Psychologists in Singapore: Who are they? What do they do?

Information for public and employers on Psychological Specialities in Singapore.

Essential facts about Psychology and Psychologists

Psychology is one of the fastest growing university subjects around the world, and it is becoming more and more available as a service in the community. There is an increasing number of psychologists in Singapore. The general public and organisations want to be more fully informed about who psychologists are and what professional skills or techniques they employ. Psychologists specialise in a number of different areas within the field and identify themselves by many different names. The information below provides an overview of the roles of the differing psychologists and allows for a clearer understanding of the distinctions across the field.

What is Psychology?

Psychology is the study of people: how they think, how they act, react and interact. Psychology is concerned with all aspects of behaviour and the thoughts, feelings and motivation underlying such behaviour' (British Psychological Society). The field of psychology encompasses both research, through which we learn fundamental principles about human and animal behaviour, and practice, where psychologists work directly with adults and children. Research helps to guide practising psychologists about the most suitable ways of assisting people with their problems. In psychology there are a number of distinct specialisations. Within each specialty there are psychologists who work primarily as researchers, others who work primarily as practitioners and also some who do both.

Statement on qualifications in Psychology

Psychology is both an academic discipline and a profession. Both as a discipline and in its professional practice it is based on scientific research. Individual psychologists are specialists either in a branch of academic study or in a professional application of the subject or both. Such a specialisation is acquired by appropriate postgraduate qualifications in psychology, following a first degree in which psychology is the sole or major subject. Professionally qualified psychologists are those who have obtained a postgraduate qualification in a specialised field in psychology from a recognised academic institution. Such training courses include a supervised practical training in a variety of settings. Academic qualifications are not a sufficient basis for recognition as a professional psychologist' (Singapore Psychological Society).

Brief explanation of different types of psychologists who are internationally recognised

(note that there may be some slight differences in titles depending on countries in which psychologists have received their degrees and professional training).


Type of Psychologist

Who we are

Clinical Psychologist

To become a clinical psychologist, one usually has to have a first degree and to then take a postgraduate degree which includes professional training. Clinical psychologists usually have a minimum of 6 years of university training, which includes a formal professional training component. Two years of supervised practice are usually expected before the training is fully recognised. Clinical psychologists usually work in a hospital or community setting with people with psychological health problems or with severe difficulties in behaviour and in coping with life. They are active in the mental health field, practising a wide variety of techniques. For example they might train people to manage severe stress or to deal with an intense fear or compulsion. Clinical psychologists assess and treat mental, emotional and behavioural disorders. In Singapore, Clinical psychologists can be found in government organisations, general hospitals and private practice offices.

Counselling Psychologist

Counselling psychologists aim to help people to improve in their sense of well being, alleviate their distress, resolve their crises and increase their ability to solve problems and make decisions for themselves. Counselling psychologists usually have an accredited first degree with further qualifications in counselling, usually a Masters degree, together with a period of supervised practice. There is an increasing number of counselling psychologists in Singapore.

Educational Psychologist (called school psychologists in USA and sometimes developmental psychologists in other places)

There are different routes to this qualification but to become a registered Chartered Educational Psychologist in the UK. one needs a minimum of 6 years at a university. An accredited first degree in psychology is required, followed by a teaching certificate and a Masters degree in educational psychology from a recognised professional training course. Subsequently, a minimum of 2 years of supervision is also required. Educational psychologists tackle problems encountered by young people in education, which may involve learning difficulties and social or emotional problems. Their work normally takes place in schools, colleges, nurseries and special schools or units. Their work involves working closely with schools and families. In Singapore there are a growing number of educational and school psychologists. The Ministry of Education employs a number of Chartered Educational Psychologists, and some educational psychologists work in various voluntary welfare organizations (e.g., 'Teach Me' and Students Care Service). Some also work in private expatriate schools and in private practice. It should be noted that USA qualified educational psychologists are usually primarily academic psychologists and may not have the professional training that is required to work in clinical practice. When you are hoping to engage an educational psychologist to assist in assessing students, you need to ensure that they have undergone a professional training experience and that they have received supervision from qualified practitioners.

Neuropsychologist

Neuropsychologists usually work within hospital settings together with medical experts, exploring the relationships between brain systems and behaviour. Neuropsychologists also assess and treat people with brain injuries or dysfunctions.

Occupational Psychologist (sometimes known as industrial-organisational psychologists)

Occupational psychologists are concerned with the world of work and training. They are often involved with such issues as selection and training of staff, psychometric tests, corporate communication, the working environment and management. Major changes brought about by technology, privatisation and recession have led to an increasing demand for their services. They usually work in large business companies. There are quite a few of such psychologists in Singapore. At present many occupational psychologists simply require an accredited first degree and supervised practice for 2 years to be internationally recognised, but there are more and more Masters degree holders working in this specialised area.

Social Psychologist

Social psychologists study how a person's mental life and behaviour is shaped by interactions with other people in a social environment. Social Psychologists are found in a variety of settings from academic institutions to advertising and government agencies.

Psychologists with first degrees only

Currently, there are some psychologists working in various social service centers, hospitals and private practice who have only a first degree. Employers would be advised to ensure that these psychologists are supervised by a Registered Psychologist. Employers and potential clients are also advised to look more specifically at the individual psychologist's degree, related qualifications and experience. Many of the Australian first degree courses include a fourth year, which includes some professional practice and supervision, whereas other countries may have universities that offer purely academic first degrees.

"For professional standards set by Singapore Register of Psychologists (SRP), please refer to the following page: Singapore Register of Psychologist. 

Written by Ms Laura Cockburn, Publications Chair, Singapore Psychological Society (1999) and revised by Dr Lim Kok Kwang, President, Singapore Psychological Society (2005).