Psychology Training in Australia: Pathways to Registration & Practice
By Clive Jones PhD MAPS
Psychology training in Australia is a vibrant, high quality learning experience for students offering a number of different choices or ‘pathways’ to registration and practice.
Each pathway to registration and practice commences with a nationally standardised three (3) year undergraduate degree and then a nationally standardised fourth-year graduate diploma or honours year.
The fourth-year honours program has a greater focus on research compared to the fourth-year graduate diploma.
Once students have completed their first four years of the six-year training path to full registration and practice, they are required to choose their final two years of training. The choices on offer in the final two years of training include:
- A two-year full-time master’s degree (4+masters)
- A one-year master’s degree and one-year supervised provisional practice internship (5+1)
- A two-year supervised provisional practice internship (4+2).
The final two years of training in the three pathways above follow stringent nationally standardised criteria.
The PsyBA develops and oversees provisional registration based training i.e. the +2 and the +1 components above. The Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC) reviews and accredits University based training i.e. the 4+masters above. The Australian Psychological Society (APS) may consult and recommend, where appropriate.
Which Pathway Option to Choose? Do All Roads Lead To Rome?
Irrespective of the training pathway undertaken, psychology training in Australia produces quality practitioners that are of an international standard.
Just as one small example, psychologists trained across all pathways have shown to produce large to very large outcomes in the treatment of mild, moderate and severe cases of mental illness. Such findings have been shown to compare favourably to international standards in the meta-analysis of related studies completed around the world.
Overall, it cannot be overstated how psychologists trained in Australia work across all areas of speciality with great success; irrespective of the training pathway they have undertaken.
Learning Experience Of Each Training Pathway
While all training pathways in Australia are of an international standard, providing great opportunities to springboard into quality practice, they do vary in their approach. Such variation is seen most specifically in the difference between the practice-based and classroom-based models of learning.
Basically, the internship focused pathways (i.e. 4+2 and 5+1) are more a situated-learner-centred design while master’s focused pathways are more academic-subject-centred designs.
Situated-learner-centred curricula and academic-subject-centred curricula can be placed on either side along a continuum of degree. Education and training models can aim for centrality in having an even mix of both or be more polarised towards one over the other.
While it would be incorrect to polarise any training pathway currently on offer in Australia to either extreme, the internship predominant pathways of the 4+2 and 5+1 are clearly more situated-learner-centred while master’s programs are more academic-subject-centred.
Very briefly, the purist form of academic-subject-centred curricula is a learning model that does not offer students much ‘say’ or influence in choosing what might be meaningful or worthwhile for their learning experience. It is, at its essence, a top-down approach whereby knowledge is passed down from the academic to the student. The learning experience is all predetermined and prescribed down to every single mark in the assessment criteria.
As a rule of thumb, the more novice the student, the more relevant this type of curriculum design.
This design is also best suited to large mass-produced cohorts of learners too. Hence one of a few reasons why our undergraduate training models are stuck quite clearly with the purer form of academic-subject-centred curricula.
After training for four years through the academic-subject-centred approach of the undergraduate years, some students will continue to prefer this approach through their fifth and sixth year of learning whereby they may continue to prefer most of the subject matter to be predetermined and prescribed. For a range of reasons, they may continue to prefer the academic being the one in control of the whole learning process, subject design and teaching strategies.
It is important to note, while the academic-subject-centred design is easier to establish a form of reliability i.e. you know what you’re learning experience will be; it can fall short on validity i.e. students can become frustrated by the irrelevance of some learning experiences and requirements in relation to their personal goals and ambitions as a practicing psychologist.
Strong advocates of the academic-subject-centred design will often have heightened concern over losing quality control of the content and will consider it too ‘dangerous’ to let the student have any say in their own learning. Again though, the more novice the student is, then the more relevant this concern would be.
Conversely, the more knowledgeable and experienced a student becomes then the more control they should be given to move from a position of compliance to one of collaboration with the educator/supervisor (e.g., the PhD research student collaborates with their supervisor).
Situated-learner-centred curricula applies an approach where the student is given more opportunity to influence the content, activities, materials, and pace of learning. This type of learning is crucial for experts and for development of expertise for students building upon their selected proficiencies within the context of their own chosen fields of future practice.
This approach is undoubtedly accommodated more fully through the +2 of the 4+2 pathway and the +1 of the 5+1 pathway when compared to a master’s program.
Quite specifically, there are many students who, after four years of intense study in psychology and for a broad range of other reasons, may be very clear in what they require in the learning experiences of their next two-year journey in preparation for full registration and practice. They may be very clear in where they are headed as a psychologist and keen to learn specific things and obtain very specific workplace experiences, skills and proficiencies that are outside the scope of what a master’s program may offer.
It would be fair to say if undergraduate and 4th year graduate programs produced this type of student with this level of confidence and clarity in the direction they would like to take, then the programs have done well by their students.
In this context, many fourth year graduate students may be ready for an opportunity to be empowered in their own learning by contributing in a very real way towards meaningful experiences that are directly relevant to the specific goals they aspire to as a psychologist. The provisional internship paths of the 4+2 and 5+1 do allow for this opportunity within the context of very strict guidelines and very clear parameters outlined by the PsyBA.
It’s important to point out that the +2-internship and +1-internship of the 4+2 and 5+1 pathway have very clear boundaries with very stringent guidelines. Ultimately the guidelines ensure that the scope of any student choice (1) stays well within the bounds of psychological practice and (2) ensures proficiency in eight nationally standardised competencies that are noted as critical for the proficient practice of psychology.
It’s important to clarify that the above overview is an explanation of the structure of the learning process not the content. In terms of content, all training pathways to registration and practice in Australia are very closely scrutinised as an assurance of quality content.
It is also important to note that this overview does not suggest the internship models or masters programs are polarised ‘either/or’ in the situated-learner-centred vs. academic-subject-centred frameworks. Each training pathway does have a mix of both models while at the same time they each also hold a preference for one approach over the other.
Finally, this overview does not aim to promote one training pathway over any other. To the contrary, this overview aims to point out the world class standard of our training. All pathways to registration and practice in Australia produce great psychologists who meet international standards across all areas of practice.
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