So, you want to be a psychologist?

From time to time, we all fancy ourselves at being expert in how other people think, feel and behave. Human behaviour has fascinated people for years and the quest to know more about what makes people tick leads many to consider studying psychology. Undergraduate psychology courses are amongst the most popular university courses chosen by high school graduates as well as mature age students every year.

The pathway to becoming a registered psychologist in Australia is long and windy. There are a number of challenges or obstacles and there are various key players or gate keepers that are involved.

The pathway starts with entry into an undergraduate psychology course. The gate keepers at this level are, of course, the university or institution of higher education that determine the entry level for their courses. Also, there is another very important key player that is often invisible but strikes a powerful influence, APAC – The Australian Psychology Accreditation Council Limited. APAC have the power (and responsibility) under Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009 to make sure that courses offered are up to standard and produce graduates with the knowledge, skills and ethics necessary for practice. Most APAC-approved courses need to offer certain key subject usually across three full time years of study and they need to do so to a certain standard, or APAC will withdraw approval and those on the path may need to go back to the beginning and start again in another approved undergraduate psychology course.

If you are interested in studying psychology and may want to be a psychologist one day, you need to ask whether the course you are interested in is APAC accredited.

Once you have completed an undergraduate course in psychology, you reach a fork in the pathway. You can decide to leave the road towards becoming a registered psychologist and enjoy the knowledge that you have gained, or enjoy joking with people at parties who think that you can read minds (or who just plain avoid you because they think you can read minds) or you may decide that you would like to work in one of the many areas that employ people with an undergraduate psychology degree – welfare, child protection, case management, justice or the like.

If you chose to proceed along the pathway towards becoming a psychologist, you will need to enter an APAC approved fourth year. Sometimes this is an honours year or it may be an APAC approved graduate diploma. To gain entry into a fourth year, you will need to have done well in your undergraduate studies.

The number of places offered in fourth year courses and beyond is much, much smaller than the intake numbers for undergraduate course. So, clearly, if you are following the pathway to become a registered psychologist, you may not make it if you are looking forward to your university years as mega-party, low-responsibility-type years.

Once you are through the fourth year, there are a number of options at the pathway fork.

  • You can stop there and get a job in the human services sector, but you cannot work as a psychologist.
  • You can leave the university program, find a job as a provisional psychologist (like a psychologist on P plates) and seek out a supervisor. In the trade, this pathway is called “the 4 plus 2” pathway, although in my experience the “plus 2” part can take much longer than the two years. All of the arrangements for “4 plus 2” need to be approved by another very important key player – The Psychology Board of Australia (PBA).
  • The PBA is responsible for making sure the public are in safe hands when they utilise psychological services. The PBA oversee and approve which people can be registered psychologists, which psychologists can supervise other psychologists in the registration process, and they watch whether psychologists are staying professional and up to date. The PBA watches provisionals and their supervisors very closely and there is much reporting and monitoring during the process. To date, this pathway has proven treacherous and we have lost many would –be psychologists through this pathway. However, in my opinion, those that survive and complete this pathway have much to offer. At the end of this pathway they can apply to become registered psychologists, but they will not be eligible for any endorsements (more on endorsements below).
  • You can apply for entry into a post graduate Masters or Doctoral program in psychology (APAC approved of course). Again, the number of places is few and you need to have really good marks to open the gate to this pathway. The post graduate programs require undertaking placements in the field and some universities have struggled to secure sufficient placements so be sure to ask about this before you sign up for post grad. If you are successful in your APAC-approved post graduate course, you can apply for general registration with the PBA.
  • Some higher education institutions offer a fifth year program for psychology. This pathway is newer than most other pathways and requires “5 plus 1”. Once you complete five years you need to have a supervised year that is approved and monitored by the PBA.

If you want to continue even further on the pathway you may want to be endorsed in certain areas of psychology (Clinical Psychology, Clinical Neuropsychology, Counselling Psychology, Organisational Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Community Psychology, Sports Psychology, Education and Developmental Psychology, and Health Psychology), then you need to have completed the appropriate post graduate course and then seek a further period of supervision that is approved by the PBA. You need to have a supervisor who is endorsed in the area in which you are seeking endorsement and then, on completion, you can apply to the PBA for an endorsement on your registration.

Wait! Before you embark on the start of the pathway, you also should know that the effort does not end in registration with the PBA. Once you have negotiated the pathway and followed it to its end, the journey does not stop there.

