Sleep is an important part of our lives. Not only do we need it to recover and function throughout the day, but it is also a crucial part of our health. When we’re feeling sick, our bodies need more sleep than usual.
Similarly, when we don’t sleep enough our immune system weakens and we might catch a cold more easily.
But it’s not only our general health that is affected by our sleep patterns. It turns out that our mental health might even be much more susceptible to changes in our sleep routines. In this article, we’re going to talk about all the ways sleep can affect your mind.
However, let’s first mention why is sleep important and what happens to our bodies and brains while we’re asleep.
Why Do We Need Sleep?
For animals, as well as for humans, it is impossible to survive without sleep. In order to prove that, several scientists have deprived themselves or their research participants from sleep for days, and the results were always the same.
What they all experienced was a decrease in cognitive skills, a drop in awareness and focus to their surroundings, as well as an over-exhaustion. They also felt much weaker, their immune system was damaged and so on.
So, what are the main reasons we sleep?
We sleep in order to:
Repair our organs and muscles
Restore and strengthen our immune system
Rebalance our hormones
Help our brain retain information
When putting it like this, it seems all quite simple. But what can sleep do to our minds apart from making us feel cranky when we’re sleep-deprived, or making us feel happy when we’re well rested?
Let’s find out what are the main ways your sleep can affect your brain.
Sleeping Affects Learning and Memory
Staying up all night before an exam was found to have really poor effects on how we memorize and learn. On the other hand, getting a night of good sleep before heading to an exam has shown to have many more benefits on our brain and how we remember things.
This is why naps often provide a fairly good and efficient boost to our learning capabilities. Some people claim that they managed to memorize better and improve their performances thanks to using power naps to recover during studying or working.
Our brain simply needs sleep in order to process all new information received throughout the day. When not sleeping sufficiently, our brains don’t have enough energy to store new things we learn.
As a result of this lack of energy, it becomes much harder to recall things. Without having and maintaining a regular sleeping pattern <strong>humans can become forgetful</strong> and develop mentally.
Thanks to these findings, it became evident that chronic sleep deprivation increases one’s dementia risks in older age.
Lack Of Sleep Decreases Our Cognitive Skills
Sleep does more than just enhancing our memory skills. Apparently, when we are well-rested our mind is much clearer, and our brain cells function properly. When we’re tired or sleep-deprived, our brain cells become unable to process information accordingly or to translate images into conscious thoughts.
This is exactly the reason why driving is highly discouraged when a person is tired. In fact, a research study has shown that sleep deprivation had almost the same effects on our brain as alcohol.
A sleepless night will slow you down, make your brain less active and potentially lead to poorer decisions.
You Might Eat More Unhealthy When Sleep Deprived
Since sleep affects and recovers our prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is responsible for planning and decision making, it can become much easier to lose self-control which will result in faulty decisions.
As a result of this change in the way your brain thinks, you might be less self-controlled when it comes to food. It has been shown that self deprived people tend to eat more processed and unhealthy food compared to people that get the proper amount of sleep.
This is also why obesity is often linked to sleep deprivation as well.
Sleeping Affects Your Mood
Not only will decreased amount of sleep make you less efficient on work, decrease your performance and lead to poorer decisions, but it will also affect your mood.
A study has found that women that were deprived of sleep experienced higher levels of anger, depression, and hostility early in the morning when compared to women that slept full 8 hours.
It’s not so uncommon to feel cranky, more irritable and impatient when we lack sleep. On the flipside, when we sleep well, we feel happier, full of energy and ready to take on whatever the day might bring.
This is why depression, anxiety and other mental issues are often connected to sleeping disorders such as shift work sleep disorder, insomnia, interrupted sleep and so on.
Not Sleeping Enough Might Result In Less Creativity
Researches have shown that people that were deprived of sleep, or that have slept only a few hours less than 8 hours, were less likely to think outside of the box, come up with creative solutions and maintain their problem-solving skills.
