in academia or a clinical setting. For example, I worked with our Creative Director to ensure the content and functionality of digital wireframes for several online interventional modules were in line with recommendations obtained from patients during focus groups.

How do you use Health Psychology in your work?

Health Psychology underpins our patient support programmes, so we are constantly thinking with our ‘Health Psychology’ hats on. Our programmes are designed to change behaviour. The moment we begin a project we are thinking of the factors that might be driving the behaviour we want to change – for example, when addressing medication adherence we need to focus on particular issues relating specifically to that patient population, and we consequently design the programme around these drivers.


Spoonful of Sugar

Dr Tom Kenny 

Tom is the Medical Director and CEO of Spoonful of Sugar (SoS), a behaviour change consultancy that facilitates the translation of world-class research into practical programmes and solutions to achieve improved health outcomes.



Can you tell me about the differences between industry and academia?

Working in a small company, I, personally, like it a lot better. You’ve got to be a lot more flexible and creative. The bureaucracies that govern working in a big organisation just don’t work in a small company. The spans of decision-making are much shorter, so you can make decisions and get things moving very quickly.

There was a small-scale piece of research that we wanted to do. Actually, under a research governance framework, it’s actually a piece of service evaluation. But somebody said, it’d be really useful to have this piece of research and to obtain this piece of insight into how patients are viewing the services they receive. It doesn’t exist in the current literature so how could we go about finding it out? And by the end of the day, we’d set it up. So, it’s just that the timescales for decision-making are shorter and we have to get resources ready and moving faster.

Every day we’re using psychological theory as it’s applied to health; evidence from the field, the theoretical underpinnings-It’s useful. It might not be the answer but it certainly helps. I try and encourage our clients always to start from what is known. Good reviews of literature can be fast and really add value.


Sprout Behaviour Change Ltd

Dr Christina Jackson and Dr Lina Eliasson 

Christina and Lina are joint founders and directors of Sprout Behaviour Change Ltd, a consulting business which works with organisations of all sizes to improve health by changing behaviour of people with long term conditions and healthcare professionals. Christina is also Programme Manager for King’s Health Partners’ Centre for Adherence Research and Education.


Can you tell me a bit about what you do?

CJ: We work with pharmaceutical companies and with agencies like medical communications agencies and patient support agencies to develop strategies around adherence to medication, which might include developing patient support programmes and evaluating patient support programmes. We take theory and evidence from the health psychology world and we apply that to medicines adherence, often with a pharmaceutical company as the sponsor. We’re applying health psychology in the real world.

Do you think that gives you more of a chance to get things put into practice than in academia?

CJ: Absolutely. I think one of the things you might find sometimes in academia is once the grant money runs out, the project has to come to a close or you’re trying to put in a new application for more money. Whereas the programmes that we set up, once they’re running, they might run for a very long time with incremental changes to them over time. Those programmes might help people for years to come; potentially at a scale that you can’t achieve within academia. Lina and I have both worked on programmes that are rolled out internationally. You’re not just helping patients in the UK but all over Europe or in the USA. I’ve worked on one programme that was in Dubai. The scale of what you do, and the number of patients within in each country, can be much larger than you’d typically reach in academia.

One of the things that we are really passionate about in Sprout is to take all that published work and learning from academia where people have done really good RCTs and developed really good interventions, and apply that to the programmes that we create. For us, what is really exciting is to think about how we can continue that great work that has started in academia and then roll out into the real world.

Can you talk about the other differences between academia and where you are now?

LE: I think that one of the main differences is the pace. Within academia things tend to take a bit longer: the grant applications, the ethics approvals and accumulating the robust evidence base that you need to move ahead. Within industry, the pace is much faster and you often have the opportunity to move forward with a good idea based on a good rationale even if you do not have the breadth of published evidence that you need in an academic setting. I think that’s what makes it most exciting to work within industry. One of the benefits of this fast pace, for example, is that we can implement programmes using the latest technology. If a project is slow moving, a technology-based intervention may actually be obsolete by the time you implement it.

