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How to become a Psychologist in Australia

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Becoming a registered psychologist in Australia can be complex and confusing for both Australians and overseas applicants and migrants. On this page we have compiled general advice and answers to the most common questions and situations for our prospective students and applicants.

Find the statement that best fits your situation or question and click the ‘plus’ icon to find detailed expert information on your options and next steps on your registration journey with Cairnmillar.

If you still have questions or need further advice, please feel free to email us at applications@cairnmillar.edu.au for more information.

I am an Australian school leaver with an ATAR?

The Cairnmillar Institute does not currently offer an APAC accredited undergraduate (APAC level 1, AQF level 7) program.

You can register your interest here and we will contact you should an undergraduate degree be offered in future.

For now, applicants with an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) applying via a University Admissions Centre (UAC) are encouraged to check that the undergraduate degree you are intending to pursue is APAC accredited. See: APAC

An undergraduate degree, including an APAC accredited major sequence, will take three years full-time study. This is only the first step, you cannot register as a psychologist with only an undergraduate degree.

A further fourth year of study will be required to complete a standalone APAC accredited 1-year Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) or an inclusive Honours year. (Honours is considered APAC level 2, and AQF level 8 even if it is included in a combined four year sequence).

Once you have completed your Honours program, you would then be able to apply for a Master of Professional Psychology (commonly referred to as a 5+1 program) or a Master of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) or a Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) or other APAC accredited Masters or Doctoral programs in psychology, such as a Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology or Master of Organisational Psychology.

You will then need to complete an APAC accredited Masters (such as the MPP or MPsych) or 4+2 internship (warning the 4+2 pathway is being phased out and is not recommended by Cairnmillar). At a minimum this will be at least 2 more years of study and/or supervised practice before you can gain registration as a psychologist with AHPRA. For more information about Masters programs and final pathways see: What are the Masters of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) or Master of Professional Psychology (5+1) and other higher degree pathways once I complete Honours? >

This pathway would take at least 6 years if studied full-time with no breaks or interruptions in your studies.

I am an adult applicant without an ATAR or an overseas applicant without any undergraduate degree?

This answer is for applications who do not have any prior higher education qualifications or undergraduate studies and are interested in pursuing an undergraduate psychology degree in Australia.

  • If you have an overseas undergraduate degree in psychology see: ‘If I have overseas qualifications?
  • If you have an overseas undergraduate degree in any discipline other than psychology see: ‘If I have another undergraduate degree which is not an APAC accredited psychology program?

The Cairnmillar Institute does not currently offer an APAC accredited undergraduate (APAC level 1, AQF level 7) program for students without any prior studies.

You can register your interest here and we will contact you should an undergraduate degree be offered at Cairnmillar in future.

For now, applicants without an undergraduate degree are encouraged to check that the undergraduate degree you are intending to pursue is APAC accredited. See: APAC

An undergraduate degree, including an APAC accredited major sequence, will take three years full-time study. This is only the first step, you cannot register as a psychologist with only an undergraduate degree.

A further year of study will be required to complete a standalone APAC accredited 1-year Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) or an inclusive Honours year. (Honours is considered APAC level 2, and AQF level 8).

Once you have completed your Honours program, you would then be able to apply for a Master of Professional Psychology (commonly referred to as a 5+1 program) or a Master of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) or a Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) or other APAC accredited Masters or Doctoral programs in psychology, such as a Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology or Master of Organisational Psychology.

You will then need to complete your APAC accredited Masters (such as the MPP or MPsych) and/or internship. At a minimum this will be at least 2 more years of study and/or supervised practice before you can gain registration as a psychologist with AHPRA. For more information about Masters programs and final pathways see: What are the Masters of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) or Master of Professional Psychology (5+1) and other higher degree pathways once I complete Honours?

This pathway would take at least 6 years if studied full-time.

If I have another undergraduate degree which is not an APAC accredited psychology program?

If you have an unrelated undergraduate degree, from either an Australian university or higher education provider, or equivalent overseas qualification, then you can start your psychology pathway with a Graduate Diploma of Psychological Science (GradDipPsychSci). These programs need to be an APAC accredited 2+3 year sequence (APAC level 1) and are equivalent to the psychology major in a Bachelor of Psychology or similar.

Cairnmillar does not yet offer our own Graduate Diploma of Psychological Science but you can Register for More Information and we will be in touch once we start offering a Graduate Diploma of Psychological Science or you can check out the APAC website to find current offerings from other providers.

