Psychologists diagnose, treat, and work to prevent a range of psychological problems that affect people's behaviour, thoughts and emotions.
Trainee psychologists usually earn
$56K-$59K per year
Senior psychologists usually earn
$106K-$125K per year
Source: Apex/DHBs, 2020 and New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists, 2021.
Pay for psychologists varies depending on their specialisation, experience and employer.
Psychologists at district health boards
- Trainee psychologists usually earn $56,000 to $59,000 a year.
- Qualified psychologists usually earn $72,000 to $103,000.
- Senior psychologists, who may also supervise staff, can earn $106,000 to $125,000.
Psychologists in private practice
Psychologists working in private practice earn from $160 to $260 an hour.
Sources: Apex and District Health Boards, 'Psychologists' Multi-Employer Collective Agreement, March 2019 to March 2021', 2020; and New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists, 2021.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Psychologists who work with individual clients may do some or all of the following:
- assess clients' problems and strengths through interviews and observation
- carry out tests that measure mental performance and personality type
- develop treatment plans to help clients with self-development and overcoming problems
- help clients understand themselves, their needs and their motivations
- provide treatment by carrying out psychological therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Psychologists who work with groups and for organisations may do some or all of the following:
- develop, evaluate, or run group therapy programmes such as anger-management workshops
- provide counselling and advice to people or organisations
- provide expert opinion to courts
- assess children and parents on behalf of government agencies
- design and run programmes to reduce criminal offending
- be part of rehabilitation teams working with people who have brain injuries or neurological disorders.
Skills and knowledge
Psychologists need to have knowledge of:
- human behaviour and thought patterns
- psychological assessment and intervention methods
- social and cultural issues affecting their clients, families and communities
- research methods and statistics
- counselling and dispute resolution
- theories and research in their specialised field of psychology
- relevant laws, court procedures and professional ethics.
- usually work regular business hours, but may have to work evenings and weekends
- work in a range of places, including offices, hospitals and health care facilities, schools and universities, prisons, and private clinics
- may work in emotionally draining and stressful circumstances
- may travel locally to visit clients, or nationally to attend workshops and conferences.
What's the job really like?
Dr Dougal Sutherland
How did you get into psychology?
"I went to university to do law, but took a second degree in psychology. As my studies progressed, I became more interested in psychology.
"Eventually, I discovered a field where I could use my knowledge to help other people – clinical psychology. I was accepted for training at the University of Otago, and after that I became a clinical psychologist."
What do you like about your job?
"I enjoy meeting new people and having the privilege of hearing their life stories. It's immensely rewarding when you can help them to make the most of their life and overcome mental distress."
What's the most challenging aspect of your job?
"There are times when people tell you information about their lives, or what has happened to them, and it can be upsetting and shocking. Occasionally you have to deal with people who might be at risk of harm and it’s hard not to worry about them."
What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a psychologist?
"Go to university and take first-year psychology to see if you actually like it. If you do, keep going!
"You should also try to get some work experience. Places like phone support lines, or working in the community with people who have experienced mental health problems provide good opportunities to get a taste of the work."
Clinical psychologist video
Saara talks about working as a clinical psychologist – 4.44 mins.
So, psychology is the study of human behaviour – kind of the why we do what we do – and a clinical psychologist has a specialty expertise within mental health and wellbeing – assessing, understanding and treating mental health issues.
What I do on a day-to-day basis is I work with my clients to help them find the tools that are going to help them overcome the challenges in their lives. They might come to me with all the information about their lives, their expertise on what's helpful for them, and then I'll combine that with all the things I know about psychology and what the research says and then together we can make a plan about what's going to be the most helpful for them.
My role at TBI is to help clients who are having challenges with injury or ongoing pain, to do the things that are important to them despite that. We know when you've got pain or injury and it's going on for a really long time, it starts to take a toll on all these different areas of your life. So often people are coming and talking to me about their sleep being really disrupted, or maybe they're feeling a bit more down, a bit more frustrated. Maybe they're more worried than usual.