Are you still involved in publishing papers?

LE: In terms of publishing on the interventions, unless the intervention was done as part of a research study, it’s very rare. When there is a commercial sponsor, such as a pharmaceutical company, there are restrictions around what data you can and can’t capture and how that data is used. However, we continue to write and publish papers when we have been involved in a research study and, of course, simply out of interest as well.

CJ: This was something that took a little while to come to terms with when I moved from academia into industry. In academia you measure your value to some extent by the number of publications you have.  That’s a way of seeing that you’re making progress. Once you go into industry it is very frequently the case that you can’t publish what you’ve been working on, so you have to let go of that idea of measuring your value by publications. Take all the publication opportunities that come your way, but find a different way to measure how successful you think you’re being.

Is there a sales element? Do you go out and approach clients and engage them?

LE: Yes, definitely. In terms of finding new clients it would be a mix of reaching out to known and unknown contacts that we think might have some interest in the type of work we do. Clients, both new and returning, often reach out to us directly to request a proposal for a new project.

CJ: That’s another thing, before I went into industry, I thought of ‘sales’ as a dirty word. But actually, it’s something that I really enjoy and I think Lina enjoys it as well. It’s not like being a door-to-door hoover salesman. People genuinely have an issue that they are trying to tackle that they can’t work out how to solve. They need someone to help them work out the problem. What exactly is going on here? What can we do about it? The sales process is much more like having an interesting discussion, finding out what people’s issues are and helping them to solve their problems.

These interviews highlight some of the benefits of working in industry over academia, including a much faster pace, the ability to work at a larger scale and the increased likelihood of projects being rolled out to client groups. Working in companies like these might also give you the opportunity to work within much more varied teams. However, there may be stricter regulations working with some companies such as pharmaceutical firms and you may have to take more responsibility outside of your comfort zone. Most importantly, people working in industry still rely on research conducted in academia in order to develop theoretically and empirically-sound interventions.

We hope you have enjoyed this series on careers in health psychology and that it has left you excited about starting you career, or continuing your journey as a health psychologist. This series of posts were written by Zoë Moon and Federica Picariello. Hoping to leave you Healthily Psyched until next time.

Continuing with our series of showcasing different career paths for health psychologists, in this next post, our contributors share their career journey and provide career advice. Although there are certain prerequisites for a career in Health Psychology, as discussed in an earlier blog post, the necessary Health Psychology competencies are broad and flexible, so no two journeys are the same. We thought it would be interesting to hear about the journeys of Health Psychologists working in different settings or those working in this field and their helpful advice for people starting out in their careers.


Dr Nicky Thomas (NHS)

Nicky Thomas is Head of Psychological Services and a Consultant Health Psychologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Nicky works in the Department of Haematology and set up the first health psychology service for sickle cell patients. 

  •  What was your previous experience / training before starting this job?

I trained and practiced as a nurse (RGN & DIPn) before psychology. I have a PhD in health psychology, an Advanced Diploma in psychodynamic counselling and an Advanced Diploma in CBT in children & adolescents.  I also undertook a BSc in psychology before my PhD.

  • What advice would you give someone starting out in their career?

The NHS Health setting offers good opportunities for health psychologists. Where one door closes try another one! Always use an evaluative framework, use appropriate outcomes. Let your work speak for you- that’s why outcome matters!


Ellen Jardine (NHS)

Ellen is a Health Psychologist/Applied Psychologist in Health Improvement (NHS) in the Public Health Department in NHS Dumfries and Galloway. 

  •  What was your previous experience / training before starting this job?

I completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Spanish. I then spent a couple of years working for a children’s hospice in the fundraising department. There I became a volunteer on the care team to spend more time with the children and their families. Through training I learnt lots of new skills such as counselling skills, supporting people through bereavement, talking to people with communication difficulties and discussing death and dying. It was after this, I made the decision to do a Master’s degree in Health Psychology which took me to London. From there, I got onto the NHS Education for Scotland Stage 2 training programme.

