The NUS psychology programme was first introduced during the 1986-87 academic year and is the oldest psychology programme in Singapore.

NUS offers a full undergraduate programme, including an honours course, as well as Masters and Ph.D. programmes. Since its inception, the psychology programme has attracted a strong response from students in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences. Psychology contributes to society by providing behavioural scientists who are equipped with the skills to use empirical research methods to seek an account of human behaviour and experience. It has been only a little over a hundred years that psychology has been a discipline in its own right.

In addition to being a scientific discipline, psychology has a professional and vocational role. For instance, psychologists are involved in the assessment of mental disability as well as mental illness and subsequently contribute to treatment, rehabilitation and training of individuals with these conditions. Psychologists are also involved in such diverse areas as counselling, occupational guidance, and the development of health education and other public campaigns. As such, the Department of Psychology has established and maintains links with the Singapore Psychological Society as well as with various institutions which provide psychological services such as the Ministries of Defence; Community Development, Youth and Sports; Education; and Health, and with government hospitals.

For more information on the history and evolution of the department, please take a look at the following article "Psychology in Singapore" by George Bishop, which appeared in the May 2008 issue of the APS Observer.

A Very Brief History of Psychology in NUS

The Department of Psychology in NUS started life in 1986, as a degree programme in the Department of Social Work. This was the first degree programme in psychology to be offered by any institution in Singapore, and had an initial intake of 70 students taught by at first one one and then two staff members. In 1988, the Department became a Department of Social Work and Psychology, and continued to host the separate degree programmes, each with their own student intake, while dedicated staff numbers had risen to six. In 1989, 52 general degree holders with psychology major graduated, and in 1990, a first batch of 12 psychology honours graduates followed.

In 2005 a fully distinct and autonomous Department of Psychology was formed. Today nearly 1,000 students take an introductory psychology module every year, and many of them go on to declare a psychology major, in a department with a complement of 44 full-time and 11 adjunct staff. All major areas of psychology are taught and researched. From the inception of the programme it was intended that the programme should be academically eclectic and produce graduates who are academically the equal in coverage and standards of any from overseas institutions.

As the programme developed, postgraduate research students joined the department, the first Masters student being enriolled in 1990 and the first PhD in 1993. Between 2002 and 2007 an applied (non-clinical) psychology Masters degree was offered, but in 2008 this was discontinued after graduating 26 students, and the Department launched a postgraduate Masters programme in Clinical Psychology (MClinPsy). To date 55 clinically qualified graduates have emerged.


A Chronology of Psychology in Singapore

This chronology includes the early development of public service psychology in Singapore.


Sir Stamford Raffles lays a foundation stone for an institution to provide education and instruction and also undertake research. His intention was to include natural philosophy in the syllabus. However, his institution did not materialise until 1905 when a medical college was founded. Had it succeeded earlier, psychology might have emerged earlier in Singapore in consequence of the proposed element of philosophy.


Foundation of the Straits Settlements & Federated Malay States Government Medical School.


A new mental hospital is established in Yio Chu Kang.


Singapore Psychological Association (SPA) is founded, with Mr Stuart as President & Dr Frankel as Vice-President.


The University of Malaya is established with Rt Hon Malcolm MacDonald as Chancellor and Dr G.V. Allen as Vice-Chancellor. The King Edward VII College of Medicine becomes the Faculty of Medicine and Raffles College becomes the Faculties of Arts and Science.


Psychology is taught as part of the curriculum for Social Work, which offers a new two-year Social Studies Diploma.


The University of Malaya founds the Department of Philosophy. Philosophy staff later include Frank Cioffi, a critic of Freudian psychoanalysis, and CC Leong, pioneer in the establishment of psychology in the armed forces.


Nanyang University is founded as the first Chinese language university in Singapore.


VW Wilson is appointed to build a Psychological service. Wong Man Kee serves as pupil psychologist at WBH.


Singapore gains full internal self-government. MK Wong gains his Dip Clin Psych and succeeds Wilson at WBH.


University of Singapore is formed from University of Malaya.


Singapore becomes a fully independent republic. The University of Singapore establishes a Department of Sociology, but decides not to establish a Psychology department or degree studies.


Educational Psychologist Yip Wing Kee heads the Singapore Armed Forces Education Dept after developing a Ministry of Education Guidance unit


The inception of National Service in Singapore. The Public Service Commission sets policy to expand the numbers of psychologists. Mr FY Long, clinical psychologist, is appointed to assist MK Wong at WBH.


CC Leong heads MINDEF Personnel Research & Education Dept


Ministry of Home Affairs appoints Loh YP as psychologist in Prisons, RTC and DRC, and appoints an Australian psychologist to the Ministry of Social Affairs.


Nanyang University proposes Psychology and Sociology programmes


CC Leong publishes Youth in the Army, with a favourable foreword by then Minister of Defence Dr Goh Keng Swee


Singapore Psychological Society founded, with FY Long as first President.


National University of Singapore (NUS) is formed by a merger of Nanyang University and the University of Singapore. The Nanyang psychology programme is abandoned, and its books transferred to the NUS library. Singapore Psychiatric Association founded, Dr Chee Kuan Tzee as first President.


MOE sets up an Educational Psychology Unit.


First Psychology degree course starts in the NUS Social Work Department with G Harrison (72 students). Head of Department is Mrs Ann Wee.


The Department of Social Work is renamed Social Work & Psychology. Dr S Vasoo, MP, becomes Head. Prof HJ Eysenck visits Singapore, meets then PM Lee Kuan Yew and discusses psychology manpower needs for Singapore.


First cohort of 52 BA psychology majors graduate in NUS


First Psychology Honours graduates (n = 11). Full-time graduate staff comprise Vera Bernard-Opitz, Anthony Chang, Chang Weining Chu, Chua Fook Kee, John Elliott, Loke Wing Hong, Susan J Rickard-Liow, Elizabeth Marx and Ramadhar Singh. First Masters candidate by research registered.


Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) hosts the UK Open University psychology honours degree, with J Elliott as initial academic adviser. SIM set up this and other degree programmes to facilitate education for adults in the working population. The degrees were later awarded locally by SIM and after 2012 by SIM University


Ngiam Tee Liang becomes Head of Social Work and Psychology


The Singapore Management University (SMU) moves to a new downtown campus, having been formed at the Cluny Road campus of the Former University of Singapore in 2000.


Chua Fook Kee becomes Head of Social Work and Psychology at NUS


Visiting Psychology Committee hears representations from staff, and suggests separation of Psychology from Social Work. NTU founds its School of Humanities and Social Sciences, which includes psychology.


Social Work and Psychology become separate departments. The nine full-time staff of the new Department of Psychology comprise George Bishop (Head), Chua Fook Kee, Winston Goh, Steve Graham, Nicholas Hon, Susan Rickard-Liow, Sim Tick Ngee, Ramadhar Singh and Vicky Tan.


The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) replaces WBH at nearby Buangkok Green.


Psychology major offered at SMU.


First enrollments in Master’s degree programmes in Clinical Psychology, one a joint degree with the University of Melbourne, the other a single degree from NUS.


Sim Tick Ngee becomes Head of Department at NUS.


NUS Concurrent Masters degree in psychology initiated, comprising a BSocSci and MSocSci over a five-year programme of study.


Full-time psychology staff now number 45 at the start of the year, with recruitment in progress.


Winston Goh becomes Head of Department at NUS.

What Do Psychologists Do?

John Elliott, Ph.D.

The word "psychologist" applies to two different kinds of people. Those who study psychology as a subject in a University Department, but also those who practice psychology and deliver some kind of service to individual or institutional clients. Usually people think of psychologists as practitioners who are associated with intelligence tests, treating mental disorders, and perhaps doing some counselling or behavior therapy. A few people seem to think that psychologists are mind readers of some sort, but they are not, though they do research and debunk psychic claims.

Psychologists are not the same as psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, using drugs and physical treatments, as well as psychological therapies, to treat mental disorders. Psychologists are also not psychoanalysts. Psychoanalysis is a type of treatment first invented by Freud. It seeks to uncover the unconscious roots of anxiety or other psychological disorders, by relaxing patients (often using a couch) and have them speak freely about their private concerns.

