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Highest paid jobs in psychology and how to get them

Published on: 24 Apr 2024

Complete Guide To Psychology

Psychology is one of the most popular degrees in the UK yet studies have found that it has one of the lowest returns in terms of annual earnings, similar to that of philosophy.

This is down to the fact that it takes years, and several post-graduate steps, to get registered in one of the protected professional areas such as clinical, counselling, forensic, occupational or health psychology.

In terms of general earnings, psychologists land somewhere between nurses and doctors.



Agenda for Change (AfC) bands


Assistant psychologists

Band 4-5

£25,147 - £34,581

Trainee psychologists

Band 6

£35,392 - £42,618

Newly qualified psychologists

Band 7

£43,742 - £50,056

Experienced/senior psychologists

Band 8a

£50,952 - £57,349

Consultant psychologists

Band 8b-d

£58,972 - £96,376

Heads of service

Band 9

£99,891 - £114,949


In 2020 the Nuffield Trust found that on average, around one in eight ‘psychologist’ vacancies were at the higher Agenda for Change bandings, ie Band 8b and above. However, the study also described a large variation in the earnings and career progression of psychologists.

Here we outline five characteristics which the research showed were associated with higher earnings in psychology.


1. Take the jump into leadership

Traditionally those outside of clinical psychology have had limited opportunities to progress into senior leadership positions, but as the NHS continues to expand its psychological therapies workforce more of these roles are becoming available.

In some NHS Trusts now, it is not uncommon to find a Head of Psychological Services supported by heads of psychological specialties as well as consultant psychology leads in a range of specialties.

While these roles are at the highest AfC bandings, it often means less contact with patients or clients and more strategic work in areas such as workforce planning, budgeting and service delivery. Some roles may also require further qualifications such as health psychology.


2. Shift to the private sector

The Nuffield study found career progression for psychologists in the NHS appeared to stagnate at senior levels and a significant proportion were moving into the private sector at this stage.

This could mean working for private companies or becoming self-employed.

For some specialties, such as occupational psychology, most of the work will be in the private sector anyway – working for large companies in HR or change management.

The private sector is unpredictable when it comes to salaries and these will depend on the size of the company and the role. For example, a ‘performance psychologist’ role for a major investment bank or elite sports team might offer a generous bonus if outcomes can be linked to improved financial performance.


3. Find the sectors with shortages

Specialisms experiencing acute shortages and backlogs in the system, such as child and adolescent mental health, are seeing a knock-on impact on pay.

Educational psychologists (EPs), for example, can earn between £45,000 and £70,000 per annum working for a council (depending on experience), but in some parts of the country self-employed EPs are being paid between £500 - £1,000 per day to undertake assessments.

Within the NHS, many Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are offering applicants a 15% additional payment on top of the banding rate or a fast-track into more senior roles. Similarly, self-employed child counselling or specialist clinical psychologists can earn between £120 - £250 per hour.

However, it’s worth noting that areas with acute shortages means the work is likely to be highly pressured and stressful.

While becoming self-employed can mean higher pay rates and increased flexibility, the downsides include losing holiday and sick pay, funding your own continuing professional development (CPD) or training and increased administration around tax and accounting. It can also be a lonelier working existence without the support of a team around you.


4. Move to Scotland or London

The Nuffield Trust study found that more job postings for psychologists were at the higher pay grades (Band 8b and above) in Scotland in 2020 than in the other nations. This finding was consistent with a previous audit conducted in 2018.

Researchers also found there were more psychology jobs available in London, as a proportion of all staff, than the rest of the UK (about 50% more). This might be because of the large number of teaching and specialist hospitals in the capital.


5. Be a man

Okay, so this isn’t a career choice per se, but according to the Nuffield Trust study men are less likely than women to pursue a career in psychology, but those who do tend to get paid more than their female counterparts. Around one in six of the NHS psychological workforce are male, but 46% of them are in Band 8 or 9 roles compared with 41% of women.


Where possible salaries mentioned in this article have been updated in line with current jobs postings (March 2024).


Further reading

For more information on the different branches of psychology, training requirements and average salary levels read the Complete Guide to becoming a Psychologist.

The Nuffield Trust. The right track: Participation and progression in psychology career paths, 2021.

Department of Education research report. The relative labour market: returns to different degrees, June 2018.

Psychological Professions Workforce Plan for England 2023/24.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. National specialist shortage having profound impact on children with SEND and their families. Press release, February 2024.