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Psychology

Psychology career pathways: Registered Psychologist

There is a national shortage of registered psychologists. There are various pathways to practicing as a psychologist, find one that suits you.

By GlobalHealth Education Published 05/07/2022

Mental health is a national priority due to the unprecedented pressure that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on Australia’s mental health system. And, it’s no surprise that professionals with psychology expertise are in high demand across a broad range of industries and occupations.

 

While there are various pathways to develop your skillset in psychology, we’ll focus on the steps you need to take to become a practicing psychologist. 

The good news is that you don’t need to start with a Bachelor of Psychology. If you’ve already completed a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, you can change or broaden your current expertise with a bridging 10-unit Graduate Diploma in Psychology. After completing the bridging grad dip, you can decide to either use these new skills to change or progress your career in industries such as business, technology and education, or embark on the path to become a registered psychologist.

A sought-after profession

Demand for psychologists is on the rise. According to Burning Glass Technologies, a job market analytics firm, job postings for psychologists will increase by over 45 per cent in the next decade.

We spoke to Luke Lawrence, a practising psychologist and director of Explore Psychology in Geelong. According to Luke:

“We're seeing a significant increase in demand for psychology services now. Even before the pandemic, so it's a fairly secure industry to be in. Add to that the fact that the government is spending more and more money on mental health and services available for mental health, psychologists will end up finding a plethora of opportunities to work in.”

Three steps towards practising as a psychologist

There are three major stepping stones on the path to general psychology practice: 

  1. study
  2. work placement
  3. professional registration

It’s generally a six-year sequence of education and internship, with options to suit your circumstances and preferences. ‘Six years’ assumes full-time study, it could be more or less depending on your study and workload. Navigating all of these options may feel overwhelming, but understanding the steps you need to take to get there is the key. 

Luke started working toward qualifying as a practising psychologist at 36. 

“I applied for the Graduate Diploma in Psychology at Monash. I completed the Graduate Diploma in Psychology (online), which is the equivalent to a three-year degree. I then moved on to the Graduate Diploma of Psychology (Advanced), which is the equivalent of a fourth year, in which I had to do a thesis, and that was one year (online). 

From there, I did the Master of Professional Psychology, again at Monash University, during COVID-19. So, only two or three days of that master's degree was actually spent on campus, with the rest of it online, and I completed that within the year.

Check out the following flowchart to understand the process more clearly.
 

chart of psychology study

Chart of Psychology work placement steps

Chart of psychology professional registration steps

1. Study

The traditional path to a psychology career is to start with an undergraduate psychology degree. But if you have an undergraduate qualification in a different field, there’s no need to start from scratch. An online bridging Graduate Diploma of Psychology enables you to build on any undergraduate degree that’s not in the field of psychology. This way you reduce your required study by up to 14 units, in comparison to a 24-unit Bachelor of Psychology, which could equate to a time saving of around two years of full-time study.

Even if you haven’t previously studied psychology, but have other qualifications, you’ll bring a lot of transferable skills to your career. You might start with a business degree and follow your own path to becoming an organisational psychologist. A language degree will enable you to become a psychologist with bilingual abilities, so you could work overseas or with migrant populations.

A bridging graduate diploma puts you in the same position as students who have completed an undergraduate psychology degree. At this point, if your goal isn’t to consult with patients as a registered psychologist, you can graduate and take your new skills straight into the job of your choice. For example, if you’re a digital marketing specialist or user interface (e.g. for websites, apps and other software) designer, you might use your psychology expertise to investigate how users behave online, to inform the design and development of digital platforms.

If you wish to pursue a career as a registered practising psychologist, you can complete a ‘fourth year’ of study on this path, usually a second graduate diploma (equivalent to an undergraduate honours year for those with a psychology bachelor’s degree).

After completing your fourth year, and applying for provisional registration, you can follow one of two pathways:
 

General registration: This pathway involves a ‘fifth year’ of study, often a Master of Professional Psychology degree, with course work equivalent to one full-time year, plus a year of supervised practice (referred to as 5+1 covered further below), followed by general registration once you’ve passed the Psychology Board of Australia’s National Psychology Examination.
 

Specialist endorsement: To specialise in an area such as clinical psychology or organisational psychology, you can progress from your accredited fourth year to either a two-year master’s degree, such as a Master in Clinical Psychology, or a combined master’s/PhD or a professional doctorate (four years full time). From there, you’ll complete a Psychology Board of Australia registrar program and be endorsed in one of the following specialisations: 

  • clinical neuropsychologist
  • clinical psychologist
  • community psychologist
  • counselling psychologist
  • educational and developmental psychologist
  • forensic psychologist
  • health psychologist
  • organisational psychologist
  • sport and exercise psychologist

Please note that universities in Australia use slightly different terminology for degrees at the same level of study (especially graduate diplomas). We've included a table at the bottom of this page to help you navigate the variations in terminology.

2. Work placement

The second stepping stone to professional registration is work placement or internship, if you are on the 5+1 path. The internship may be part of the professional master's program or, more commonly, you may need to source the internship yourself to commence after you’ve completed the fifth year of study.

