If you have decided that the way you want to be help people is by becoming a psychologist this is the article for you. There are several factors to keep in mind so that you follow the most direct path to becoming credentialed. Once you complete high school it will take you around 6-8 years to obtain the basic credential that will allow you to work in the field as a psychologist. Part of the variance in time is due to different standards depending on the particular area you wish to specialize in. I won’t go into a lengthy discussion of all the subfields within psychology but it is a broad field including, clinical, forensic, educational, developmental, sports, organizational to name a few. Each one of these may lead you to a completely different sort of work environment, financial status and type of work.
For the purposes of this article we will assume you have ruled out becoming a social worker, counsellor, psychiatrist etc. Though there is overlap in the jobs they do and what some psychologists do there are differences so that means different pathways to becoming credentialed in these professions. If you are not 100% sure that psychology is more appealing to you than one of the others mentioned I would suggest you spend some time researching these fields. It may help to speak to some people who work in each of these areas by doing an informational interview to get a better sense of where your interests lie. A few sessions with a career counsellor or coach may help you better define where your interest and abilities intersect. They may conduct assessments with your or simply have some discussions and exercises to help you sort this out.
The main government body for healthcare professions (AHPRA) has established criteria that allow for registration across all of Australia. The psychology board is the subgroup that regulates psychologists. They have undergone significant changes in the last few years. At the present time to become registered as a psychologist in Australia there are a few pathways that are possible.
Pathway one – Masters or Doctorate
The first is to obtain a master’s degree or doctorate degree in psychology. To do that you will first need to obtain a bachelors degree in psychology and be accepted to one of these graduate programs. To obtain a bachelors degree you can expect to spend 4-5 years at university. Part of this time will involve classroom instruction but may also include some work experience. It will involve learning a lot of the basics about psychology. Your master’s degree will take about 2 years and be focused on the area in which you want to specialize. Master’s degree programs are typically pretty competitive to enter. There is a focus on applied skills though you may get the opportunity to become involved in research as well depending on the program. If you are interested in research then getting a PhD may be the path for you.
Completing independent research is a primary focus especially during the last 1-2 years of a doctorate program. If you are interested in obtaining an endorsement in one of the speciality areas of psychology after obtaining your general registration you will need to obtain at least a master’s degree in that specialty area.
Pathway two – 4+2
Another pathway to becoming a registered psychologist is what the board calls a 4 + 2 program. This entails obtaining a bachelors degree in psychology followed by completing 2 years of intense supervision and training. During these 2 years you are considered a provisional psychologist while you are in this internship phase.
Some have equated doing this internship to completing a master’s degree without going to university. There are a lot of assignments, readings, etc. that the board expects of you to be able to complete this program. You also will be spending a couple hours at least per week with a clinical supervisor who will help you improve your skills as a practitioner. You will be expected to keep a log of all your activities each week you are an intern that is submitted to the board for approval. You will be expected to write up case studies & submit them to the board to be evaluated. Your clinical supervisor plays a key role in developing your skills. You will want to make sure you choose one who has the expertise in the area you hope to work in.
All supervisors will need to be approved by the board but they could specialize in any area of psychology. So if you hope to focus on children as an educational and developmental psychologist it wouldn’t be prudent to have an organizational psychologist as your supervisor.
A quick note about supervision… you will need to find your own supervisor and job that allows you to have appropriate work experience. Your supervisor may not be someone associated your employer so you should expect to pay an hourly rate to meet with your supervisor.
Once you secure a site for internship you can apply to the board to see if they will approve that as a site for your work experience. They may approve it 100% or only partially. If it is approved for less than 100% you will need to obtain a second work site. This can either be simultaneously or one after the other. Your work experience may be a paid job or a volunteer position according to the registration board.
If you are not able to obtain the necessary hours of approved work experience in 2 years you will need to extend your status as a provisional psychologist until you meet the necessary requirements. Some may need 3-4 years to get the necessary experiences and assignments completed to satisfy these requirements. So the 2 in the 4+2 is the minimum time it could take to complete this program. The board allows up to 5 years to complete the work experience portion of the requirement. This extension in time would be contingent on making progress towards your goals according to your progress reports that are submitted by you and your supervisor every 6 months.
Pathway three – 5+1
The third pathway that the board allows for obtaining registration is what they call 5+1. This program was just developed about a year ago. It is essentially a hybrid version of the 4+2. The expectation is that you would complete a diploma in psychology that takes about a year after completing your bachelor’s degree in psychology. The requirements in terms of assignments, case studies etc. that must be turned in to the board are less than for those in the 4+2 program. The expectation is that you would be better prepared by having an extra year of academics. So they essential cut the other requirements in half. There are a few other differences but that is the key difference.
