Professional Practice

Professional Practice in the MPsychol (Forensic) program involves two components:

  1. Skills training workshops and professional seminars conducted internally at the University through the Professional and Ethical Practice (PEP) classes; and
  2. Internal (Forensic Practice Clinic) or external supervised placements.

The first component of professional practice is completed through four separate one-session courses, Professional and Ethical Practice 1 through 4, which focus on the practical training of forensic skills and developing a thorough understanding of ethical principles and practices within professional settings. Skills training includes interviewing skills; assessment skills, report writing, cognitive therapy; group processes; and providing expert testimony. There is a strong focus on the code of professional conduct and ethical issues that arise in the context of working with individuals, groups, vulnerable populations, organisations, other professionals, and the public at large.

For the second component, students are required to satisfactorily complete 1,000 hours of placement. These placements will be spread between the Forensic Practice Clinic that is run jointly through the Forensic program and the CSNSW (Correctional Services of NSW), and external placement sites. Throughout the first year of a full time program, students are involved in a research and policy placement, either within the Clinic, or within a government or NGO research facility, as well as learning their basic clinical and forensic skills through placement in the Clinic. Students should gain approximately 500 hours of their placement requirements over the first year. Generally, the second year of a full time program consists of some participation within the Forensic Practice Clinic and one to two external placements, where the latter approximately 500 hours of supervised placement are gained. While the sessions and breaks of the University year apply only to the lecture timetable; placements continue throughout the year.

It is important to note that students wishing to complete their placements during summer or winter term breaks need to make those intentions known as soon as possible to the Placement Coordinator as these periods are often difficult to organize due to placement availability.

The evaluation of your performance in each setting, completed by the supervising Psychologist, will contribute to your relevant PEP grade and to your final grade in the Professional Practice component of the MPsychol (Forensic) degree program.

Students may not claim any hours of previous employment or experience towards the 1,000 hours. Students who wish to do a placement within their worksite must meet strict criteria including having a separate Supervisor, doing work within the placement that is essentially different than their employment and that the placement does not exceed 30% of the total number of required hours.

Conditions to Be Met before a Placement Can Occur

Students must have applied for their provisional registration with the Psychology Board of Australia (PBA) prior to commencing the program. This also applies to part-time and combined students even though the student might not be participating in placements or PEP classes in their first year. A student can only undertake a placement if the following conditions have been met:

  • The student has applied for their provisional registration through AHRPA (Australian Health Regulation Agency) and the PBA (Psychologist Board of Australia). Note that overseas applicants may need their academic qualifications approved by the Australian Psychological Society; this process is done at the discretion of the PBA, and may delay provisional registration.
  • The student is currently enrolled in at least one course on the program
  • The placement was arranged in consultation with the Placement Coordinator
  • The placement will be supervised by an appropriately qualified supervisor
  • The Placement Coordinator has received and approved a copy of the Basic Contract signed by the student and the supervisor
  • The Placement Coordinator has issued the placement supervisor with a letter relating to insurance indemnity.
  • The placement may not begin prior to the Indemnity letter being received by the supervisor. In some cases, the student may provide the Placement Coordinator with the start, mid, end dates of the placement as well as the contact details of the supervisor so that they may gain an indemnity letter prior to commencement of the placement if the Basic Contract is to be completed on the first day of placement. However, the Basic Contract must be sent to and received by the Placement Coordinator within 48 hours of the placement commencing.
  • The student may not count any hours toward a placement until the Placement Coordinator has received both the Basic Contract and the Placement Supervisor received the Indemnity Letter.

The Relationship between Placements and Professional and Ethical Practice (PEP) Courses

PEP courses and placement hours are linked:

PEP1 (PSYC7409)

  • Students must satisfactorily complete all requirements for the course, and have made satisfactory progress in their placements at the Forensic Practice Clinic and their research placement.

PEP2 (PSYC7410)

  • Students must satisfactorily complete all requirements for the course, any Clinic requirements, have completed their  research  placement     and  provided  any  and  all  relevant  documentation  to  the Placement Coordinator.

PEP3 (PSYC7411)

  • Students must satisfactorily complete all requirements for the course, any Clinic requirements and have commenced and made satisfactory progress in an external placement before they can satisfactorily complete PEP3.

PEP4 (PSYC7412)

  • Students must satisfactorily complete all requirements for the course, any Clinic requirements and provided all final documentation for their final placement and,
  • All placements must total to at least 1000 hours of satisfactory performance before they can complete PEP4

Part time students should liaise with the Placement Coordinator to ensure that their placements are managed appropriately. It is highly preferential that part time students attend PEP1 and 2 (and subsequently PEP3 and 4) over consecutive terms (for example, enrolling in PEP1 and 2 over the first year of study, then PEP3 and 4 in year three of study instead of taking PEP1 in year 1 and PEP2 in term 2 of year 2, etc.).

