“You will always have work and a varied career”: Psychology needs more women

“You will always have work and a varied career”: Psychology needs more women

This feature was created in partnership with Charles Sturt University, which has supported the launch of our new section, Women’s Health News, and has a huge range of study options available for those interesting in exploring new careers and opportunities.

When the waiting list at Victorian children and adolescent psychologist Michelle Savage’s practice reached several hundred children-long this year, she was forced to start turning away new clients.

It’s not something the children’s and adolescent psychologist likes to do – but she was left with no other choice.

Michelle – who is a director of Bloom Child Psychology – has always been in high demand, however 2020 has seen her waiting list explode. Michelle says her experience is not unusual. In fact, psychologists across the country are busier than ever as people seek out their services.

As Michelle put it: COVID-19 and the challenges associated with the pandemic has given many people a lot of time to “contemplate their own naval”. In many cases, underlying concerns or problems that people had prior to the pandemic have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“It is clear that there is a real lack of qualified psychologists throughout Australia, and COVID has only highlighted the problem,” she says.

“Put it this way: if you want a flexible career with varied work options – you will never be out of work as a psychologist.”

Psychology is one of very few career pathways outside of tech that has been highlighted as a key career of the future. When it comes to career options, psychology career pathways are varied and flexible and often well suited to the needs of women.

While people tend to imagine clinical psychologists when they think of psychology, there are many areas of speciality in the field, from children’s and educational psychology to criminal, forensic, corporate and private and public sector work.

The pandemic has also changed the way psychologists work and operate. Telehealth, for example, has not only allowed psychologists to work flexibly, it has had benefits for clients who might find their own home environment more comfortable for consultations as opposed to a psychologist’s office. Telehealth also means people can access psychologists with specific areas of expertise, all throughout the country, Michelle says.

Registered psychologist Sarah Cox is also experiencing an influx of people seeking out her expertise, both as a psychologist and in her work completing educational assessments for children.

She estimates that the Sydney clinic she works has experienced a 40 to 60 per cent increase in client consultations this year, compared with last year. Most clients are experiencing wait times of between two and three months for an appointment.  

Sarah agrees there is a substantial shortage of psychologists in Australia. One challenge is the length of training and education required to become a psychologist (usually four years for an undergraduate degree, then another two years for a master’s qualification, including practical experience), however other pathways are available.

Sarah has worked as a registered psychologist across a broad range of areas, for 13 years. Now, as a new mother of a 13-month-old son, she is studying her clinical psychology masters through Charles Sturt University. The majority of her study, as she is already a registered psychologist, can be completed online. The increased flexibility of studying online has been a big win, allowing her to spend more time with her young child, while continuing to work part-time.

“One of the really great things about working as a psychologist as a woman, is it really is so broad. There are so many avenues you can go down…spending quite some time building expertise in an area, before pivoting and trying another pathway, while retaining you experience,” she said.

“It’s great for women who might have kids and wants to return to work part-time or work remotely. There aren’t many careers where you can choose to work one or two days a week. I encourage all girls and women interested in psychology to investigate the pathways to becoming a psychologist and all the career pathways available.”

Part of the increase in demand for psychologists also stems from increased access to government funded sessions with psychologists. In the 2020 Federal Budget, the government announced a boost to mental health funding, including increasing the number of funded visits to psychologists under mental health plans from 10 to 20 over a two-year period. While the move has generally been applauded, a shortage of experienced psychologists means that many adults and children – often with acute presentations – are waiting months to see a psychologist.

“The increase in people wanting to access the services of a psychologist is understandable. The pressures of the pandemic have generated a normal human response to a threat to our health. Our brains have evolved to like predictability and certainty. A pandemic really has neither of those things…it activates our fight or flight response,” Sarah said. “On top of that is the economic strain…and the isolation of not seeing your normal social network.”

Rachel Upperton, a clinical psychologist at Brookvale Psychology, says during the 15 years she has been a psychologist, both in Australia and in Singapore, there has been a steady increase in the number of people presenting with anxiety. COVID-19, she says, has only exacerbated that, landing psychologists with “more work than we can handle”.

“While Sydney has been nothing like Melbourne in terms of the lockdowns, there has been a huge increase in people seeking help from psychologists. Some existing clients are waiting several weeks to access an appointment, she says. “I am seeing clients I haven’t seen in years because of this pressure, and I don’t see it slowing down.”

Rachel, who also studied psychology at CSU, agrees that psychologists will continue to be in demand in years to come as people “understand more and more about mental health”. It’s a particularly diverse and interesting career for women, with varied areas to specialise in and technology has made connecting with clients easier than ever.

“I think it’s an extremely flexible career path with a lot of variety,” she said. “I would find a mentor and ensure you have great support, and also set clear boundaries from the beginning.”

For more information on studying psychology, visit Charles Sturt University

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