Pathway four – qualifications from another country
The fourth pathway would be for individuals who are moving from another country to Australia. The first step is to have your credentials evaluated by the Australian Psychological Society. They will essentially work out how your university training translates into the Australian education system. You need this evaluation info to be able to apply to the Psychology Board for consideration of registration. The board may recommend you complete a short 3-6 month transition period with provisional status and pass the national exam. However, it may be required that you complete a longer time in provisional registration status e.g. completing a 4+2 or 5+1 program to qualify for full general registration.
There is a requirement of English proficiency as well, which is something to consider if English is not your native language.
Common to all pathways – the national board exam
Regardless of which path you choose there are some standard requirements for all applications for registration. One is that you need to pass a national board exam. This is also a new requirement that was added about a year ago. This exam in designed to cover all areas of psychology.
But wait…. there’s more!! Some advice….
I can’t help but offer some unsolicited advice to those who may be thinking of becoming psychologists. It may be easier for you to obtain the highest level of education you think you may ever want while you are still young (or at least as young as you will ever be) and in education mode. So if you are debating whether or not you might want a master’s or PhD I would suggest going for it rather than taking a wait and see approach. The folks I have known who decided midway into their career to go back to university to continue their training often found it difficult. Not because they didn’t have the ability but because they had acquired other responsibilities like family, jobs, mortgages, community commitments etc. So finding the money or time to study was a challenge. Also you may find that the standards change over time. You would likely be grandfathered in and allowed to continue to practice but there are no guarantees.
Something that may be really important to you if you think you may move outside of Australia at some point in your life is that the standards for registration, licensure or whatever it is called in that country may not be the same as Australia’s. For example to qualify for a EuroPsy Certificate as a psychologist to practice in most European countries they require 5 years of university study plus supervised experience etc. Some countries like the USA require a minimum of a PhD and 1- 4 years supervised experience to qualify as a psychologist. Though in the USA you may qualify for the credential of counsellor with a master’s degree unlike in Australia where counsellor isn’t a regulated title. Canada requires either a PhD or a master’s degree depending on your location. Across other countries in Asia you may find a wide variety of requirements as well. In some countries they may not regulate the field much at all like in Thailand. However in Singapore you need to have a minimum of a master’s degree to qualify as a psychologist with the psychological society even though the government doesn’t regulate the field. So it may be wise to have a long-range view of your career while you are still early in your training especially if you may move to be near family or simply experience another part of the world at some point.
All of the info on pathways above is aimed at getting you over the basic threshold to enter the profession and receive general registration. You will want to make sure that you continue your learning and stay current with the latest info in the field. You will be required to participate in a certain amount of continuing education and supervision on an ongoing basis after you are registered. This may be an opportunity for you to broaden your focus over time. So if you decide you may want to change the course of your career at some point you may be able to retrain a bit in a different speciality area of psychology. It isn’t uncommon for a psychologist to work in different areas at different point in their career. For example you may decide you like working with kids but also start to develop an interest in training psychologist so you start teaching a class at university in addition to your job at the primary school you work at during the day.
In addition to the requirements to become registered you will need to consider what the industry standard is in terms of training for your area of interest. This isn’t necessarily reflected in the minimum standards for registration the board sets out. Take for example you have an interest in teaching psychology. You may be hired to teach at a university with a master’s degree. However, it is likely you wouldn’t be considered for senior positions in the department or allowed to teach the most advanced courses without having a PhD. So in some situations only having a master’s degree may limit you professionally and financially. You will find this in other speciality areas within the field as well.
You have likely noticed my more is better stance with education. This is not to say that you can’t have a fulfilling career and be a competent professional without a master’s degree. You may decide as you research your options you may want to go down the path of studying to become a counsellor for example. That would require less formal training. However, there are trade offs like not qualifying for Medicare or insurance rebates that would impact you financially.
Hopefully, this overview of how to become a Psychologist has helped you get a sense of the types of requirements you may face to become credentialed and start practicing in the field. I would strongly encourage you to check the Psychology Board website for the latest info on requirements. They are continually updating the requirements.
Dan Martin MS Psych, Assoc MAPS has over 17 years experience providing psychological services. Visit his website to learn more about his practice at www.personalenrichmentservices.com.au
More articles on My Health Career:
- What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
- The career progression of a psychologist – many roads lead to Rome – by Dr Rebecca Ray
- ATARs for every psychology course in Australia