What can I ACTUALLY do with a Psychology Degree?

Over the past year, Cognition & Co has received hundreds of questions regarding how a Psychology Degree can be used in order to gain employment in South Africa. Unfortunately, there is no holistic answer that defines exactly what career field a graduate can aim for with only an undergraduate degree in Psychology.

Before giving information about what individuals can do, it is important to outline what Psychology graduates cannot do.

According to the HPCSA, graduates with an undergraduate or honours degree in Psychology may not work as Counsellors or Psychologists.

Professional Psychology in South Africa is regulated by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and follows strict ethical guidelines in terms of what qualifications, training, and continuous professional development are needed in order to legally and ethically work in the field of mental health.An undergraduate degree in Psychology covers the theoretical aspects of psychological training whereby students learn about the history and development of psychological concepts and techniques, but will not receive the adequate practical training needed to ethically work with the mental health of another human being. It is for this reason that the training during a Masters degree is incredibly practical and students are individually supervised by Psychologists registered with the HPCSA.

This doesn’t mean that students and graduates cannot volunteer as Lay Counsellors at various NGO’s and NPO’s in South Africa; this will be later covered in this article in greater depth.

So, if I can’t work as a Counsellor, what can I do?

Throughout your training as an undergraduate student, you would have spent a great deal of time developing a theoretical understanding of human behaviour and the psychological concepts that drive and shape human nature. You’ll have covered theories by incredible Psychologists such as Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis and you would have discovered new concepts like conditioning and priming, all of which can be transferable to various career paths.

From being able to determine if someone is lying to you just by looking at their eye movements, to knowing that authority plays a significant role in conformity, psychology graduates are extremely well-versed in human interaction and social behaviour. With this barrage of psychological knowledge, finding employment in psychology-adjacent fields should be no problem at all, especially for individuals that are self-aware and self-reflective, like Psychology graduates.

The following list is by no means exhaustive; the aim is merely to show graduates how to think outside of the box when it comes to finding employment with a degree in psychology;

Sales & Marketing

Knowing what other people want before they know that they want it makes sales and marketing an excellent career choice for any Psychology graduate. Using the skills and techniques developed during a psychology degree would position a graduate to understand any sales environment and create marketing structures that would speak directly to the identified customer. When one knows their audience, it becomes simpler to create unique interventions catered for that audience. Whether it is selling insurance over the phone or cars at a dealership, psychology graduates have the psychological capacity to market themselves and sell any product.

Further training: An understanding of the product or environment may require addition training that could be provided in-house or online.  

Human Resources (HR)

The term HR is often used to describe both the people who work for a company or organization and the department responsible for managing resources related to employees. HR is often coupled with Psychology as a major subject at an undergraduate level. Similarly to Industrial Psychology, HR is, in its most simple form, the psychology of individuals in the workplace. Psychology graduates revel in the opportunity to apply their psychological knowledge in a corporate setting while conducting skills training workshops and engaging with employees in terms of their workplace satisfaction.

Further Training: Graduates that did not have HR as a major subject should look into what short courses are available in the HR spaces, or consider completing those HR modules as Non Degree Purpose modules.

Lecturing and Tutoring

With an in-depth understanding of the theoretical concepts associated with Psychology, recent graduates could look at taking their knowledge back to a higher education institution and lecturing the introductory classes in Psychology. This would also open doors to other options such as tutoring and transcript setting/marking. Sharing ones passion of a subject can help inspire the future generations of graduates to pursue careers in similar fields and helping young students

Further Training: Most universities require lecturers to be an education level or two above the students that they are lecturing. Psychology graduates should consider doing their Honours in Psychology, as well as lecturing qualifications such as a Postgraduate Diploma in Tertiary Education.

Market Research

Even though graduates may not be HPCSA registered Research Psychologists, this doesn’t mean that they cannot be valuable assets on a research team. Understanding human behaviour allows graduates to hypothesize and make valuable contributions regarding possible outcomes of any research with human elements. Operationalizing methods to conduct research is also a skill that can be honed through experience working with Research Psychologists.

Further Training: Any addition training in the research fields would help a graduate further themselves in this career path. Completing an Honours degree in Psychology and a Masters in Research Psychology would help graduates secure a future in this field.

UX Design

User Experience design is a newer field that combines psychology and technology. UX design focuses on the interaction between human users and everyday products and services, such as websites and apps. Determining how a user will experience a product or service is a skill that Psychology graduates could learn with relative ease following some additional training in the field. Graduates will need to think both critically and creatively in order to develop technological environments that users want to interact with.

Further Training: UX Design short courses and programmes are available online, but further training in IT and coding would also be a necessity for the website and internet related careers.

Teaching

Educating the future of leaders of the country is an important role that is well suited for those with an understanding of psychology and the science behind learning. In order to become a teacher in South Africa, teachers need to register with the South African Council of Educators (SACE). In order to qualify for registration, graduates would need further training in education. Psychology graduates could also teach English overseas with only a short course and certificate in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL).

Further Training: To register as a South African teacher, graduates would need to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). Those wanting to teach English aborad would need to complete a TEFL course.

Administration and Office Manager

Many companies have spaces for individuals to handle day-to-day administration tasks. These positions give Psychology graduates the opportunity to integrate their theoretical understanding into practical scenarios while gaining real work experience. Building relationships and networking in these situations can be extremely beneficial as graduates progress through any further education. Working in a Psychology practice as a Practice Manager is also an option.

Further Training: None.  

