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Our history

The beginning: Australasian Association of Psychiatrists

The College’s history began with the establishment of the Australasian Association of Psychiatrists (AAP), which was officially formed on 9 October 1946 at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ building in Melbourne.

From its inception, the AAP was designed to be a fully fledged medical specialist body with membership limited ‘to legally qualified Medical Practitioners engaged in the practice of Psychiatry’. The Association comprised branches in the Australian states and New Zealand, which were considered integral to its function and purpose. Sixty-seven practising psychiatrists in Australia and New Zealand were included as Foundation Members.

The development of psychiatric training in Australia and New Zealand was central to the Association in its early years, and in the 1950s the AAP moved to establish a formal qualification, the Diploma of Psychological Medicine (DPM) administered by the Association. At the time, only a handful of universities offered formal psychiatric qualifications, and it was necessary for most doctors wishing to train in psychiatry to relocate interstate or overseas.

The establishment of the AAP’s Diploma of Psychological Medicine was linked to the decision, taken in the early 1960s, to transform the Association into a College and thus position the organisation as a legally constituted body under which the new qualification could be registered.

RANZCP's coat of arms

College coat of arms

In the mid-1960s, the British College of Arms (the body granting coats of arms and other heraldic insignias) agreed in principle to the granting of arms and a badge to the College. The Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ official coat of arms was adopted in 1969.

The crossed bands and central square refers to an intellect that has become disordered and has turned its strength against itself and the body – symbolised by the outer bodily circle, the disorganised inner components of the mind and the enclosed central spirit.

Above is the symbol for the chemical compound alum, to which has been attributed special mental healing powers. The symbol incorporates a Roman Cross. Its supraposition is designed to suggest that it is exerting healing influence over the disordered intellect.

The snakes entwined about the staffs, which could be caducei, are taken from a coin illustrated by Jung. The snakes can also be related to Ungud, the serpent of the Aboriginal dreamtime.

The motto, Ex Veritate Salus, is translated as 'out of truth (or understanding) comes health (or well being)'.

Formation of the College

At the May 1962 Council meeting, the Association’s then President, Dr Jack Russell, moved that 'Council resolve to take the necessary action forthwith to convert the Association into a College’. A Memorandum and Articles and Association under the Companies Act was drawn up, and The Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists was officially incorporated in Sydney on 28 October 1963.

The old Association was then officially dissolved at a special general meeting of the College in Melbourne on 12 April 1964. To mark the occasion, a number of special activities were undertaken, such as the presentation and publication of a paper on the history of the former body, ‘The Australasian Association of Psychiatrists from Birth to Dissolution’ [PDF; 1.5 MB].

The first formal meeting of the Council of the new College took place in Canberra on 25 October 1964, and coincided with the College’s First Annual Congress – which to this day is still the major annual event in the College’s calendar.

Early meetings of the Association had been conducted in the  rooms of Dr Henry (Hal) Maudsley in Melbourne's Collins Street, and in early 1964 the College acquired its first permanent headquarters in Rathdowne Street, Carlton. ‘Maudsley House’ was officially dedicated by the Victorian Premier, Sir Henry Bolte, on 7 May 1965.

The College today

The College was granted the ‘Royal’ prefix on 9 May 1977, and moved its current location in Latrobe Street Melbourne in 1994.

A leader in the mental health sector, the College works to prepare medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, support and enhance clinical practice, advocate for people affected by mental illness and advise governments on mental health care.

Sub-specialty groups

In 1964, the College established its first sub-specialty group, the Section of Child Psychiatry. (The Section later became the College’s first Faculty in 1988, and changed its name to the Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 1992.) This was soon followed by the Section of Forensic Psychiatry in 1968 (Faculty status granted in 2011), and later the Section of Social and Cultural Psychiatry in 1972. Three new sections were formed in the 1980s: the Section of Alcohol and Other Drugs (later, the Section of Addiction Psychiatry) in 1987, the Section of Psychiatry of Old Age in 1988 (Faculty status granted in 1998), and the Section of Psychotherapy in 1989. Most recently, the Sections of Consultation–Liaison Psychiatry (1995) and Neuropsychiatry (2004) were formed.

Growth of the College

Membership of the RANZCP has grown steadily throughout the College’s history. There were approximately 400 members at the time of the College’s incorporation in October 1963. The College reached 1000 members in 1978, and 2000 in 1995. By late 2008, the College’s total active membership (by now comprising Fellows, Associate Members and Affiliate Members) had reached 4000. Today, the College has almost 5000 members, including more than 3600 fully qualified psychiatrists (Fellows) and more than 1000 members who are training to qualify as psychiatrists.

The College initially had a two-tiered membership structure, with the categories of ‘Member’ and ‘Fellow’. In 1986, the category of ‘Member’ was abolished with all existing Members automatically becoming Fellows. Also in 1986, the category of Associate Member was introduced to apply to registrars in College accredited training, and in 1995 the category of Affiliate Member was introduced to provide RANZCP membership to certain overseas-trained psychiatrists who were not Fellows of the College.

College journals

In 1949, the Australasian Psychiatric Quarterly Newsletter was established as the first official vehicle for disseminating information and communication on the psychiatric profession. This later became the Australian Psychiatric Bulletin in 1960, before the College published the first issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry – the first Australasian journal devoted to new scientific research in psychiatry – in 1967. A second College journal – Australasian Psychiatry – also came into existence in 1993.

Community and global links

From its beginning, the College (and previously the AAP) has sought to establish links with psychiatrists and psychiatric bodies in other countries. Prominent early members would frequently travel to meetings in Europe and North America, and the College also hosted many educational visits by international psychiatrists. The AAP joined the World Federation of Mental Health in 1948, and by the time the Association became a College in 1964, the organisation had also joined the World Psychiatric Association. An interesting historical footnote is that from October 1969, for about a decade, the College was officially represented in Papua New Guinea via a Liaison Officer.

Another interesting note is the appointment of a Liaison Officer to deal with community-oriented mental health organisations in 1961, which was followed by the development of a range of community collaborations and initiatives which still continue today. Reporting to the Board of Practice and Partnerships, the Community Collaboration Committee, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Committee and Te Kaunihera Maori continue to advise the College in relation to community mental health concerns.

More historical information

Profiles of RANZCP Presidents
Menders of the Mind – a history of the College, available in e-book and PDF formats
Historical photos of the College and its members