Programme Content

The Doctorate in Clinical Psychology consists of 18 compulsory modules

These modules are taken at three levels - mapping onto three years of training. Modules vary in size to reflect different effort hours involved, and include:

  • Clinical Presentations – examination of the features and aetiologies related to a variety of clinical presentations across the lifespan;
  • Psychological Assessment and Formulation – knowledge and skills related to utilising psychometric, interview, observational and other methods of psychological assessment to arrive at a psychological formulation
  • Psychological Therapies – competency in two evidence based therapeutic approaches including CBT and one other (e.g. psychodynamic, systemic).
  • Personal and Professional Development – PPD skills are promoted through all aspects of the program (academic, clinical and research). A taught PPD program runs across training years and all trainees attend regular Personal Awareness Groups.
  • Practice Placements - trainees undertake one year long and four 6 month placements. Supervision is usually provided by experienced clinical psychologists working within the Health Service or other settings. Learning objectives need to be demonstrated with client groups across the lifespan (e.g. children, adults, older adults), who present with a variety of difficulties (e.g. acute to severe and enduring) and from a range of demographic backgrounds.
  • Research – Trainees undertake three main outputs – the service-related project, the large scale project and the systematic review.

Clinical, academic, research and personal and professional competencies are assessed through placement performance, academic coursework, research portfolio, in vivo examinations, formal review, and a final viva.

The Programme Specification for the D.Clin.Psych. course is outlined in the Course Regulations and Academic Modules Handbook. These regulations outline the learning objectives for training; in addition they state that candidates shall pursue the compulsory modules of academic study, supervised practice in clinical psychology and research.

Curriculum

The academic curriculum has been designed to complement the experiences gained on clinical placements and so provide a comprehensive and rich professional training in clinical psychology that meets the demands of a changing NHS and fits with the context of working in Northern Ireland. There are 10 academic and Personal and Professional Development (PPD) modules.

These university modules run throughout the year, except for two weeks at Christmas and Easter and for two months in the summer, when the trainees take most of their annual leave. However, the frequency of university sessions varies across years and within the academic year. Thus, four – seven week teaching blocks are scheduled at the beginning and middle of the academic year, otherwise all trainees attend one day per week (each Thursday up to May). Trainees have an additional half-day for study throughout the year, which they take by arrangement with their supervisors. This is increased to one day per week, when the academic modules finish, when the additional half-day should be used for research purposes.

The basic unit of teaching is a three hour, half-day, session. Typically such sessions incorporate a wide range of teaching methods including didactic input and active participation by trainees. For some topics, a lecture of one to two hours is the format used. Additionally, workshops of one or two consecutive days are scheduled for some topics mainly those involving more active skills development, more sustained attention, or presenters from outside Northern Ireland. The Course places an emphasis on trainees engaging in additional self-directed learning. Reading lists are provided for each module, and individual contributors will usually provide preparatory reading, or reading lists to supplement teaching sessions. Learning is assessed by a variety of means including in vivo examinations and coursework. The guidance given to trainees in relation to coursework highlights the importance of trainees developing as reflective scientist practitioners who are capable of original and independent thinking, and who have a thorough knowledge of the evidence base and a strong capacity to integrate theory and practice.

The majority of contributors to the teaching programme are clinical psychologists working in Northern Ireland. Substantial input also comes from colleagues of other disciplines, academic psychologists, and professionals from outside Northern Ireland. Teaching methods are varied, and an emphasis is placed on the integration of theory and practice by practice-oriented teaching sessions, which develop both knowledge and skills. Most academic teaching is directed at a single group of trainees, although in Year 1 and Year 2 some joint teaching takes place with the Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Psychology (Clinical Specialism). Some specialised workshops, which are run by contributors from outside Northern Ireland, take trainees from two or more years together. Occasionally, an element of the teaching programme is organised jointly or primarily for trainees in other professions e.g. educational psychologists or PhD students.

Attendance at the academic programme of scheduled lectures, seminars, workshops etc. is mandatory. Except in most exceptional circumstances and with the prior permission of the Course Director, trainees should not be expected to go to their placements on days scheduled for the academic programme, nor should they take Annual Leave.