In order to qualify as a psychologist, you start with a general degree in psychology, but this is just foundation, and general education, and does not qualify you as a psychologist. To become a psychologist, you really need, at a minimum, an honours psychology degree, or its equivalent. After the honours degree, if you still wish to pursue psychology (many do not), you have a choice of three routes. If your interest is essentially academic, you need to take a higher degree "by research", that is, a Master's or Doctorate (Ph.D.) in which you conduct some original research and aspire to an academic career. You might then continue in a research career, either in the private sector, or the government, or in an institution of higher learning.

If, however, you want to become a practicing psychologist, or work using your psychology in some useful way, you can choose one of two other routes. You can either apply to work as a psychologist under supervision – a kind of "apprenticeship"; or, you can take a professional or applied degree intended to enable you to work as a psychologist, under supervision, and, eventually, independently.

If you have a professional qualification, you can practice as a psychologist in your area of specialisation. These are the main areas of specialisation:


Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologists assess, treat or advise individuals who seek help for problems that are severe enough to be disabling, such as severe anxieties or phobias. Clinical psychologists are often involved in the development or running of public health programs, such as smoking cessation. Clinical psychologists often work with psychiatrists in clinics or hospitals.

Industrial and Organisational Psychology

I/O Psychology (as it's called) deals with the application of psychology to a range of matters that concern organisations, ranging from employee satisfaction to prospective employee assessment and personnel evaluation.

Educational psychology

(UK/Singapore usage), known in the US as School Psychology – Educational psychologists need to have a teaching qualification as well as a postgraduate degree in educational or school psychology; so getting fully qualified is a long haul. Educational psychologists are particularly involved with the assessment of learning difficulties and generally in problems children and families experience in the education system. They are also important in such things as the design of educational programs.

Counselling psychology

Counselling psychology is a close cousin of clinical psychology, but psychologists in this field tend to work less in clinical settings and their clients are more often people who may seek counselling – marriage guidance counselling or vocational counselling, for example – and who are often not suffering any problem or disorder needing therapy.

Forensic psychology

A small but growing number of psychologists are interested in the application of psychology in the field of law enforcement and criminal profiling. They are usually employed in police psychology units.

If you have an applied psychology qualification, you may also be able to practice, but usually only as part of an organisation. There are a range of applied degrees, running from diplomas up to Applied Master's degrees, and the extent to which they are recognised is a matter for the respective employers, and the Singapore Psychological Society as the relevant professional body. If you have been an "apprentice" and have only an honours degree (or equivalent) you likewise will be able to "practice" only as part of an organisation and under supervision. Often, those who complete some years under supervision then take a higher degree to complement their practical experience.

What do psychologists do? Professional psychologists share techniques in common, but apply them in ways appropriate to the actual work. For example, many psychologists use psychological tests, but the types of tests used are very different in clinical practice from those used in industrial settings. It's also worth noting that many professional psychologists also sometimes do research, usually something applied. Generally, a "Practitioner-Scientist" is how most practicing psychologists are trained and think of themselves.

What do Research psychologists do? The list here is enormous. Psychology as a discipline is broken down into a number of main areas, the main ones include developmental psychology, personality and individual differences, biological psychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology, abnormal behaviour.

Psychology in Singapore is still an unregulated profession. Anyone can claim to be a psychologist. So it's important that bona fide psychologists are members of a proper academic institution (a recognized University or Polytechnic) or a professional body such as the Singapore Psychological Society. It's also important that the public be cautious about claims made in 'popular' psychology books or websites, or practical techniques which make extravagant claims to improve one's personal or professional life. The more extravagant the claim, and the higher the fee, the more cautious you should be. For example, there is actually no evidence that exposing your child to Mozart has an effect on his or her later development or intelligence; there is no coherent justification for the idea that your brains can be in some way 'programmed' by a training course; and there is no evidence that people can be taken back under therapy to a past life in order to uncover the roots of their present life difficulties, though some have claimed that they can do this. There are many spurious or unsupported claims in the vastness of cyberspace. Check Wikipedia or the online Skeptics Dictionary at if in doubt.

Serious psychologists do not make exaggerated claims, and their profession is evidence-based. If in doubt, check with the list of recognised psychologists maintained by the Singapore Psychological Society, which has been available in a directory since 1990, and is now available online at the website of the SPS, which is

(Reproduced from Ezine, 2007, Issue 2 with author's permission)