The goal of anyone working in mental health is to support the recovery of those who have challenges with their psychological and emotional well-being.
However, there are just as there are different roles in caring for physical health, the same goes for maintaining mental health. Two such roles are a psychologist and mental health nurse.
While there is some overlap in these roles, they differ in their support of individuals in important ways.
Mental health nurses support individuals with mental health issues or illnesses and several settings. They are required to build effective relationships with the individuals who use mental health services, as well as their support network. The daily tasks of a mental health nurse vary depending on the needs of the patient they are supporting. They may help one patient take their medication correctly, whilst advising another of relevant therapies or social activities. The need dictates the nature of the appointment.
A psychologist, on the other hand, is usually the one in charge of assessing the individual’s needs and developing a treatment plan. Whilst the mental health nurse will be one person within a wider multi-disciplinary team who executes this plan, psychologists are responsible for handling referrals, assessments and identifying needs.
If you’re considering a career in mental health and you’re not sure which career is right for you, we’ve broken down the roles.
Can I become a Nurse or Psychologist?
To succeed in either career, you do need to possess certain abilities, skills, knowledge, and qualities. These will enable you to effectively carry out the objectives, purpose, and obligations of your role. Ultimately, the two chosen careers require very similar qualities in a person.
Both roles are patient-facing, meaning you need to be person-centred. So overall, you need to be patient, and compassionate. You need to understand all the different types of mental health illnesses and issues that your patients may encounter.
Working well as part of a team and have excellent communication skills are essential to delivering the best possible care. Being strong-willed is imperative to avoid a crisis or upsetting your patients. As someone who works in the mental health sector, you need to have resilience, so the challenging days don’t affect you.
The ability to empathise with your patients is one of the most important skills to have. A non-judgemental but encouraging attitude is the best way to act whilst helping someone on their road to recovery.
The two career paths are varied in not only what they do, or how to get there but also what they receive. There is plenty of employment opportunities within both pathways, likely because of the greater focus on mental health issues.
Working as a Mental Health Nurse within the UK, within the NHS, for example, includes working a standard working week at 37.5 hours on a shift pattern. Typically, including nights, early starts, evenings, weekends, and bank holidays. You would have access to a generous pension scheme and health service discounts, as well as standard amounts of annual leave.
You would be paid on the Agenda for Change (AFC) pay system, typically starting at band 5. This is also dependent on experience. Someone who has newly qualified as a nurse, with under 1-year experience would be on a starting salary of around £24,900.
As with most industries, there are so many different types of Psychologists. A clinical psychologist, for example, can be employed by a wide range of areas within healthcare. They can work for the NHS but can also operate in a private practice.
A clinical psychologist working for the NHS would receive the same benefits as a nurse but due to the level of qualifications and experience required, would be paid more. The starting salary of a trainee clinical psychologist is at Band 6 on the AFC, around £30,400. Rising to band 7 which is around £37,500 after qualification. More experienced psychologists can earn anywhere between band 8a and 8b, which is between £44,600 and £60,983.
Working hours for psychologists are usually Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, but they may do some extra hours in the evenings or at the weekends. Occasionally, they may be required to work as part of an on-call system covering emergencies.
This is not to say that anyone who wishes to work in either field is required to work for the NHS. There are plenty of opportunities for employment within the private sector. For those who do want to work in the NHS but not within a hospital, there is a variety of settings available. This may be a local clinic, within social services, a school, a prison or within community mental health teams.
The required route for both of these careers is via a university degree. To get into university, you require A Levels or equivalent. You would also require at least five GCSE’s, including at least a C (or grade 4) in Maths and English.
An A Level in psychology isn’t always required to get onto a psychology degree programme but it will help your chances. It will also provide you with a helpful insight ahead of your degree level studies.
Specialising in either field requires considerable study, and with good reason. You can start your career in nursing with three years of degree-level study. Whilst qualifying as a psychologist requires a three year undergraduate degree, followed by a three year postgraduate degree if you wish to become a clinical psychologist. A-Levels or equivalent
To study for a nursing degree, you will need three A Levels or equivalent. Requirements vary between universities, but they expect to see at least one science qualification (preferably biology) and a social science qualification – either sociology or psychology.
If you do not possess three A Levels or do not have qualifications in relevant subjects, you still have options.
The Access to Higher Education Diploma (Nursing) is a nationally recognised A Level alternative designed by subject matter experts to give you the knowledge you need to successfully start a nursing degree programme.
To study a degree in psychology, you would need a minimum of two A Levels or equivalent. There aren’t always mandatory A Levels but some universities do prefer either biology or psychology. Some insist on both.
There is an Access to Higher Education Diploma (Psychology) on offer for those who do not have the A Levels required.
Note that although most universities accept Access to Higher Education Diplomas, not all do. Always check with your chosen institutes that the qualification would be accepted before enrolling on your Access to HE Diploma.
Being such a diverse industry, it’s well worth pursuing either career goal, dependent on what job role you think would be right for you.
If you would like to get started, but do not hold the relevant qualifications for university, we can help. learndirect is the leading UK distance learning provider, offering many online courses to help you achieve your career goal.
Our Access to Higher Education Diplomas are designed by subject matter experts to assist you into a University program.
Each of these courses are studied online, from the comfort of your own home, allowing you to pursue your chosen pathway without disrupting your already established schedule.