READ THIS if you want to study Master of Clinical Psychology in Malaysia
My objective of writing this article is neither to provide you a survival guide nor to persuade you to get into the course. Instead, I see it as an opportunity to outline some tips and guides for those who are interested in the course as well as to clear off some of the initial misunderstandings.
THE ENTRY IS COMPETITIVE
The entry into Master of Clinical Psychology is quite competitive in many countries, and especially so in a Malaysian context. As far as I know, we only have four universities that offer postgraduates in Clinical Psychology: the National University of Malaysia / Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) [a government university], International Islamic University Malaysia [a government university], HELP University [a private university] and Cyberjaya University College of Medical Science [a private university]. *Cyberjaya University College of Medical Science just started to offer the course in 2017.* Every year, each university will only take about 15 students into the semester via their own selection criteria and methods which includes interviews.
Here are a few tips to get into the course:
(a) Possess good academic results and a strong foundation of Psychology knowledge
CGPA is still one of the most important criteria while selecting intakes; a Second Upper Class CGPA is the minimum requirement. Try your best to score better in your degree.
(b) Working experience in the field of mental health (eg: hospital, clinic, community centers, NGOs) or with special-need populations (e.g.: autistic children).
Having some working experience in this field before applying for the course can be beneficial because it provides a chance for you to experiment and to test yourself as to your level of passion when it comes to the nature of this job.
(c) Good command of Malay (especially in government university), English (official language of the course), Mandarin, Tamil…
Good command of Malay may also help you to cope better with the course in UKM because about 80% of the clients coming to UKM during internal practicum are Malay, and if you choose to have a career in the clinical field in Malaysia after you graduated, having a moderate to high level of command over Malay can be beneficial. Living in a multiracial country, clinical psychologists usually work with clients of different backgrounds. Hence, having a good command of more than one language (eg: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil) provides you learning opportunity to work with more than one group of clients and also more working opportunities in the near future. As far as I know, we need more psychologists who can communicate in Tamil in Malaysia to serve clients who can only communicate in that language.
*I personally struggled a lot in the course especially when it comes to contact with Malay clients during my internal practicum (In the beginning, I even had problem of explaining the informed consent in Malay). Thank to my Malay friends who have helped me along the way. 🙂
(d) Research Experiences / Curricular Activities / Personal Growth & Development
Grab opportunities to involve yourself in research projects or activities related to mental health so that you can gain exposure to the population and also the nature of the job as a clinical psychologist. Equip yourself with additional skills and knowledge through attending workshops and seminars
(e) Interview Skills
It is very important to know what to prepare during the interview because that is the only time / session you are allowed to communicate with the interviewer. It is better to connect with seniors, alumni or any individual who can provide you some tips in preparing for the interview. Be who you are and don’t attempt to impress the interviewer by denying any mistakes or shortcomings about yourself (beware of faking good tendencies as the interviewers are CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGISTS who have gone through the same process that you are now partaking in). Also, take note of tricky or misleading questions because they want to know whether you really know about the stuff you are talking about!
LIMITED NUMBER OF LECTURERS / SUPERVISORS
One question that bothers me for a while is the nature of the competitive entry into the course. Logically speaking, in order to develop the field of mental health in Malaysia, we should increase the number of clinical psychologists rather than limit the number of candidates entering into the course. I was told by one or two psychologists that it was partly due to the low number of PHD holders and clinical psychologists in the field who can teach and supervise master students in the course. To add to the challenge, master students of clinical psychology have to complete internal practicum and external practicum throughout the two-year course under the supervision of clinical psychologists.
Low number of lecturers or supervisors in the course is definitely a key challenge in the field which is closely associated with the issue of shortage of clinical psychologists. The streamline of producing sufficient number of clinical psychologists in a country requires a group of qualified lecturers and supervisors at the first phase. As far as I know, government universities have been planning to establish courses for clinical psychologists who wish to pursue their PHD in the future so that they can become educators and supervisors for the students in the course.