Placements

The aims of the placement modules are to develop skilled practitioners who are highly proficient in a range of competencies which must be demonstrated with a range of clients across a range of settings. These include:

Service Users:

Trainees must work with clients across the lifespan, such that they see a range of service users whose difficulties are representative of problems across all stages of development. These include:

  • a wide breadth of presentations – from acute to enduring and from mild to severe;
  • problems ranging from those with mainly biological and/or neuropsychological causation to those emanating mainly from psychosocial factors;
  • problems of coping, adaptation and resilience to adverse circumstances and life events, including bereavement and other chronic, physical and mental health conditions;
  • service users with significant levels of challenging behaviour;
  • service users across a range of levels of intellectual functioning over a range of ages, specifically to include experience with individuals with developmental intellectual disability and acquired cognitive impairment;
  • service users whose disability makes it difficult for them to communicate;
  • where service users include carers and families;
  • service users from a range of backgrounds reflecting the demographic characteristics of the population;
  • trainees will need to understand the impact of difference and diversity on people’s lives (including sexuality, disability, ethnicity, culture, faith, cohort differences of age, socio-economic status), and their implications for working practices.

Service Delivery Systems:

Trainees should have experience of working across a range of healthcare systems and providers.

These could be largely within health and social care organisations but may also involve work within third sector, social care and independent providers encompassing primary and community care, secondary care and in-patient or other residential facilities

Modes and Types of work:

Trainees should:

  • undertake assessment, formulation and intervention both directly and indirectly (e.g. through staff, carers and consulting with other professionals delivering care and intervention);
  • this work should be underpinned by at least two evidence-based models of formal psychological intervention, one of which must be cognitive-behaviour therapy;
  • however, trainees must be able to work with complexity and co-morbidity and thus draw from knowledge bases across models of therapy, and evidence bases for different interventions and approaches, when appropriate to the needs and choices of the service user;
  • work within multi-disciplinary teams and specialist service systems, including some observation or other experience of change and planning in service systems;
  • be critical of their own approach, and aware of how to practise in the absence of reliable evidence, as well as being able to contribute from their work to the evidence base.

Research

The research training during the course aims to develop understanding and competence in skills of research, evaluation, design and analysis as they relate to both conceptual research (which adds to the “knowledge base” of clinical psychology) and applied research (which has direct implications for the practice of clinical psychology). Trainees undertake 3 applied research modules across their 3 years and complete three main outputs (the service-related project, the large scale research project and the systematic review as outlined below).

Through conducting the service-related project trainees will develop the particular types of skills and competencies required for conducting research which informs practice in everyday clinical settings. This project is conducted as part of the Applied Research 1 module and written-up and assessed as part of the Applied Research 2 module.

Working with local psychology services, trainees identify topics for service-related research which are relevant and of strategic importance in developing psychology services within the region. Examples include:

(i) A small-scale survey (e.g. client satisfaction survey)
(ii) A single case experiment to evaluate treatment efficacy
(iii) Clinical audit / service evaluation
(iv) Needs assessment
(v) Evaluation of group intervention programme
(vi) in-depth case study

The large scale research project is a substantial piece of clinically-relevant research. Trainees start working on the large scale research project in the first year and will submit the project in their third year. Trainees may work collaboratively within programmes of work led and supervised by course staff. Indicative areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Addiction
  • Adoption
  • Attachment
  • Health (child and adult)
  • Multigenerational trauma
  • Neuropsychological outcomes
  • Psychological and behavioural change in chronic conditions
  • Psychosis
  • Trauma, complex trauma & PTSD
  • Service user involvement
  • Psychometric properties of mental health measures
  • Risk and resilience

There is a strong research culture within the course team and a range of quantitative, qualitative, secondary-data analysis and small-n methodologies are supported. Trainees disseminate their work through presentations and publication in peer-reviewed journals. The large scale research projects are submitted as part of a portfolio for assessment at viva.