Once you have completed your GradDipPsychSci, with a 60% or better average, you would be able to apply to the standalone 1-year Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) program. The BPsych(Hons) program is an APAC accredited 4th year program, also known as APAC level 2.

Once you have completed your Honours program, you would then be able to apply for a Master of Professional Psychology (5+1) or a Master of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) and other APAC accredited Masters or Doctoral programs in psychology.

You will need to undertake your Masters (MPP or MPsych) and may also need an internship or second Masters year if you follow a 5+1 pathway. At a minimum this will be at least 2 more years of study and/or supervised practice before you can gain registration as a psychologist with AHPRA.

This pathway would take at least 4 years if studied full-time, not including the years of prior study.

If I completed an APAC accredited undergraduate degree more than 10 years ago?

You can still apply for the standalone APAC accredited 1-year Bachelor of Psychology (Honours), however you will normally be required to undertake an additional semester of pathway and refresher studies from an undergraduate program before commencing the Bachelor of Psychology (Honours).

More information on the Undergraduate Psychology Refresher Program will be provided here in due course.

If I completed an APAC accredited fourth year (Honours or equivalent) more than 10 years ago?

You will need to refresh your fourth-year qualification before you apply to any of our Masters courses in psychology.

You will normally refresh by completing 4 units from the Bachelor of Psychology (Honours). These can be taken as Single Subject but you may want to consider applying directly and obtaining RPL credit for half of the program (4 units) if FEE-HELP support is important to you during your studies.

The units you will normally need to complete as a refresher program are:

  • GDP1 – Professional Practice and Professional Ethics
  • GDP3 – Psychological Assessment
  • GDP4 – Evidence-Based Practise and Practise Based Evidence
  • GDP7 – Developmental Psychopathology across the Lifespan

More information on the Honours or Fourth Year Psychology Refresher Program will be provided here in due course.

You can also contact applications@cairnmillar.org.au for additional advice or to develop an individual pathway plan. For example, applicants who have recently completed a PhD may not need to refresh their Research Methods subjects.

Approval of a refresher sequence is not the same as Masters admission. Masters applications are still very competitive, and an approved refresher sequence will make you eligible to apply, but cannot guarantee a Masters offer in most cases.

If I have overseas psychology qualifications?

Your first step to studying any postgraduate psychology course in Australia is getting your overseas qualifications assessed by the APS. For more information on getting your qualifications assessed you will need to contact the APS directly. See: https://www.psychology.org.au/membership/qualifications/university/

If your qualifications are assessed by the APS as equivalent to 3 years of study in psychology (or as 4 or 5 years without APAC equivalency, which is common) then you would need to do an APAC accredited 4th year sequence (such as our Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) program) before you can apply for any APAC accredited Masters courses. For information on our 4th year see: https://www.cairnmillar.edu.au/postgraduate-courses/bachelor-of-psychology-honours/

If your qualifications are assessed by the APS as being equivalent to an APAC accredited 4th year sequence, then you would be able to consider applying directly for a Master of Professional Psychology (5+1) or a Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) and/or Master of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) which are all pathways to registration as a psychologist in Australia.

See: https://cairnmillar.edu.au/postgraduate-courses/master-professional-psychology/ or https://cairnmillar.edu.au/postgraduate-courses/master-clinical-psychology/ and https://www.cairnmillar.edu.au/postgraduate-courses/doctor-psychology-clinical-psychology/

APS assessments can take some time at peak periods, so it is best to get this underway as soon as possible. Once you have your formal APS assessment, then we can give you individual advice about your psychology pathway options at the Cairnmillar Institute. You can email your APS assessment to applications@cairnmillar.edu.au and we can suggest the next best step for your specific situation.

What are the Masters of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) or Master of Professional Psychology (5+1) and other higher degree pathways once I complete Honours?

Once you have completed the first 4 years (or 2 years if you already hold another undergraduate degree) of your APAC accredited sequence you will be eligible to apply for APAC accredited Masters programs which can lead to registration as a psychologist through either the 5+1 pathways or the higher degree pathway.