And so I work really closely with the clients as well as the other health care practitioners they're seeing, to help ensure that they're going to keep moving forward and get back to living the life that they normally would.
I start work at 8am. So I usually come in and grab a coffee and I'll read through my notes and look at who I'm going to be having sessions with today. Definitely a big chunk of my day is seeing clients and planning for seeing clients. We have to keep notes, so a lot of it is also after sessions, writing up what we've done.
Probably the next biggest piece of my day is talking with other clinicians – the physios that my client might be seeing, or the doctors. When clinicians work really closely together and we're all on the same page, that's when people are more likely to do well and kind of overcome these challenges.
Some people worry that it is really heavy and emotionally draining and that will start to impact them. That's something to be wary of, yes, but as you train and as you do more clinical work, you build up an ability to be able to manage some of the heavy stuff that's coming at you. So you can kind of maintain your own wellbeing.
To become a clinical psychologist you study for about six years. First you do a three years undergraduate degree. So that could be a Bachelor of Arts, or a Bachelor of Science, but you have to do psychology as your major. Then you'll do another three years postgraduate, so part of that's doing some research so you do your Masters. And then you also are doing the stuff I really enjoyed, which was more of the clinical-specific training.
So you do a year kind of learning about all the research that sits behind clinical psychology and then you have two years doing a lot more practical placement, so you're working four days a week – with clients, within a company. Often you might be getting paid as well, which is really good.
It is a lot of study, but all the skills you're building are really transferable. Psychology is the behaviour of people, or the science of people, right? So that knowledge is so useful and no matter what you go on to do.
You register with the New Zealand Psych board every year and a part of registering is that you need to keep up to date with your professional development. What that means is you get to go on trainings and to workshops to kind of make sure you're up to date with everything. So it is cool you get to keep learning.
I'd say there's no one type of person that would be the best fit as a psychologist. Our clients come from different walks of life and so we want our clinical psychologists to come from different walks of life.
I think it is really important to be someone who can put yourself in other people's shoes and really empathise with what's going on for them. Being able to sit and listen to someone and not necessarily jump in really quickly and try to fix it.
People are unique and so you're always working with different people and so your job's always unique. You're always using your brain in different ways, that's a really cool part of the job.
I think my favourite thing is when you're working with someone where you see that they have more hope for the future – they see that things might get better. When someone's been having a really hard time and you've been working with them for a while, seeing that kind of spark, it just feels really good and it's lovely to be able to help people get that.
To become a psychologist you need:
- a Master's or higher degree in psychology
- 1,500 hours of closely supervised practice, approved and evaluated by the New Zealand Psychologists Board
- to be registered with the New Zealand Psychologists Board.
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include English, maths, science, health education and social studies.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
Board-Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA)
To gain the international qualification of Board-Certified Behaviour Analyst from the Behaviour Analyst Certification Board, you need:
- a postgraduate qualification in psychology – usually a Master’s degree – and a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Behaviour Analysis, available from the Universities of Auckland and Waikato
- to pass the relevant exam to become a board-certified behaviour analyst.
- University of Auckland website - information on applied behaviour analysis
- University of Waikato website - information on behaviour analysis
- Behaviour Analyst Certification Board website - information on certification
To become a clinical psychologist you need a:
- Master's degree in psychology
- Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Psychology, or a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
Educational and Developmental Psychologist
To become an educational and developmental psychologist you need a:
- Masters in education, psychology, or educational psychology
- Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Psychology, which is available at Massey and Victoria Universities.
Teachers who wish to complete a Masters in educational psychology while working may apply for a Special Teaching Needs Study Award from the Ministry of Education.