On the other side, getting a full night of sleep promotes creativity. This was proven thanks to a study testing participants on a task involving numbers. People that have slept more managed to figure out the problem faster and at a more successful rate than people who were sleep-deprived.
Sleep Enables More Efficient Multitasking Skills
Multitasking is possible thanks to the activity of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that enables us to do several tasks simultaneously and that needs sleep in order to function properly.
This is also another reason why it is better not to drive when tired. Not only our brain functions more slowly and isn’t able to alertly respond to our surroundings, but the cortical function of multitasking is weakened by a lot when we don’t get enough sleep.
Your Brain Gets Rid Of Unnecessary “Trash”
Our brains have a system that gets rid of unnecessary toxins and, apparently, this system seems to be most active during sleep. A recent study about this brain’s system has thought us that by sleeping, our brains manage to eliminate bad toxins that can cause Alzheimer’s or other neurological disorders.
During this process, brain cells also shrink in size in order to allow toxic waste to be eliminated properly from the brain.
Ok, so you got your psychology degree or your just about to, now what do you do? What are your options? What direction should you go? So many questions but at times it can be difficult to know what is best without a doubt!
Well, there are a number of options, but often it can be really confusing and challenging to know what to do.
My own experiences
I know the feeling many have all too well. I struggled often to know what I was going to do with my degree. At first, I did an undergraduate degree in social sciences that I struggled my way through.
I just managed to get enough grades in high school to get onto the degree, but when I had finished, I really didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do.
I was lucky enough to have had a couple of psychology modules through my first degree that were really the only ones I enjoyed. Also, after completing my degree in social sciences I conducted a therapy course that started me on my path to psychology and counselling psychology in particular.
I was fortunate because when I started my next degree which was a graduate diploma in psychology, I knew what I wanted to do, I had the goal of one day becoming a counselling psychologist
I had a purpose and direction, but I know not everyone has this. Even when people finish their degrees, things can still seem blurry and uncertain.
With a broad degree like psychology, it can be even harder to know what to do next.
With this live understanding and coming to the end of my training, I have some understanding and some personal experience that might help people get some direction after completing their psychology degree.
What options are there?
So, first question first, what exactly are the options?
Well, I’m sure you are aware that there is a very low percentage of people that go into professional psychology after their degree
Why is that though?
I think one of the biggest things is that if you want to pursue a career in psychology then further studies are required.
This can be difficult to accept for people that have just come through a four-year degree, realising that they could have a minimum of another three years fo university studies ahead of them to become a psychologist can be a daunting prospect.
I also think the issue and difficulty is a little bigger than this too. We still as a society are unsure as to what psychology is really all about. I think there is still this abstract nature or abstract understanding about psychology, both by graduates and the general public.
If we don’t fully understand it then we are more likely to just ignore it or not pursue it. We need to change this!
What if you don’t want a career in psychology?
There are of course numerous options still available for those with a psychology degree that don’t want to pursue a career in psychology
One of the most sought after jobs is teaching
Psychology is still a brilliant degree to take you onto teacher training and can be a really desirable degree for employers and educational bodies.
Your understanding of people and the ability to work with them will result from your psychology degree, and teaching wants more people like that.
HR work is also a good option for those that don’t want to pursue a career in psychology.
Human resources often look for people with psychology backgrounds, much like those employing teachers.
Your ability to understand, relate to and Interact with people will be evident through your psychology degree.
I think this really speaks to the overall value of a psychology degree. A psychology degree is more than just learning theory or understanding models, its actually learning about human behaviour, peoples mindsets and gives you unique abilities to relate to and work with people.
You should always remember this when going for any job with your psychology degree. I very much believe that psychology graduates are in a valuable and unique position with this.
There are of course other profession options available for psychology graduates
Things such as working in health care, working in the police or even advocacy work and politics.
What if you want a career in psychology?