  • What advice would you give someone starting out in their career?

I think flexibility is key. There are opportunities everywhere in the NHS so keep your eyes peeled and don’t turn opportunities down just because you think it’s not for a health psychologist. Be welcoming, approachable, and listen to what people need as you might be able to fill the gap.

And if you’re able to volunteer – it’s a great way to gain new experiences, learn skills and meet interesting people.


Anna O’Sullivan (Atlantis Healthcare – industry)

Anna is a Clinical Health Psychologist (New Zealand registered), and Health Psychology Specialist at Atlantis Healthcare.

International company that designs, develops, and delivers support programmes for people with long-term conditions to improve health outcomes, quality of life, and patient self-management.

  • What was your previous experience / training before starting this job?

Before working in the commercial world, I attended the University of Auckland (NZ) and completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in Psychology, followed by a Master of Science in Health Psychology. I also completed a 2-year clinical training programme involving full-time work as an intern psychologist in a multidisciplinary chronic pain clinic. After I passed my exams I worked part-time as a Registered Health Psychologist of New Zealand and part-time in the commercial world.

  • What advice would you give someone starting out in their career?

 My advice would be to try everything you get the opportunity to try as a student – whether that’s commercial work or academic work or clinical work. That way when you come to making decisions you might have a clearer idea of what you would enjoy most, where your strengths are, and which industry would benefit most from having you.


Holly Martin-Smith (NHS)

Holly is a Health Psychologist working in the Department of Clinical Health Psychology at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust.

  •  What was your previous experience / training before starting this job?

I first completed a BSc at Liverpool John Moores in Psychology and Biology. I then went on to study an MSc in Health Psychology at University College London. During these courses I worked as a receptionist at a busy GP surgery, gaining an appreciation of a medical workplace. Through this I became a Smoking Cessation Specialist running a clinic to support patients to stop smoking, gaining skills in behaviour change interventions and communication. I also volunteered at a Breast Cancer Support group, supporting women who had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer where I was also able to conduct some research for my undergraduate degree. During my MSc I had a placement at an IAPT service in North London, where I supported the community liaison and service user involvement projects, observed clinical practice across both low and high intensity therapies and assisted with research activities seeking to improve services.

After my MSc I became a Trainee Health Psychologist with NHS Grampian where I completed my stage 2 qualification.

With NHS Grampian my main role was to deliver psychological interventions based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based stress reduction, motivational interviewing and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), to people with Types 1 and 2 diabetes. During my training my main piece of doctoral level research was a consultancy project for a consultant in Public health. This involved developing a questionnaire and using advanced statistical analyses to investigate the knowledge, attitudes and associated behaviours of university students, regarding STI testing.  Teaching and training involved delivering workshops to students and healthcare professionals on a variety of relevant psychology topics. I also had the opportunity to gain some experience of providing health psychology input to a number of projects in the Health Improvement department of Public Health; Leading and managing 2-day helping people change for health training course; Developing, delivering and evaluating overweight/obese pregnancy intervention to promote healthy lifestyles and emotional well-being; Supporting sexual health campaigns and conducting a review of training provision by the health promotion department.

  • What advice would you give someone starting out in their career?

It is a very exciting time for Health Psychology, as it is becoming more recognised and valued however at times it feels like a struggle and a bit of a mine field. It is completely normal not to feel very sure about how to get from doing an undergraduate degree to being a qualified health psychologist but don’t be put off, it’s such a worthwhile career and in time things fit into place. Try and get relevant experience, try and connect with health psychologists out there both academically and in practice. There is a huge health psychology presence on social media- use this to your advantage, badger people and don’t be afraid to ask questions.


Hope Clayton (NHS)

Hope is a Health Psychologist working in the Renal Service at East and North Hertfordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

  •  What was your previous experience/ training before starting this job?

