Things I wish I was told before my Undergraduate Degree in Psychology
It takes roughly 7 years to become a Psychologist in South Africa. In order to be a Psychologist you will need to complete the following; Undergraduate Degree (3 years), Honours Degree (1 or 2 years), Masters Degree (1 or 2 years), Internship (1 year), and Community Service – if you are taking the Clinical Route (1 year).
An Honours Degree in Psychology is not the same as a BPsych. A BPsych or BPsych Equivalent is a completely separate qualification focused on practical training that includes a supervised practicum consisting of 720 hours. This allows the graduate to register with the HPCSA as either a Registered Counsellor or a Psychometrist, depending on the programme.
There are 6 different types of Psychologists in South Africa. Clinical, Counselling, Educational, Industrial, Research, and Neuro Psychologists. Take the time to research each of them carefully before you start studying Psychology, each is trained with a unique set of skills to fit their specific niche within the communities of South Africa.
Similar to Lawyers and Chartered Accountants, you will also need to write a board exam. In order to register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), you will need to write and pass a national board exam after internship (before Community Service in you are taking the Clinical route). These board exams will test your ethical and therapeutic understanding and require a pass mark of 70% minimum.
There are no distance or online options at a Masters Level. You will be able to do your undergraduate and honours degrees online through universities like the University of South Africa, however there are no online options available at a Masters level. Even the UNISA professional Masters programme requires students to be on campus full time for 2 years.
The first 4 or 5 years of your studies in Psychology will be theoretical. It is only at a Masters level that you will be professionally trained and supervised to work with clients. It is during this time that you learn the practical application of the theories covered at an undergrad and honours level.
A Masters by Dissertation and a Professional Masters are very different. A Masters by Dissertation is an in depth continuation of the theoretical training from honours, specifically in the field of research. A professional Masters will allow you to register with the HPCSA, however a Masters by Dissertation will not.
Without an HPCSA registration, you may not call yourself a Psychologist or see clients. This means that you will be limited in terms of what work you can do before you have completed a professional Masters degree and received the appropriate training in the field.
Getting into Masters is not easy. Every year, hundreds of students apply for professional Masters programmes around South Africa, but the universities only take between 6 and 12 students per year, per category. This extreme competition leads to rigorous selection processes whereby most students will not be allocated a place in the following year’s class.
Rejection is normal, get comfortable with it. With the extreme competition at a Masters level, being rejected by universities becomes commonplace. It’s not personal; even though it feels like it. Most Masters students go through on average, 3 or 4 years of selections before being allocated a space.
Getting a Masters overseas will not guarantee you an HPCSA registration. Remember that in other countries, you will need a Doctorate in order to become a Psychologist; this is because they only do their professional practical training at Doctorate level. Doing an online Masters from a university abroad will not qualify you as a Psychologist in either country.