If a student has not completed their final placement by the start of the session following the session in which they originally enrolled in PEP4, they will be required to re-enrol for PEP4 and will have to pay the appropriate charge to do so.

It is important to note that some students, especially those doing a placement for New Zealand Corrections, will do their placements in the summer (i.e., over November, December and January).  Currently, students are allowed to extend their placements through the summer term (usually until the end of January), however, students in the future may need to register for a summer term to finish their placement (or register for PEP4 during the summer term).  Students who have not finished placement by the Term 2 marking meeting (usually held in early November), may not be able to attend graduation ceremonies with other students from their cohort.

Performance on PEP courses is graded Fail/Pass/Credit/ Distinction/ Higher Distinction.

Placement Requirements

Qualifications of Supervisors

All students on placement should be supervised by a psychologist acceptable to the Head of School, who is (a) a member of the APS College of Forensic Psychologists, and/or (b) registered as a psychologist by the PBA or other regulatory body. In 2013, this standard will be changed so that each supervisor must have completed training in supervision that has been accredited by the Psychology Board of Australia. Other psychologists may be involved in supplementing this supervision in limited areas at the discretion of the main supervisor. In some circumstances an accredited professional may also act as an external Supervisor in conjunction with the Placement Coordinator or other qualified psychologist at the School of Psychology, UNSW.

Broad Aims of Placements

The primary aim of forensic placements is to ensure that a student gain experience in the full range of work undertaken in the forensic psychology profession. This should include exposure to a variety of psychological models, applied to a range of clinical and forensic problems, with a variety of clients, and in a variety of settings. There is a need for experience in working in multidisciplinary settings and for familiarization with the work of professionals in other disciplines. Placement in various agencies in the field aim to ensure that you are properly prepared for roles you will fulfil and the services you will provide as Forensic Psychologists in the community.

Activities/Duties Undertaken While on Placement

While the actual range of experience and the duties undertaken on placement are always subject to negotiation between the student and the external placement sites, the following general expectations apply:

  • Whilst students are enrolled in PEP1 and 2, they will be required to complete approximately 200-250 hours of their placement through the Forensic Practice Clinic.  Through a progression of observation and increasing responsibility within intervention and assessment tasks (see one, do one, teach one philosophy), students  will  be  required  to  participate  in  the  operation  of  the  Clinic,  and  regularly  scheduled  case meetings and supervision meetings.  In PEP3 and 4, students will continue to be involved in the running of the Clinic and working with the students in PEP1 and 2.
  • Prior  to  negotiation  of  an  external  placement,  the  student  should  participate  in  an  interview  by  the prospective supervisor in order to determine the suitability of the student and the appropriateness of the placement. The interview should include; i) a detailed discussion of what experience is to be provided in the placement; ii) a detailed discussion of the needs, interests, and previous experience of the student; and, iii) timeframes for the placement (i.e., dates of attendance, start and end date of the placement).
  • The specific aims/goals of the student should be established prior to the placement, and tasks/activities undertaken in order to realise these goals formalised in a written contract (the Basic Contract), which is acceptable to all parties.  Students are provided with a Skills Checklist to aid them in negotiating the goals within the Basic Contract.
  • The student should undergo an induction period, when they will be more fully acquainted with the duties, roles, and case work of the supervising Psychologist, be introduced to other agency or unit staff members, and be familiarised with the functions of the unit or agency as a whole.   While it is not expected that administrative duties are part of a placement, a student should gain a general understanding of how the organization formally functions.
  • The student should, as soon as competence and circumstances permit, make a positive contribution to the work of the unit or agency. While on placement, the student should function as if they were a part-time member of staff, not merely an observer.  When on a research placement, the student should be provided opportunities to fulfil the goals as set out within the Basic Contract and where possible, observe clinical work in progress.  In assessment/treatment placements, the student should have the opportunity to work as a therapist or assessor on some individual cases or treatment programs. They should be able to carry out the range of clinical activities consistent with their level of competence, as negotiated with their Supervisor. The Supervisor will arrange clinical activities for students in accordance with the agency or unit's procedures.   The student should have the opportunity to provide intervention for at least one client or project (e.g., a group program).
  • Any work done by the student as therapist should be formally supervised by the Psychologist via pre and post-session discussion, unobtrusive observation (e.g., through one-way mirror), or audio or videotaping of sessions, though no less than 60% of supervision must be completed face to face.  Supervision of all placements must involve one hour of direct contact for each full day of placement (7.5 hrs). Direct contact supervision may include telephone, video conference or other electronic forms of real-time interaction, as long as the total percentage of supervision conducted by such electronic means across all casework units is never greater than 40% for any given student. Where supervision comprises a mix of individual and small group formats, no less than 50% can be individual supervision. In addition, Supervisors are encouraged to make themselves available for informal discussion of matters that arise between formal supervision
  • Within the limits of their knowledge and competence, the student should add to their experience as wide a range of activities as is possible within the agency.
  • In addition to case work, the student should participate in all of the ancillary activities such as case conferences, report-writing, conferring with referring agents, etc., that are undertaken by other Psychologists in the  agency.  If  the  student's  undertaking  of  or  participation  in  such  activities  is inappropriate or undesirable from the agency's point of view, then the opportunity should be provided to observe such activities.

