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Clinical Psychologist

What does a Clinical Psychologist do?

Clinical psychologists help people make positive changes to their thinking and behaviour. They aim to understand their clients’ thoughts and actions so they can work with them to manage or overcome their psychological distress and improve their well-being. Clinical psychologists often work alongside other professionals in multidisciplinary teams in order to tackle complex patient problems. They work with clients of all ages on a variety of different mental or physical health problems including depression, schizophrenia, neurological disorders, addictive behaviours, eating disorders, relationship problems and learning disabilities. Some specialise in working with a particular group, such as children, young offenders or older adults.

A clinical psychologist’s role usually involves:

  • assessing clients’ needs through interviews, psychometric tests and observations
  • deciding on the most appropriate form of treatment, which could include therapy, counselling or advice; planning a treatment programme and working with clients in groups or one-to-one
  • writing reports and going to case conferences
  • carrying out research
  • providing counselling and support for carers.

What qualifications do I need?

A degree and postgraduate study in psychology are required to qualify as a clinical psychologist. Firstly, a bachelor’s degree majoring in psychology needs to be attained, followed by an Honours in Psychology. A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a degree course is a prerequisite. Graduates then go on to study a master’s programme, which includes theoretical learning, practical training and a research thesis. Thereafter, they are required to write a board exam and then register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa before being legally allowed to practice as professional psychologists.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Mathematics
• Biology


Where can I study?

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Bachelor of Arts: Psychology

North-West University
Bachelor of Arts: Psychology; Bachelor of Psychology

University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Arts: Psychology

University of KwaZulu-Natal
Bachelor of Arts: Psychology; Bachelor of Social Science: Psychology

University of the Western Cape
Bachelor of Arts: Psychology

Bachelor of Psychology

University of Stellenbosch
Bachelor of Psychology

Rhodes University
Bachelor of Social Science: Psychology

University of Pretoria
Bachelor of Social Science: Psychology

Where can I get more info?

Psychological Society of South Africa – www.psyssa.com
Health Professions Council of South Africa – www.hpcsa.co.za


Interview with a Clinical Psychologist




What does your job involve?
I provide therapy to clients who experience difficulties or worries. It involves listening and reflecting to clients in a safe environment. Some psychologists work for hospitals, schools or businesses. I run a private practice, where I see clients for therapy on a weekly basis, either for a short or longer period. I also work for an organisation, where I offer mentoring and support to the staff.

Why did you choose psychology?
As a former teacher I became aware that labelling children/people is not constructive. I studied further to understand the rationale for behaviour and develop insight into human functioning and dysfunctionality. I have to admit that I also chose this profession to develop further insight into myself.

What training did you undergo?
After completing an undergrad degree, which included a major in psychology, I studied my Honours in Psychology part-time through UNISA. My Master’s in Clinical Psychology at UCT, which I got into after a tough selection process, took two years full-time. This included practical training, course work, a year’s internship at a hospital and the completion of a thesis. Plus, I completed a year of community service before beginning private work.

Experience verus formal training?
There are very few young psychologists who are really mature beyond their years but for most of us, life and work experience counts for a lot. Remember though, formal training as a psychologist is essential as the theory and academic rigour provides a framework for understanding clients.

Describe a typical day on the job
It depends on the number of clients I have booked. Generally, some morning exercise at the gym, then once at the office I check my emails and write up notes. I see clients on the hour for about 50 minutes at a time. When I have breaks I make phone calls, write and file notes. I see about six to seven clients.

What makes a good psychologist?
It’s essential to be open about one’s own strengths and weaknesses; to be a critical thinker and reader; to know the difference between a client’s issues and one’s own; to be ethical in one’s work and life.

What do you like the most about your job?
The shifts I see clients make; when clients become empowered and utilise insight in their lives.

What aspects are you least keen on?
Sometimes filing, and keeping track of all my receipts for tax purposes. So, in a nutshell: admin!

Share a career highlight
To have qualified as a clinical psychologist whilst being a mom and a wife has been an achievement. When a client refers someone else to me for therapy, it is a reflection of my worth as a good psychologist.

And future goals?
One of my goals is to write about some aspects of my work that will be of value, for example: a handbook for parents.