Psychologists are required to continue to keep their knowledge and skills up to date and their practice above board. As a profession, psychologists are mandated to continue to develop themselves professionally, including spending time consulting with peers about their client work and self care. The PBA does random audits on psychologists to check for this and members of the public can also ask the PBA to investigate a psychologist if they think the psychologist has acted unprofessionally.

Also, before you embark on the pathway to being a psychologist, perhaps have a think about the type of person you are.


  • Do you like science and maths? Psychology is a science. The work that psychologists do is based on evidence and research. A big part of a psychology requires being able to take a critical eye to someone else’s research to know whether it is robust enough to apply the findings to improve someone’s well being. People’s well being can be a fragile and precious thing. It’s not something to be stomped on clumsily, especially when people may be seeking help at a time that they are most vulnerable. Psychologists need to be able to pick the right techniques and not just randomly go with something that looks, smells or feels like it might work. This means that you need to ability to critically review someone’s research and understand the numbers they crunched and how they crunched them on their way to reaching their conclusion. So, it helps a lot if you enjoy science and you are not afraid of maths. If you really love research, then many psychologists continue to have lengthy careers as researchers and academics. If the idea of psychology excites you, but you really struggle to enjoy or understand maths or a scientific approach, you may be happier exploring some of the other social support or counselling options.
  • Can you write a logical essay or report? Psychologists are called upon to write reports – for Courts, updates to doctors and often need to be able to do this with a really short time frame.
  • Do you need or want to earn lots of money? Most psychologists earn a comfortable living, but they are certainly not the big earners that many others think that they are. After six years of study/internship, the average psychologist earns around $60 000, but not many would start out at that level. There are annual insurance and registration fees to pay as well as any ongoing professional development psychologist undertake.
  • Are you able to take good care of yourself whilst you take care of others? Are you tolerant, fair and law-abiding? You may well be the one that friends come to for help, but are you able to say “no” if you are genuinely unable to help them? Do you keep healthy boundaries and not try to fix everything for everyone all of the time? Do you have a high standard of ethics in the way you deal with and relate to others?

Another important player, off to the side of the registration pathway, but working hard to influence and support psychology as a discipline, is the Australian Psychological Society (APS). Psychologists do not need to belong to the APS to practice psychology, but the APS does have entry requirements. The APS is a professional body that works to advance psychology as a discipline. The APS promotes psychology and provides psychologists with advocacy, training and support. The APS website contains some useful information for students.

Not many years ago, in some states and territories in Australia, the practice of psychology went unregulated. Anybody could call themselves a psychologist.

Currently, the profession of psychology in Australia has psychologists who were registered under the new system and still many that were registered when things were much “looser”. This means that we currently have a really heterogeneous group of people in the profession, but it is clear that there is no room for sloppiness. If you want to be a psychologist in Australia, you need to be committed to continuing to seek knowledge, revise skills and practice ethically.

So, if you do want to be a psychologist, you can sure that Psychology is an amazingly interesting and rewarding discipline. The work that psychologists do is very important and often with very fragile people or communities. People need to be able to put their utmost faith in their psychologist so it’s important that psychologists are able to meet the rigorous requirement for knowledge, skills and ethical practice. It’s a long closely regulated path, but it jolly well should be!

Best wishes for safe and fulfilling adventures to those who chose to take the important pathway.

Internet Pornography, Children and Families – Innocence Gone?

Gone are the days when a child’s access to pornographic material was about finding Dad’s Playboy magazine in his bottom drawer or even stumbling across a National Geographic in the library.

Gone, too, are the video cassettes delivered to a mate’s dad’s friend’s places from our Nation’s capital city in a brown paper bag.

Gone, as well, the dial up access to internet pornography – the bah-bing-dah-high-pitched-scream noise that opened the gateway to download overnight three minutes of visual footage and rendering the computer useless while it was so downloading.

In place of magazines, videocassettes and dial-up, we now have 24/7 access on the home computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone to high resolution pornographic images, movies or chat sites.  By typing, even accidentally, a rude word into a search engine or clicking or swiping on a “pop-up”, pornographic material can be accessed instantly ……and we are starting to see it’s impact on Mr and Mrs Average-Joe’s household.

More and more Mr Average-Joes are presenting for help to save their family, marriage, job and happiness from the effects of internet pornography.

More Mrs Average-Joes are managing their unhappy or unfulfilled feeings by turning to online games with pornographic undertones.  Some adult women enjoy role playing games where they choose a rather sexy looking avatar and have wonderful adventures that replace the perceived dullness they are experiencing in their lives.

