Can overseas clinical psychologists register in the UK?

In the UK, clinical psychologists register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). To make things a little confusing, they don’t register as a ‘clinical psychologist’, but as a ‘practitioner psychologist’. This category also includes other types of psychologists, such as forensic psychologists and health psychologists. ‘Clinical psychologist’ is then referred to as a ‘modality’ within the category.

Overseas clinical psychologists can apply to the HCPC for registration in the UK as a ‘practitioner psychologist’ with a ‘clinical psychologist’ modality. If successful, this then opens doors for a range of UK jobs which require HCPC registration. I requested information from the HCPC about the number of overseas psychologists who have applied to the UK register in the past 3 years, and the number which have been successful, via a ‘Freedom of Information Act request’. You can download the excel file they sent me by clicking here. On the first tab, it lists the number of applicants over the past 3 years according to country and year. On the second, it shows the number of successful registrations, also by country and year. This data show that in the past 3 years, 1190 international psychologists have applied to be registered as a practitioner psychologist and 703 have been successful. This is only a 59% success rate.

laptop displaying 'register' on its screen

The data also show that success rates vary between countries. For example, of 57 Australian applicants, 52 were successful, which is an impressive 91% success rate. However, of 30 Nigerian applicants, only 6 were successful, which is a concerning 20% success rate. For this blog post, I offer some advice for international psychologists considering a UK registration. I spoke with two prospective applicants, Olivia* from India, where success rates stand at 45% and Jane* from Greece, where there is a 41% success rate in applicants. I also contacted the HCPC for comment on the Freedom of Information Act request results. All quoted information from the HCPC in this post comes from an email I received from them.

  1. The HCPC will most likely expect you to hold a PhD or other doctorate level qualification in psychology. In the UK, the required clinical psychology training pathway involves the completion of a doctorate. While the HCPC does not explicitly require a doctorate, applicants will need to be able to demonstrate that their previous education and training is equivalent to this. In their email to me, the HCPC said, ‘In the UK application route, where we approve the educational course, many are trained at PhD level, or another post graduate level… Many (most) international Practitioner Psychologist applicants applying for registration have BSc, MSc, Ph.D plus numerous other courses that they quote in their applications.’ Olivia was not aware of this when she began completing her application, stating ‘I looked at the website and they really offered no information. I gave them a call and explained I had a masters, not a PhD. I asked if it was an issue and they said it was fine, it shouldn’t be an issue’. It is possible that this lack of clarity is linked with the variation between practitioner psychology courses in the UK. For example, UK forensic psychologists are not required to have a doctorate, and so this is less likely to be an expectation for overseas psychologists looking to register in that psychology discipline. However, the difference in success rates between Australia (where clinical psychology is also a doctorate model) and other countries where it is not, leads me to conclude that all overseas clinical psychologists should be aware that this might be an expectation for them when looking to register in the UK.

forms with a calculator

  1. The time investment to apply is significant. The application is long and completing it is time consuming. It’s important to weigh up what this will cost you personally compared with both your chances of success, and what the registration could gain for you. ‘I realised I would need to fill out this huge form with all my previous modules listed and described. A transcript wasn’t going to be good enough, they also said it needed to be a stamped or sealed document!’ Jane said. Olivia also had this experience, explaining ‘I had to go back to my educational institution from 10 years ago in India. They wanted all the information from my undergraduate syllabus. I invested literally days in trying to sort this out’.
  2. The fee is non-refundable. The current application fee for international applicants is £539.65, which is non-refundable. Olivia explained how she saved for this, but then found out she would also need to pay for an English language test. ‘This was going to be about another £200’ she said. ‘I did one two years ago and then followed this with a UK masters degree, but that wasn’t good enough. They wanted me to do it again’. The extra fee was more than Olivia had prepared for and caused her to pause her application. When I asked the HCPC about the fee being non-refundable, they said: “This is so existing registrants do not subsidise applicants. The application fee reflects the costs of assessing the application, which includes a review by two assessors in the same profession”.

