Psychologists investigate, assess and work with people who have problems affecting their behaviour, thoughts and emotions, and help them to develop their potential. Organisational psychologists focus on recommending ways to improve workplaces.
Trainee psychologists at district health boards usually earn
$51K-$56K per year
Senior psychologists with staff responsibilities usually earn
$94K-$116K per year
Source: Apex 2016-2019, New Zealand Psychological Society, 2016.
Psychologists' pay depends on their specialisation, experience and employer.
Psychologists in district health boards
- Interns working for a district health board (DHB) usually earn between $51,000 and $56,000 a year.
- Qualified psychologists working for a DHB usually earn between $65,000 and $91,000.
- Senior psychologists working for DHBs, who may also supervise staff, can earn $94,000 to $116,000.
Psychologists in private practice
Psychologists working in private practice earn from $60 to $160 an hour.
Source: Apex, 'Psychologists Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA) 1 June 2016 - 28 February 2019'; and New Zealand Psychological Society, 2016.
(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
- run psychometric and neuropsychological tests (which measure people's mental abilities and style, and how their brains function)
- develop treatments and interventions (other actions designed to bring about change) with individuals to help them develop themselves
- help clients understand themselves, their needs, motivations and resources
- evaluate interventions and write reports on clients, including risk, educational and mental health assessments.
Psychologists who work with groups and for organisations may do some or all of the following:
- assist with or run group therapy, workshops and courses on social skills, anger management or assertiveness
- take part in dispute resolution, and provide counselling and advice to people or organisations
- provide expert opinion to courts
- undergo their own therapy and supervise colleagues.
Skills and knowledge
Psychologists need to have knowledge of:
- human behaviour and thought patterns
- psychological assessment and intervention
- 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 services, schools and universities, prisons, residential and community organisations, and homes
- may work in emotionally draining and stressful circumstances
- may travel locally to visit clients, or nationally to attend workshops or conferences.
What's the job really like?
Psychologist and Behaviour Analyst
What attracted you to the job of psychologist and behaviour analyst?
"I enjoyed working with people and I saw behaviour analysis as an effective way of making a difference in the lives of people who have difficulty with regular learning, or complex problem behaviours.
"It was also a role that allowed me to work with people or move into academia, and the qualifications I have allow me to work overseas."
What do you enjoy?
"I love the variety. I get to teach people how to communicate more effectively, how to be more independent, and how to manage their challenging behaviour – helping them achieve success.
"Whether it's getting into the pool, attending an activity centre, taking medication without challenging behaviour, learning to tell jokes, or walking away when angry – those changes can make such a big difference in a person’s life, and the lives of those that support them.
"I also enjoy working with staff and families, teaching them to support those they work or live with."
The hardest part?
"A qualification in applied behaviour analysis is relatively new in New Zealand, so we are continually educating people about the value of the services we can provide, and the change that can occur as a result."
Hayley discovers what it's like working as an educational psychologist - 8.05 mins. (Video courtesy of Just the Job)
Clinton: So we’re giving Hayley a taste of the work involved in being an educational psychologist. Educational psychologists are predominantly concerned with how students learn and develop and often focus on subgroups such as children and young people with learning or behaviour difficulties. Hayley's going to spend a couple of days in the company of Sarah McGregor who is a psychologist who works for the Ministry of Education.
Sarah: Hi Hayley, I’m Sarah. Come on in, and I’ll show you around.
A psychologist doesn’t fix an individual. What we do in the case of our work with children is we go in and have a look at the environment around that child and what can we do to manage and support that environment so the child finds it easier.
Sarah: What’s your interest in children?
Hayley: I love to work with kids. They’re a lot of fun to be around. I'm currently a Kea leader, which is like five and six year olds and that. I do that every week, and they're just so much fun to be with, kind of keep you on your toes a bit, so yeah.
Sarah: Oh cool. Well maybe you’ll learn some tips on how to work with them today.
Clinton: Jake is an 11-year-old boy whose behaviour at school has been giving cause for concern for some time. His case has been referred to Sarah and today Sarah and Hayley will go and see Jake’s mum to find out more about him
Sarah: Part of what we do in our job to get a better understanding of the child is go and speak to the family and if the family invite us, go into the home environment. I find that really beneficial.
[Sarah, Hayley, Jake, and Jake's mum Brenda, say hello to each other at the front door.]
Sarah: Thanks for taking the time to meet us today.
Sarah: Speaking with the parent, you get an idea of what their concerns are, what they believe could be impacting on their child’s behaviour, but also things that you don’t necessarily see like the supports around that child, what sort of resources are at home – whether there’s a regular bedtime routine, what sort of foods they may be eating, different types of parental discipline, and those all sort of play a part in having a look at what’s impacting on that child.
Sarah: So Hayley, from that meeting today you can see the importance of meeting the families and hearing their perspective of what’s happened. The importance of going to the home like that is also so we can start to build up a relationship with the family.
Clinton: The next day Sarah and Hayley make a visit to Jake’s school to observe him at work, and play.
Sarah: What we’re going to do is note the target behaviour, so what we want to do is see him on task, so if the teacher sets a writing task we want to see him writing, and we are going to select him – he’s the target student – and we’ve got another comparison student, which is probably going to be the child next to him.
Jake: Oops. Sorry, I forgot.
Sarah: The difference between working with a child and an adult is they’re a lot more open to different experiences. An adult you think about is a lot more set in their ways.
Teacher: Sit down Jake!
Sarah: So how did you feel about Jake’s behaviour in the class?
Hayley: I noticed he was on-task, then he’d go off-task quite a bit, and then the teacher would come in and he'd get on-task again.
Sarah: It’s not always obvious what is the trigger behind what is happening with that child’s behaviour or learning that we’re seeing. So I sort of liken the tools we use as to using your keyboard and your mouse, to get into a computer. To get into how the child is feeling or thinking, we’re using a range of different assessments.
Clinton: Sarah has now gathered enough background material on Jake to call an IEP meeting. At this meeting, Sarah will share her assessment information and facilitate the development of a Behaviour Plan.
Sarah: An IEP is an individual education plan meeting, and the people that attend that are those that are having an immediate sphere of influence on that child and their educational setting. We had the resource teacher of learning behaviour, we had Jake’s teacher, the headmistress, who is also the special needs co-ordinator, we had the parent there. It’s really important for the parent to be there. The purpose of the IEP meeting is for us to share our knowledge of what we’re learnt.
Teacher: He’s often out of his seat, calling out.
Parent: He really struggles to follow anything through.
RTLB Teacher: I found his reading and maths are good.
Sarah: And from there, pool that knowledge, pull out a few key things to work on, and what are our next steps for Jake. What do we need to do to ease the pressure in that classroom environment to make school more of a success for him.
Clinton: Having found out more about his background it’s time to meet up with Jake himself.
Sarah: What do you think is happening with some of the things in class for you that might be a bit difficult?
Jake: Calling out.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s one of the things I noticed. And also another thing I noticed was that you get out of your seat a lot. Does it have needles or pins on the bottom of it?
Clinton: Now Sarah has quite a lot of information on Jake she feels she needs to talk through the case with her supervisor, who is always there to help.
Sarah: Just to confirm we’re not leaping in too soon.
Natasha: Sometimes students come in with really severe and challenging behaviour – or really difficulties with learning, and over a period of time you are putting in an intervention and you are influencing the thinking of educators, of parents of the child, so you do have the capacity to influence change and it’s really rewarding at the end of it to see that, 'Gosh, you know. Change has been made and look at this young person. This person is now achieving, hasn’t been excluded from school'. You are able to make a difference.
Natasha: What I would do is, I would continue with the monitoring and do a few more observations.
Sarah: Being a psychologist is a career you can take anywhere. We’re valued overseas very highly. There’s other organisations and government departments that also value the skills that we bring too, so there’s a lot of scope for practice. There’s a lot you can learn and so many different avenues you can go down to specialise in.
School principal: The ministry psychologists that I work with seem to really enjoy the job and the challenge of actually working with teams of people and getting positive outcomes for students.
Teacher: You would see progress. You’d really see that you’re making a difference.
Sarah: Hayley was great over the last couple of days. She’s enthusiastic, outgoing, and built up a great relationship with Jake. Those are all traits that would stand her in good stead as a psychologist.
Hayley: I’ve discovered that there is a lot more to being an educational psychologist than what I thought. It’s a very varied role and there’s lots of rewards and I definitely think it’s a career for me.
Clinton: To become an educational psychologist you will need a Bachelor's degree in psychology, education or teaching followed by a recognised postgraduate qualification in educational psychology. A one-year post-Masters university qualification in educational psychology – with supervised internship work in a field as approved by the New Zealand Psychologists Board is also necessary. Useful subjects to study at school include English and maths with statistics. Previous experience in teaching, social work, behaviour support or vocational guidance counselling is helpful. Jake’s situation in this programme was staged and Jake and his family were played by actors.
To become a psychologist you need:
- a Masters 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 and science.
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:
- postgraduate qualifications 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.
Criminal Justice Psychologist
Criminal justice 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:
- the Department of Corrections' supervision to registration programme, which involves 18 months of supervised practice
- a postgraduate diploma or Doctorate in clinical psychology.
To become an educational 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.
Psychologists need to be:
- good at observing and relating to a wide variety of people
- respectful of people from different cultures
- able to analyse and evaluate human behaviour
- concerned for the well-being of others
- patient and adaptable
- able to keep information private
- self-aware and non-judgemental but able to influence others
- able to work well under pressure, make decisions and cope with stress
- able to balance professional ethics with commercial realities.
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 or Youthline.
Other useful background includes employment in:
- social work or probation
- teaching or research in related fields
- talent management or recruitment companies.
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
- 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
- Institute of Organisational Psychology
Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
Shortage of psychologists
Demand for psychologists is strong because:
- the number of psychologist trainees is limited and it takes a long time to train – most universities only take in about 10 postgraduate psychology students a year
- the number and range of jobs available in health care and criminal justice services has increased significantly
- the number of referrals to psychologists is rising
- employers in some rural locations are having difficulty recruiting
- global demand for clinical psychologists is high.
Clinical psychologist appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled psychologists from overseas to work in New Zealand.
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, Child, Youth and Family, ACC and Defence Force
- iwi organisations
- non-governmental organisations
- addiction, trauma and abuse centres
- universities and polytechnics.
Psychologists can also be self-employed in private psychology consultancies.
- Gibson, K, president, New Zealand Psychological Society, Careers New Zealand interview, February 2016.
- Greig, C, executive director, NZ College of Clinical Psychologists, Careers New Zealand interview, January 2016.
- Hyde, P, executive director, New Zealand Psychological Society, Careers New Zealand interview, February 2016.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Long Term Skill Shortage List', 19 February 2018, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Leadley, S, professional teaching fellow, University of Auckland, Careers New Zealand interview, December 2015.
- New Zealand Psychologists Board, 'Annual Report to the Minister of Health for the Year 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015', 2015, (www.psychologistsboard.org.nz).
- Osborne, S, chief executive and registrar, New Zealand Psychologists Board, Careers New Zealand interview, January 2016.
- Tonkin, K, committee member, Institute of Organisational Psychology, Careers New Zealand interview, March 2017.
(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 work, advisory, and management roles.
Psychologists usually specialise as a:
- 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.
- Criminal Justice Psychologist
- Criminal justice psychologists work with offenders to help them make life changes, and reduce the risk of reoffending.
- Educational Psychologist
- Educational psychologists work with students, parents, educators and mental health services to develop supportive environments for students with learning difficulties
- Health Psychologist
- Health psychologists assist people to manage diseases they suffer from and to 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 in order to improve a person’s quality of life.
- Sports Psychologist
- Sports psychologists work with sportspeople to help them succeed in their sport.
Last updated 1 July 2019