Career Scoop: Psychologist (Coaching / Counselling)

Career Scoop file, on what it's like to work as a PsychologistI am trained as a Psychologist so that is my professional qualification; This is what I am registered as (psychologists must be registered to practice in Australia) since I do not have a “specialist” qualification.

Psychologists work in a number of different areas and there are some differences in their training and their area of practice (e.g., clinical, sports, community, health, neuro, organisational, child and adolescent).

I see myself as a coaching and counselling psychologist, with a specific area of practice in occupational psychology, but my job title varies depending on the organisation I am working for and the exact position I hold.

I have had job titles such as Consulting Psychologist, Rehabilitation Counsellor, Lecturer in Psychology, Job Placement Officer, Advisor in Psychology, and now I am Program Director…

In a nutshell, what do you do?

What I do varies again depending on the position I am in. Everything I do draws on the basic training I received which is to understand how human psychology works. I learned about the structure and function of the brain, studied a number of theories about what influences human behaviour, and how to research human functioning.

I have also learned about what can go wrong with the brain, what leads to psychological problems, and how to provide effective treatment interventions. I have knowledge about human development and learning, as well as motivation and emotion.

Sometimes I have worked on my own, sometimes in a general team with other administrative staff, and sometimes in a team with other allied health and medical practitioners. Some positions require a large amount of administration and project management. This requires good organisation, communication and computer skills. Some positions are mainly public contact and require straightforward record keeping.

I have been a Psychologist for over 25 years and have done many “duties” including counselling, delivered training, coaching, job search, taught communication skills, worked with disadvantaged youth, and prepared resumes for high level public servants. I have also designed training programs on many different psychology related subjects for business,  as well as lectured in counselling and rehabilitation psychology. I have also been involved in a number of research projects where specialised interviewing techniques have been required.

I have developed policy and procedures on psychology issues for a large organisation and been involved in the selection and supervision of psychologists providing services to that organisation. I have also been a consultant to a Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program. I am interested in a wide variety of topics and have expertise in a number of areas including delivering leadership development programs into businesses and organisations.

Why did you decide to become a Psychologist?

I decided to become a psychologist because I seemed to connect well with people and found their differences interesting. People seemed to like to talk to me and I seemed to be good at listening.

What path did you take into it?

I was a mature age student and went into psychology after a number of unskilled positions (e.g., shop assistant, cleaner). I went to university and studied a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Behavioural Science and then did a Honours Degree in Psychology, along with professional supervision.

What, in your opinion, is the best bit of being a Psychologist?

The best thing is knowing that I make a real difference to people and organisations… seeing the growth and change in the people I work with.

I also get to work with a lot of interesting people, on interesting projects in interesting settings. I think also the training allows you to use your knowledge and skills in a variety of ways so you can always refine your career choices as you go along.

Every job has its downsides. What do you think are the worst bits?

The training is demanding and some of the positions can be emotionally demanding. You really need to learn how to take care of yourself if you are going to be working directly with clients.

The professional practice of psychology is a very responsible position and there are a number of ethical, moral and legal responsibilities that must be considered at all times.

Is it what you expected when you first started out – and what’s different?

I think I was not quite sure exactly what it was all about when I started training. I think the idea I had of “counselling” was pretty accurate but I had no what the training would involve or of the breadth of the profession… that there were so many “types” of psychologists working in so many settings.

What do the public least understand – or mistake – about what you do?

I think the public do not really understand the level of knowledge and expertise that is required to do the job well or the huge variety of areas where psychologists make a contribution.

In the area of counselling psychology, I think the public do not know the difference between counsellors (where there is no formal requirement for training or regulation) and psychologists (who undertake at least 6 years of training, and must be registered to practice).

What kind of people tend to do well?

I think this varies depending on the type of role you are going into. Some psychologists who are focused on research need the ability to work with a lot of detail, to keep working on the one project for a number of years and usually to work in a very structured setting. They do not really need to be very good with “people” unless this is their area of research.

On the other hand, many other psychologists need to be able to work with a variety of different people, to be able to cope with uncertainty and change, to work independently and to cope with very emotionally demanding situations.

I think most psychologists are keen to “help” others and have a fair level of curiosity about how things work and people in general. You need to be fairly determined to get through the training…

I think you would get a lot of different answers to this question from different psychologists.

Finally, any advice you’d offer to people looking to get into this line of work?

Most people don’t realise that it takes about 6 years (sometimes longer) to become a qualified psychologist. You will then take a few more years to build up your level of experience. So it can be a fair while before you can expect a decent position with decent pay. There is also a lot of maths and science in the degree, which surprises some people.

Psychologists can be employed in a huge variety of positions but what you study at University makes a difference to what options will be open to you when you graduate… so you must begin making clever subject and research choices pretty early… don’t just go for the easy subjects. Where you study will make a difference to the subject and research opportunities you will have as well.

Relevant work experience is also very important so get started looking for training level positions in related areas or organisations as soon as you can. If you think you want to be work with people who have a mental health condition (and not all psychologists do) then try to get a volunteer or admin position in an organisation that does this as soon as you can just to be sure it is what you want to do.

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