Becoming a psychologist in Australia

The popularity of psychology has fuelled the wide choice of courses on offer in Australia.

Psychology is one of the most popular disciplines in the Australian higher education system, and is taught as a science with a strong evidence-based approach. Australia has been a very popular place for students 
to study across a diverse range of areas, with a higher education system that is of the best in quality. An increasing number of academic courses now include units of psychology, but Australia also provides many opportunities 
to specialise in this rewarding, diverse and fast-growing field.

Psychology students graduate with not only an unrivalled understanding of human behaviour and its drivers, but also a range of personal skills and attributes - from teamwork to critical thinking – that are highly valued by employers throughout the world. Like medicine and law, psychology is a regulated profession in Australia, and so students need to consider registration requirements here and in their home country to ensure that, if they want to practice as a psychologist in future, they are able to do so.

Before any degree can be approved by the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) as a qualification suitable for registration to practice, it must be accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council - which is the government-appointed national accreditation authority for the psychology discipline. At the time of writing, 40 institutions around Australia offer accredited psychology degrees, which means students can select from a huge range of institutions, in different settings around this vast country.

Becoming a psychologist in Australia

“Australia also provides many opportunities 
to specialise in this rewarding, diverse and fast-growing field”

Psychologists in Australia are required to complete six years of education and training before being eligible for registration to practice. This can be achieved via a number of pathways, all of which require as the first step a four-year accredited honours degree in psychology. This qualification can be followed by either: (1) an accredited postgraduate professional master’s or doctoral degree; (2) an accredited Graduate Diploma plus supervised experience; or (3) a two-year PsyBA-approved internship.

Most Australian psychology undergraduate courses will consist of a mixture of lectures, practical classes and tutorials, require students to read widely, and employ a variety of assessment methods including exams, essays, other short reports and sometimes group projects.

Accredited psychology courses are required to demonstrate that specified competencies are attained by students during their education. This is how students of accredited degrees can be assured that, whatever their career path after completing an undergraduate psychology degree, they will be equipped with critical thinking, research training, clear communication and other skills that are highly valued by a wide range of employers and industries.

Those continuing on with psychology studies into the postgraduate phase will find that competencies that build on the foundational studies in the undergraduate years are 
more explicitly focused on, producing competent, professional practitioners. These programmes are designed to build on the knowledge gained during the four-year undergraduate sequence, and include such competencies as ethics, legal and professional matters, psychological assessment and measurement, intervention strategies, and research and evaluations.

Candidates may also choose to specialise in one of the nine areas of practice, which are: clinical neuropsychology; clinical psychology; community psychology; counselling psychology; educational and developmental psychology; forensic psychology; health psychology; organisational psychology; and sport and exercise psychology. In order to specialise, students must complete a professional programme in the relevant area, and then undertake a registrar programme with the PsyBA, which requires a period of supervised practice after completion of the degree.

The Australian Psychological Society 
has nine established colleges, which represent these nine areas of recognised specialisation. You can find more information on the work that psychologists in these 
areas do, and the many other diverse 
contributions that psychologists make, on the Australian Psychological Society website.

The site includes a dedicated section for students, including information about the many prizes, awards and forms of support for those embarking on a journey in the science and discipline of psychology in Australia.

Written by Professor Simon Crowe (2011)
Australian Psychological Society