However, what if you do want to develop your career in psychology though? What do you do next?
Well first you need to think about what type of psychology you want to do and why
Counselling, educational, clinical, occupations, health sports and exercise. There are so many different forms of psychology.
The real question that you need to ask yourself is, what is it that drives you to any of these professions?
For me, it’s the one to one in-depth work that got me into counselling psychology. That and the idea of one day working on a more private basis. All of these factors contributed to me going down the counselling psychology path.
There are some things I would flag up here when thinking about what form of psychology you want to pursue though.
Be careful of only going for the money and paid courses.
Of course, I get the struggle but just be aware. It’s important to put your ideology and passion first.
What you need to be thinking of next
Experience, experience, experience!!!
Go out and volunteer!
Develop experience in caring roles, roles where you will be helping and working with others.
Look at positions like health care work, support worker (in particular), even assistant psychologist roles.
Network and see where you can add value. This is a vital next step in developing your career in psychology and knowing where you want to take your psychology degree.
One of the biggest issues with people getting ahead in psychology after their degree is that they think things are just going to fall in place.
You need to do the groundwork during and after you graduate.
Create those opportunities for yourself because at the end of the day there will be loads of people in the same position as you. This is actually something I have spoken about at conferences before to psychology graduates. Click here to check out my talk.
Think about researcher roles also.
Don’t count these out!
They can be a great way in the door of academia and working with some psychologists. Universities are always looking for willing researchers so it a line of employment that always has opportunities and can be really rewarding.
I got my researcher job off the back of seeing a job advert that I didn’t fit and phoning the guy up and he gave me another job to do psychology research for him.
Key points to consider
It’s ok to not go into psychology after your undergraduate degree. It’s still a brilliant and wide-ranging degree to have.
Don’t be scared of going into a profession in psychology.
Some extra work will be needed, but we need psychologists now more than ever.
The opportunities are so huge for those willing to invest.
Think about the type of psychology you want to undertake and why.
What are the reasons for this form of psychology? Why not others?
Developmental trauma occurs early on in a child’s life and can have detrimental consequences for children and their families. Developmental trauma can lead to long term or permanent changes in the structures and functions of the brain.
Childhood traumas can affect the nervous and the immune systems, as well as possible changes to the hormonal systems, particularly when the trauma exists over an extended period of time.
Sometimes, developmental traumas can lead to children being removed from their birth families and placed in local authority care, with foster carers or with other family members, also known as kinship carers.
Psychological symptoms of trauma don’t always present in children initially, they can occur several months or years down the line once they’ve developed a good relationship with their carers or once they start asking questions about their life history.
Sources or trauma for children can include:
Emotional, physical or sexual abuse,
Serious accident, major surgery or illness,
Change in the family dynamic,
War or natural disaster,
Domestic violence in the home environment,
Moving home suddenly,
Drug and alcohol abuse in the home environment,
Bereavement of family or other loved ones and
Removal from birth parents
These sources of trauma can also be called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) or toxic stressors.
Approximately 1 in 4 individuals have experienced at least 1 ACE in their childhood, with approximately 1 in 10 experiencing more than 4 ACEs.
Adverse Childhood Experiences can have an extremely long-term and inter-generational effect on individuals and their families as this video demonstrates.
Adverse Childhood Experiences have been shown in multiple studies to have negative consequences on health in later life, including increased risk of heart disease, cancers and premature death.
Sometimes children aren’t aware of memories of trauma, especially if the trauma has occurred in infancy or very early childhood. However, the body’s reflexes do still remember, and children can be extremely sensitive to things that may seem very trivial to you and me, perhaps the smell or the sound of everyday things.
Children can become very sensitive and hyper-aware in the places that are their safest places to them, like home or school. This can present itself as hypervigilance- perhaps staying at the back of a busy room so that they can see almost everything around them and see all means of escape. It can also present as adverse behaviours or diminished concentration as the child contemplates the safety of the environment they’re in.
