Working class in psychology

Kirsty Hayden-Watts reflects on her experiences.

I was pleased to see the article ‘Conversations on class’ (September issue) and recent conversations more widely considering social class within psychology. It was helpful to hear from other professionals who identify as coming from a working-class background. However, I found the article to largely focus on the experience during university. Although a good point to consider, it makes me wonder more about other aspects post-graduation – which in my experience has been more challenging, particularly whilst trying to gain experience to apply for the Clinical Psychology Doctorate.

As an aspiring clinical psychologist from a working-class background, there have been times I pretended that this was not my lived experience, due to feeling like an imposter and likely due to my perception of the shame and stigma associated with this, which I experienced growing up. So often I have looked at Honorary Assistant Psychologist contracts with frustration and envy. Such roles seem to provide the essential experience needed for a paid Assistant Psychologist role but were not sustainable. I would not have been able to afford to travel to the place of work. 

Working within IAPT gave me experience of working with the most diverse team, varied clinical experience and a fair salary. However, it is disheartening to know that the HEE are considering implementing restrictions on who and when people can apply for the DClinPsy. I understand that this may be about wider issues with staff retention, but it fails to consider other reasons why many people undertake these roles of or find them appealing.

It is positive to see that there are now APPLY positions that are there to encourage greater diversity within psychology. However, it feels like there is an assumption that people will automatically feel comfortable disclosing their social status and reflecting on this. Growing up, there were many times I was encouraged to conceal aspects of my family’s class, like how little money we had. 

This stayed with me until adulthood. I pretended that I was not living in a council house, due to the discriminatory things I heard friends and others in society say about people on council estates. For me, it took nine years of working in mental health, as well as extensive supervision, reflective practice, mentoring and personal therapy to be able to talk openly about my experience of social class in the department I work for, which was emotionally difficult, yet rewarding. The conversation was positively received and encouraged my openness. In the past, however, I have encountered colleagues who spoke in a derogatory way, resulting in further concealment of my class.

I feel this highlights the need to keep the conversation alive and to increase the diversity within psychology roles.

Kirsty Hayden-Watts (BSc, MSc)
Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust 

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I found this a breath of fresh air to read and very relatable. I grew up in a single mother household in St Helens (Merseyside, England) with divorced parents, two siblings and little income. I completed my secondary schooling as well as A levels in the same town. I hard a hard time at school and in retrospect should've just moved schools or maybe tried harder, but I'll admit I had no faith in my capabilities and potential due to years of bullying. I have always managed to have a good job though and I've only ever been out of work to relocate. 


Due to what I consider a life/career epiphany, factored by some traumatic and challenging experiences as well as an instrinsic desire to make a difference, I have decided to pursue a career in Psychology (preferably clinical or counselling) at the age of 30. I am studying an undergraduate Psychology with counselling degree with the Open University and I work on an inpatient unit in the NHS as a HCA. I am thankful for my experiences, both positive and negative as they have made me who I am today and put me on this trajectory. 


I am thankful for my working class background and of who I am, and will no longer adjust my accent to appear more intelligent. We are who we are. It's what we do that defines us, not where we are from.