Time to modernise our attitude towards driving?

Dr Ilona Singer writes.

As a Clinical Psychologist with a disability, who is involved in course selection for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, I write to express my disgust that most of the clearing house entries specify that prospective clinical psychologists must drive a car to be accepted onto the Doctorate.

I believe this is ridiculous, of dubious legality and a massive obstacle to diversity in my profession. It is very hard to justify in practical terms. Other career routes which require more travel (e.g. Social Work) do not use ability to drive a car as part of their selection due to diversity implications. This year’s trainee cohort have spent the bulk of their time working online, and some form of ‘blended’ learning is very likely for future cohorts, so the need for travel has greatly reduced. In any case, how someone travels should not be part of selection for a role as a Psychologist as it is not a key skill of our profession.

Some courses state there will be exceptions for candidates who can prove they don’t drive due to a diagnosed disability, but I don’t feel this is satisfactory. Diagnosis is a privilege that a lot of disabled people don’t have. It also forces someone to disclose a disability during a competitive selection process that may have no relevance whatsoever to the skills of a Psychologist and can expose the candidate to unconscious bias. Moreover, disability is not the only valid reason to not be a driver. There are also environmental and economic reasons someone may choose not to drive, and these are valid too. Surely we need all sorts of people in our profession, rather than the narrow identikit workforce we are often accused of having?

A candidate who doesn’t drive due to disability should not have to declare this at the selection stage. It is invasive and fraught with potential for discrimination. Once on the course, if there are issues with placement location, individuals can apply to Access to Work who will fund transport arrangements. My experience of this has been very straightforward.

There are obviously courses which will be easier for non-drivers than others due to location constraints. Courses need to be much more transparent and describe where placements are likely to be – it’s very hard to find out in advance which geographical areas are covered, even when accepted onto the course (due to an assumption everyone drives). People who choose not to drive could decide for themselves whether they can travel in a timely fashion across that area. This strategy, I feel, would be in line with the Mental Capacity Act (2005), which protects people’s right to make their own decisions (even if others may regard that decision as unwise). If someone wants to do a remote rural course whilst choosing not to drive, but they are prepared to fund a stay overnight or get up at early and cycle, that is surely their choice, and they should not be pre-emptively excluded.

To get a place on clinical training you have to be bright, resilient and a good problem solver. Realistically, no one is going to get that far if they can’t sort out their own travel arrangements when needed. What happens at present is the worst of all possibilities. Non-drivers (even those with a disability) wishing to train to be Clinical Psychologists often find themselves excluded.

Because of the prejudice and barriers around this issue, someone may well be the only non-driver in their cohort, on a course that doesn’t know how to deal with this and struggles to accommodate it. My own experience as a disabled Trainee was that there was a complete lack of clarity from courses about where the placements were likely to be, which compromised my ability to pick the right course for me. On the course I was pathologised and given excessively long commutes which affected my ability to qualify on time. We really need to modernise our attitude to this. The BPS, DCP and ACP-UK should take a firm line on this issue and have driving removed as a ‘requirement’ from all courses. It’s not a required skill of a Psychologist and its antithetical to diversity in our profession to insist that it is.

Dr Ilona Singer
Clinical Psychologist (writing in a personal capacity)

As an aspiring psychologist who has an invisible disability, I wholeheartedly agree with Dr Ilona Singer.

I'm often reminded how my health conditions can impact my life, such as being unable to drive. I appreciate that having a driver's licence is useful and necessary in some occupations, but is it truly a requirement for aspiring psychologists?

As Singer said, if courses were more transparent about the location of placements, and whether there's flexibility with these, applicants could make informed decisions about which courses they would be most suited to.

Removing driving as a 'requirement' from courses would improve accessibility in Clinical Psychology. Along with the inclusion of more part-time courses (such as at Lancaster University), this would help break down some of the barriers in the profession and encourage more people to enter.

In a world where we are striving for equality, equity and the removal of 'labels', Clinical Doctorate courses are unintentionally forcing those with disabilities to identify themselves, which not everyone is comfortable with and can be seen as an invasion of privacy.

While reading Singer's piece, some reoccurring thoughts appeared. Am I less of an applicant because I have a disability? Am I less of an applicant because I'm unable to drive? Would these ‘faults’ make me less of a Clinical Psychologist? How many other aspiring psychologists are doubting their abilities and career goals because of these 'requirements'?

- Abigail Lee, PhD Candidate, University of Nottingham 

I totally agree with Dr Ilona Singer’s sentiments about driving as a selection criterion for clinical psychology courses. Surely this is archaic, illegal and discriminatory and needs to stop immediately. I was advised by recruitment for the last post I advertised that the criterion of being able to travel between sites in a timely manner was more appropriate.

- Judith Storey

I agree with the comments made by Ilona Singer about asking applicants for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology about their ability to drive a car. When I did my clinical training (in another country) I did not have a car and I could not have afforded one. I have not needed a car for my job throughout my 22 years as a clinical neuropsychologist. If the ability to afford a car is a requirement to apply for the Doctorate, then it seems unfair as it would exclude low income students.

- Margaret Newson


I am a psychology and sociology student about to start my 4th year. I am a disabled citizen because of my epilepsy. I have been fighting my own driving issues with society for some time.

I have a driving licence for cars, and an A2 for motorcycles, which I love driving. However, because of my epilepsy, I had to be one year free of seizures to get back my right to drive. Recently, I received a letter from my doctor that allows me to drive again, but if I have even one seizure, I will be out of driving for 6-12 months. 

I fought with the discrimination from not being able to drive for a year, and had to deal with the frustration of not being able to do something I am passionate about.

I found many job opportunities for which I had the knowledge and was a perfect fit for the role, but the last requirement was always a driver’s licence and/or your own car. We have a car at home, and I always thought that if someone asked me if I had a car at an interview, I would tell the truth and say yes, even though I wasn't able to drive. I think it is discriminative to require a license, because as long as I can arrive at my workplace, I shouldn't be asked to drive. I found solutions with public transport or my boyfriend driving me – however, this is a privilege that not everyone has.

I completely agree that we have to modernise our attitudes. I would love to know what we can do. I would love to hear some ideas of how I can move forward to do my part in changing the attitudes of others. 

- Alexia Forschner
[email protected]

Editor’s note: We continue to seek comments from interested and informed parties, and hope to return to this topic. Send your comments on [email protected]

Illustration: Tim Sanders

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