What is it like to work as a Psychologist in Australia?

One of the most important challenge in my recent migration has certainly been to learn about the socio-political contexts and systems which are directing the work of the psychologist in Australia. When one experiences a number of political systems, it becomes clear how these have an impact…Bronfenbrenner makes so much sense then…and it also becomes clear how it impacts on the role of the psychologist. In the light of mental health support changes in the UK, in this post, I intend to explain my role in the different types of work I have been doing to illustrate how systems can have a huge impact on support services.

National Chaplaincy Programme, Mental Health and Care support and Chronic Diseases

Under the National Chaplaincy programme, I have worked in one specific school, one day per week, supporting children who present with different issues, such as friendship, behavioural, self-esteem, adaptation to school, loss, grief. I have been supporting school staff in understanding these emotional issues and implementing different strategies in class. I also supported parents and siblings where needed. Catholic and independent schools often employ their own school psychologists. Similar to the UK, Education Department psychologists, SSSO, are particularly involved in assessing children’s needs. This assessment then feeds in to the system as to whether needs qualify for funding and further support in school. Long-term work is more limited. However, a parallel system exists where psychologists work in schools supporting children under a Mental Health and Care plan.

Children and adults are entitled to 10 individual and 10 group sessions of mental health/psychologist support under the Mental Health Care plan scheme. I work in a number of schools where I deliver this support to children who are experiencing different issues such as loss and grief, parental separation, anxieties, self-esteem, self-regulation and behavioural difficulties, etc. I design the support to the children based on solution focused, cognitive-behavioural, child-centred, play, psycho-educational approaches. Seeing children over a period of time, being able to intervene early, before behaviour patterns have hugely entrenched, have felt very rewarding professionally and highly beneficial to the children. Also, being able to build a relationship with children and families over a period of time really helped to go in to more depth as to what may contributing to issues and difficulties. Being able to discuss parenting strategies and early intervention strategies also feel as it is highly beneficial to families. Mental health is such an important matter which can be supported if taken seriously early, but yet can have such a devastating on an individual or family system. In Australia, the socio-political systems acknowledge mental health and support mechanisms are in place so that children and families can access help. Some may argue that 10 sessions is not long enough, and too many restrictions exist in terms of the support that can be provided, perhaps…But at least mental health is acknowledged as important and deserving support.

Medicare also supports children and adults who have  chronic conditions which may impact on their emotional well-being. The GP will then write a Management plan and pull a care team together to support the child or adult. Psychologists are included in this possible support plan.

Early Intervention, Better Start, Helping Children with Autism 

Other funding streams acknowledge the importance of supporting children with special needs and disabilities early and as part of structured early intervention programmes. The early intervention programme gives the opportunity to children and families to access regular support  either in groups or individualised therapies and key worker support. The weekly support by experienced professionals can make such a difference to children and families.

Early intervention is also available for children with specific medical and/or lifelong conditions such as Down Syndrome to access early professional and regular support .

Different funding streams have been set to support children with autism and their families. Children receiving a diagnosis of the autism spectrum disorder under the age of 7 can access speech therapy, occupational therapy or psychologist support up to $12 000 worth of services. This also includes resource packages such as the possibility to purchase specialist resources which will help with self-regulation for example.

The Medicare system also acknowledges the importance to support children with autism aged 7+. This support is designed as 20 sessions of half an hour to help with different needs such as self-regulation, anxieties and social skills and communication.

Changes ahead

There a number of changes planned ahead. Mainly for all these different funding streams to be  simplified and also to review current practices and services (Medicare and NDIS). Many families access private support as the Medicare system provides rebates and/or families have private health insurance. There is no doubt that this is a complex system. However, this is a system which acknowledges the importance to support children and families’ mental health and care and promotes early intervention. Coming from other socio-political systems, I have been fascinated to be learning about support available to children and families. It has allowed my professional practice to evolve in such a creative way. For example, I bring a box of Lego, little people and animals to school. I have enjoyed drawing and talking with children, listening to their worries and trying to find solutions with them. I have enjoyed developing individualised and group resources for children and their families. A lot of the resources I used in the UK have been particularly relevant and I had to refresh many resources too. The system is allowing me to work over time with children and families, that’s what changed the most! There is a definite feeling that it is having a more in-depth, targeted and supportive impact to the children and families…


3 thoughts on “What is it like to work as a Psychologist in Australia?

  1. Francisco says:

    Hi Pascale!
    I found your article extremely helpful and motivating for someone who is on his path towards registration in Australia. It’s a long way to go, but I reckon it worths it.


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