Skip to main content

Top Tips For Getting On A Doctorate Programme in Clinical Psychology

Published on: 12 May 2023

Doctorate Programme

Written by Samuel Grimwood

Clinical psychology is a very competitive field and you need resilience, diligence and imagination to keep yourself going as you scale the ladder to become a qualified clinical psychologist.

I am now a trainee clinical psychologist undertaking a doctorate in Clinical Psychology (DCLIN) which is the mandatory training route to becoming a clinical psychologist. I have managed to secure a place at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IOPPN). It is globally renowned so it was the programme I really wanted to get on to.

It has taken me a long time to get to this stage and, at times, I didn’t think I would be able to continue. This is the advice I would offer others on that journey:

  1. Don’t listen to other people’s opinions. There’s a perception that psychology is a middle-class profession and if you don’t fit the mould you are not welcome. But it’s important to have diversity among psychology professionals as it gives greater insight both when helping people and undertaking research. I was a working-class lad from Essex, and I grew up in the kind of circles where people laughed if you said you wanted to do further education – yet here I am.

  2. Don’t give up. For every assistant psychologist and psychological wellbeing practitioner role there will be more than 100 applications. The competition to get on to clinical training is even fiercer with only 25% of applicants getting placements. I have applied for clinical psychology training every year since 2016 and the first time I was interviewed was in 2022. That’s a lot of rejection, and it does start to hurt both motivation and your self-worth.

  3. Learn from others. Since graduating from my psychology undergraduate degree in 2014, I’ve been on a roller coaster ride. Reading and listening to other people’s experiences has really helped me through. There are some aspiring psychologists or current trainee psychologists who are generously sharing their experiences on YouTube or via blogs. Just type in ‘DCLIN’ into the YouTube search tab. Not only do they provide tips and ideas, but it also helps to feel you are not alone.

  4. Build your skillset. Be prepared to do voluntary work and take on a range of different roles to expand and build on your skillset. I’ve done all sorts of assistant psychologist roles and research projects. I completed a research PhD when I couldn’t get onto the clinical psychology doctorate course. I worked as a research assistant, I helped others with their research for free and did voluntary work with charities. I also mentored psychiatry students as a mock patient and provided feedback. All of this honed my research skills and my understanding of psychology in a range of areas.

  5. Set up a LinkedIn profile. This was one of the best things I ever did. I was getting quite depressed and lonely in 2016 when I was moving around the UK a lot. I started to use it weekly and have connected with a lot of people in the sector – I have even ended up co-authoring publications with them. At one stage I was forced to work on a farm in Cumbria because I was between jobs and it was a LinkedIn contact that meant I was able to turn that experience into a useful contribution to someone’s research (on whether farming and gardening can help adolescents in distress).

  6. Prioritise self-care. I burnt out after setting up a social anxiety course for people with autism. I was putting so much emotional energy into my work with patients that some of my personal relationships ended. I’ve learnt the hard way that you need to take care of yourself and have other aspects to your life that make you happy outside of work. And while I advise not giving up, it’s also helpful to have a Plan B as it can release some of the pressure on your thinking.

  7. Keep up to date. Psychology is quite a fast-moving area in terms of emerging research in different therapies. For example, there is currently more evidence on third-wave therapies, such as compassion focused therapy (CFT) which examines shame and helps people develop self-compassion. Because I was up to date on the evidence base in this area, I could apply it to research I was undertaking with COPD patients, 80% of whom were former smokers with feelings of shame. This really improved the value I could bring to the research.

  8. Be open-minded and adaptable. This is important as a psychologist. If a therapy doesn’t appear to be effective, you have to be open and flexible to trying another evidence-based approach. Think about your career the same way. Don’t be afraid to apply for roles other than assistant psychologist or psychological wellbeing practitioner. Remember the clinical training competencies: supervision, relationships, assessment, formulation, intervention, communication, evaluation and research, service delivery, teaching and personal/professional development. Think about what kind of jobs or roles would allow you to develop one of these competencies. 


Samuel Grimwood is a doctoral student (clinical practice and research) at King's College London within the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience.