Before you take the plunge, read this advice from Samantha Pretorius, Counselling Psychologist and educator at SACAP, in order to be fully aware of what you’re getting yourself into.
Sure, you’re intrigued by people and want to understand why they do the things they do. And of course, you’re fascinated by the inner workings of the mind and want to understand more about human emotions, behaviours and relationships. But do you really have what it really takes to enter the demanding – albeit rewarding – profession of psychology?
1. Be prepared for a long journey.
“There’s nothing quick about becoming a psychologist. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul,” says Samantha Pretorius, who explains that you’re looking at a minimum of six years of intensive study.
2. Be ready to pull out all the stops.
“Because of the stringent selection process, psychology students should be prepared to go the extra mile – good marks alone aren’t going to cut it,” cautions Pretorius, who adds that students must be willing to engage in extra-curricular lifeline counselling, for instance, or to volunteer at NGOs.
3. Consider that you may not get in.
“Be aware that psychology studies involve a very stringent selection process,” Pretorius warns. “While hundreds of students will sign up in first year, these numbers will have whittled down to around 40 by Honours year and only five to 10 students are accepted into each Master’s programme.”
4. Exhibit the right character traits.
“A psychologist is a people’s person. He or she needs to be altruistic and empathetic. Would-be psychologists must be determined and committed for the long haul, have high levels of self-awareness and a love of reading and learning,” maintains Pretorius.
5. Understand that the studying doesn’t stop.
“A psychology career is a lifelong journey of learning,” points out Pretorius, who explains that your studies don’t just stop after the completion of your Master’s qualification. “All healthcare practitioners are required to earn Continued Professional Development (CPD) points throughout their careers, which means constant learning for the duration of your vocation,” she says.
6. Be informed of your career options.
“From the outset, you should have a clear understanding of the different kinds of career you can pursue as a psychologist practicing in South Africa,” says Pretorius, who advises making yourself well acquainted with the various registration categories for professional psychologists as laid down by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).
7. Acquaint yourself with your study path.
“You need to be aware that you will have to qualify for and complete a professional master’s degree if you want to become a psychologist – in other words, a master’s programme that is certified by the HPCSA,” says Pretorius. “So even if you have a Bachelor of Psychology Degree or have completed your Bachelor of Social Science Honours (Psychology) Degree, you must still acquire this additional qualification.”
8. But don’t underestimate the value of good grades.
Sure, marks alone won’t cut it but that doesn’t mean that they’re not very important,” says Pretorius. “You need to be academically extremely strong to qualify for each psychology course,” she stresses, adding that knowledge of an additional African language is also advantageous.
9. And don’t chase the money.
Wannabe psychologists should be very careful of entering the profession in the hope that they will earn a lot, says Pretorius, cautioning that “private practice doesn’t happen overnight.”
10. Be willing to work on yourself.
Pretorius emphasises that prospective psychologists need to be prepared to continually engage in their own therapeutic processes and work on their personal blind spots. “You can’t help others if you’re unable to help yourself,” she says.
Still think you have what it takes to become a psychologist? The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a range of qualifications in the field of psychology. Enquire today about courses online or at our Cape Town or Johannesburg campus.