APS College of Counselling Psychologists

Student Q & A

In this section we have collected questions asked by students at the Information Forum for Future Students of Counselling Psychology held in Victoria every September until 2013.

We then list the answers given by the convenors of the three Master courses in Counselling Psychology offered in Victoria (at La Trobe, Monash and Swinbourne Universities) and from college committee members.

Q: How many students are accepted into each program?
: Each year that there are approximately 15-20 places in each program.

Q: Are students who completed the Postgraduate Diploma and Honours seen as equivalent?
: Yes.

Q: Do programs offer places preferentially to students who have completed undergraduate course at that university?

Q: What is the required academic achievement to be considered for each program?
A: Candidates are considered if they have achieved an average of Honours 2A or equivalent. After this, selection is made by interview.

Q: Is each program full time or part time?
A: Monash - 2 years full time, or 4 years part time - no further student intake after 2014
    Swinburne - 4 years part time only
    La Trobe - 2 years full time, or 3 years ¾ time (75% load)  - no further student intake after 2014

Q: Can you complete subjects or placements through other organisations such as Relationships Australia?
A: Placements - yes. Such organisations often provide excellent training.
Coursework subjects - the short answer is ‘no’. A slightly longer answer is that as courses are APAC accredited, and recognition of subjects completed elsewhere need to demonstrate that they have addressed the same learning goals, and covered the same curriculum as the APAC approved subject. In rare cases this can be demonstrated by a student entering a Master's program (most typically by students transferring from another APAC accredited program).

Q: What are the contact hours for each program?
A: These vary from program to program and from year to year. You can find them on each university's website. However, a serious time commitment is required for these courses, as they all include coursework units, placements, and a minor thesis.

Q: In the selection process for the Master courses, are students given preference for having a general interest in counselling, or a specific interest in a certain specialisation?
A general sense of openness is generally preferred unless you have a specific area of interest that is matched the content of the courses, but flexibility is always preferable.

Q: What can I do to improve my chances of getting into a program if I didn't get in last year?
A: If you are really passionate about this work, keep trying! Any experience, for example in a voluntary capacity or in a related field, will be highly regarded.

Q: What is the underlying theoretical approach of each course?
: All programs ensure that they integrate various evidence-based approaches into their training, and do not consider one approach as more valid than others. Of course, individual lecturers each have a preferred orientation which comes across in the units they teach. For example, currently the La Trobe covers CBT, motivational interviewing, CCRT (short form of psychodynamic therapy), and interpersonal therapy. At Monash there is a current emphasis on brief psychodyamic therapy, interpersonal therapy and CBT. It is important to understand that you can only really get a taste of these from the coursework; you learn most about therapeutic approaches once you are on placement, and after you graduate in an ongoing manner.

Q: Is there an expectation to be involved in personal therapy during the program?
A: This is not a requirement, but it is recommended. It must be noted that much of the content of these programs involves an experiential component, and students' personal issues are triggered from time to time.

Q: Is it recommended to undergo psychoanalysis as part of your training?
Traditionally it might have been psychoanalysis, and it is compulsory in some countries to go through your own therapy, but there are many options. There are a wide variety of therapeutic approaches that you might consider using to help understand yourself more, and you might go about choosing by looking at what issues you want to discuss, what approach appeals to you. Regardless of approach, being a client in counselling helps you to get a good understanding of what it is like for a client to come to you for counselling.

Q: How do you not get affected by this work?
You do. It is a challenge, especially at the beginning, and one that you must learn to manage. When you first start seeing clients in the Master course, you will have intense supervision and this is very supportive. Peer supervision is also useful, where you can share your experiences with other students going through the same experiences. Supervision is not just something that you do at the start of your career, it is something that must be continued in order to look after yourself and get the support you need to work through challenges. You also start out by not seeing clients that are too complex, and being aware when you are stressed and tired and making sure you protect yourself. Being part of this profession requires vulnerability, and this is not a bad thing as long as you grow the skills of self-care as well.