Recruitment

Psychology teaches students how to identify various personality types and traits that can be extremely useful in a recruitment environment. Using the social skills taught during a psychology degree would make these graduates in the field of recruitment excellent head hunters, always securing the perfect employee for the job. Another way to make sure more Psychology graduates are hired, is by getting more Psychology graduates into recruitment.

Further Training: None.

Community Management

Community management is the process of building an authentic community among a business’s customers, employees, and partners through various types of interaction. This is how a brand uses opportunities, both in person and online, to interact with their audience to create a network in which they can connect, share, and grow. This can be done in a multitude of ways but is commonly run by individuals with an understanding of both the brand and the audience.

Further Training: Short courses in community and social media management.

Customer Care Consultant

A customer care consultant’s role is to act as a mediator between the company and its clients. Consultants are usually based in call centers, online or they assist face-to-face. The role involves a great deal of problem-solving and requires a genuine desire to help people. A psychological background helps consultants be understanding, compassionate, and able to listen to the client’s needs. This is a great stepping stone for most graduates as it helps them gain key real life experience and develop competencies that will make them better counsellors should they choose to study further.

Further Training: Any additional training needed will be done in-house and provided by the company.

Personal Assistant

The benefits of being organized are greatly understood and appreciated by Psychology graduates that spent hours studying mind maps and learning vast numbers of facts and concepts. These skills are translatable into everyday life but may also be used in the business world. Working as a Personal Assistant means that graduates will not only be helping a senior manager complete his or her daily tasks, but graduates will get the opportunity to network with a plethora of talented individuals and learn from those that have spent years developing their own experience.

Further Training: None; however there are a number of online short courses designed to streamline individual’s time and work more efficiently.

Promotions & Retail

Working in retail or promotions gives graduates the chance to interact with different individuals from different backgrounds every day. Once again, using the psychological understanding developed during undergraduate studies will help any promoter stand out amongst his or her peers, making sure they are always the top salesperson. Working retail places graduates in a corporate setting with plenty of room to grow upwards in the company, gaining social and business experience along the way.

Further Training: None; however there may be specific positions that require in-house training.

HIV/AIDS Testing

A number or community outreach programmes require individuals that are trained in HIV/AIDS testing. Those with a psychological background are able to be trained in order to educate communities and create awareness through various wellness campaigns. With additional training, individuals can become HIV/AIDS testers.

Further Training: Various courses are available from organizations such as www.hivsa.com.

Volunteering

In order to gain counseling experience as a Psychology undergrad or honours graduate, many students and graduates volunteer their time at various NGO’s and NPO’s around South Africa. These organizations allow individuals to act as lay counsellors under the supervision of trained professionals. However, before a graduate may volunteer as a lay counselor, they will need to complete the training provided by the organization. This is so the graduate is fully versed in the procedures and protocols outlined by the organization. Should the lay counselor find themselves out of their depth in a counseling situation, a trained senior member of the organization staff is available to assist the lay counsellor and provide debriefing in needed. More information can be found on the Cognition & Co Volunteering page.

Further Training: Additional training will be done through the organization, and in some cases at the cost of the graduate.


But I still want to become a Psychologist or Registered Counsellor?

If your ultimate goal is to work in a counseling environment and treat clients, graduates will have to continue their studies in Psychology. As mentioned before, an undergraduate and honours degree prepares students with the theoretical understanding needed to embark on the practical training needed to attain a registration with the HPCSA. All the programmes listed below have a strong focus on practical training as outlined by the HPCSA. It is for this reason that students will struggle to find any programmes offered online, part-time, or via distance learning as these will not meet the HPCSA training standards.

BPsych / BPsych Equivalent.

A BPsych or BPsych Equivalent is a practically orientated training programme with two possible registration options following the successful completion of the course, the 720 hour supervised practicum, and the HPCSA board exam.

The two outcomes are as follows;

HPCSA Psychometrist and an HPCSA Registered Counsellor.

An HPCSA Psychometrist is a professionally trained individual that works within the field of psychological assessments and provides a wide range of services related to the needs of their clients.

An HPCSA Registered Counsellor is a psychological practitioner that performs psychological screening, basic assessment, and short-term supportive counselling with individuals and groups.

More details on the training associated with these registrations can be found on the Cognition & Co website by following the highlighted links above.

Masters Degree in Psychology (Counselling).

Counselling Psychologists are professionally trained health professionals that work with individuals, couples, families, and/or communities. These individuals must be registered with the HPCSA and follow a strict scope of practice that defines the ethical nature of the profession. These Psychologists aim to treat patients by using therapy designed to optimize the clients emotional functioning and psychological well-being. Counselling Psychologists work in a variety of settings including such as private practice, different government departments and schools, to name but a few.

Completing the appropriate professional training required in order to register as a Counselling Psychologist takes between 2 or 3 years depending on the university and the offered HPCSA accredited programme. Students will do 1 or 2 years of intensive practical training before entering into an approved internship site whereby their skills will be further refined for another year. Following the successful completion of training, internship, and a Masters dissertation, students qualify to write the HPCSA board exam.

Counselling Psychology is one of the HPCSA recognized categories; the others and their training can be found on the Cognition & Co website.


Additional options to consider;

  • Content Creator
  • Event Management
  • Digital Marketing
  • Accounts Management
  • Project Management
  • Student Advisor
  • Learning Facilitator
  • Development Manager
  • Debtors Manager

We’ll update this list as we find more career paths.

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