Code of Ethics

Whilst  on  placement,  students  are  expected  to  abide  by  the  rules  of  work  of  each  placement  site,  the regulations, Code of Ethics and Ethical Guidelines of the PBA and the Australian Psychological Society.

Support Mechanisms

For students, the initial contact for support regarding placement matters is the Placement Coordinator. Students may also access the general School and University support or grievance mechanisms.

Clinical and Legal Responsibilities of Supervisors

All direct supervision of the student's clinical, professional and administrative work while on placement is the responsibility of the Supervisor. In the case of placements when sites require an external supervisor, the Placement Coordinator might also be the Supervisor.  If the Placement Coordinator acts as secondary supervisor, the student must provide weekly updates to the Placement Coordinator and attend regular meetings. The Placement Coordinator or other University Supervisor functions to administer the placement and its written requirements, to provide general support to the student, and to be available to discuss issues with the Supervisor if the need arises.

The University has appropriate insurance cover whereby the Supervisor, the student, and the University are indemnified in the event that a student, during the course of the placement, becomes legally liable for injury caused by any negligent act to any person or damage to property directly related to the placement. Supervisors will receive a letter from the University which confirms the legal indemnity, each time a new student begins placement with them. This also covers Professional Liability Insurance that covers the student for the duration of the placement. Any activities that the student participates in outside the placement (for example, if the student wishes to continue to volunteer at a particular site or has paid work outside the UNSW placement), then the student must maintain their own Professional Liability Insurance as per regulations set out by the PBA.

Supervisors are requested to ensure that the Placement Coordinator is provided with a current CV.  

Any active Supervisor is ‘registered’ within the university as a ‘Adjunct Academic’ and is provided UNSW library access.

Supervisors will be invited to the annual Research Conference that usually occurs in October.  A meeting of supervisors will be held at that time to discuss upcoming or ongoing issues related to supervision of students.

The Organisation and Administration of Placements

All students and supervisors involved should understand the procedure of arrangement and allocation to placements, and how to influence decisions about placements. The following sections explain the procedures and provide guidelines both for those completing, and those offering, placements in the Master of Psychology (Forensic) program.

All students enrolled in PEP1 are required to meet with the Placement Coordinator in the first few weeks of session One to discuss their preferences and to start to plan their research placement. The student is required to maintain regular contact with the Placement Coordinator throughout the time they are registered on the program, and can only undertake external placements which have been approved by the Placement Coordinator.

While certain specialist areas are popular, students are encouraged to aim to broaden their experience when putting forward external placement preferences. Diverse placement sites are available in research, and practice settings and students should take advantage of the opportunity to explore new areas of potential interest.

During the academic year, existing external Supervisors are asked to indicate their availability for placement throughout the year. In allocating placements, the student's preferences, prior experience, and current needs are all taken into account. Particular requests are considered, along with travel difficulties, and the need for students to have varied experience.

While a student’s initial preferences are the starting point for planning a placement program, there are a number of other factors affecting final placement allocations. There are constraints on the number of placements available, and often all students need to be accommodated simultaneously. We seek to avoid overlaps (i.e., if several students are eligible for the same placement) and attempt to take all the available information into account. In addition, there is flexibility for altering a student’s placement allocation should their preferences and expectations change in light of the experience gained in various settings.  It is imperative that students recognize that completing placements in the summer or winter term breaks can be difficult; planning for this is essential.

In Profile

Student Guide

Student Guide

The School of Psychology Student Guide for undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students is available now. The Guide contains important information on University and School policies and should be read by all Psychology students.

Read now…