Prior to attending university, I worked as a care assistant (CA) in a care home for older adults for one year. I continued working as a CA and support worker for people with learning disabilities part time throughout my undergraduate degree at Cardiff University and post graduate degree in Health Psychology at King’s College London. I did a few voluntary placements throughout university including cooking at a homeless shelter and being a befriender for people with mental health problems. During my MSc in Health Psychology I did a placement which involved helping to facilitate a mindfulness based cognitive therapy programme for people with MS.

Following my MSc, I was lucky enough to be offered a place on the NHS Scotland ‘Health Psychologists in Training’ programme where I was paid to work and train in a health board for two years! This took me up to Aberdeen where I mainly worked in respiratory medicine and cancer screening. After qualifying I was offered a full-time job working in diabetes, respiratory medicine and public health but I always wanted to move back near London and after a few months I accepted my current post in renal medicine.

  • What advice would you give someone starting out in their career?

The most helpful advice that was given to me by my first ever supervisor (a consultant health psychologist) was that most health psychologists feel as though they don’t have a clue about what they’re doing for the first 5 years of their career so accept the anxiety and carry on!



Dr Christina Jackson and Dr Lina Eliasson (Bridging Academia and Industry)

Christina and Lina are joint founders and directors of Sprout Behaviour Change Ltd, a consulting business which works with organisations of all sizes to improve health by changing behaviour of people with long term conditions and healthcare professionals. Christina is also Programme Manager for King’s Health Partners’ Centre for Adherence Research and Education.

  • What was your previous experience/ training before starting this job?

LE: Christina and I have quite a similar career progression. We did our PhDs in adherence at the same time at UCL School of Pharmacy. After, I worked in academia at Imperial College London and then we started around the same time at one of the agencies that design patient support programmes. The last two and a half years, just before Christina and I started Sprout (a behaviour change consultancy), I worked for a big clinical research organisation leading their European patient reported outcomes group where the focus of my work was around measures of patient experiences. It was then that Christina and I started to talk about opportunities within the space we really love working in, which was treatment adherence, and whether we could do something together.

  • What advice would you give someone starting out in their career?

LE: What helped me to get the right experience for working in industry was being open to all opportunities coming my way. For example, if you’re doing your PhD on a particular topic of interest to pharma, they might be open to you coming in to do a presentation. You can find these small opportunities of working with industry. I also think attending conferences that are related to the area you want to work in, meeting people and building relationships throughout your studies is invaluable.

CJ: One of the things that can hold people back is that you get to the end of your PhD and you don’t feel like you’re an expert. You still don’t feel like you know very much. But actually, outside academia, if you think about the fact that you’ve spent three or four years studying this subject, you are an expert. Sometimes coming out of academia, people can undervalue their expertise but actually they know about a billion times more than most people who might work in that field. Don’t sell yourself short. There are more opportunities in industry than there used to be. Companies are starting to advertise in the same places that you’d see academic jobs so they will come up from time to time. My other tip for people is to identify businesses where you think your skills might be useful and reach out to them about having an informal chat about opportunities. It’s just networking. Even if they don’t have anything at their company they might know someone who does. It’s a good way of finding out what’s going on.

  • And do you have any tips on finding organisations like yours?

LE: Companies like ours may be referred to as ‘behaviour change consultancies’, ‘patient support agencies’ ‘adherence agencies’, there isn’t one specific label. There are also health communication and health technology agencies that do similar work to us. Some of those agencies work with us if they do not have expertise or capacity in-house to come up with strategies to effectively change behaviour. Something which adds complexity to our field is that agencies develop their own behavioural models and jargon. Some people might talk about adherence, others about activation and others still about engagement.

CJ: I’ve found Linkedin to be a really helpful way of finding people. Once you start linking with people you can see who they are linked to and get a feel for what companies are out there, look them up and see what they do.

LE: I personally have always been very happy when people contact me on Linkedin and very happy to speak with people and advise people. As mentioned, do not be scared of networking. You might have some people who don’t reply or say no, but there will be ten times as many people who are really happy to give advice and link up.


Dr Katrin Hulme (King’s College London – academia)

Katrin is a Health Psychologist working in the Health Psychology Section at King’s College London.

