Working as a psychologist in academic primary care – new Psychology Group

There are several of us who are trained psychologists working in primary care departments, across the UK and beyond, however this may not always be apparent. Psychologists run the risk of going unnoticed as a discipline if our roles don’t require us to provide specific psychology input and/or if our job titles don’t identify us as psychologists (e.g. holding generic titles such as research fellow). We need to identify ourselves and the skills we can offer for both ourselves and academic primary care to thrive. We are now setting up a Psychology discipline specific group within PHoCuS for anyone with a psychology background or interest in psychology to share ideas about their work and career development.


What can psychology do for academic primary care?

Health psychologists are probably the most prominent sub-discipline of psychologists working in primary care. Having an interest and knowledge in how people think about physical health and wellbeing, they bring specific expertise.

The development of behaviour change interventions to improve or maintain health is a key part of the work of psychologists. Interventions can be targeted at patients and/or clinicians and are developed to target the mechanisms which influence specific desirable behaviours. Trials of interventions should include not only clinical outcomes to assess effectiveness but also measures of beliefs, attitudes, and motivation to change behaviour in order to understand how interventions have worked. A detailed understanding of how the components of an intervention work to change behaviour may allow us to identify components that could be interchangeable. Such a choice would offer greater flexibility in implementing interventions in different contexts.

Applications of psychology in primary care can also be particularly useful in areas where other disciplines are limited in what they can offer patients and where psychology can provide a novel perspective. The management of psychosomatic disorders, disorders which involve both the body and mind, is one such area. Previous primary care trials have utilised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to support patients in the self-management of chronic conditions and this intervention, along with medications as appropriate, has led to positive effects on symptom management and patient enablement.


What can SAPC do for psychologists?

One of the key benefits to psychologists working in primary care is access to multi-disciplinary teams and collaboration with clinical researchers.  Working with clinicians who understand the challenges of delivering evidence-based primary care in the NHS is inspiring and this first-hand experience means that research focuses on clinical problems which are relevant to current practice and which can provide solutions which have greater impact.

The PHoCuS group within SAPC can help to link early career psychologists with their senior colleagues to share advice and aid career development. The mentoring scheme within SAPC provides the opportunity to link those from similar disciplines across departments and connect psychologists working at different levels.


We hope that the new Psychology Group will further support psychologists working in academic primary care to progress in their careers. We hope to plan future meetings and teleconferences to put psychology researchers in touch with one another to develop a peer support network. Creating this network will help to ensure that academic primary care can benefit from all of the multidisciplinary skills it has available and make sure we can support the non-clinical researchers that we train to remain in primary care.

If you would like to be added to the Psychology Group as part of PHoCuS please contact Sarah Tonkin-Crine at


Relevant publications

·       Sutton S. The contribution of behavioural science to primary care research: development and evaluation of behaviour change interventions. Primary Health Care Research & Development 2011;12:284–292.

·       Vincent C, Wearden A, French D. Making health care safer: What is the contribution of health psychology? British Journal of Health Psychology 2015;20:681–687.

·       Tonkin-Crine S, Walker AS, Butler CC. Contribution of behavioural science to antibiotic stewardship. British Medical Journal 2015;350:h3413.