Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and how it dictates and influences our behaviour, from communication and memory to thought and emotion.
It’s about understanding what makes people tick and how this understanding can help us address many of the problems and issues in society today.

Clinical psychologists deal with a wide range of mental and physical health problems including addiction, anxiety, depression, learning needs, and relationship issues.
They may undertake a clinical assessment to investigate a client’s situation using methods such as psychometric tests, interviews, and direct observation of behaviour. Assessment may lead to advice, counselling, or therapy.

In services for people with learning disabilities, psychologists undertake a broad range of roles to promote quality of life and psychological wellbeing and respond to the distress that individuals may be experiencing. This work may be undertaken directly with people with learning disabilities and indirectly in supporting those who care for them, and more broadly in tackling the inequalities within our society that impact people with learning disabilities. 

Career roles and progression

Career progression tends to follow the pattern of completing a degree that provides Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) with the British Psychological Society (BPS) This is often followed by a period of time gaining experience of working with client groups supported by psychologists or in settings where psychologists may work. This may be in the role of assistant psychologist, but there are many other roles that may provide important clinical experience to support taking the next step in the career progression of applying for a place on a doctorate in clinical or counselling psychology. 

The doctorate in clinical psychology is a three-year salaried training position within the NHS that combines teaching and clinical placements. Each course will provide teaching on working as a clinical psychologist with people with learning disabilities, and require either undertaking a work-based placement in services for people with learning disabilities or demonstrating gaining experience of the core competencies required to support people with learning disabilities over the duration of the training.

Counselling psychologists complete the British Psychological Society accredited Doctorate in Counselling Psychology or the Society’s Qualification in Counselling Psychology. 

Having completed a doctorate in clinical or counselling psychology, newly qualified psychologists can apply for positions within the NHS, working with a broad range of client groups, including positions in services supporting people with learning disabilities. 

Assistant Psychologist 
An assistant psychologist seeks to improve lives and promote health and independence for people with learning disabilities by providing psychological assessment and psychological interventions, and assisting in clinically related administration, the conduct of audits, the collection of outcome statistics, and/or other project work as appropriate under the supervision of a qualified clinical psychologist working within the service.  
They work within a positive behaviour support framework to provide an accessible, non-stigmatising, localised service that contributes to the specialist healthcare of people with learning disabilities within the locality.
Trainee Clinical Psychologist
A trainee clinical psychologist is a role designed to help progression to becoming a qualified clinical psychologist.
Trainee clinical psychologists work with people of all ages and in a variety of settings in physical and mental healthcare. The role contributes to the core work of clinical psychologists and provides a training ground with regular supervision in which to practice and develop skills as a clinician and researcher.
Specialist Clinical/Counselling/ Psychologist
Working as a band 7 Clinical Psychologist within a learning disability service is a varied role that involves working both with adults diagnosed with learning disabilities (defined as a reduced intellectual ability that impacts the person’s ability to complete everyday activities) and the systems around them. This could include families, carers, and staff teams, in addition to other health professionals. Working within learning disability services usually means working as part of a multidisciplinary team and taking a person-centred approach, with the aim of improving the quality of life of service users. This may include promoting outcomes such as improved emotional wellbeing or physical health, or a reduction in behaviours that are challenging. Liaison and consultation form a key part of the role, and there are opportunities for involvement in additional tasks, such as providing supervision, teaching, and training.
There is some variation across different learning disability services; depending on the service, you may work with people across the entire spectrum of learning disabilities, or only with those diagnosed with a moderate-to-severe learning disability. Either way, no two days are the same and the role involves many opportunities to develop a diverse set of skills
Highly Specialist Clinical/Counselling/Forensic Psychologist
Qualified psychologists apply psychological knowledge and skills to help individuals and those who support them to have a good quality of life. Psychologists working in the field of learning disability use a wide range of clinical skills, including formal assessment, formulation, therapeutic interventions, teaching, and consultation. Psychologists also use their research and service development skills to make positive changes at a more organisational level. 
An 8a psychologist would typically function as an experienced clinician, working with more complex cases and providing support to less experienced psychologists and unqualified staff. An 8b psychology role typically involves offering aspects of leadership alongside undertaking complex clinical work.
Consultant Clinical/Counselling/Forensic Psychologist
As consultant psychologist, you will be a leader, for example lead for learning disability psychology across a whole NHS trust, although in some cases a consultant psychologist may cover one geographical or specialist area.
There is not always a clear delineation between 8c and 8d consultant psychologists, as this varies across employers, although all have a strong leadership component in common. Consultant psychologists may hold a small, very complex caseload, but will definitely be responsible for the supervision, leadership, and co-ordination of more junior clinical psychologists and the psychology provision within a service.
Head / Director of Psychological Therapies
As head/director of psychological therapies, you will be the lead for all the psychological therapies across all care groups within the organisation. 
You will work closely with the chief executive/chief operational officer, medical and nursing leads, and the chief finance officer to ensure the delivery of safe and effective psychological therapies in the organisation. 
As a director, you will be responsible with other directors for the overall management and practice of the organisation.

Why choose psychology

Working as a psychologist within learning disability services provides the broadest range of opportunities to utilise the skills of a psychologist, while working with one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society.

The work of psychologists is extremely varied, from providing direct individual therapy and group therapeutic interventions, to working indirectly with families and carers to support their understanding of the complex behaviour presented by the individual concerned. Alongside this, there is often a need to undertake a neuropsychological assessment to understand an individual’s profile of cognitive ability, and diagnose neurodevelopmental differences and dementia. In addition, more broadly as a psychologist working with people with learning disabilities, there are often opportunities to provide training, undertake research and service evaluation, and contribute to service development work that embeds best practice within services. 
People with learning disabilities represent an extremely diverse group in terms of their abilities and needs, in addition to their background and experience. This often requires flexibility and adaptation of interventions to take account of individual needs when working with this client group.

This also provides many exciting opportunities for undertaking creative and person-centred work and working at multiple levels to address the psychological distress individuals are experiencing, from individual and direct support networks to broader community based interventions.

Where psychologists can work

Psychologists who work with people with learning disabilities are generally employed within community learning disabilities services, intensive support services, or inpatient settings, but frequently work across a broad range of settings including health care, social care, the criminal justice system, and education. Psychologists who work with people with learning disabilities undertake a broad scope of work with an emphasis on delivering direct therapeutic interventions as well as indirect work with families, carers, and staff teams who support people with learning disabilities.

  • Many psychologists work in community-based settings where most of the care is provided.
  • Some are based on specialist learning disabilities, mental health, or forensic wards, and some may provide in-reach support into in-patient wards.
  • There are also many opportunities to work across supported living, residential, day services, and educational settings.
  • There are also opportunities to work in specialist services, such as with people with neurodevelopmental differences including autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and with people with a forensic history or risk.
  • There are also opportunities to have roles in research, training, and commissioning.