  •  What was your previous experience / training before starting this job?

My interest in Health Psychology arose towards the end of my undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences (Psychology, Biology and Anthropology) at Durham University, so I enrolled on the MSc at Northumbria University and completed that part-time, alongside playing basketball for the county, and a part-time position as an Assistant Psychologist in the respiratory department at a local hospital. I then worked at King’s on fatigue-related projects and have been here on and off since. I have also worked in a hospital health psychology department, as well as doing some consultancy work at a university. To qualify as a Health Psychologist, I chose to do the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University and did this alongside these projects.

I also chose to do a few extra courses/workshops outside of this (for example, CBT, Motivational Interviewing and self-compassion), to gain confidence for more clinically-based work and learn about different, yet compatible, approaches. I think it’s important to consider a variety of techniques for managing health and health behaviour, as it allows you to tailor the approach to the needs of the people you’re working with.

  • What advice would you give someone starting out in their career?

Do not be afraid to try and make opportunities for yourself. Definitely take opportunities if they are presented to you, but if you have something in mind you would like to try, don’t be afraid to do your research and then approach people and ask – at worst all they can say is no!


Dr Tom Kenny (Spoonful of Sugar -industry)

Tom is the Medical Director and CEO of Spoonful of Sugar (SoS), a behaviour change consultancy that facilitates the translation of world-class research into practical programmes and solutions to achieve improved health outcomes.

  • What advice would you give someone starting out in their career?

I’m always looking for good people. And what I mean by good people is people who have common sense and are prepared to use it, who are willing to turn their hand to whatever needs doing. But, above all, people who will support and help their colleagues. I want people to come clean on what skills they have and what they enjoy doing -that’s really important. There are plenty of people who have skills out there but they don’t actually enjoy using them and that’s no good. One of the really important bits of the culture that I wanted to create is, actually, that we’re doing work that is meaningful, inherently interesting and having fun doing it. And I don’t mean Wolf of Wall Street kind of fun. I mean, inherently enjoying the work that you are doing. So, people knowing what their skills are and then having joy in using those – that’s the critical thing.

Have something, a topic area that you are particularly interested in and then you can talk about it and explain what’s exciting about that area. I’ve taken quite a few new graduates, but I’ve taken people who have come interested in an area because if somebody is interested in an area, they’re often interested in other areas.


These stories further highlight how different experiences are valued when it comes to building a career in Health Psychology, but what really matters is discovering what it is you are passionate about. It is important to not be afraid of asking questions and understanding that it is natural to  feel lost at times, or get imposter syndrome. As mentioned by health psychologists here, connect with people and build your network during conferences or by attending seminars and through social media – these connections can turn into future collaborations or job opportunities. We think the main take home here is to not undersell yourself, and to reach out and make connections with people.

Continuing with our series of showcasing different career paths for health psychologists, this next post will outline some of the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of working as a health psychologist or in this field. Hopefully this will give you some food for thought as to which career path might be best for you.


Hope Clayton (NHS)

Hope is a Health Psychologist working in the Renal Service at East and North Hertfordshire NHS Foundation Trust.


What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of your job?

It has got to be working with the patients. As a health psychologist I am often seeing people at one of the most difficult times of their lives. Working with people in such distress cannot really be described as enjoyable but it is certainly meaningful and definitely worthwhile. The best part of my job is working with so many different people, both patients and staff. I have so much respect for the hard work and compassion that our team demonstrate on a daily basis and genuinely enjoy their company.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Being relatively newly qualified I sometimes feel out of my depth when I am working with a patient who presents with an issue I haven’t come across before. However, I think I manage to appear swanlike, e.g. looking calm and collected on the outside but paddling like mad underneath! I am lucky to have an experienced, patient and approachable team of counsellors and social workers as well as my supervisor (a health psychologist) around me to provide advice and support. They are also great in helping lessen the ‘imposter syndrome’ that I regularly experience by reminding me that I can do it!


