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Senior Educational Psychologist Career Profile

Written by: Fiona Narburgh
Published on: 19 Jan 2021

Meet Dr Deborah Benjamin, an everyday hero working as a Senior Educational Psychologist at Birmingham City Council.

Below Dr Deborah Benjamin has shared her story to show what a career as a Educational Psychologist is like.

What's your role in a nutshell?

My role involves supporting children and young people from birth to 25 years old who experience social, emotional or any other difficulties with learning. I apply psychological theory and research in order to reduce barriers that prevent successful learning and participation.

It’s more than working with children with special needs as I work with everyone who has a role in best supporting the child, including the parents, teachers, social workers, doctors – leading training and putting in place new policies.

Was this a planned career or one you fell into? 

Planned, I’ve wanted to be a psychologist since I was a teenager. Dev=bPsychology is all about finding out about people and ‘getting into people’s heads’. I’m fascinated by what makes people tick and behave how they do.

My own challenging start fuelled my interest. At school in the 1970’s – 80’s, I was bullied and experienced racism – I’m a black woman – and was told I wouldn't amount to anything, yet became a teacher after getting my degree in psychology, working in some of the tougher Birmingham schools.  

11 years later I became an Educational Psychologist after doing my Masters, it’s really competitive – I applied four times before I was accepted on the course.

Are you a doer, manager or leader?

For most of my career I’ve been a real doer and directly helped schools to put in place interventions to help children succeed.

Since completing my Doctorate qualification, I have become a team manager and a specialist in how organisations can best support children’s and young people’s social, emotional and mental health. It’s been a real growth area of concern during the pandemic – we’ve never been busier.

What do you love best & love least about your job?

I love when I can see the difference I’ve made to a young person, especially against the odds. One young person was continually excluded from secondary schools. His father was a known gang member and he’d regularly threaten teachers. The child moved to a high school that really worked differently with him and showed him how much they cared. For the first time he was turning up after ironing his own uniform and he eventually finished his schooling, quite a transformation. My role was to guide the school in that relationship.

I don’t enjoy the paperwork side of the job. There are always statutory reports to be written so that the council can decide what’s needed in terms of any specialist placements or financial support.

Do you need: Qualifications? University or apprenticeship or special skills?

It’s highly qualified and highly competitive – you now need a Doctorate to be an Educational Psychologist, and while a formal teaching qualification is no longer needed, practical experience of applying psychology through working with children and young people is a course requirement. 

There’s a government tax free bursary of £16k a year for three years available to do the Doctorate. That sounds a lot for training, but not when you have a mortgage and children like I did at the time!

Interpersonal skills and an ability to deliver tough messages are essential – there might be some big changes that are needed to the system around the child, changing how the adults relate to the child for example. That can be quite a difficult conversation.

Routine or variety?

Definitely lots of variety, I’ll be meeting parents, teachers, delivering training, conducting assessments or writing reports. Sometimes all on the same day! But I manage my own diary so can control things to some extent.

Pay check or calling?

I do it for the love of the job. It’s also well paid starting around £45k pa post doing the Doctorate to up to 70k pa for higher management positions.

There are lots of other benefits too of working for the council and managers do recognise the importance of work life balance too. If I’m working extra hours, to clear some of the statutory reports for example, I can take back those hours another time.

Is there development support available or is it DIY?

My employer has supported me financially to attain my doctorate qualification while working fulltime. There’s also lots of CPD - continuing professional development - both formal courses but I also keep up to date by and listening to TED talks and reading about the latest developments in the field of psychology too.  

Staying put or moving on?

Staying put for now. I’m loving the current role, but my manager knows that I like to extend what I do and grow, she’s great at keeping me motivated with new challenges.

Can you share a life lesson or specific career advice?

Don't give up on your dreams, with persistence and determination anything is possible. I was told I was being too ambitious thinking I could go to university – but I stuck at it - now I’m a doctor.

I’ve also learned that talking is the best therapy. That’s true for the young people I work with, and for me personally, especially hard at this time when we are working from home and don’t have opportunities for incidental conversations within the office.

And finally, the best thing about working for the council is… it’s an ethical employer and champions the underdog. I’ve been approached by the private sector on lucrative day rates but I always say no. I don’t want to compromise the quality of what I can give and be accessible to those that most need our help.

Dr Deborah, is an #EverydayHero, working to change and make better the lives of others and you can be an #EverydayHero too. Click here to find roles currently available within psychological services.