Specialist Award in Psychology

Professional development course for anyone working with people. An opportunity to develop specialised knowledge and applied learning in an aspect of psychology you are less familiar with.

Course CodeVPS001
Fee CodePA
Duration (approx)500 hours
QualificationSpecialist Award

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What is Psychology?

Despite their interest in the subject, students of psychology often find it difficult to answer this basic question in a clear, concise and specific manner. Some might say that psychology is a study of "human behaviour"; some might say it is a study of the "mind or brain"; others might say that it is a study of personality and “what motivates people to do what they do".

All are partly correct, but each of these answers is emphasising a different aspect of psychology.

Firstly, psychology is a science.

Every science has an "object of analysis"; for example, a nuclear scientist studies the structure and dynamics of nuclear energy; or a chemical scientist studies the structure, behaviour and interaction of chemicals.

In the discipline of psychology, scientists often disagree upon what the object of their study is.

A broad definition of psychology however would be "the study of human behaviour".

Course Content

This is awarded on completion of:

  1. Introduction to Psychology plus any two of our other psychology courses (must include passes in the examination for each course).
  2. A workplace project or work experience (approved by a tutor and equal to 200 hours duration)


This is the final requirement that you must satisfy before receiving your award.

Here are two options available to you to satisfy this requirement:

Alternative 1.

If you work in the industry that you have been studying; you may submit a reference from your employer, in an effort to satisfy this industry (i.e. workplace project) requirement; on the basis of RPL (i.e. recognition for prior learning), achieved through your current and past work experience.

The reference must indicate that you have skills and an awareness of your industry, which is sufficient for you to work in a position of responsibility.

Alternative 2.

If you do not work in the relevant industry, you need to undertake a project as follows.

Procedure for a Workplace Project

This project is a major part of the course involving the number of hours relevant to the course (see above). Although the course does not contain mandatory work requirements, work experience is seen as highly desirable.

This project is based on applications in the work place and specifically aims to provide the student with the opportunity to apply and integrate skills and knowledge developed through various areas of formal study.

Students will design this project in consultation with a tutor to involve industry based activities in the area of specialized study which they select to follow in the course. The project outcomes may take the form of a written report, folio, visuals or a mixture of forms. Participants with relevant, current or past work experience will be given exemption from this project if they can provide suitable references from employers that show they have already fulfilled the requirements of this project.

For courses that involve more than 100 hours, more than one workplace project topic may be selected. For example, 200 hours may be split into two projects each of 100 hours. This will offer the student better scope to fulfill the needs of their course and to meet the number of hours required. Alternatively, the student may wish to do one large project with a duration of 200 hours.

Students will be assessed on how well they achieve the goals and outcomes they originally set as part of their negotiations with their tutor. During each 100 hours of the project, the students will present three short progress reports. These progress reports will be taken into account when evaluating the final submission. The tutor must be satisfied that the work submitted is original.

If the student wishes to do one large 200 hour report, then only three progressive reports will be needed (however the length of each report will be longer).

Other Options

We offer a wide range of psychology courses, so why not have a look at some of these below -

Adolescent Psychology https://www.acs.edu.au/courses/Adolescent-Psychology-451.aspx

Child Psychology https://www.acs.edu.au/courses/Child-Psychology-291.aspx

Developmental Psychology https://www.acs.edu.au/courses/Developmental-Psychology-372.aspx

Educational Psychology https://www.acs.edu.au/courses/Educational-Psychology-308.aspx

Sports Psychology https://www.acs.edu.au/courses/Sports-Psychology-292.aspx

Certificate in Applied Developmental Psychology https://www.acs.edu.au/courses/Certificate-In-Applied-Developmental-Psychology-398.aspx

Or if you are not sure if psychology is for you, why not try our Introduction to Psychology - https://www.acs.edu.au/courses/product.aspx?id=359

If you would like to see our range of psychology books, please visit - http://www.acsbookshop.com/books_productcategory.aspx?id=14

For more information on the range of careers available in psychology, have a look at - http://www.thecareersguide.com/articles.aspx?category=14

We have some interesting articles on psychology and counseling at - https://www.acs.edu.au/psychol/

Who This Course Is Designed For?

This course is ideal for people who have industry experience and want to amalgamate that experience into a qualification. It is also suited to people who have access to a workplace but limited qualifications and who want to earn a qualification whilst working. Students can use this course of study to enhance their current skills and knowledge through personal development or use it to reinforce areas they are familiar with.  The focus here is on psychology and related skills.    