Holly Martin-Smith (NHS)

Holly is a Health Psychologist working in the Department of Clinical Health Psychology at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust.


What is the most memorable or rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is being able to support people who are struggling in some way and to help them to live the kind of life they would like to. I feel privileged that I am able to spend time with clients, learn about what is going on for them and work with them to teach skills and strategies to help them manage better. Sometimes I can reflect on the huge difference therapy makes for clients, and other times it may just be something small, but in most cases I feel that working together with them has made some difference for the better.

Other rewarding parts of the job are working in a team and the variety of the role. Working in a team provides support and opportunities for reflection, whilst we work towards a common goal. The variety of the role keeps things interesting. A typical day merely describes the format and structure but the fact that you are working with so many different clients across a broad range of health conditions, means that you are constantly learning and developing skills to try and provide the best support for them.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Some of the most challenging aspects of the job are time pressures and keeping up with admin. In addition to this, working within an emotionally distressed patient group requires a lot of resilience, self-compassion and reflection. Wondering whether you are doing the right thing, questioning your own abilities and feeling unconfident are also challenges.


Anna O’Sullivan (Atlantis Healthcare – industry)

Anna is a Clinical Health Psychologist (New Zealand registered), and Health Psychology Specialist at Atlantis Healthcare.

International company that designs, develops, and delivers support programmes for people with long-term conditions to improve health outcomes, quality of life, and patient self-management


What is the most memorable or rewarding part of your job?

In my work as a clinical Health Psychologist I supported individuals on a one-to-one basis, which was very rewarding. While I do not have regular contact with patients (aside from when conducting research) in my current role, I know that the support programmes we develop make a difference to the lives of many adults and young people living with chronic conditions around the world. The feedback we get from patients and healthcare professionals about the value of our support programmes is rewarding and motivating for myself, and all my colleagues.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

The most challenging aspects of my job include time management and sticking to budgeted hours. Working for a commercial company means you must think more about how many hours you are spending on certain projects. It may be that you only have 10 hours to write some content, as that is what was agreed with the client. It takes some getting used to after having the luxury of time on university projects, but it means you work more efficiently!


Dr Tom Kenny (Spoonful of Sugar -industry)

Tom is the Medical Director and CEO of Spoonful of Sugar (SoS), a behaviour change consultancy that facilitates the translation of world-class research into practical programmes and solutions to achieve improved health outcomes.


What is the most memorable or rewarding part of your job?

I think when people see the impact of the work that we’ve done; the research we’ve done to gather insight and particularly, when you identify something that’s surprising or nobody’s spotted or articulated, and then seeing that being used. In academia, research takes a longer time to have an impact in comparison to the industry. It’s really satisfying to see people seeing the impact of their work – very tangible.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

In a small company, there are always challenges. The biggest challenge that we have is finding good people who can work in the uncertainty of a small company. And not being able to say, ‘this is what my exact job is’, and ‘this is all I need to do’ because in a small company, everyone has to muck in and do bits of all sorts of things. Much like my day, you’ve got a rough outline of the kind of work that’s going, but things come up that need to be dealt with rapidly. Unless people are responsive and deal with those things, the company very quickly ceases to exist.


 Ellen Jardine (NHS)

Ellen is a Health Psychologist/Applied Psychologist in Health Improvement (NHS) in the Public Health Department in NHS Dumfries and Galloway. 


 What is the most memorable or rewarding part of your job?

The teams that I work with make my job rewarding. I’ve met many people who have welcomed me into their teams, taught me about their own areas of work and shown interest in health psychology. These experiences have really helped me to build an understanding of what ‘Applied Psychology’ means in an NHS setting and what it has the potential to contribute.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Promoting Health Psychology is the best and most challenging part of the job!


Dr Christina Jackson and Dr Lina Eliasson (Bridging Academia and Industry)

Christina and Lina are joint founders and directors of Sprout Behaviour Change Ltd, a consulting business which works with organisations of all sizes to improve health by changing behaviour of people with long term conditions and healthcare professionals. Christina is also Programme Manager for King’s Health Partners’ Centre for Adherence Research and Education.


