|Damien Stewart discusses the sport psychology landscape in Australia and how the pathway to becoming a practicing psychologist seems to take a unique form compared to other countries in the world.|
When considering the training and qualification of Sport & Exercise Psychologists in Australia, we do appear to be unique among the world’s Sport Psychology profession. The same could be said for the other eight areas of Psychological practice speciality within Australia, referred to as the nine Areas of Practice Endorsement. The nine Areas of Practice Endorsement in Australia are: Sport & Exercise Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Counselling Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Educational & Developmental Psychology, Health Psychology, Organisational Psychology, Clinical Neuropsychology, and Community Psychology. Those Psychologists who do not possess an Area of Practice Endorsement practice under the title Psychologist. The nine Areas of Practice Endorsement titles and the title of Psychologist are protected titles under Australian law with large fines existing for anyone holding themselves out to be any one of these titles when they are not or for organisations promoting someone as holding one of these titles when they are not. The profession of Psychology is regulated under National Law by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), that also regulates all other health and allied health professions in Australia, and Psychology is specifically regulated under AHPRA by the Psychology Board of Australia.
The pathway to qualification as a practicing Psychologist in Australia is standardised by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council. For everyone wishing to be a practicing Psychologist in Australia an initial four year program of study in Psychology must be completed comprising three years of undergraduate study followed by a fourth year of study in Psychology. The fourth year of study is generally an honours level year of study comprising course work and a dissertation. Up to the end of fourth year, the program of education is the same for everybody.
There are currently three pathways to becoming a practicing psychologist in Australia:
- The 4 + 2 Pathway
- The 5 + 1 Pathway
- The Masters Pathway
The 4 + 2 pathway is soon to be retired, however it involved the four year undergraduate training followed by a two year, 3000 hour internship. At the end of a successfully completed program, a person would receive the title of Psychologist and be registered to practice Psychology in Australia.
Under the 5 + 1 pathway, a person completes the four year undergraduate training followed by a fifth year of study, followed by a one year, 1500 hour internship. At the end of a successfully completed program, a person would receive the title of Psychologist and be registered to practice Psychology in Australia. There is no difference in outcome for the psychologist based on whether they choose the 4 + 2 or 5 + 1 other than with the 5 + 1 pathway the psychologist has one extra year of study and therefore tertiary qualification.
Under the Master’s pathway, a person completes an approved postgraduate qualification, at minimum an applied Master’s degree. This is where we begin to consider the Areas of Practice Endorsement as each of the applied Master’s degrees in Australia are aligned with at least one of the nine Areas of Practice Endorsement. For all of the Master’s degrees, half of the course of study and hours of practice are standardised with the other half dedicated to the area of specialisation of the course. In the case of Sport & Exercise Psychology, half the course is devoted to clinical practice, whereas the second half is devoted to Sport & Exercise Psychology training and practice. Once a person successfully completes the two year Master’s degree, they are still not given an Endorsement in their area of speciality, but will receive the title of Psychologist and be registered to practice Psychology in Australia. Someone who has completed a Master’s in Sport & Exercise Psychology cannot yet refer to themselves a Sport & Exercise Psychologist at this point. Of note, at the time of writing, there are two accredited Sport & Exercise Psychology Master’s Programs in Australia: One at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane and the other at the Institute for Social Neuroscience (ISN) in Melbourne.
To be entitled to refer to themselves relating to their Area of Practice Endorsement, those Psychologists who successfully complete a Master’s degree in one of the nine Area’s of Practice Endorsement, must go on to complete a Registrar Program consisting of 3000 hours of supervised practice, primarily under the supervision of a qualified supervisor holding the Area of Practice Endorsement for which the Registrar is aiming to attain.
In summary, to become an endorsed Sport & Exercise Psychologist in Australia, one must complete a three year undergraduate degree in Psychology, followed by an honour’s year, followed by a two year Master’s degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology, followed by a 3000 hour Registrar Program. Only then can a person refer to themselves as a Sport & Exercise Psychologist.
As a result of this qualification, Sport & Exercise Psychologists are qualified and registered to work in Mental Health providing clinical services to clients, as well as practice sport, performance, and exercise psychology. A number of Sport & Exercise Psychologists practice across both mental health and sport, performance, and exercise domains as well as combining the two with athlete and performer mental health. This registration also allows the client of Sport & Exercise Psychologists to claim a rebate under the National medical insurance scheme ‘Medicare’ for 20 sessions with a Psychologist per calendar year when referred by a General Practitioner.
Specific to sport practice in Australia, the majority of Sport & Exercise Psychologists work across both professional, amateur and Olympic sport, with a spattering in specialist fields such performing arts and the military. Some Sport & Exercise Psychologists choose to specialise in clinical settings with conditions that are prominent within the sport, performance, and exercise domain such as body image and eating disorders or chronic pain and injury. Very few Sport & Exercise Psychologists in Australia work solely for one sport or one team, with the majority working across several sports on a part-time contractual basis with each.
Finally, the largest association for Psychologists in Australia is the Australian Psychological Society (APS) that has approximately 26,000 members. The APS recognises the nine Areas of Practice Endorsement with each having its own member group referred to as ‘Colleges” with their own committees. Therefore, the only association of Sport & Exercise Psychologists in Australia is the APS College of Sport & Exercise Psychology (CoSEP) of which there are approximately 180 members, with only about 100 members fully endorsed as Sport & Exercise Psychologists. It is important to acknowledge that those who have completed the Master’s degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology, but not the Registrar Program, can still go on to work successfully in the sport, performance, and exercise domain, however they must use the title Psychologist, not Sport & Exercise Psychologist. Many freshly graduated members of the College choose not to do the full endorsement immediately due to the cost of supervision for the 3000 hour Registrar Program that requires them to pay for 80 hours of supervision during the program.
Hopefully that provides a thorough snapshot of the landscape of Sport & Exercise Psychology in Australia. As the author of this article as well the Chair Elect for the College of Sport & Exercise Psychology in Australia taking over in November 2021, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time should you have any questions or wish to chat. I can be reached at email@example.com.