If you pursue a Master of Professional Psychology program you will do a fifth year of tertiary study which will normally include a supervised placement. After this you will then need to complete a year of practical experience called an Internship before you can apply for general registration as a psychologist. This additional year can be completed through an internship directly with an organisation or through an internship or multiple internships orchestrated by a tertiary institution. Cairnmillar offers this second option through our Master of Professional Psychology Practice (MPPP). For more information on the combined MPP and MPPP 5+1 program at Cairnmillar, see: Cairnmillar Professional Psychology Info Sheet

If you pursue a Master of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) you will complete two years of further full-time study involving coursework, placement and a research thesis. After this you will be eligible for general registration as a psychologist. This pathway will also enable you to apply for registration as a psychologist with clinical endorsement (i.e. a clinical psychologist) after two years of supervised practice through the ‘registrar’ program. This supervised practice is typically completed whilst you are working as a general psychologist.

If you pursue a Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) you will complete four years of full-time study involving coursework, placement and a substantial research thesis. The first two years of coursework and placements are identical to those in the Master of Psychology (Clinical Psychology). After two years of full-time study you may then be eligible for general registration as a psychologist if you have completed the equivalent coursework and placement requirements as per the Master of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) and you have made suitable progress on your research thesis. Upon completion of the Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Psychology) you will be able to apply for registration as a psychologist with clinical endorsement (i.e. a clinical psychologist) after one year of supervised practice also known as a registrar program. This supervised practice is typically completed whilst you are working as a general psychologist.

For more information on the pathways see: https://www.psychologyboard.gov.au/registration/general.aspx

The APS also have a great guide here: https://www.psychology.org.au/Training-and-careers/Careers-and-studying-psychology/studying-psychology/Study-pathways

For more information on area of practice endorsements and registrar programs for clinical psychologist, see: https://www.psychologyboard.gov.au/Endorsement/Registrar-program.aspx

I am a registered general or professional psychology and want to become a Clinical Psychologist?

The new 2019 APAC standards now allow for APAC to accredit standalone “refresher” or “bridging sequence” studies for psychologists who have registered through a 4+2 or 5+1 general registration pathway to add a discipline endorsement, such as Clinical Psychology, to their AHPRA registration. Psychologists with other endorsements, e.g. MPsych(Org) would also be welcome to apply to ‘endorsement bridging programs’.

Cairnmillar does not yet offer a Master of Clinical Psychology (Post-registration) but potential applicants are strongly encouraged to register interest here. More information will be provided to those who have registered an interest as soon as it is available.

What is the difference between being a Psychotherapist or Counsellor instead of being registered as a Psychologist in Australia?

In Australia, Psychology is a restricted title and registered profession protected by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). The sections above deal with studying an approved pathway in psychology so you can become registered with AHPRA as a psychologist at the end of your studies (and internship is applicable). 

Psychotherapist and Counsellor are not regulated titles in Australia, but in order to obtain professional insurance and practice safely and ethically practitioners should still be registered with Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) or the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) or equivalent appropriate professional association or member organisation.

Students wishing to become psychotherapists and/or counselling professionals are encouraged to consider the Master of Counselling and Psychotherapy, which is a qualification approved for membership to either (or both) the ACA and PACFA.

The program at Cairnmillar does offer two lower level exit points, a Graduate Certificate of Counselling and Psychotherapy and a Graduate Diploma of Counselling and Psychotherapy however these qualifications are generally considered foundational only and are more suitable exit points for graduates with existing careers where counselling and psychotherapy skills may be useful or even required but may not be sufficient for those planning to practise primarily as a psychotherapist. The lower qualifications alone are not normally sufficient for those wishing to practice primarily as psychotherapists or counsellors, although the Graduate Diploma level may make some graduates eligible for membership of the ACA or of PACFA under an RPL membership pathway in some circumstances, normally only if studied part-time.

The Master of Counselling and Psychotherapy is a two year full-time program, or can be studied over four years part-time. Entry to the program is open to anyone with an undergraduate degree. Counselling or Psychotherapy may be a more suitable change of career for those who cannot commit to a full APAC accredited sequence as well as those for whom psychotherapy is a more appropriate methodological fit.

I am a practicing psychologist or psychotherapist and wish to learn specific additional tools or skills such as ‘Psychodynamic Psychotherapy’, ‘Relationship and Family Counselling’, or ‘Advanced CBT’.

Professionals who wish to expand or refresh their existing skills can consider enrolling in a single higher education subject, or subjects, as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) or special interests though our Short Course Centre. See: https://www.cairnmillar.edu.au/short-courses/single-subjects/