      Q: What sorts of ethical dilemmas do Counselling Psychologists face on a daily basis?
You need to make decisions regarding fees, boundaries with clients, confidentiality, and think about the extent that your personal behaviour impacts on your professional identity. You can view the APS ethical guidelines and the list of misdemeanours acted upon by AHPRA for more information.

      Q: What is the difference between Counsellors and Counselling Psychologists?
Anyone can call themselves a Counsellor. Although there are qualifications available in Counselling, they are less scientific, do not teach psychological knowledge, and may not have as strong an evidence base. At the end of a Psychology Master you will have the equivalent of 6 years of full time study, and Counselling courses are far shorter and therefore less depth oriented. A Counselling degree is a good alternative pathway if you do not get into a Master program, and this may be more suited to you, or you may wish to apply again after completing the Counselling qualification.

Q: I have been told that I should do a Clinical Master course if I want a job, why is this?
This view may have come from the difference in Medicare rebates between Clinical and Counselling Psychologists. The former are eligible for a higher rebate and may therefore choose to charge more. However this is only relevant in you work in private practice. Psychologists graduating from both Clinical and Counselling Master courses will need to undertake further training. Many employers hire Clinical and Counselling Psychologists to work alongside each other in the same roles, and other employers actively seek to attract Counselling Psychologists for the unique philosophy that they are trained in. You need to think about why you want to do a Master course; you want to end up working in a job that is consistent with your values, not making a choice that is based entirely on salary.

Q: What is the possibility of being a Counselling Psychologist working in private practice given the Medicare system?
A: Many Counselling Psychologists work in private practice, and their clients currently get the Medicare rebate of $84.80 per hour (as compared to $124.50 per hour for Clinical Psychologists). When choosing a psychologist, clients often make their decision based on referral from a trusted source rather than by the rate of Medicare rebate. The challenge often lies in educating referrers such as GPs about Counselling Psychologists' skills in working with clients with mental health issues and disorders.

Q: Can Counselling Psychologists make diagnoses like Clinical Psychologists?
Yes, but they may go about the process a little differently, for example they may spend more time prioritising the therapeutic relationship at the beginning, and not seeing the diagnosis as the most important priority at any stage in the process.

Q: Are the skills of Clinical and Counselling Psychologists transferable?
This is a common question. There is quite a lot of overlap between Clinical and Counselling Psychologist skills, and the difference probably lies in the underlying philosophy of each. Counselling Psychologists place more emphasis on the therapeutic relationship, and the human condition whereas Clinical Psychologists place more emphasis on the diagnostic process. That is not to say that each does not have skills that are predominantly present in the other. Take a look at the course content when comparing the Master level courses for each to get a comparison.

Q: What distinguishes Clinical and Counselling Psychology?
A: There are some differences between the areas of practice, with Counselling Psychology training and practice having a primary focus in evidence-based psychotherapies, and with an expectation that most Counselling Psychologists will work in the community and primarily with high prevalence disorders, mental health problems, and issues which arise during stage of life transitions. In the early days - mid last century - Clinical Psychology training was primarily focused on training graduates to work in clinics and institutions, rather than the community, and we believe this still informs modern day training in Clinical Psychology. Today, Clinical and Counselling psychologists work side by side and often practice in very similar ways, and add to each other's ways of working. Furthermore, the differences are a matter of ideology and philosophy, with counselling psychology having a strongly humanistic origin, and clinical psychology tending to be more aligned to the medical model. We argue that both clinical and counselling psychologists should be recognised as equivalent when it comes to frontline mental health care in Australia. Such is the case in the US and UK where the differences between the areas of practice - and the tensions - are respected.

One great reference on this topic:
Grant, J., Mullings, B., & Denham, G.W. (2008). Counselling Psychology in Australia: Past, Present and Future- Part one. Australian Journal of Counselling Psychology, 9 (2) 3-14.