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:
- the doctorate (taught) route
- the independent route (via the BPS) and
- 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: https://www.bps.org.uk/public/become-psychologist/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!