What is the most memorable or rewarding part of your job?

LE: It’s definitely when a support programme is launched. In particular when you start getting feedback from users about whether the programme is helpful, or they like it, or they support it.

CJ: And I think that feedback from people is really important. I had some feedback recently on a protocol I developed for nurses who are going to visit people in their homes.  I included some behaviour change techniques that they could use and getting feedback from nurses saying “I use that technique every time I see somebody” is really nice. Bringing that kind of insight to healthcare professionals who are actually on the ground working with people is what I enjoy. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed over the years is working in multi-disciplinary teams, and this is a bit different from academia as well. For example, when you’re working on materials for patients, working with a creative team, they take your psychology speak and turn it into something that sounds like a consumer magazine. It looks beautiful and it’s really easy to read. I think working in teams like that, you come up with stuff which is so much better than you could do when you’re working on your own, which I’ve really enjoyed.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

CJ: Regulation! The pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated. For example, when you’re working on materials for patients and for healthcare professionals, everything you do has to be compliant with regulations. What that means in practice is that all of the materials that you produce, every question you suggest in a questionnaire, gets very heavily scrutinised by the pharmaceutical company and it has to all be sanctioned.

LE: Another challenge is that the regulatory compliance space is a grey area. It can be hard to know exactly what you can and can’t do and it comes down to the pharmaceutical company’s compliance team to make a recommendation, which has to be followed. We have worked on projects where we have come up a beautiful design that we think will really work. Then the medical-legal team or pharmacovigilance team review the design and decide that you need to cut this and that out, and you can end up with such a watered down programme that it essentially becomes ineffective. It’s really refreshing when you work with companies who want to be at the edge of the game, pushing the boundaries to go into that grey area and make something which is really great for the end users.

CJ: Over time, managing the regulatory compliance aspect is something that you get more skilled at dealing with. For example, we both know from painful previous experience, that you need to involve the people who are going to approve it (the medical and pharmacovigilance teams) in the project in the very early stages. That means that if they see something that they think is a bit dodgy, they can flag it up before you have included it in a beautifully designed programme. Also, I think you get a much better at understanding how you can adapt what you say or how you do things to have the same effect. With experience, you also get better at working with those departments; to negotiate that if we can’t have the intervention that way, how about we have it this way? It can be a source of frustration but you do get better at navigating it over time.


Dr Katrin Hulme (King’s College London – academia)

Katrin is a Health Psychologist working in the Health Psychology Section at King’s College London.


 What is the most memorable or rewarding part of your job?

 I like the variety of the work and being part of an applied project that is working towards creating something that can be integrated into healthcare. I especially enjoy talking to patients to involve them in the process, which is hugely valuable in terms of making an accessible and helpful product.

Something I find particularly rewarding is the ‘lightbulb moment’ when I’m working with clients (both individuals and groups) towards managing health or changing behaviour – that moment where something clicks into place, or they understand something relative to their experiences which helps them progress. Throughout my training I learnt the value of Socratic questioning and, whilst a difficult skill to master, I’m realising more and more how powerful it can be.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

I think most challenges often boil down to tight deadlines and keeping all parts of a project ticking along simultaneously. Making sure that all the bits that need to can come together at the different milestones can sometimes be difficult. That’s why I find writing lists so helpful, to break down the bigger picture into what’s happening day-to-day, and keep track of things – essentially trying to practice what I preach!

Across the different career types, the rewarding aspects of working as a health psychologist seem to all focus on patient benefit, and supporting patients through difficult times, as well as working in multidisciplinary teams and the shared expertise and skills this can bring. The challenges seem to differ between working in the NHS and industry – navigating legal issues and budgets in industry and treating patients with complex issues in the NHS. Unsurprisingly, time constraints appear to be a challenge across industries.

Stay tuned for our next post in this series providing useful career advice for setting out as a health psychologist.  

« Older posts