IT IS NEVER A PLAYGROUND
I have heard of many seniors telling us to think thoroughly before getting into the course because it is definitely a tough course to complete. As a newcomer to the course, I can assure you that there is a big difference between studying for a degree in psychology and undertaking a master of clinical psychology level study. You might need to sacrifice your sleeping time, entertainment (perhaps even your social life too) in order to cope well with the assignments and exams. The nature of the course requires extra readings and self-learning. If you don’t have a good foundation of knowledge in your degree studies, you may need to spend more time and effort to recall back (Trust me, you need to at least recall back the core concepts of different schools of thought). If you are so used to spoon-feeding, this may be the best opportunity for you to be more independent throughout the learning journey.
My advice is don’t compare your life in this two year with your working peers. It is not comparable because you are in a platform which is going to prepare you to deal with the needy population who suffers from mental health issues. It is definitely a tough journey ahead! Know why you get into the course because there must be a personal meaning behind it! (Hehe, was using existential approach). Also, for those who have worked for a while, give yourself some time for adjustment. (Sometimes, I missed my working life.)
IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT PSYCHOTHERAPY
Being a clinical psychologist is not only about conducting psychotherapy, but also conducting assessments for clients. In this course, we are going to learn tons of assessments such as IQ tests, personality assessments, autism rating scales and others according to different needs and main complaints of clients. The process of learning assessment tools is very important because it requires careful observation, behavioural assessment, essential interviewing skills and good clinical interpretations. For example, the kid has an IQ score of 70. What does the number mean? An IQ score of 70 itself is meaningless without good and careful clinical interpretation of the particular client’s strengths and weaknesses together with his conditions for treatment planning. It is also important to note that clinical assessments can go beyond clinical settings. For instance, in certain circumstances, clinical psychologist may need to conduct assessments in investigating the mental status of the client (who committed a crime) whether they are capable to stand for trial or they were mentally capable or aware of planning and committing the crime.
SAY HI TO RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
If you are Psych student like me who is not a big fan of research, it is in great sadness that I have to note that research methodology is inseparable from Psychology (they are bread and butter). The advancement of the field of Psychology that we have today primarily depends on the growth and efforts of the past research studies in the particular areas.
“Why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works better for Depression?” “Why Applied Behavioural Analysis works well for Autistic Children?” Psychologists don’t come out with these statements without concrete findings which have been critically tested and evaluated. The research process may seem tedious to certain individuals like me, especially when it comes to statistical analysis. But, let’s look at it this way, learning and conducting research in the field of psychology is a way of contributing back to the field such as examining the effectiveness of one treatment on one particular disorder. Never take the psychology textbooks or any educational material that we have today for granted, they are the combination of effort, dedication and commitment by our psychologists in the field.
In Malaysia, you still need to complete a thesis research before you complete your master studies. This is when the research and related knowledge came together. No matter how much you like it, you still have to go through it. Try your best to pass it so that you can graduate like a boss :p
YOU ARE NEVER A LONE RANGER
In this profession, we will never work alone because the field of mental health is not limited to the profession of clinical psychologist. Similarly, when we talk about the term “mental health”, it definitely covers more than one aspect including cognitive, behavioural and emotional components. As a part of the field, we will definitely work together as a team with psychiatrists, counselors, occupational therapists, speech therapists, diet/nutritionists and more. Hence, we may have patients referred from different professions in addressing the key issues of the clients and we may have to develop our treatment plan which complements the treatment of other professionals for that particular patient’s overall benefits.
I hope this helps in summarizing the key points for you to have an initial understanding of the nature of the course. If you are clear about your own passion and is willing to join this profession, welcome to the team and I wish you all the best in your future endeavor.
The views expressed in this article lie entirely with the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of MY Psychology. This article is open for suggestions for amendment if there is any discrepancy in the aforementioned information and will be updated from time to time.