Broadly speaking, a clinical psychologist works with those experiencing mental or physical health problems in order to alleviate distress and improve general wellbeing.
It’s a career choice that's becoming increasingly popular with students, and when you think about what the job entails, it’s easy to see why.
Working hours are good, you have the opportunity to really help people and the work is often varied and interesting.
Though these general ideas about the profession are broadly understood, the day-to-day realities of the role are less widely known. So we reached out to Dr Vicky McKechnie, an NHS clinical psychologist at an acute hospital in London, to get a better idea of the profession.
In her daily role, Dr McKechnie works within various medical teams to address the psychological aspects of living with long-term health conditions, including type 1 diabetes and cardiac conditions. She is also currently completing a research fellowship on the psychological effects of having type 1 diabetes.
Dr McKechnie’s work takes her from patient one-to-ones to consultations, training and beyond. If you’re hoping to become a clinical psychologist and want a unique insight into the profession, look no further...
Interested in gaining a unique, 360-degree experience of psychology? Take a look at InvestIN's Psychologist Programmes; each is jam-packed with immersive career simulations, exclusive site visits and personalised career coaching, all designed to give you a more hands-on experience of the profession.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What does a typical day in your working life look like?
I work four days a week at an acute hospital and my role is quite broad.
[I might be doing] patient talks, one-to-one psychological therapy with people who have type 1 diabetes or a heart condition or supervising psychologists, trainee clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals. I also consult with non-psychology colleagues, teach and train other professionals and carry out service evaluations and development.
In February 2021 I started a research fellowship. This means that I am now doing less clinical work and am instead working as part of the hospital’s type 1 diabetes research team.
My hours are a bit more flexible now that I am working in research, but before that, it tended to be fairly standard Monday to Thursday, 9-5ish, with a few regular meetings outside of those hours.
What first inspired you to consider psychology as a career?
I really wanted to work with people, and I also really enjoy academic work.
I have always felt motivated by issues of social justice and inequality. For me, clinical psychology felt like a career that attended to all of those aspects.
I really wanted to work with people, and I...have always felt motivated by issues of social justice and inequality. For me, clinical psychology felt like a career that attended to all of those aspects.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I enjoy working within multidisciplinary teams to collaboratively improve a challenging situation for someone.
What’s the hardest thing?
Even though we try our best, we can’t always help everyone.
That might be because there are structural factors that make life really challenging for a person, like a housing problem, or a social situation that makes it difficult for someone to engage with their appointments.
Like many jobs, often there is more that we need or want to do than there is time or resources available.
What has been your biggest achievement since starting your career in psychology?
It’s an interesting question!
I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it before. I’m not sure I can answer it.
I would say that when I prepare talks for large audiences, I find it serves as an opportunity to reflect on the things I have learned and the skills I’ve developed over the years, skills I hope I will continue to develop.
What are the perks/incentives, financial and otherwise, for a graduate looking to become a clinical psychologist?
It would be disingenuous to suggest that there are significant material perks that come with being a clinical psychologist in the public sector.
However, if money is, or becomes an important factor then there is the option of private practice when you are more established, which can be better paid.
Approach [your relevant work experience] in an open and curious way, and always reflect on what you are learning about yourself and about clinical psychology.
Are there different pathways or specialisms aspiring psychologists can choose, and if so, what are they?
Clinical psychology training often allows specialist placements in the final year.
Once you have qualified, you can work with a range of different client groups. For example: adult mental health, eating disorders, children and families, forensic services, intellectual disabilities, physical health conditions or neuropsychology.
Different roles will have different opportunities; some might include more one-to-one psychological therapy, others more consultation and service development.
Some clinical psychologists go on to pursue additional training, such as a certificate in a certain type of psychological therapy. Clinical psychologists specialising in neuropsychology can do an additional qualification called the QiCN – Qualification in Clinical Neuropsychology.
How did you find your first 12 months in the field?
I was fortunate because I got a job working as a clinical psychologist within the department that I had done my third year training placement with.
I’m sure this helped with the transition to being qualified, as I already knew my colleagues and how the department worked!
I worked within the type 1 diabetes service that I still work in now, running a group for people with persistent pain and conducting neuropsychological assessments.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I’m a big fan of horses. In the past, I used to teach horse riding one evening after work. I don’t do that anymore but still ride very regularly. I also love spending time with friends and family.
Do you have any advice for young people thinking about pursuing a career in clinical psychology?
Clinical psychology can be competitive to get into, but don’t be disheartened.
You also need to be prepared for the fact that much of the early relevant work experience you need to do to get onto a training course won’t be glamorous or well paid.
Approach this in an open and curious way, and always reflect on what you are learning about yourself and about clinical psychology, and how it will eventually help you to be a better clinical psychologist.