High School

The South African schooling system does little to introduce school students to the concept of psychology and potential careers in psychology. Life Orientation aims to address this issue but there has recently been much debate around its effectiveness. Some universities around South Africa may even exclude Life Orientation as part of their admission point scoring system.

If you are currently in High School and you’re considering a career in psychology, there are some details you may or may not know about what psychology is and what the route to becoming a psychologist entails.

What is Psychology?

Psychology is the scientific study of the mind, how it works, and the effects it has on our behaviour. Students will look at mental processes such as learning, cognition, motivation, reasoning, emotion, and the relationships these processes have on human behaviour. To summarize, psychology is the study of how humans think, learn, feel, perceive, understand and interact. Interaction is a very important part of psychology as humans not only interact with themselves but also with others and the environment around them. These processes are complex and do not function individually; we are constantly thinking and interacting with ourselves or others on a daily basis.

What is the difference between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

Psychologists and Psychiatrists both work in mental health but have different backgrounds in terms of their studies and their scope of practice. There are a number of areas where these two professions overlap. Both are professionally trained individuals that are committed to treating any form of mental illness.

A Psychologist will treat patients through therapy, called psychotherapy, to relieve symptoms of psychological distress or illness.

A Psychiatrist is a health care professional that is a medical doctor that specialized in psychiatry. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe mediation as a form of treatment for mental health disorders.

What do I study in order to become a Psychologist?

Universities around South Africa have a number of different programs that act as an initial step into psychology. The most common program is a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. These can have a number of different names – BA Psychology / BSocSci Psychology / BSc Psychology – regardless of the name, these are essentially a Bachelors degree with a focus in Psychology. What is important to note is that completing a 3 year undergraduate degree in psychology will not make you a Psychologist. In order to register and practice as a Psychologist in South Africa, one needs to complete an undergraduate degree (BA in Psychology), an Honours degree (BA Hon in Psychology) as well as a Master’s degree in Psychology (any HPCSA recognized category).

There are limited job opportunities for students that study a BA in Psychology and do not continue on to a Masters level. In order to address this, one can study a BPsych degree and become a Registered Counsellor after a minimum of 4 years. This program incorporates a practical aspect that allows for professional registration with the HPCSA after completion of theoretical and practical aspects of the program. For more information on universities that offer this qualification, please click here.

What is the HPCSA?

The Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is a council that guides and regulates the health professions in South Africa. Their role is to standardize and regulate aspects pertaining to registration, education, training, professional conduct, ethical behaviour, professional development, and compliance with healthcare standards.

The council is divided into 12 Professional Boards; one of which governs psychology in South Africa according to Constitution of the Professional Board for Psychology, Regulation No. R1249 dated 28 November 2008.

To register as a psychologist in South Africa, one needs to have completed an HPCSA accredited Master’s degree at an accredited university. To legally register with the HPCSA and practice as a Psychologist in South Africa, one needs to complete the following;

  • HPCSA accredited MA in Psychology (Counselling, Clinical, Educational, Industrial, Neuro or Research).
  • Practical internship at an HPCSA accredited institution, with registration as an intern psychologist.
  • Psychology Board Examination.
  • Community Service.

All individuals who practice any of the health care professions incorporated in the scope of the HPCSA are obliged by the Health Professions Act No. 56 of 1974 to register with the Council. Failure to do so constitutes a criminal offence.

For more information on the HPCSA, please follow this link to their website.