How To Become A Psychologist
Career Video: Psychologist
Are you interested in helping people cope and function better? Do you find the processes of the human mind fascinating? Are you curious about why people behave and think the way they do? Would you like to research and examine human behavior and thought to improve the study of psychology? Are you passionate about providing therapeutic services to trauma victims and individuals with mental health issues? Would you like to improve a student’s chances at educational attainment? How would you like to optimize employee performance and organizational responsibility to those it employs? If you love to study human behavior and thinking, and would like to apply that passion to improving individual lives and scientific knowledge, then a career as a psychologist could be perfect for you.
Why Become A Psychologist
Psychologists are concerned with the scientific examination of human behavior and the mind. Cognitive functions, social exchanges, and emotional processes are all a part of psychology. These internal and external interactions dictate overall wellness, and psychologists work in many fields to ensure the optimal health of people.
Psychology is a broad subject that includes many specific fields of study. The American Psychological Association (APA) encompasses 54 different divisions of psychological interest. Within each division are several topics, in which professionals work to enhance psychology. Psychologists make a living as either applied practitioners (working directly with clients/patients) or research-oriented scholars (conducting scientific inquiry and examination).
Fields and sub-fields of psychology include:
- Mental health
- Substance abuse
- Marriage and family
- Behavioral disorder
- Industrial-organizational (I/O)
The role of a psychologist is serious. Because of the nature of their work, they are held to a higher standard than most professionals. They must abide by ethical codes and consistently maintain a current level of expertise. Working with clients in this capacity can also be emotionally overwhelming. To be an effective mental health practitioner and advocate, psychologists must possess a number of qualities:
- Emotional stability
- Interpersonal skills
- Excellent communication skills
- Motivated to learn
- Knowledgeable of specialty
Psychologist Work Environment
Psychologists work in a number of industries and settings, such as K-12 schools, medical facilities, mental healthcare facilities, nursing homes and assisted living centers, private practices, juvenile detention centers and prisons, armed services and veterans’ agencies, the business community, rehabilitation facilities, institutions of higher education, substance abuse clinics, and government agencies.
Because psychologists have such varying specialties and responsibilities, they work in differing capacities. About a quarter of all psychologists work in K-12 education at elementary, middle, and high schools, both public and private. Practitioners can work for public (clinics, hospitals, and social services) or private organizations (research facilities and corporate entities). Many work in private practices (about a third of all psychologists are self-employed); however, even this work varies. In private practices, psychologists can work independently seeing individual clients, or they can work in teams that support the whole patient by collaborating with other wellness professionals. A smaller number of psychologists choose to research instead of practice. These individuals work for institutions of higher education, government agencies, and private facilities.
Most psychologists work during regular business hours, and some choose to accommodate clients during weekends, evenings, and holidays. For those employed by government agencies, healthcare facilities, or other institutions that serve the public, their hours may be longer and consist of weekend, evening, and holiday hours.
The median annual salary for psychologists, in May 2015, was $72,580. Salaries for this type of work vary greatly depending on geographical location, specialty, and place of employment. The salary range for all psychologists is between $41,110 and $118,310, annually. Psychologists who work for the government will most likely earn the most, followed by those employed by hospitals, schools, mental health practices, and individual and family services, respectively.
Salaries per field
- $77,350 for I/O psychologists
- $70,580 for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists
- $94,590 for all other psychologists
Psychologist Career Outlook
From 2014 to 2024, employment as a psychologist is expected to grow 19 percent. A great demand for mental health practitioners exists, and as the profession continues to improve people’s lives, more people will see a benefit from psychological services. With population growth, advancements in technology and education, and as the population ages, the outlook of a career in psychology will improve. The recent escalations of war and growing trends of autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit disorder (ADD) will also increase the need for professionals in the field.
Above all, the demand is greatest for psychologists with specialties or doctoral degrees in clinical, counseling, and school psychology. Evidence suggests that mental health and learning are positively correlated; therefore, more school districts and other institutions are hiring school psychologists to guide policy and provide mental health services for students. In addition, an acknowledgement that mental health services are greatly needed in hospitals, schools, and clinics who service the public will boost employment.
I/O psychologists will see the most competition, as their specialty has become saturated with highly-qualified candidates for a small number of openings. Individuals should be well-versed in quantitative research methods and have extensive training in their particular organizational field.
Job growth per field
- Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists = 20 percent
- I/O psychologists = 19 percent
- All other psychologists = 10 percent
To become a psychologist, it is necessary to undergo years of educational and practical training. Psychologists must earn graduate degrees in psychology (master’s or doctoral) from an accredited institution, although the majority of professional positions require a doctoral degree. In addition to educational credentials, psychologists also need to obtain specific licensure or certification.
Step 1: Complete an undergraduate program. It is not necessary to have a bachelor’s degree in psychology to continue on to graduate school; however, courses in general psychology, statistics, and experimental methods will prepare a student for graduate work. Although it is not possible to practice as an applied or research-oriented psychologist without a doctoral degree, it is possible to become an assistant in the field of psychology. Most students with an undergraduate degree move on to higher education or work in business administration, education, or sales.
Step 2: Complete a graduate program. It is possible to acquire employment in the field with a master’s degree, but to be a licensed practitioner or scientist, it necessary to have a doctoral degree.
It is not necessary to have an undergraduate degree in psychology to apply for a master’s program. Most master’s programs desire students who have relevant training and knowledge. Clinical, counseling, and I/O psychology are the top three fields for students in master’s programs. In addition, those with only master’s degrees may work as assistants in clinical, counseling, or research settings (under the supervision of a doctored psychologist). It is possible to work as an I/O psychologist with a master’s degree.
Nearly all psychologists need to have a doctoral degree. Some programs will require applicants to have a master’s degree, while some will admit students with an undergraduate degree. Most programs take 5 to 7 years to finish, and coursework depends upon specialty.
Clinical and counseling psychologists have more rigorous requirements: a doctorate in psychology, 1- to 2-year internship, and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
Step 3: Complete postdoctoral education. Nearly all psychologists will work in a field that requires post-doctoral experience. Practical internships are the most common.
- Clinical and counseling psychologists have more rigorous requirements: a doctorate in psychology, 1- to 2-year internship, and pass the EPPP.
- School psychologists must have an advanced degree and a license to practice, because their knowledge base is sensitive to both educational and psychological needs. The most popular advanced degree is an Ed.S. (Education Specialist), To obtain an Ed.S., a candidate is required to complete 60 graduate semester hours and 1,200 hours of a supervised internship. This specialty license can be obtained post-master’s degree or -doctorate.
Note: A psychologist with a doctoral degree will obtain a Ph.D., a Psy.D., or an Ed.D., depending on the work they wish to accomplish:
- A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology is a degree that allows an individual to research. It requires a dissertation (original research) and examination upon completion.
- A Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree is a clinical degree that allows an individual to practice directly with clients/patients. It requires practical work and examination upon completion.
- A Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree is a doctoral degree that allows an individual to teach in academic, research, and medical settings.
Step 4: Obtain the appropriate licenses and certifications. To practice as an applied psychologist, it is necessary to have a license and/or specific certifications. Each state has explicit requirements regarding examinations, postdoctoral work, and continuing education. Practicing psychologists must continue with their professional development through accredited continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.
Many places of employment require board certification. While not necessary, specialty certifications can enhance a psychologist’s prospects of obtaining employment and attracting clientele for their private practices.