When we experience stress, adrenaline is released which helps us to respond appropriately to stimuli in the environment around us. Different levels of adrenaline would be released when someone knocked at the door compared to if we came face to face with a threat to our lives.
However, when we are persistently in a heightened state of stress, the long-term stress hormone, cortisol, is activated which causes us to think of what may be seen as low-level stress to become more and more unmanageable unless we seek out appropriate support.
Additionally, because developmental trauma can cause epigenetic changes in the DNA, triggers can cause children who’ve had traumatic experiences to become stressed very quickly and the fight, flight or freeze response in the brain is activated to low-level stressors. The fight, flight or freeze response is a survival reflex activated at the back, lower section of the brain.
Once these survival instincts are activated, the blood supply that usually supplies the rational region of the brain in the upper, frontal sections is diverted to muscles in the body and prepares the body to freeze, fight or to escape.
When the rational region of the brain is essentially not functioning properly, it means the child can then not determine the level of threat the stimuli is invoking. Basically meaning, that they respond similarly when there’s a knock at the door to what they would to a higher-level threat.
The upper frontal regions of the brain are also responsible for emotional regulation, and you could imagine once again that if a child feels threatened and the blood supply is diverted, that the child then becomes impaired in their ability to emotionally regulate themselves and may, therefore, experience emotions often at their most extreme.
Without adequate intervention, this could have a profound impact on a child who is still developing emotionally and socially.
However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. While trauma can have profound effects on children and their families or carers, they can be prevented in a lot of cases with a supportive and nurturing environment.
This has been the focus of family health services for some time and therapeutic parenting can also be very beneficial.
Some traumas like bereavements or serious accidents can’t be completely avoided in life, but children can be helped through those experiences in numerous therapeutic ways, which can be tailored to individual need and circumstances.
The organisations below offer therapeutic support to help individuals heal from Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Adoption Support Fund (ASF) can be accessed by adoptive families and those with special guardianship orders to help fund some therapeutic support services.
The following resource also provides ACE score questions and resilience score questions, which may be of some help if you’ve been experiencing health difficulties for some time and perhaps haven’t quite been able to pinpoint why or where it may be stemming from.
Before I begin I want to say that there will be numerous people that disagree with me and that’s totally ok. I love psychology, obviously, but there are numerous issues in the field today overall that I have felt are prevalent in psychology and that I think need discussing.
The first thing that I feel is important to highlight is the emphasis and focus given only to empirical literature in psychology.
No, we need empirical lit, don’t get me wrong. We need research backing in everything we do. As a psychologist, you are also a scientist and must use empirically backed information. Furthermore, this isn’t an attempt by me to say that we should stop the process of empirical literature, not by any means.
I want to ensure I am being clear and that my point is not misconstrued here.
My question is though, do we focus on empirical literature too much in psychology, to the detriment of other mediums of communicating psychological information and findings?
I am a great believer in psychologists and those working in the mental health profession being more in the public awareness and in public domains. One of the main questions I ask here is, are psychologists not focusing enough on where the public is?
I’ve spoken about this a lot recently, and it was actually one of the things that led me to create GetPsyched in the first place.
We as psychologists, trainees and mental health practitioners, need to be in the mainstream where the people are.
The public doesn’t read empirical literature often. Yes, they feel the impact of it when psychologists utilise empirical principles, but they don’t absorb the content directly. We need psychologists to be on social media, on YouTube, on blogs, in the mainstream where people actually absorb content on a regular basis.
For example, name one publically recognisable psychologist. Name a recent study in psychology that grabbed the public attention. It’s difficult, nearly impossible, to see where psychology is branching from vital empirical literature and communicating it to the masses, where it needs to be absorbed and understood. We need psychologists to be in mediums where their work and what they do is recognised and appreciated.