Sadly, the Average-Joe children are being exposed, much earlier than ever before, to sexually explicit material.  Innocence gone.  Some of the material is accessed via the internet and some is captured on various texting and visual messaging systems.  Without an appropriate understanding of the foundations of healthy relationships, or even body parts, children can be very negatively affected by exposure to graphic sexual images.

The concerns?  Well, they are many…

  • Children being upset and frightened by what they see
  • Children acting-out sexually at school and home
  • Children hurting or abusing other children in sexual ways
  • Children thinking that sexual partners want the kind of sex they see in pornography
  • Children being groomed in online chat rooms for their sexual exploitation
  • Children (sometimes in countries where poverty is high and laws and human rights are non-existent), being exploited in the manufacturing of pornographic material
  • Children “orphaned” and parents “widowed” – loosing a parent to the cyberworld.

So, where to begin to tackle the issue of access to pornography?  We need to take steps to: Prevent, educate and react safely and appropriately.


Watch your child whenever they are on the computer or internet connected device.  As tempting as it may be to let the screen baby sit, be sure to be in watching/monitoring distance.

Make sure you haven’t stored any pornographic material on your device (even any home-made videos on your phone)

Be sure to model a balanced use of screen/cyber time and real life. If you think your cyber life is taking over from your real life, stop!  Get help.


Talk to your child in age-appropriate ways about healthy relationships.  This might start off with conversation about personal space and what to say and do when you don’t like how someone is treating you.  Talk about caring, power-balance and consent.

Give your child clear ways to respond if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable by what they see on the internet.  Ensure they know the basics of protective behaviours – again, in a balanced and age-appropriate way talk about privacy, private parts, looking, touching and secrets.

Along with sex education, talk to your children about relationships not just the biology/plumbing of sex.

While internet pornography is more prevalent and more available, it is certainly not the way to learn about sex or to learn what will make you sexually attractive or popular

After the teen years, talk about the pornography industry.  Explain how pornographic material is made and the differences between real relationships and what is depicted in porn.  (Hint – real relationships have a beginning, middle and sometimes, an end…pornography has a very short, sometimes momentary, middle, all out of context).

Also be sure to discuss with teens about the legal ramifications of storing pornographic images on their mobile devices or sharing it with mates across cyber-space.


It’s important that they be protected from exposure for as long as possible.  However, if a child is exposed, it is important that they share their experience with a safe adult, that they ask questions and have them answered sensitively and age appropriately.

If you are a teacher, medical professional, carer, social worker or psychologist, remember your legal responsibilities in relation to reporting issues of child safety to the authorities.

The end goal is to raise or support children to become young adults who understand where pornography sits in the scheme of healthy relationships.  Ideally, this understanding will come from day to day healthy modelling, talking and discussion about how people relate safely and respectfully to each other across ages, genders, relationships types and the media they are using to relate.

Pornography is certainly no substitute for the intimacy of a safe, loving, consenting, adult relationship.  Let’s all do what we can to make sure we set children on the path to knowing that safety and love are an important part of all close relationships – no matter what your age.


You might like to have a look at some of the Big Hug books to help you with some tricky conversations with your early school-aged children.  “Friendship is Like a See Saw” introduces the idea of balance in relationships and “The Internet is Like a Puddle” can help open up conversation about the importance of using the internet safely.





Teenage Boys – What’re The Facts about their Mental Health

My newest information session for parents, teachers, carers, medical and welfare professionals.

A bio-psychosocial look at mental health during the adolescent years including:

  • Brain development
  • Identity formation & sexuality
  • Risk taking & extremes: driving/substances/self-harm
  • Relationships
  • Socialising, social media and porn
  • Counselling, parenting and support

Perfect information for those who want to support boys to become mentally healthy young men.

Wednesday 22nd July 6pm -7:30pm

Suite 8 – 100 Burnett Street, Buderim

Limited places available – numbers are kept small to ensure your questions can be addressed.

Phone 0400 150 106 or email to secure your place. Cost $45.

If you’d like to send the information about this session to a friend, work mate, or relative, click below for a PDF flier

Info Session -Teenage Boys July 15

School refusal – “I’m just not going!” (Insert door slam here!)

There are many different reasons why a child or teen might not want to go to school. For some, the desire to avoid going to school can become so troubling that it can become associated with family conflict and significant mental health issues.