This course is most likely to appeal to people working in the following fields:

  • Psychology

  • Counselling

  • Caring roles

  • Alternative therapy

  • Aged care

  • Nursing

  • Health professions


As well as using non-verbal cues to make sense of others, we also draw on our knowledge and understanding of social cues and we make assumptions. All this information is then used to derive an impression of someone. So, if we want to see behind the mask, we need to understand what is influencing our perception of another person.


Asch (1946), in his implicit personality theory, found that if we observe a particular trait in a person, we are likely to use that information to infer the existence of other traits i.e. some traits cluster together. However, he also found that some traits were more important indicators, and therefore more central to our perception of others. For instance ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ were found to be very important.


This is an important means of classification which we do based on a superficial characteristic e.g. hair colour, gender etc. Unlike implicit personality theory which begins by using some information and expanding upon it, stereotyping involves classifying someone with little regard to their personality.


Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) investigated the self-fulfilling prophecy in an experiment whereby they gave a supposedly new form of IQ test to children at an American school and gathered information about the children’s success at school. Teachers were allowed to ‘accidentally overhear’ the researchers predictions about which children they anticipated would be late achievers and make considerable academic gains in the years to come. These children were selected randomly and included those with no previous school success.

A year later, those children the researchers had ‘privately’ identified had all shown dramatic improvements in their academic records and had higher IQ scores, regardless of the child’s age. This suggested that the teachers had changed their attitudes towards those children and so gave them more encouragement. The study has important implications for teachers who may not expect a child from a deprived background to do well and so tend to stereotype or label them. Similarly, if we treat a client who we think is going to be of a certain level of intelligence or hold particular views we may miss important things about them.


Kelly (1955) demonstrated that people tend to construct their own theories about others based upon their own experiences in the world. The constructs one person might use can be entirely different to those used by the next person. 


This implies that whatever was the more recent information we received about someone, this information is more likely to influence our opinion than information which was received earlier. For example, if you were on the jury at the trial of a homicide, the evidence of the defence is likely to hold more sway with you if it was delivered after that of the prosecution.


Somewhat similar to the primacy effect, the halo effect can be observed when we attribute greater value to an individual because we associate them with positive experiences or events, or because of positive past actions. We tend to play down their failings and perhaps view their actions as being superior to the equivalent actions of someone else.


This refers to a means by which we make generalisations from stored information about our knowledge and experiences. Schemas are a cognitive framework constructed from experiences which we use to guide and inform our behaviour. They can also result in self-fulfilling prophecies because since our expectations may guide us, they can simply re-affirm what we expected. So, for instance, if we consider a certain individual to be devious and untrustworthy, we will tend to notice elements of their behaviour which confirm this view and ignore other aspects which might contradict our schema about that individual.


These are a type of schema but they also include action strategies which can be applied when called upon. They are sometimes known as ‘event schemas.’ Scripts can also affect what we recall about an event to the extent that different scripts applied to the same event can determine what is remembered.

We have scripts for many different life events. For instance, when we go to a restaurant there is a specific order in which we expect things to happen i.e. entree, main course, dessert, and then coffee.

Other Schemas

Baron and Byrne (1984) also identified ‘role schemas’ where we apply our expectations to people in specific social roles (e.g. doctor, policeman), social groups, or categories. They also referred to ‘person schema’ to mean those ideas and predictions we hold about certain individuals based upon what we already know about them.

We may also have ‘self-schemas’ which are inferences based upon our own observations of ourselves. These may help us to understand what we would do in certain circumstances.


Unlike schemas which are concerned with an individual’s knowledge, attributions are concerned with the application of that knowledge. Heider (1958) outlined five levels of responsibility which relate to how much an individual intended an outcome to actually happen. Building on this theory, Jones and Davis (1965) produced their ‘correspondent inference theory’ which uses three of Heider’s basic concepts.

Firstly, in making sense of our world we seek stable rather than unstable causes. Secondly, we distinguish between intentional and unintentional behaviour in order to decide if someone can be responsible for their actions. Thirdly, we discern between ‘dispositional attributions’ (an individual is responsible due to their actions, abilities etc) and ‘situational attributions’ (where we judge the situation or external forces to have made the person act the way they did).

