5 minutes with Dr Clare Churchman

What is your profession? 

I actually have two professions! I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a Sports Psychologist and I’m registered as a Practitioner Psychologist in both areas of psychology with the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC). 

What’s the difference between clinical and sport psychology?

Both areas of psychology are extremely varied but generally speaking, Clinical Psychologists work in the field of mental health and work with people who are experiencing debilitating emotional and psychological difficulties across a whole spectrum of complexity. They usually work in the NHS although many also work in private practice and some may also work in other organisations such as the military. Some Clinical Psychologists may also have research jobs within universities or NHS Trusts. 

Sport Psychologists focus on the psychology of high performance and work with athletes to help enhance their sporting performance. They also work within sporting organisations to develop and build high performance environments and teams. Sport Psychologists may also work within universities teaching and conducting research. 

How did you train for your profession? 

I initially started my career journey as a Sport Psychologist. I completed a joint honours BSc degree in Psychology and Sports Science, followed by a MSc degree in Sport Psychology, and then several years of supervised experience as a Sport Psychology trainee before completing the accreditation process with the British Association of Sport & Exercise Sciences (BASES) as was the process at the time. 

During my supervised experience I also worked as an Assistant Psychologist in the NHS for a few years and then undertook a professional doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology, the only way to be trained as a Clinical Psychologist in the UK. The doctorate I completed was three years, and included formal classroom learning, placements with adults, children and families, older adults and people with learning disabilities, and several written essays and a research dissertation. 

I completed my Sport Psychology training in 2006 and my Clinical Psychology training in 2007 and was registered with the HCPC in 2008.

How has your career been so far?

When I started my career, I worked with a competitive city swim squad and Deaf UK Athletics. I did workshops for several other sporting organisations before moving into the NHS full time. Since then, much of my career has been within the NHS. I worked for a long time in forensic mental health care, which is working with people who have committed serious offences whilst experiencing severe and enduring mental health conditions such as psychosis. The work in these settings is very varied. I’ve worked in medium and low secure inpatient wards for adult males, in a service for young people who harm others, and I have developed and led a community forensic team in conjunction with the National Probation Service for people who present with high levels of support need and risk to others. I’ve also been a clinical lead for a mental health service for military veterans. The service itself supports former military personnel experiencing mental health difficulties such as combat related PTSD, however my role was heavily involved in service redesign and transition, supporting the team through this process. 

I have slowly been moving out of the NHS over the past few years, focusing more on working within high performance environments and starting to build this business with Simone Passeri. I’ve loved much of my time in the NHS, it’s given me a huge amount of experience and opportunity, but I am ready for a new challenge. Although to call it a completely new challenge doesn’t really fit – it’s actually me going full circle back to the beginning of my career journey! 

What does a typical week look like for you?

Due to my different psychology roles my week can look quite diverse. Since leaving the NHS, Simone and I have been focused on growing Evolve Rehabilitation & Therapy so some of my week is spent doing activities that support this, and where I can, I’ll also attend our sports therapy clinic at The Fitness Experts in Harwell. Then I run a private psychology clinic for athletes with mental health difficulties as part of the UK Sport Institute’s mental health provider network. These are online or face to face sessions to support clients within a therapeutic approach. 

I have a couple of contracts that I engage in throughout the week. One is with The Blaze cricket team as part of a new project for women’s cricket in which Clinical Psychologists support the medical team with triage and signposting of mental health difficulties. The other is to provide performance psychology with British Weightlifting. For both of these contracts I meet with athletes, attend meetings with the rest of the staff team, and support the organisation with building a high performance, high support environment.

My therapeutic approach is Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, which unfortunately isn’t as well known in the UK as it is in other parts of the world. I’m looking forward to getting involved with teaching and supervising other therapists in the near future. If anyone is interested in learning more about REBT please feel free to get in touch!

What do you like most about your work?

I’ve always valued the diversity of the psychology world and the opportunity to help others whilst constantly learning and developing myself professionally. When I look back on my career so far I feel extremely grateful to have had jobs that I’ve absolutely loved, and to have had amazing colleagues and clients throughout. I really feel that everything I know and the professional I’ve become today is thanks to the partnerships that I’ve had with people along the way.  I am also now enjoying a professional skill set that allows me to be my own boss!

What recommendations do you have for clients who may be thinking about or actively looking for professional help?

Selecting a mental health professional can be really hard, especially when there’s a lot of choice out there and lots of professional lingo that might not make much sense to people. On top of that there are also a lot of people advertising themselves without the appropriate training and qualifications. 

We will be doing another blog post that people should look at for further information on choosing a psychology professional but very simply: Take your time to choose your therapist. Talk to professionals you are interested in, ask questions about their approach and how it might help you, as well as the practical stuff like where they will see you and how often they expect you to attend sessions. Make sure they are registered with either the HCPC (psychologists), BACP (counsellors) or BABCP (cognitive – behavioural therapists), and that their qualifications and experience match what you are looking for.  Be mindful also that some professionals might still be in training and they should state that they are working towards qualification, accreditation and registration if that is the case.