Luke completed his internship, which is the + 1 component of the 5 + 1 pathway, at the end of 2021. Over the course of the year he worked in private practice, as a child psychologist. 

You can complete your internship in a range of work settings, such as private practice, hospitals and correction facilities, as long as your role allows you to demonstrate the competencies required for registration. Your chosen internship must be approved by the Psychology Board of Australia.

During the supervised practice of your internship, you’ll be considered a provisional psychologist (once you have gained your provisional registration – see below). This is an opportunity for you to get first-hand experience working in your chosen environment. It’s the perfect time to start building the network for your future career. An experience like this will set you up for a career in psychology with excellent support and learning opportunities.

Work placement also provides options to customise your path as a psychologist. Your Psychology Board of Australia-approved psychology supervisor may be employed in the same organisation as your internship, or they might work elsewhere. So, you can seek work placement at a location that embodies your career goals and work with a clinical supervisor who will complement them.

3. Professional registration

There are a three different levels of registration: provisional registration, general registration and general registration with area of practice endorsement (AoPE). 

Before commencing either of the supervised practice pathways to general registration (ie after completing fourth year), you’ll need to gain provisional registration. 

All practising psychologists on the 5+1 pathway must pass the National Psychology Examination with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) to register as a general psychologist. This is the third major stepping stone on the pathway to practising general psychology. It’s also a jumping-off point – from here, the career pathway is entirely up to you.

At this point, you’ll be qualified to work in a wide range of settings, using evidence-based approaches to work with clients. If you’ve arrived via a bridging graduate diploma after completing an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field, this is where you can put the sum of your studies and work experience into practice. During your placement, you’ll discover lots of opportunities to create your own psychology career path simply by being exposed to the workplace and the clients’ needs. 

To follow the specialist path, you’ll complete a two-year master’s program (instead of 1 year masters + 1 year internship of the 5+1 pathway); gain general registration and then complete a PsyBA AoPE registrar program and apply for registration in one of the following specialisations:

  • clinical neuropsychologist
  • clinical psychologist
  • community psychologist
  • counselling psychologist
  • educational and developmental psychologist
  • forensic psychologist
  • health psychologist
  • organisational psychologist
  • sport and exercise psychologist

Applying your psychology qualification

The traditional career pathway for psychologists was to apply their skills in health organisations or private practice. When Luke completed his internship, and received general registration, he started practicing as a registered psychologist. While this is still a popular choice, psychologists with general registration are just as likely to find themselves in demand from businesses, education institutions, and community organisations, to name just a few.

Health care

Psychologists who choose to work in health organisations will have a range of job opportunities at their fingertips. They may become allied health professionals who help people manage mental health through diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. This role may take you into nursing homes, care facilities for people with disabilities, or an organisation like Headspace. Some psychologists work alongside general practitioners or in a multi-professional team in the community to give care where it’s needed. Opportunities like these can be found across Australia in the metro, regional and rural areas.

Business

In business, one of the key areas for psychologists is human resources and management. While the skills of a psychologist are important when hiring staff, it’s the ability to influence culture and build high-performance teams that create real value for the business. Many organisations are even adding the position of Chief Wellness Officer to their C-Suite in an effort to support staff in managing the demands of the modern workplace. Occupational psychology is also needed more than ever in areas exposed to traumatic situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic or a company merger.

Education

Psychology has had a long history in schools and educational environments through the role of the school counsellor. More recently, it’s become common for students to also have the support of a school psychologist for developmental, behavioural, learning and mental health issues. General psychologists are also able to provide much-needed guidance as career counsellors, creating a bridge between educational institutions and the workforce.

Community organisations

Another rewarding role for psychologists is working with a wide variety of organisations that support local communities. You might work with people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, people experiencing financial difficulties and homelessness, or local government services.

Navigating Australian university degree nomenclature

Equivalent level of study

Course name variation

Units of study

Type of study

Year 1-3 of sequence

Graduate Diploma in Psychology

10 units

all coursework

Graduate Diploma of Psychological Science

Graduate Diploma of Psychological Studies

4th year

Graduate Diploma in Psychology

8 units

 4 coursework &  4 research units

Graduate Diploma in Psychology (Advanced)

Graduate Diploma of Professional Psychology

Graduate Diploma of Psychological Science

5th year for general registration

Master of Professional Psychology

8 units

6 coursework & 2 practicum units

Master of Applied Psychology Professional

5-6th year for practice endorsement

Master of Clinical Psychology

16 units

 

Master of Psychology (Clinical)

Master of Applied Psychology Clinical Psychology

Master of Organisational Psychology

Master of Clinical Neuropsychology

Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Master of Psychology (Counselling)

Master of Applied Psychology Organisational Psychology

Master of Clinical Psychology (Defense)

Master of Psychology (Health)

Master of Psychology (Organisational & Human Factors)

 

How to find out more

Explore our range of online postgraduate psychology course to find one that suits you.