According to Jones and Davis, we tend to favour dispositional attributions over situational ones. That is, we assume the individual has acted deliberately and not accidentally unless we know otherwise. Having confirmed intentionality we then look for a characteristic or trait which might produce the intentionality – which is the ‘correspondent inference.’

Fundamental Attribution Error

This refers to our tendency to see our own actions as evolving from situational factors but the actions of others as coming from dispositional cues. Many research experiments have replicated this finding, but it is also observed in real-life situations. For example, Gilbert and Mulkay (1984) interviewed scientists and found that they were more likely to explain their own research in terms of situational factors (physical evidence) and that of others by dispositional factors (e.g. personality).

Some evidence e.g. Guimond, Begin and Palmer (1989; 1990) has shown that the way we make attributions may be influenced by social factors. For instance they found that unemployed people are more likely to make dispositional attributions about poverty whereas students were more likely to make situational attributions.    

Self-Serving Bias

The self-serving bias refers to how we tend to make attributions about ourselves which put us in a favourable light. This is most noticeable when we offer explanations about why we may have succeeded or failed at something. Miller and Ross (1975) found that we view failures as due to situational factors and successes as due to dispositional ones.

The self-serving bias would seem to happen because we like to present a favourable image of ourselves to others. By explaining success in terms of our abilities we look good to others, and by contrast, if we explain our failures as being due to external factors then we avoid looking stupid.

McFarland and Ross (1982) proffered that the self-serving bias was a means of protecting one’s self-esteem. They found that research participants who attributed failure on difficult tasks to lack of ability also tended to score low on self-esteem. However, this does not demonstrate that we change attributions to preserve self-esteem, but only that there appears to be a correlation between self-esteem and attributions.

Locus of Control

Rotter (1966) suggested that there were definite attribution styles and he classified people as ‘internal’ or ‘external’ according to the types of attributions they ordinarily make. This led to his ‘locus of control’ which basically is a measure of where a person views control to come from – internal (from within) and external (from without). Internals tend to view things as being under their control, whereas externals believe they have little influence. More recently it is thought that internal attributions are not always able to be controlled and so ‘controllability’ has been extrapolated as a separate dimension, along with others such as causality. 

Kelley (1967; 1973) produced a covariance theory based upon whether individuals consider events to be under internal or external control. Accordingly, ‘consistency’ was used to determine how a person had acted previously; ‘consensus’ for how a person might act in a similar situation, and ‘distinctiveness’ to indicate whether the person only acts in a given way to a particular target. The pattern of covariance determines whether the individual will attribute an event to internal or external sources.  So, a behaviour which has low distinctiveness (it occurs towards other kinds of target), low consistency (does not always happen), and high consensus (many others act in the same way) would more likely be attributed to situational factors (external) – and one with high distinctiveness, high consistency, and low consensus to dispositional factors (internal).

Lalljee (1981) argued that you can’t overlook people’s pre-existing knowledge when dissecting their explanations – they don’t simply apply a formula. To this end, Lalljee proposed that in addition to the attribution process we must consider the social context (which he broke down into four areas of social knowledge).


Dissatisfied with the rationality inherent in information processing models of attribution, Kruglanski, Baldwin and Towson (1983) emphasised the motivational side of attributions. They argued that attributions have both rational and motivational influences. The rational aspect emerges because people need to logically deduce them; and the motivational aspect, because we need to structure them and derive conclusions and validity from them.

So, you see there are many reasons why we might not be able to see behind the mask. If we were to go further then we could start to consider the many social representation theories which explain behaviour in terms of how we are influenced broadly by society, and more narrowly by the social group we belong to and our social identity – but we’ll leave that for another time. 


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Lyn Quirk

M.Prof.Ed.; Adv.Dip.Compl.Med (Naturopathy); Adv.Dip.Sports Therapy Over 30 years as Health Club Manager, Fitness Professional, Teacher, Coach and Business manager in health, fitness and leisure industries. As business owner and former department head fo
Jacinda Cole

Psychologist, Educator, Author, Psychotherapist. B.Sc., Psych.Cert., M. Psych. Cert.Garden Design, MACA Jacinda has over 25 years of experience in psychology, in both Australia and England. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Psycholo
Tracey Jones

B.Sc. (Psych), M.Soc.Sc., Dip.Social Work, P.G.Dip Learning Disability, Cert Editing, Cert Creative Writing, PGCE. Member British Psychological Society, Member Assoc. for Coaching, Member British Learning Assoc. 25 years industry experience in writing,