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University of Sunderland

Choosing a career path in psychology

Posted on: June 8, 2022
Hands holding a notepad with a patient blurred in the background

A career in professional psychology can be a hugely rewarding one. Psychologists play a significant role in improving people’s health and their lives more generally. Through the study of the brain and the human mind, psychologists can better examine and understand human behaviour and interactions, and can better treat mental illnesses. 

The field is also an incredibly diverse one, with a variety of areas to specialise in.

Areas of psychology

There are a number of different career paths available to aspiring professional psychologists. These include:

Clinical psychology

Clinical psychologists help people with both mental and physical health problems, such as:

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Learning difficulties
  • Relationship issues

According to the British Psychological Society (BPS), some clinical psychologists work in private clinical psychology practice, but the majority work for the NHS, typically in settings such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Health centres
  • Community mental health teams
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
  • Social services

The UK government’s National Careers Service data for clinical psychologists states that the average salary for clinical psychologists ranges from approximately £32,305 to £45,838 annually.

Health psychology

Health psychologists help navigate the bridge between physical and mental wellbeing, and specialise in the psychological and emotional aspects of healthcare and illness.

For example, a person suffering from chronic pain may need support in managing their mental health as well as their physical illnesses. A health psychologist can use psychological interventions to support that individual’s mental wellbeing during their physical recovery.

Health psychologists can also help people:

  • Quit smoking
  • Make healthier decisions about nutrition and exercise
  • Manage their mental wellbeing during long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, or asthma

According to the BPS, health psychologists work in a number of different settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Community health settings
  • Health research units
  • Local authorities
  • Public health departments
  • Universities

There are also psychological wellbeing practitioners, who support people with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders during recovery from illness.

The National Careers Service data for psychological wellbeing practitioners states that the average salary for psychological wellbeing practitioners ranges from approximately £25,654 to £31,534 annually.

Educational psychology

Educational psychologists focus specifically on how children and young people develop and learn in educational and other early years settings. 

According to the BPS, they are typically employed by local education authorities, and can help with challenges such as:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Social and emotional problems
  • Issues around disabilities
  • Complex development disorders

While they can help children directly within settings, educational psychologists also play an important role in researching and implementing new methods to support young people as well as their teachers and parents.

There are also education mental health practitioners, or EMHPs, who offer mental health support to pupils in schools and colleges.

Current salary data is unavailable from the National Careers Service, but the Association of Education Psychologists states that career prospects for educational psychologists are good, with demand outstripping supply.

Forensic psychology

Forensic psychologists can include criminal psychologists, investigative psychologists, and legal psychologists. They examine criminal behaviour, and explore or provide treatment for criminal offenders.

Their work can also include assisting with criminal investigations, giving evidence during court proceedings, and advising parole boards and mental health tribunals.

According to the BPS, forensic psychologists are typically employed by the HM Prison Service, but may also work for:

  • Rehabilitation units
  • Secure hospitals
  • Social services providers
  • Universities

The National Careers Service data for forensic psychologists states that the average salary for forensic psychologists ranges from approximately £27,000 to £54,000 annually.

Sport and exercise psychology

Sport psychologists support athletes, teams, and coaches with the psychological pressure that comes with demanding training and competition, and work to improve their performance and motivation. Exercise psychologists, meanwhile, help people more widely to increase their motivation and participation in healthy exercise.

According to the BPS, sport psychologists can work with athletes at all levels of competition – recreational, amaeteur, and elite. Some work full-time with professional sports teams, while others work as private consultants. Exercise psychologists may also work as consultants, supporting GP referrals, teaching and research, public and private exercise programmes, and so on.

The National Careers Service data for sport and exercise psychologists states that the average salary for sport and exercise psychologists ranges from approximately £20,000 to £48,000 annually.


Neuropsychologists require an in-depth understanding of clinical psychology, mental health issues, and specialist knowledge in neuroscience in order to help and rehabilitate patients suffering from:

  • Brain injuries
  • Stroke
  • Toxic and metabolic disorders
  • Tumours
  • Neurodegenerative diseases

According to the BPS, neuropsychologists typically work:

  • in acute settings such as regional neuroscience centres.
  • in rehabilitation centres, where they offer assessments, training, and support.
  • as private medico-legal consultants as expert witnesses in personal injury cases.

The National Careers Service doesn’t have payscale data for neuropsychologists, but the BPS states that pay is on the same scale as clinical psychologists (an average of £32,305 to £45,838 annually).

Counselling psychology

Counselling psychologists combine psychological theory and psychological research with therapeutic practice to help people struggling with a diverse range of issues that are connected to mental health, including:

  • Bereavement
  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual abuse
  • Trauma
  • Relationship issues

According to the BPS, they typically work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Health centres
  • Psychological therapy services
  • Community mental health teams
  • Child and adolescent mental health services

Counselling psychology is a relatively new field of professional psychology, so salary figures aren’t available from the National Careers Service. However, the BPS states that counselling psychologists within the NHS are paid on the nationally agreed scale used for all applied psychologists in health and social care.

Occupational psychology

Occupational psychologists help manage business and employee performance within organisations. Their focus is on:

  • Employee satisfaction and engagement
  • Organisational effectiveness
  • People management

According to the BPS, they work within businesses in the private and public sectors – with the UK’s civil service being one of the largest single employers of occupational therapists – and their work requires collaboration with:

  • Managers
  • HR (Human Resources) teams
  • Union representatives
  • Training advisors
  • Specialist staff

Salary data for occupational psychologists is unavailable from the National Careers Service, but the BPS states that salaries can vary enormously because the majority of occupational psychologists are employed within the private sector.

Other opportunities

There are a number of other career options available to people with a psychology degree. Opportunities include:

  • Psychotherapy. Psychotherapists help people through emotional crises through a number of different talking therapies.
  • Research. Those who’ve studied psychology at higher education level have the relevant experience and knowledge – such as research methods and similar skills – to work as research assistants, assistant psychologists, and so on.
  • Further professional development. Aspiring psychologists can enhance their degrees by becoming accredited or registered with organisations such as the Health and Care Professions Council, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, as well as the BPS via its Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC).

Start your career in professional psychology

Take the next step towards a fulfilling career in professional psychology with the 100% online MSc Psychology at the University of Sunderland. This flexible, part-time master’s degree has been designed for ambitious working professionals and career switchers, so you don’t need to have an academic or professional psychology background to apply. It’s also taught entirely online, so you can complete your postgraduate study around your current commitments.

For further information about coursework and modules, tuition fees, entry requirements, and other postgraduate courses that are available, please visit the University of Sunderland website

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