Insight into Psychology in Malaysia and Singapore: MY Psychology + SG Psych Stuff (Part 1)

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Psychology is one of the rapid growing fields in South East Asia, including Malaysia and Singapore.  There has been a significant increase in Psychology students and mental health professionals in the related fields of psychology.  ASEAN Psychologists also started to work together to form ASEAN region of Psychology community, providing support for each other.  One of the most significant happenings is reflected by the biennial ASEAN Regional Union of Psychological Societies (ARUPS) Congress held in the respective countries, where different psychologists from different Asian countries come together for this great event.  With these collaborations happening in South East Asia, we hope that they can bring more and more insights or useful information for our readers to have a better understanding towards this fast developing field, especially for those who wish to pursue their studies or careers in Psychology.

Once again, MY Psychology collaborated with SG Psych Stuff for another opportunity for co-writing, to share with you some of our insights into the Psychology field, brought to you by Tim and JY, guest writers from MY Psych, and SG Psych Stud from SG Psych Stuff.

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Q1:  What are some common misconceptions by students about Psychology degrees in your country?

JY [MY Psych]:  
Studying Psychology doesn’t require mathematical knowledge, is all about reading body language and mind reading, alongside with knowing a lot on abnormal behaviours.  There is also those who are completely ignorant about research and thinks that Google, Wikipedia and sensationalist websites are good sources.

SG Psych Stud:  
There are students who would enter the programs with these common misconceptions:
  • Studying psychology is interesting.
  • Psychology is not a science, so students will study less of theories or mathematics related modules.
  • After studying psychology, students will be able to read or understand people’s mind (or behaviour).
  • Studying psychology will help you achieve self-understanding of your own personalities
  • You will be able to counsel people after a degree, or even become a counsellor or psychologist.
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 Q2:  Could you briefly describe the essence of the Psychology degree in your country?  What is the main focus of the course?

JY [MY Psych]:  
I cannot speak for every university.  In HELP University, there is a lot of emphasis on research methods after students have built a solid foundation on the introductory psychology knowledge.  Students are left to our own initiatives to develop their own interests even though it won’t be specified by the degree.  Research topics included experimental models, statistical tests, mixed method designs, etc.  With that being said, it seems like child psychology is a growing trendy of study in Malaysia, considering we have more lecturers interested in child and developmental psychology than other fields.

Tim [MY Psych]:  
Like JY has mentioned, the psychology course in HELP University puts a heavy emphasis on nurturing our knowledge and skills in research methods.  Starting even from the second semester of our freshman year, students are required to conduct literature reviews, propose a study, collect data and run simple statistical analyses.  Gradually, students learnt to conduct different types of studies as they receive training in differing kinds of research such as quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods designs.  The reason for conducting so many studies even before the final thesis is because the teaching staff hope that students are able to carry out research that can not only expand their understanding of human beings, but also improve people’s lives.

SG Psych Stud: 
This really depends on the universities and their respective programs.
Refer to the list of undergraduate degrees in Singapore including private programs:

For the private programs:  The Australian programs may tend to be more towards clinical psychology.  The UK programs may tend to be more general psychology.  The US programs tend to be more towards the liberal arts.  Do note that for the Australian and UK Honours programs, an Honours thesis may be required in the last year.

For the local programs:  The NUS, NTU, and UniSIM are more similar to the Australian programs, while SMU and Yale-NUS are more similar to the US programs.  Please refer to the reflection stories of the undergraduate students under 2) Life as an undergraduate student.

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Q3:  What are the knowledges and skills that a Psychology graduate can learn from a degree?  Some people might think that we can become a real counsellor after completing a degree.

JY [MY Psych]:  
I think critical thinking is the greatest asset we have.  Knowing how our behaviour and cognition works doesn’t change a person as much as most think, but this understanding of behaviour and cognition makes us consider carefully before making our minds and acting in a more scientific manner since we are aware on the cognitive processes involved.
For some of us, it even develops empathy and patience as we practice counselling skills and qualitative research, making us more aware of each other’s different perspectives.  For me, I think I get to reflect more about philosophical issues, e.g. world views, etc.

Tim [MY Psych]:  
The psychology course at HELP University puts emphasis on expanding our exposure to the different theories and trains of thoughts that surround a particular phenomenon.  Lecturers often like to introduce a host of different theories and have students discuss the distinctions between those theories and how the weaknesses of one are compensated by the other.  This encourages us to make critical and thoughtful comparisons between theories, as well as reminding us that it is often the case that no one theory can completely explain a phenomenon on its own.

To complement our theoretical knowledge, the lecturers often champion the importance of practicality, and the assignments they give us often have a practical element in them.  For example, for our Human Factors class, we are required to analyse and devise ways of improving the usability of a product or service, such as the interface of a website or gadget.  For classes such as our Social Psychology or Learning Disability class, the assignment entails the application of theories in creating interventions for minority populations or students with disabilities.  The interventions don’t just stay on paper though; the lecturers would often encourage implementing the intervention in real life, which students are usually quite enthusiastic about.  I think this underscores the fact that learning psychology doesn’t stop at understanding human thoughts and behaviours, it often embodies the philosophy of finding innovative ways of helping people lead better lives.

SG Psych Stud: 
I have just written about this in a recent postIn summary, there are two main things a student can gain from a psychology degree:
  1. Gaining a new perspective
  2. Gaining better communication skills
Gaining a new perspective:
Studying the different modules in a psychology program allows a person to develop more rational and critical thinking.  This changes in thinking allows him/her to take up different perspectives and hypotheses when discussing different topics and/or issues.  With this psychology training, one may tend to look at the world and life a bit differently.

Gaining better communication skills:
This skills are mostly developed in the counselling modules.  Benefits of these skills include better engagement with others, higher chances of convincing others, having better clarity in the communication, and developing stronger rapport and relationships with others.

At the undergraduate level, information that you learnt from the books and lectures may seem to be unrelated; however when you reach the postgraduate level, more in-depth knowledge and skills would be taught such that all these may intermingle to develop you into a better therapist.

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To be continued....Stay tuned for Part 2!!!!




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