hands typing on a laptop

  1. You will receive feedback if you are unsuccessful. In their email to me, the HCPC said: ‘Any apparent shortfalls in the equivalence to a newly qualified UK applicant that registers will be listed in the response to the international applicant, but a particular course will not be recommended to make up the shortfall. It is up to the applicant to find the appropriate additional training or experience’. This could mean that an initially unsuccessful application could pass when resubmitted if further training or experience is gained. However, the training and experience required in their feedback may be unfeasible for you and it is also possible that it might therefore not be practically useful information.
  2. There are other options for prospective psychotherapists in the UK. It is worth developing a broad understanding of the landscape of psychological therapies in the UK. For example, while ‘clinical psychologist’ is a protected title which can only be used if you are HCPC registered, ‘psychologist’ and ‘psychotherapist’ are not protected, and there are other routes to professional recognition in psychological therapies. You may find my previous blog post on alternative routes to training as a psychological therapist helpful. For example, it is possible to train and work as a counsellor through training courses and diplomas which are not degree-level and can be completed part-time. These options may be more accessible when a doctorate-level education is not possible.

pinboard of words, with the main one being 'qualification'

  1. Learn about GBC: Graduate Basis for Chartership with the British Psychological Society. The UK clinical psychology training pathway begins with completing an undergraduate psychology degree which offers ‘GBC’. This form of professional recognition is required by a range of psychology-related jobs, including some assistant psychologist posts, psychological wellbeing practitioner roles and others. If you already have an undergraduate degree which did not provide you with GBC (few outside the UK do), you can also gain GBC through some psychology masters courses, which are known as ‘conversion courses’. For more information on these, see my previous blog post. If registering with the HCPC seems unfeasible for you, gaining GBC through a masters conversion course could help make you eligible for a number of other roles which could then help you progress your psychology career in the UK.

Final thoughts

The job of the HCPC is to ensure high standards are upheld in the UK. Ensuring this may mean that some applicants are rejected if they do not have the relevant qualifications or experience. However, the figures revealed by the Freedom of Information Act request suggest that work could be done to communicate what is required more clearly to overseas clinical psychologists. If greater clarity was offered, more applicants would be able to self-assess their likelihood of success and make an informed choice regarding whether they should apply. This could save them time, money and emotional energy, which are all important commodities in the current climate. It might also be more effective to include an active evaluation of ability, such as an academic and/or practical exam as part of the process. At present registration can be regarded largely as a feat of form-filling; assessing ability in other ways might reduce this pressure while simultaneously increasing confidence that the assessment processes measures relevant skills.

 

Please note that unfortunately I am not able to respond to individual requests for career advice.

 

*not her real name

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3 Comments

  1. Paul
    September 24, 2023 / 7:11 pm

    👏👌👍

  2. Cristal Palacios
    September 27, 2023 / 10:14 am

    Dear Judith! Thank you for this. I have a BA in Clinical Psychology from overseas and over 15 years of clinical experience as a psychotherapist (and extensive trauma training) since in my country the BA leads to a license to practice. My masters and PhD are however in a different field (peace and conflict). After reading this piece and your other blogpost on becoming a therapist without doing a BA in psychology, I still feel in a limbo. Does my BA in Clinical Psychology provide a route to practice as a psychotherapist in the UK?

    • judithnjohnson
      Author
      September 27, 2023 / 5:34 pm

      Hi Cristal, unless your BA was accredited with the British Psychology Society, unfortunately it will not gain you GBC which is necessary for quite a few jobs. If your masters and PhD are not in psychology, I suspect it is unlikely that they will be considered as suitable by the HCPC, although you can call them to query this as I could be wrong. However, “psychotherapist” is not a protected title in the UK. You can practice here and use this title even if you are in fact registered/licensed elsewhere.

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