DUBAI // Zayed University will be welcoming its first batch of psychology students this term as it aims to meet the ever-growing demand for experts in the field.
And according to Dr Justin Thomas, one of the teachers on the course, a psychology degree does not necessarily mean a career as a clinical psychologist.
“There is a great need for counsellors in schools and big business does better if they tap into the knowledge and skills of psychologists,” he said. “The skills and opportunities are much wider for the graduates than you’d imagine.”
Just a handful of institutions in the UAE offer psychology, despite rising demand from students and society.
“With all the social change the UAE is seeing, there are issues that are common all over the world, such as rising divorce rates, meaning the need for people like marriage counsellors,” Dr Thomas, a columnist for The National, said.
Amena Al Hosani, 19, who will be among the first batch of students, has been interested in the subject since school.
“I was so happy when the university said it was offering psychology,” she said. “I was very confused about what major I wanted to choose.”
She enjoys the scientific and clinical side of the subject. “I’d really like to go on to do a PhD and focus on research,” she said.
Ms Al Hosani is sure it is the profession for her. “I’m always the listener between my friends who always talk to me about their problems. I’d like to have some professional advice for them rather than just the things I say.”
She admits convincing her family was not easy. “They were a little concerned about what job opportunities there would be,” she said.
But she assured them there are jobs in many sectors from government to industry. “There’s a lot of different places, we don’t just use psychology to be a counsellor.”
A lack of Emirati psychologists in the country means she is guaranteed good opportunities.
Nowf Al Qarni, 20, agrees.
“The career counsellors helped us to decide what major to study,” said Ms Al Qarni, who will also be in the first class. “I discovered that I love to help people with their problems. I realised I’d be helping people like families who I could work with through organisations such as the Family Development Foundation.”
She already feels an affinity with the field, having read up in preparation for the course. “I automatically start trying to read people, asking them why they are angry or sad,” she said.
She would like to work in prisons in the field of criminal psychology as well as being interested in family development.
Middlesex University in Dubai is one of the handful of institutions that already offer psychology.
Prof Raed Awamleh, director of the university in Knowledge Village, said both the undergraduate and postgraduate courses have grown since they launched in 2006 and 2010 respectively. The university now has 170 psychology undergraduates and 50 students taking its MSc in applied psychology.
Their backgrounds are diverse. “The MSc has students who work in real estate, traffic controllers or manage gyms – rather untraditional roles to have an interest in psychology until you reflect on the importance of understanding and influencing human behaviour in these fields,” Prof Awamleh said.
“A significant number of Emirati students are also enrolled and the intention is that such a diverse student body will make a real impact to the psycho-social field in Dubai and the region.”
Past undergraduate students have taken up jobs as school counsellors, educational assistants and in more conventional roles such as at the Dubai Autism Centre.
“The psychology programmes also enables Middlesex to contribute to the local community by, for instance, creating awareness about psychology as a scientific discipline, mental health issues and well-being initiatives.”