Processes of getting published, and the value this has for professionals
This kind of leads me to my next point
The actual process of getting published is very challenging, again rightly so. This means that we get the most robust literature into the field of psychology, we need to be scrupulous and challenging of the literature we accept.
There is something to be said about the difficulty that students and new researchers have in getting published as a result though, but this isn’t necessarily something I would directly change.
What I do think is an issue is how psychology researchers are given value based on the number of publications they have to their name.
Now, you might not think this is such an issue, but I do.
Researchers based at universities are often ranked based on the number of publications they get.
This can at times have consequences where researchers break up pieces of research in order to publish multiple articles and not just one big one…again you might not think it’s a big deal.
However, the fact that this goes on speaks to the motives behind this valuable empirical literature.
It’s often not a case of getting their best work out there, sometimes it is of course, but other times its to boost the name and the credibility of the individual and that doesn’t sit well with me.
What’s more, is that the pull to publish more work can at times lead to shoddy results. Now, this is in part why it’s so important to have a critical eye in psychology, but I do not think we address this enough.
It’s not uncommon for researchers to manipulate data to their favour and in ways that give outputs that they want. It might be to get more funding, it might be to boost their position as a researcher, either way, it’s not ok.
I don’t want you leaving thinking I hate empirical literature, I in no way do. In truth, I believe in developing more empirical literature. The research backing I have as counselling psychology is based in empirically backed considerations. This is something I would never change. I believe in the scrupulous nature of publishing research also. However, the points I have discussed here are ones I feel need addressed.
Unequal appreciation of different branches
For me, this is a big one.
In the UK we have a disparity between different branches of psychology.
Let me make this clear from the beginning.
No one branch of psychology is more important or valuable than another!
If you are a doctor in applied psychology then you are equal to all other applied psychologists, clinical, educational, counselling, health, sports and exercise. We don’t fully appreciate that often in this country.
I’m going to try and take bias out of this as much as I can as I am a counselling psychologist in training. However, the way we look at clinical psychology and its hierarchical nature isn’t ok. Every now again on twitter ill voice this…it often doesn’t go down well.
People still see clinical as superior…it’s not.
In the UK we think it is, often because the training is fully funded, with a £26,000 a year salary attached.
Again, I’ve had some Twitter discussions about how this isn’t ok also.
However, the NHS and here in the UK have given clinical this hierarchical nature. I work with some people who are counselling psychologists and counselling psychologists in training that are not allowed to work with borderline personality disorders, it’s left to the clinical psychologists.
This isn’t right, it has no research backing, and it is against the egalitarian nature of all applied psychologies.
Counselling psychologists can work with a client diagnosed with BPD just as well as any other. One of the only ways this is going to change is with the funding situation.
Challenges with the direct route for undergrads
My next issue with psychology right now is the route and options for undergraduate psychology students. A very small percentage of undergraduates in psychology pursue a career in the field.
In large I think much of this has to do with not enough information or development of direct routes into careers in psychology.
If psychology is going to see developments in people coming through the ranks then I really think initiatives like apprenticeships, internship and opportunities for experience need to be provided by universities.
Non-accredited counsellors and therapists
This is an area that might not be directly attributed to psychology itself, but it is something psychology can stand up for and that will help it in its development I feel.
There are so many non-accredited ‘therapists’ and ‘counsellors’ out there. I have spoken to many and even worked with some in the past. The fact that an individual can legally call themselves counsellor or a therapist is discrediting to the therapeutic industry, and psychology as a whole.
Legally no one can call themselves a psychologist if they do not have a doctorate. However, literally, anyone can call themselves a therapist, counsellor or psychotherapist.
A lot of the time counselling psychologists actually call themselves therapists and this can blur the lines even further.
In part, this is a job for governing bodies here in the UK such as the BACP to develop guidelines of accreditation.
Challenges in developing clinical experience for students
When I did a bit of market research for this topic, the challenges for developing clinical experience for psychology student came out as a big concern.