The systematic review is a focused & comprehensive literature review conducted in a defined, systematic way. The information that is collected is normally interpreted through a meta-analysis (using numbers and statistical data) or through a narrative synthesis (where a more textual summary is used). Using these transparent and systematic methodologies, multiple studies can be reviewed and synthesised to form robust conclusions to inform the decision making process. The systematic review paper (along with the large-scale research project paper) will form part of the research portfolio, submitted in the final year and examined in a viva. Trainees are expected to submit their systematic review for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Personal and Professional Development

Personal and professional development (PPD) skills are promoted through all aspects of the programme (academic, clinical and research) in both group teaching and personal tutoring and supervision. In addition, a taught PPD programme runs across training and all trainees attend regular Reflective Practice Sessions or Personal Awareness Groups, which specifically focus on promoting such competencies. Mentoring by the Year Tutor and other members of the course team complement these formal sessions as appropriate.

Trainee appraisal meetings take place at least once per year between the trainee and a member of course staff. These are designed to take an overview of the trainee’s development, highlight gaps, needs and interests, and plan accordingly. Trainees complete a Trainee Appraisal Form in advance of the appraisal meeting. Trainees are employed in Band 6 of the Agenda for Change pay scale. As such, they are required to show progress in specific knowledge and skills. Under the health service’s Knowledge and Skills Framework (KSF) a review of the development of these skills will be carried out during appraisal and review meetings with the Year Tutor. Progression in KSF skills is required in order to progress through Band 6.

Reflective Practice Sessions and Personal Awareness Groups help trainees to promote personal awareness and development, in particular with respect to how personal and interpersonal factors, and diversity of cultural and sub-cultural contexts, impact on therapeutic processes and professional practice. The capacity for critical self-reflection is deemed to be a core competency in the profession of clinical psychology; the Reflective Practice Sessions and Personal Awareness Groups are an integral part of the Personal and Professional Development (PPD) modules. The Reflective Practice Sessions are aimed to facilitate the development of a reflective agenda which will be reviewed by trainees at the end of each year within a personal and professional development assignment. In years 2 & 3 the trainees will progress to Personal Awareness Groups wherein the group evolves its own focus of reflection and exploration in line with group aims and PPD learning outcomes.

Aims of Reflective Practice Sessions & Personal Awareness Groups

To help trainees:

  • Explore personal context and how it affects clinical work, specifically the hidden aspects of personal context.
  • Explore the effects of clinical issues on trainees’ personal lives.
  • Explore the effects of the stresses of the course on personal life and work attitudes.
  • Become more aware of how to attend to personal issues in clinical supervision.
  • Become aware of the influence of parallel and transference processes on therapeutic work.
  • Be more aware of issues which might have a bearing on training needs.
  • Develop strategies in self-care and guarding against burn-out.
  • Have an experience of being in the ‘client’ position in being invited to focus on the self, with all its strengths and vulnerabilities, and the associated challenges.

Structure of Reflective Practice Sessions & Personal Awareness Groups

Reflective Practice Sessions will typically last 3 hours and are scheduled as 4 sessions at regular intervals through year 1 of training.

In years 2 & 3 of training, trainees progress to Personal Awareness Groups. These sessions typically last 1.25 hours are scheduled at regular intervals throughout training. Typically this will be fortnightly during the academic year. Each PAG group has one facilitator who, where possible, will remain the same throughout the life of group.

Attendance is mandatory and anticipated absences must be communicated to the group facilitators as per training conditions and regulations.

Confidentiality is a requirement of the groups. It is important to be aware that limits of confidentiality need to be considered (i.e. where trainees / facilitators believe that self / others are at risk of harm then this should be discussed with the Course Director).

Prospects

Graduates of this course are eligible to apply to be Registered Clinical Psychologists with the Health and Care Professions Council. Successful completion of the program also confers ability to apply for Chartered Membership of the BPS and full membership of the Division of Clinical Psychology.

All graduates of this programme have successfully found employment, most as clinical psychologists in the NHS or voluntary sector. Some pursue careers in clinical practice in combination with academic/research posts.

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