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psychology in practice

Psychology – The A To Z Of Allied Health

Our mental health is intertwined with our physical, social, and emotional wellbeing, and many physical health conditions are either impacted by or influence our mental health. Increasing evidence highlights the importance of promoting positive mental health for individuals, communities, and populations. Psychology is one of several allied health professions that provide mental health care and support for people. Psychologists are the experts when it comes to the brain, memory, learning, and development.

What do psychologists do?

Psychologists study the science of human behaviour, and they can help people to modify the way they think, feel, and behave. They work with individual children and adults, families, couples, groups and even organisations to promote optimal mental health and wellbeing.

They can support people to regulate their emotions, perceptions, memory, attention, and ability to solve problems. Psychologists also help people to address their motivation level and the quality of their interactions with other people.

It is common for people to seek psychology services if they have experienced a trauma or loss, are experiencing interpersonal issues, behavioural challenges or learning difficulties (especially in childhood), or are living through a major life event, such as the breakdown of a relationship or managing a serious physical health condition or injury.

Some other conditions or circumstances that may prompt people to see a psychologist include:

  • Severe depression and suicidal ideation
  • Peri- or post-natal depression
  • Dementia
  • Natural disaster recovery
  • Addiction treatment (e.g., drugs, alcohol, gambling)
  • Navigating issues related to sexuality
  • Family court system where decisions need to be made about child custody arrangements
  • Sleeping problems.

Some psychologists work with organisations to develop strategies to maximise staff engagement and performance. Other psychologists may undertake additional qualifications to focus on sport and exercise and then work with professional sports clubs and elite athletes to optimise their mindset and competitive performance.

There are many other focus areas within psychology, including clinical neuropsychology, clinical psychology, community psychology, counselling psychology, educational and developmental psychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, organisational psychology, sport and exercise psychology.

Psychology practice is based on a growing body of research into the way human beings think, act, and feel. Psychologists use scientific evidence and their own expertise to assess, diagnose and treat a range of psychological conditions. They work with people to understand their individual circumstances and identify their goals. These inform the development of strategies and their evidence-based treatment plan.

Psychologists use different methods and techniques; one of the more common methods is known as psychotherapy (or talk therapy). Psychotherapy aims to help people to talk through and develop skills to manage their symptoms. Psychotherapy encompasses numerous evidence-based approaches, including cognitive behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy, and psychodynamic therapy.

Prescribing rights

In several states in the USA, appropriately credentialed psychologists can prescribe medications for the management of mental illnesses, and work is underway to expand these practices across other states. In other countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK, Japan, and New Zealand, psychologists have not made great progress toward securing prescribing rights yet. Prescribing rights remain one of several key distinguishing features of psychologists and psychiatrists.

Where do psychologists work?

Psychologists work in a broad range of health and other settings.

They are essential members of multidisciplinary healthcare teams in hospitals, community health services, mental health services, rehabilitation, and geriatric evaluation and management services. They also work in private practice, schools, organisational and corporate settings, sports clubs, family services, the family court system, prisons, and the defence force. Some psychologists, particularly those that go on to complete their PhD, work in research institutions and universities.

psychology book

Advantageous character traits of psychologists

To build effective therapeutic relationships, psychologists must be receptive and have excellent interpersonal skills.

Psychologists work with people who are at a particularly vulnerable stages of their lives and may disclose very personal information. Psychologists must be non-judgmental and have refined communication skills to convey their trustworthiness. Psychologists work with their clients or patients to support them to achieve their individual goals, and so an openness and willingness to work collaboratively is essential.

There are many socio-cultural influences on how people perceive and experience mental health. Although seeking mental health support is becoming increasingly destigmatised, it is important that psychologists are sensitive to the different influences including social and cultural, on the individuals and communities they work with.

All psychologists must remain up to date with advances to psychological practice and the latest evidence supporting techniques and approaches to supporting mental health. So, a commitment to lifelong learning is a must for psychologists.

Professional education requirements and regulatory frameworks of the psychology profession

In Australia and New Zealand, psychologists must study for at least six years, including a minimum of an APAC accredited four year university program and supervised practice. In Australia, students can become qualified after their initial four years of university study by one of two pathways: undertaking higher degree study or taking an internship pathway. Some psychologists complete additional qualifications to become endorsed in an area of psychology practice—the Psychology Board of Australia currently recognises nine areas of practice endorsement within the psychology profession. These include: Clinical neuropsychology; Clinical psychology; Community psychology; Counselling psychology; Educational and developmental; Forensic psychology; Health psychology; Organisational psychology; Sport and exercise psychology.

In the USA, psychologists are one of the most highly qualified of the healthcare professions, having attained a doctoral degree (either a PhD, doctorate in psychology or education). This takes an average of seven years to attain.

In the United Kingdom, psychologists complete an accredited master’s level degree to work towards practitioner psychologist status. There are opportunities for further qualifications to focus on an area of psychology or complete a higher degree by research in psychology.

In Japan, clinical psychologists must complete a master’s degree in psychology and pass the examinations set by the Japan Clinical Psychologist Qualification Association.

In Canada, psychologists must complete a master’s or doctoral degree which incorporates supervised workplace learning in different settings. Becoming a psychologist in Canada can take up to eight years of study and supervised clinical practice training.

Although the training standards differ worldwide, Australian Psychologists get results that are of similar standard to that of psychologists in other countries.¹ 

Regulatory frameworks

Australian psychologists are regulated nationally via the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency.

In Canada, psychology practice is regulated by each individual state and territory, and psychologists must be licenced to practice in the state in which are situated.

Similarly in the USA, licencing processes and standards vary slightly from state to state. However, all psychologists must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology to be eligible for state-based licensure in the USA.

In the UK, practitioner psychologists are regulated nationally by the Health and Care Professions Council.

Psychologists in New Zealand are regulated via the New Zealand Psychologists Board.

Psychology in Japan is self-regulated via the Japan Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists.


Workforce considerations for the psychology profession

There is increasing recognition of the impact of poor mental health on individuals, communities, and populations more broadly.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing concerning mental health outcomes through enhanced models of care was high on the agenda for health systems and policymakers across the world. Multiple factors associated with the pandemic have amplified the strain on mental health services, including psychologists, such as prolonged lockdown in some countries and states, anxiety and distress related to fear of contracting the virus, financial stress, increased or altered substance use to cope with the pandemic, and symptoms associated with the COVID-19 virus, particularly those living with long COVID.

In Australia, there is evidence of increased demand on mental health services and crisis support organisations, without a parallel increase in mental health workers, including psychologists. It is almost certain that this pattern in terms of demand and supply is reflected across other countries. Coupled with alarming rates of burnout among health professionals, including those working in mental health, the capacity of the psychology workforce to respond to future demands is concerning.


Find out more about the psychology profession

Here are some links to websites and resources for and about psychologists:


¹Jorm 2011 (Jorm, A. F. (2011). Australia’s Better Access Initiative: Do the Evaluation Data Support the Critics? Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry., 45(9), 700 – 704.) shows that the treatment effect sizes for psychologists in Australia ( 1.31 and 1.46) are comparable to the mean uncontrolled effect size of 1.29 reported in a meta-analysis of psychological therapies in routine clinical settings.


If you have questions about the psychology profession, or if you wish to share your experiences as a psychologist, please leave a comment below.

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