How to Become a Psychologist: Education and Qualifications

Updated 11 November 2023

Psychologists are mental health professionals who study mental, emotional and psychological issues and provide treatment for psychological conditions. They work with clients to diagnose disorders and determine appropriate treatment plans for their mental health needs. If you're interested in helping people manage their emotional, behavioural and psychological needs, learning about the qualifications to be a psychologist can allow you to start planning your career. In this article, we explain how to become a psychologist and explore the qualifications to help you decide if you want to begin a career in psychology.

Related: How to Become a Counsellor: A Step-by-Step Guide

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How to become a psychologist

While psychologists are not subject to specific regulations, employers typically expect a certain standard of education and knowledge when hiring psychology professionals. There are also optional certifications and registrations that you can gain as a psychologist to verify your skills, which many clients prefer when choosing a psychologist. Here are the basic steps on how to become a psychologist:

1. Complete a bachelor's degree in psychology

Start by earning a bachelor's degree with a major in psychology. Getting a background in psychological theory and research is an important first step toward beginning your career as a psychologist. There isn't an accreditation board for psychology programmes, but several local programmes have accreditation from other countries, such as the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council.

When selecting a school, choose a programme that offers a variety of psychology-related subjects and science courses to help you establish a background in your field. It's useful to take classes in math, biology and chemistry to learn about the research methods you can apply to psychology. You can also take classes in sociology to develop knowledge about the societal factors that can contribute to mental health issues. Once you complete your core classes, consider psychology electives such as:

  • abnormal psychology

  • developmental psychology

  • methods of inquiry

  • human sexuality

  • experimental psychology

  • statistical analysis

  • family dynamics

  • childhood development

Related: 13 High-Paying Psychology Jobs (With Salaries and Duties)

2. Gain experience as an associate psychologist

After you graduate from your bachelor's programme, you can qualify to be an associate psychologist. You can decide if you want to gain work experience before going back to school or if you prefer to start your master's programme immediately. Many master's programmes in applied psychology prefer candidates with some work experience in the mental health field, so working as an associate psychologist can be useful for your graduate school applications.

An associate psychologist works at a mental health facility and often assists an experienced clinical psychologist or counselling psychologist with their caseload. They help with patient assessments, documentation and some types of therapy and treatments. Associate psychologists help psychologists during research activities and develop programmes to train and support other mental health professionals.

Related: 11 Psychology Careers to Pursue (Plus Definitions and FAQs)

3. Earn a master's degree in applied psychology

To be a clinical psychologist, the main qualification you need is a master's degree in applied psychology. An applied psychology graduate programme can incorporate practical psychology experience into your coursework instead of only requiring academic study. There aren't official specifications regarding education for psychologists, but the Singapore Psychological Society provides a Registered Psychologist credential which requires candidates to have a master's degree in applied psychology.

During your graduate education, you learn specialised knowledge and skills to develop your abilities as a psychologist. The programme teaches clinical approaches and counselling techniques you can use to treat mental and emotional disorders. Applied psychology graduate programmes typically involve classroom study, a period of professional observation and a psychology dissertation. You can also take more complex electives and learn specialised psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, trauma-informed counselling and play therapy for early childhood.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Related: Psychology Degree Skills: Definition and Examples

4. Finish your supervised psychology practicum

During the final year of your master's degree, you can complete psychological practicum courses. This involves observing practising psychologists in clinical environments, taking notes on the methods they use and asking questions about their clinical assessment techniques. Psychology practicums last several months and provide you with the opportunity for hands-on learning with experienced psychology professionals. Depending on your programme, you may have multiple practicum requirements in different areas and applications of psychology.

Additionally, to become a Registered Psychologist, the Singapore Psychological Society requires you to complete a specific number of training hours. You can complete many of these hours during your practicum. The most recent requirements are:

  • 400 hours of interaction with psychology clients

  • 180 hours of supervision from an experienced psychologist, including at least 90 hours of individual supervision

  • 420 hours of other practical training including writing reports, conducting research and offering additional client support

Related: On-the-Job Training: Definition, Types and Examples

5. Join the Singapore Psychological Society

One of the other main requirements before you can become a Registered Psychologist is to join the Singapore Psychological Society (SPS). Joining is a prerequisite to applying for official registration, but it also has other benefits for your career. As one of the main professional organisations for psychologists, the SPS provides many advantages and professional development opportunities for members. There are several options for membership:

  • Student member: One option is to join during college at the student level and upgrade your membership once you qualify for higher levels.

  • Affiliate member: If you complete any type of college degree, you can qualify for an affiliate membership.

  • Associate member: To be an associate member, complete a psychology-focused degree.

  • Full member: Having a full membership with the SPS involves having a degree in psychology plus two years of experience, or a combination of multiple psychology degrees.

6. Apply to be a Registered Psychologist

After completing all the necessary qualifications, you can apply to be a Registered Psychologist. This gives you additional prestige as a psychology professional and shows clients and employers that you have the clinical credentials to develop psychological conditions. The initial application requires a $100 fee. You can fill out the application form online and include these supplementary materials:

  • your SPS membership ID number

  • copies of your college transcripts

  • copies of your practicum and supervision logs

  • personal identification documents

  • two references

As a Registered Psychologist, you can join the SPS directory, which lists your name and contact information. This makes it easy for employers and clients to find qualified professionals for job openings and other professional opportunities.

7. Pursue regular professional development

Part of being a successful psychologist is learning about new developments in your field. Seeking ongoing professional development opportunities in the psychology field ensures that you're using the best techniques and most up-to-date clinical research when working with your clients. The SPS also requires that Registered Psychologists complete 60 hours of professional development psychology courses every two years to continue renewing their membership. Look for classes, conferences and seminars where you can learn therapy methods or review the results of new research studies.

8. Consider a doctoral programme

As you gain experience, you may consider pursuing a doctoral programme in psychology. Getting a PhD in psychology can allow you to conduct in-depth studies about psychological subjects that interest you, making it ideal for people who want to have a research-based psychology job. During your doctorate, you can customise your coursework and design your own research under the guidance of experienced psychologists with academic and scientific backgrounds. If you have a doctorate, you can expand your job opportunities from clinical roles to academic, leadership and research positions.

Read more: PhD vs Doctorate: Definitions and Important Differences

9. Specialise your practice

There are many specialities within the field of psychology that you can consider. As you develop your career, you may decide to specialise your practice and choose a particular industry within psychology to focus on. Here are some options to consider:

  • early childhood psychology

  • cognitive psychology

  • forensic psychology

  • family counselling

  • educational psychology

  • community counselling

  • addiction psychology

  • sports psychology

  • industrial psychology

  • psychological research

Related: What Is Counselling Psychology and Is It Suitable for You?

Psychologist skills

Psychologists have a wide range of technical and interpersonal skills that they use to be successful counsellors and clinicians. A good counsellor has a balance of an empathetic and logical mindset that they use to relate to patients and find the best way to treat them. Here are some of the top skills for psychologists:

  • research

  • active listening

  • communication

  • behavioural testing

  • teamwork

  • ethics

  • patience

  • problem-solving

  • mediation

Related: 7 Essential Psychologist Skills and How to Improve Them

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Average salary for a psychologist

The average salary for a psychologist is $4,417 per month. A psychologist's income can depend on many factors, including their education level, years of experience and speciality. Some psychologists are business owners who have private practice and have more control over their own salary. You can increase your earning potential as a psychologist by seeking additional certifications and psychology skills.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Related: How To Become an Educational Psychologist in 6 Steps

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