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PSYC660 Adult Clinical Psychology PSYC661 Child Clinical Psychology

Unit rationale, description and aim

Many clinical psychologists work in health settings to assist patients with acute or chronic illnesses, and to prevent or tackle emotional problems and disorders that can arise during ill health. This unit is designed to provide a detailed study of health psychology, behavioural medicine and rehabilitation principles and procedures, and their evidence-based applications in clinical health settings. It will cover psychosocial processes associated with health and illness, health promoting behaviours, and the application of evidence based psychological interventions targeting health and illness. There will be a particular focus on psychological assessments and interventions of major health problems (e.g., drug and alcohol, obesity problems), including motivational interviewing and relapse prevention. Effective and professional collaboration with other health professionals within a multidisciplinary team will also be addressed. In addition, as knowledge of psychopharmacology is essential to working effectively in health and mental health settings and with medical professionals, the unit will also provide students with a basic understanding of empirically validated psychopharmacological treatments for psychological disorders. Students will also acquire knowledge of the basic principles of drug action and pharmacokinetics, and the common indications, contraindications and adverse effects of psychotropic medication. The aim for the health psychology component of this unit is to provide students with essential knowledge, analytic and practical skills to support the practice of clinical psychology in health settings. The aim of the Psychopharmacology component is to provide students with a basic understanding of empirically validated psychopharmacological treatments for psychological disorders. Students will also acquire knowledge of the basic principles of drug action and pharmacokinetics, and the common indications, contraindications and adverse effects of psychotropic medication.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Describe the role of psychological assessment and interventions in physical illness and health, with diverse populations of clients within clinical health psychology settingsGC1, GC2, GC3, GC4, GC5, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC10, GC11, GC12
LO2Explain the influence of genetic, physiological, cognitive behavioural and environmental factors in health and illness and to critically evaluate the complexities of the interrelationships between these factorsGC1, GC2, GC3, GC4, GC5, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC10, GC11, GC12
LO3Apply critical evaluation skills to models of health behaviour change, and develop programs aimed at health promotion and illness prevention for use within multidisciplinary teamsGC1, GC2, GC3, GC4, GC5, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC10, GC11, GC12
LO4Describe the basic principles of drug action and pharmacokinetics, and psychotropic medications which are commonly prescribed in the treatment of psychological disordersGC1, GC2, GC3, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC11


Topics will include: 

Clinical Health Psychology: 

  • Current models of health psychology and behavioural medicine and rehabilitation principles and procedures 
  • Biopsychosocial contributions to health and illness; implications for both prevention and treatment 
  • Social determinants of health and their relationship to the aetiology and culturally responsive assessment and treatment of health problems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 
  • The nature of emotional responses as part of a complex set of interactions of genetic, physiological, behavioural and environmental factors influencing physical health 
  • An overview of the body’s physical systems relevant to common chronic illnesses 
  • Models of stress and coping and associated prevention and intervention models 
  • The role of beliefs and behaviours in health, illness and chronicity 
  • Pain and pain management 
  • Diet, exercise and obesity 
  • Sleep loss and sleep disorders 
  • Research on health impairing and health protecting behaviours 
  • Sexual health and reproduction 
  • Dying and bereavement 
  • Patients’ engagement with the healthcare system 
  • Professional and organisational implications of working in multi-disciplinary teams. 



  • Drug nomenclature, drug action, and pharmacokinetics 
  • Psychotropic medication for mood disorders 
  • Psychotropic medication for anxiety disorders  
  • Psychotropic medication for psychosis 
  • The appropriate application of psychopharmacological knowledge to improve patient management and effective communication with other health providers 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Postgraduate students in psychology are expected to be independent learners; this is reflected in an approach which puts students at the centre of their learning through participation in discussions. This unit therefore uses an active learning approach delivered in face-to-face mode with 4 contact hours per week, or equivalent in intensive mode, and is presented through a combination of lectures, workshops and web-based learning. Students will be expected to take responsibility for their learning and to participate actively within class activities. Learning and teaching strategies used in lectures and workshops include case-based learning, group activities, and reflective/critical thinking activities. This range of strategies will provide students with appropriate access to required knowledge and understanding of unit content, and opportunities for development of competency in clinical health psychology. Web-based learning allows for further self-directed learning of additional content.

Assessment strategy and rationale

In order to best enable students to demonstrate unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes, standards-based assessment is utilised, consistent with university assessment requirements. A range of assessment strategies are used including (1) a presentation and written summary aimed at enhancing and assessing students’ knowledge of biopsychosocial factors and psychological interventions relevant to the management of physical health conditions. In addition, the presentation will allow students to develop skills in public speaking, teamwork, and experience in the delivery of information to colleagues. (2) A written assignment aimed at enhancing students’ knowledge of appropriate psychological assessment strategies and the development of formulations and treatment plans for patients with health conditions. The assignment allows students to demonstrate critical analyses and syntheses of client information relevant to the practice of clinical health psychology. (3) An exam to assess students’ knowledge of psychotropic medications and psychopharmacological principles, and their ability to communicate clearly and appropriately with patients and healthcare professionals about psychopharmacological issues. Students must pass all assessment tasks in order to pass the unit as it is critical that students demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge and skills which are essential to the practice of clinical psychology in health settings. A failure in any of these tasks is likely to translate to an unacceptable level of risk to clients the student will come into contact with on practicum and as a practising psychologist.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Presentation and Written Summary:

To assess knowledge of psychological assessments and interventions relevant to the management of chronic diseases and physical health related issues with reference to the current models of health psychology.


LO1, LO2, LO3

Written Assignment:

To assess critical analysis and synthesis of information relevant to the practice of clinical health psychology.


LO1, LO2, LO3


To assess knowledge of basic psychotropic medications and understanding of the principles of drug action and pharmacokinetics.



Representative texts and references

American Psychological Association (2019). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. 

Bowling, A. (2009). Research methods in health: Investigating health and health services (3rd ed). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Caltabiano, M. L., & Ricciardelli, L. A. (2013). Applied topics in health psychology. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Dorrian, J., Thorsteinsson, E., Di Benedetto, M., Lane-Krebs, K., Day, M., Hutchinson, A., & Sherman, K. (2017). Health Psychology in Australia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Huff, R. M., Kline, M. V. & Peterson, D. V. (Eds). (2015). Health promotion in multicultural populations: A handbook for practitioners and students (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. Preston, J. D., O’Neal, J., & Talaga, M. C. (2017). Handbook of clinical psychopharmacology for therapists (8th ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Schatzberg, A. F. & DeBattista, C. (2015). Manual of Clinical Psychopharmacology (8th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

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