Karen McKenzie is a professor in the psychology department, and a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered, Chartered Clinical Psychologist. Karen is the lead of our Research and Practice in Developmental Disabilities (RaPiDD) Group.

Tell us about your career history

I have worked at Northumbria University for almost 7 years. Prior to that, I worked jointly as Head of Speciality (learning disability services) as a clinical psychologist for various NHS trusts in Scotland, as well as on the Clinical Psychology doctorate programme at Edinburgh University. I have been a clinical psychologist for nearly 30 years.

What got you interested in psychology?

I was interested in other people’s life stories and imagined that being a psychologist was a bit like being a psychotherapist. It was a bit of a surprise to discover that it involved a lot of statistics. I became interested in clinical psychology as an undergraduate after hearing a lecture from a psychologist working in prisons. I then obtained summer work as a psychology assistant in a learning disability service and really enjoyed it, so decided to pursue that route. I trained as a forensic clinical psychologist and worked in that area for a few years before returning to work in learning disability services.

Whay are your current research interests?

Most of my current research related to the clinical psychology field, in particular, people with learning disability. My recently funded projects evaluating positive behavioural support (PBS) for this group of people, looking at factors that influence the recruitment and retention of various staff groups, exploring career pathways in mental health and looking at factors which influence student mental health.

What psychology book would you recommend?

A very early book that appealed to me as an undergraduate was called ‘Vaulting Ambition’ by Phillip Kitcher. At the time it struck me as being very well written and I liked that it argued against things such as we are determined and restricted by which sex we are.

What advice would you give to students?

Opportunities often arise in unexpected circumstances, so do not feel that you always have to follow the same path as everyone else, but always try to be honest, kind and authentic.

What would you have liked to do if you have not followed a career in psychology?

I would probably become a nurse, as I was accepted for nurse training but chose clinical psychology training instead. I think I would have liked to have been a full-time author, as I really enjoy writing.

What advice would you give to students who want to study Clinical Psychology?

I know a lot of students are interested in becoming clinical psychologists and my general advice would be:

  • Try to get relevant experience during your time at university – this might be through a placement module, volunteering. or paid work  
  • Try to find ways to show you use/disseminate research – this might be by presenting at the student conference or working with your supervisor to try to get an article published from your dissertation or thesis. 
  • Try to develop an understanding of what clinical psychologists actually do – look at information on the BPS, division of clinical psychology site, speak to clinical psychologists about their role (there a few of us at Northumbria University). 
  • Consider undertaking a thesis/dissertation on a clinically relevant topic. This doesn’t need to be with a clinical population, as long as it is on a topic that would have implications for clinical psychologists and the people they work with. 
  • Look at the Clinical Psychology Clearing House site to get an idea of the types of things that the different programmes are looking for in applicants
  • Be aware that there is competition for clinical psychology places, but don’t let that put you off. Give yourself as good a chance as possible by getting a good degree, having relevant experience, having a good understanding of the role, and showing that you have disseminated research in some way. 

Read More

Want to hear more about the research of the Health and Wellbeing group? head over to the blog

Interested in Careers in Psychology? Read more posts from staff, practitioners and alumni here

You can also look at the British Psychological Society Guidance about Clinical Psychology Careers

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