Students seem more and more frustrated in psychology with the difficulties in gaining clinical experience
However, I can empathise with the challenges and frustrations experienced by undergraduates. In part, I feel that the view that psychology is often seen as a route to multiple careers not a career in psychology is a major contributing factor.
In many ways, this connects to one of my previous points. Psychology must do better in informing undergraduate students about the opportunities that are available in psychology.
We must do more to encourage students to pursue careers in psychology!
Over the course of my career, I have often worked with clients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
How to understand and help those affected by depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns is often shared and discussed on social media, but there tends to be far less information circulated about BPD.
I wanted to share some factors which are helpful to recognise, to avoid misunderstandings and conflict and support those affected.
The current Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) defines the main features of BPD as “a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and effect, as well as markedly impulsive behaviour, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts”.
BPD is indicated by the presence of five (or more) of the following:
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. (not including suicidal or self-mutilating behaviour covered in Criterion 5)
A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealisation and devaluation
Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). (not including suicidal or self-mutilating behaviour covered in Criterion 5)
Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour
Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
Chronic feelings of emptiness
Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms
BPD is found in around 0.7% of the general population, with a far higher prevalence among those in mental healthcare and forensic settings. There is conflicting data as to gender differences in the prevalence of BPD: it is sometimes found to be more common among women, with other studies indicating no difference.
There is little research focussing on BPD among those with non-binary gender identities.
Causes are not clear, though developmental trauma and abuse have been found to be high among those diagnosed, with neurobiological, genetic and psychosocial factors all viewed as playing a role in the onset of BPD.
For those with BPD, relationships can be very difficult. There can be a powerful fear of being abandoned, paired with a real struggle to make and keep friends, despite trying very hard to do so. Others are inadvertently driven away, as behaviour swings from clinging and idolising to hateful anger.
Loneliness and rejection are often experienced, but difficult to tolerate and express. This quote from Mind is illustrative: “The worst part of my BPD is the insecure relationships … when I am attached to someone, they are my whole world and it is crippling”.
Intense, labile emotions last from hours to days. Those with BPD can have an underdeveloped sense of identity, mirroring those admired and often changing and shifting image.
Feelings of emptiness and impulsivity can lead to extensive drug and alcohol use and other risk-taking behaviours, which can be alarming and concerning to those supporting them.
As a practitioner, working with someone with BPD can be challenging. A therapeutic alliance can appear to be blossoming well, when suddenly an action is perceived as a slight, a comment interpreted as an insult, or a distressing mood is experienced by the client, and the relationship completely shifts.
Accusations can be made, communication withdrawn, hostile emotions can erupt. The therapist can be left wondering what they have done wrong and how they can regain the former dynamic.
Friends, family members and partners supporting someone with BPD can have similarly bewildering experiences.
While it can seem impossible at times, it is essential to remember that people with BPD can heal and achieve balance and that research increasingly evidences that the condition is not as resistant to change as previously thought.
The role of validation is important. In common parlance this word is often used as a negative term, applied when someone is perceived to be agreeing with, excusing, permitting or minimising inappropriate conduct.
However, validation is the act of communicating to another person that you recognise and acknowledge their emotions, thoughts and experiences, even if you disagree or are upset by their words or actions.
Explaining to the loved one or client with BPD that you are present, listening, trying to understand and remain aware that historical and recent experiences might be impacting how they are thinking, acting and feeling in the moment can help to avoid communication breakdowns.
For an extensive exploration on Marsha Lineman’s six stages of validation, please see here.
Setting and maintaining boundaries is a particularly challenging aspect of supporting someone with BPD. Clear and consistent boundaries ensure a sense of comfort, safety and respect in a personal or professional relationship, but those with BPD can, consciously or unconsciously, be inclined to test the boundaries of others.
This may be in the form of demands and requests, timekeeping issues such as arriving late, missing sessions or wanting to remain in session after the designated time has elapsed, overfamiliarity, aggression or intimidating use of language and tone.