There are lots of words in the psychological research that are used to describe the problems faced by students who should be, but aren’t, going to school. When you take a close look at the child that is not going to school, you can usually see factors in the child, factors in the family, and factors in the school that are not quite aligned so that the child is getting the most of their schooling years. In fact, the words that are used to describe the different types of school non-attendance give some insight into which factors might be in play the children, the parents/carers and the school.

  • The word “truancy” is normally used when a child is skipping school and not letting their parent or carer know. There are usually legal-type sanctions for this when they are caught. Sometimes, ironically, sanctions include being suspended or kept away from school.
  • “School withdrawal” is the term normally used for students who are not going to school and their parents are aware, but do not take any action. Most of these students disengage from education systems completely.
  • “School refusal” is the term used to describe students who are not attending school and who have parents /carers who know they are not going and who want them to attend.

When trying to assist in a situation where a child is refusing school, there are two important questions to consider:

  1. What are the young person’s motivations to stay away from school?
  2. What are the young person’s motivations to stay at home?

These are similar but importantly different questions. It is worth considering the factors for the child that make up the “pros and cons” of going to school as well as the “pros and cons” of not going to school. In this way, we can see that sometimes the motivations are nothing to do with school alone. There may be concerns at home (for instance, a parent may be unwell or have had an accident) and despite being reassured by family, the child may feel that their priority is to be at home to keep an eye on things there rather than be at school. Indeed, many students who school refuse do so because they are anxious, fearful or depressed. Some find the school work too difficult or too under-stimulating, some don’t like classrooms where the teacher uses discipline to the point where there is an overall culture of conflict, and some find it more satisfying to pursuit rewards outside of school.

Some children and teens might require extra help with managing stress, dealing with their own stage of development, managing social situations, solving problems, or dealing with depression.

Emerging research is suggesting that these developmental differences need to be addressed if we want to help students to re-engage in schooling.

Different children at different ages have different age-linked reasons behind their lack of attendance. It’s important that people trying to help take a child’s developmental stage into consideration. If a primary school-aged child is not attending school, CBT-based psychological treatment can usually improve the situation quite quickly. However, for teenagers, the problems associated with school refusal become much more complex and additions need to be made to treatment to ensure that the complex interplay of factors is being addressed. There are often a bevy of complex things going on for the teen school-refusing student – the secondary school environments are much more academically demanding, peer issues are much more complex and the young teen is working on sorting out the sort of person they think they are. Also, because the teen is developing some autonomy, he or she may be more likely to want to make decisions about school for themselves.

From a family or carer’s perspective, it can be both concerning and frustrating when a child won’t attend school. Tensions can become high.

The best interventions for getting children back to school also involve work with parents and carers, too. Providing parents with the information and support around teenagers and youth development, skills for parenting teenagers, “how to’s” to bolster a young person’s confidence or respond to boundary breeches, and solving family problems can all assist and especially so when done in conjunction with the work being done for the child who is refusing to attend school.

If we look at school factors that are linked to school refusal, generally they have to do with the schools size, its culture and rigidity.

Some teenage students find it easier to attend school when the school is smaller, when classrooms are peaceful, were teachers are allowed some flexibility and where students feel that they have a relationship with the teacher and that they are known and belong. Students also appreciate school more when they have a role to play in the school community. Large schools now are finding that dividing the school up into junior, middle and senior years and allowing leadership positions at each of these levels can assist to keep the notorious junior and middle years of high school (ie years 8 and 9) better engaged.

A range of alternate school options have sprung up for students who were beginning to disengage. The options for alternate education vary from region to region and, unfortunately, from year to year as many are funded by short term funding sources. To find out more about main stream school alternatives in your region, contact the Youth Affairs Department in your State or Territory.

Because there are so many factors that may be contributing to school refusal, there is no single quick-fix for all school-refusers.

Good treatment requires careful consideration of all the factors affecting the child, the family and the school and then a cleverly crafted series of interventions to get all parts of the picture functioning in the best interest of the student.

For help for a student who is slipping away from the school system, be sure to listen to the student, understand all of the things that may be influencing friends and family, and check what is going on from the school’s perspective. Once the reasons for the absences are understood, involve the student, family and the school in a shared plan towards returning that targets the practical, emotional and skills issues needs be the child, family members and school. If there are emotional, mental health, social skills or family communication issues adding to the complexity, consider a trip to the GP and a psychologist to assist.