- Massey University website - information on the Postgraduate Diploma in Educational and Developmental Psychology
- Education.govt.nz website - information on special education study awards and scholarships
- Victoria University website - information on the Postgraduate Diploma and Master in Educational Psychology Practice
Forensic psychologists wishing to work at the Department of Corrections need to follow their Master's degree in psychology with some additional training. This could be either of:
- the Department of Corrections' supervision-to-registration programme, which involves 18 months of supervised practice
- a postgraduate diploma or Doctorate in clinical psychology.
Psychologists need to be:
- able to relate to people from a range of cultures and backgrounds
- caring, patient and non-judgemental
- able to influence others
- able to keep information private
- able to work well under pressure
- good at making decisions.
Useful experience for psychologists includes work with:
- community groups and recovering mental health clients living in the community
- criminal offenders
- support agencies such as Samaritans Aotearoa/New Zealand or Youthline.
Other useful experience includes:
- social work, court, or probation services
- teaching or research in related fields.
Psychologists need to be registered with New Zealand Psychologists Board.
They also need a current Annual Practising Certificate, unless they are only teaching psychology, or doing research.
- New Zealand Psychologists Board website - information on registration and Annual Practising Certificates
Find out more about training
- Institute of Organisational Psychology
- (04) 473 4884 - www.organisationalpsychology.nz
- New Zealand Psychological Society (NZPS)
- (04) 473 4884 - www.psychology.org.nz
- NZ College of Clinical Psychologists (NZCCP)
- (04) 801 6088 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzccp.co.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
High demand for psychologists
Opportunities for psychologists are good due to:
- increasing demand for psychologists in New Zealand and globally, partly due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
- the limited number of people who are accepted into, or graduate from, psychology courses each year.
Clinical psychologist appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled clinical psychologists from overseas to work in New Zealand.
According to the Census, 2,663 psychologists worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Types of employers varied
Psychologists can work for a range of employers, including:
- district health boards
- government departments such as Department of Corrections, Ministry of Education, Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children, ACC and the New Zealand Defence Force
- iwi organisations
- private sector organisations
- addiction, trauma and abuse centres
- universities and polytechnics, as lecturers, advisers and counsellors.
Psychologists can also be self-employed in private psychology consultancies.
- Apex and District Health Boards, 'Psychologists' Multi-Employer Collective Agreement, March 2019 to March 2021', accessed February 2021, (www.apex.org.nz).
- Department of Corrections careers website, accessed February 2021, (www.corrections.govt.nz/careers).
- Greig, C, executive director, NZ College of Clinical Psychologists, careers.govt.nz interview, February 2021.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Long-term Skill Shortage List', 27 May 2019, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Health, 'Bursaries Grow Our Māori Mental Health Workforce' (media release), 12 February 2021.
- New Zealand Psychological Society website, accessed February 2021, (www.psychology.org.nz).
- New Zealand Psychologists Board website, accessed February 2021, (www.psychologistsboard.org.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2021.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Psychologists can move into research, teaching, policy development, clinical, advisory, or managerial roles.
Psychologists can specialise in a number of roles, including:
- Clinical Psychologist
- Clinical psychologists assess and treat people's behavioural and mental health problems.
- Community Psychologist
- Community psychologists assess and improve the ways people and their communities affect each other.
- Educational and Developmental Psychologist
- Educational and developmental psychologists work with students, parents, educators and mental health services to develop supportive environments for students with learning difficulties.
- Forensic Psychologist
- Forensic psychologists provide assessment, intervention, research and opinions in legal and criminal court proceedings. They also assess and treat prisoners.
- Health Psychologist
- Health psychologists assist people to manage diseases they suffer from and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Organisational Psychologist
- Organisational psychologists help organisations to achieve their goals through areas such as staff recruitment and development, safety and wellbeing, conflict resolution and workforce planning.
- Psychologist and Board-Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA)
- Psychologist and board-certified behaviour analysts work to reduce challenging behaviours, or to increase skills to improve a person’s quality of life.
- Sports Psychologist
- Sports psychologists work with sportspeople to help them succeed in their sport.
Last updated 28 June 2021