Succumbing to the temptation to permit or tolerate boundary transgressions leads to a sense of confusion for both parties, as what is acceptable and unacceptable becomes less clear and more difficult to vocalise.
Honesty, clarity, assertiveness and the willingness to respectfully challenge is important in establishing a predictable routine. For those with BPD, this sense of stability and trust can be pivotal.
A strengths-based approach is beneficial. To the person with BPD, conflict and a focus on problems may feel all too familiar. Highlighting areas of proficiency, genuine interest and progress helps cultivate an internal locus of self-worth, esteem and identity.
Finally, patience is key. As stated above, those with BPD can take time to settle into relationships and can find establishing clear lines of communication with others difficult at times. It is therefore important to allow time and space for an alliance to grow.
Reached that point in your undergraduate degree where you start to contemplate what comes next? For me this happened at the end of my second year of university; everything began to matter that much more.
After a summer of contemplating counselling, health, clinical, forensic, graduate jobs or even working my way up in the supermarket I was working in; I reapplied for my disabled student’s allowance and that really got me thinking… Apart from diagnosing my dyslexia and other students learning disabilities
What do educational psychologists actually do?
To answer this question I did the thing all students do… I googled it… This did not really help a lot of subjective information and a discussion of the lack of Educational Psychologists in the UK.
Next, I went to the BPS Website to see what they could tell me about educational psychology. Practitioners generally work with young people and children aged 0-25.
The work itself is incredibly versatile, working with learning needs, emotional and behavioural needs, physical disabilities, sensory needs, social skills difficulties and concentration difficulties.
This can be through psychological assessments such as that which most people know of educational psychologists through. Although it can also be part of the educational psychologist’s role to do consultations, one to one and group interventions, supporting staff development, supporting parents, research and evaluation, multi-agency work and strategic work.
It is worth mentioning that most educational psychologists do not spend a great amount of time working solely with individuals but take a more managerial role in ensuring that procedures are put in place to help the young person in day to day life as a result of their findings.
Essentially, it is an educational psychologists job to take all learning needs which a young person may have and work to improve their learning environment in order to improve on their learning experience in any way possible.
Sound like something you might want to do?
How to become an educational psychologist
First things first! Psychology degree accredited by the BPS with a 2:1 or above! Without the 2:1 it is very unlikely that you will be able to proceed straight onto a postgraduate in educational psychology. Although masters and undergraduate students can both apply for educational psychology postgraduates.
In Scotland, it is possible to become accredited by the BPS after a Masters followed by a stage 2 conversion course, which is explained on the BPS website (Although only Strathclyde and Dundee currently offer this). However, in the rest of the UK, it requires a 3-year doctorate, there are 16 universities offering these in the UK.
All educational psychology postgraduates require at least a year of work experience before applying, some are more strict than others in the type of experience although one year of full time paid work experience is required by most doctorate courses.
It might feel like you’re progressing quickly enough but I like to think of it as a reason to relax! This is a full year for you to decide what you want to do while also working towards the goal of becoming an educational psychologist.
A year out of university to learn about education and if you decide to go another way then you haven’t embarked on a doctorate or masters which wasn’t right for you. Not to mention the money!
I have been advised that the module selection in your undergraduate will not affect your chances of successfully applying for a postgraduate so breathe out, the marks matter more than whether child psychology was an option.
As with many postgraduate courses, the competition over places doing educational psychology is pretty high! Of the universities I have spoken to there is around 15 applications for every place on an educational psychology doctorate so it’s common to have to apply a few times before successfully getting a place.
Advice which I would give is to enjoy your undergraduate degree and don’t apply for postgraduate in anything until you’re absolutely sure that this is what you want to do.
As part of my own journey toward becoming an educational psychologist, I am currently researching the student adjustment to university for students with a diagnosed learning disability. If this applies to you- especially if you enjoyed this article please participate by clicking this link.
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