Psychologists attempt to understand why individuals feel, act and think a particular way. To accomplish this, they may administer personality or intelligence tests, use psychoanalysis or psychotherapy techniques, or conduct other forms of observational and experimental research, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). Once enough data is gathered, psychologists can identify the problem and create an appropriate treatment plan.
Some psychologists work independently while others are part of a bigger team. Depending on the area of specialization they choose, psychologists may find themselves working in very different settings. For example, school psychologists may work with troubled teens at a high school, while clinical and counseling psychologists might have their own private practice. Psychologist training may also lead to research at private organizations, government agencies, or colleges and universities. Work schedules can also vary greatly. Psychologists who work in hospitals or other healthcare settings may work nights and evenings. Those who counsel individuals privately or within a health facility, however, may have to work evenings or weekends (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
How to Become a Psychologist
Those considering psychologist careers must be willing to go the extra mile. To become a full-fledged psychologist, they need at least a master's (and often a doctorate) in addition to practical training and state licensure in many cases. Common paths to psychologist careers could include the following:
- Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent.
- Complete a bachelor's degree, either majoring in psychology or taking some psychology courses.
- Research psychologist training and schooling needed to gain state licensure (if required).
- Earn a master's degree in psychology and gain practical experience through an internship.
- Enroll in a doctorate program in a specialty of your choice, culminating in a successful dissertation.
- Fulfill any additional requirements for state licensure and proceed to earn license.
- Apply for psychology jobs at a school, hospital or other setting befitting one's specialization.
- Join professional organizations, pursue optional certifications and keep state license current.
It's important to note that these steps serve as general guidelines, and do not, in any way, guarantee employment.
Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing
Once their psychologist training and education is complete, many graduates need to earn state licensure if they wish to practice independently reports the BLS (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). The BLS also points out several organizations where state licensing information can be found:
- Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards: Provides information on state requirements for psychologists. For clinical and counseling psychologists, requirements generally include a doctorate, practical and professional experience, passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, and continuing education courses.
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP): Offers information on credentials needed to practice in schools in specific states. Awards the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) designation, a certification recognized by 30 states requiring 60 graduate semester hours, a 1,200-hour internship, and approval of the National School Psychology Examination.
Professional certification is also available for psychologists seeking to distinguish themselves. The American Board of Professional Psychology grants specialty certifications that demonstrate expertise in specialty areas and is required by some hospitals and clinics. Requirements may include a doctoral degree in psychology, state certification and other criteria.
Psychologists may specialize in many areas. Common specialties, according to the BLS, include:
- Clinical Psychologists: Treat patients suffering from mental, emotional and behavioral disorders through psychotherapy, behavior modification programs and other tactics. Clinical psychologists can further specialize as health psychologists and neuropsychologists.
- Counseling Psychologists: Advise people on how to deal with mental, marital, substance-abuse, behavioral and social problems.
- Forensic Psychologists: Help judges and attorneys understand the psychological aspects of legal cases. May testify as expert witnesses and specialize in family, civil or criminal court.
- Industrial-organizational Psychologists: Use psychology to tackle workplace challenges and improve the quality of work life. Advise management on policies, employee screening and organizational development.
- School Psychologists: Address student learning and behavioral challenges, evaluate student performance, and counsel students and families. Suggest improvements to teaching, learning and administration.
- Social Psychologists: Investigate ways to improve negative individual or group interactions.
Psychologist Job Growth and Average Salary
Psychologist jobs as a whole are expected to grow 22 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS. People will turn to psychologists to deal with depression, marital problems, job stress, addiction and aging, as well as war trauma and autism. Psychologists will also treat students with special needs, learning disabilities and behavioral issues, and help companies select and retain employees, increase productivity and organize wellness programs (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
The national median wage of clinical, counseling and school psychologists, far-and-away the largest group of psychologists, was $67,650 per year in May 2012, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $38,450 and the highest 10 percent earning more than $109,340 (bls.gov/oes, 2013). Salaries may vary due to location, experience, and education.
List of Related Careers
Psychologist training may prepare graduates for careers in areas outside traditional psychologist jobs. Additional experience and/or education may be required. These can include the following.
- Direct-service Social Workers: With a bachelor's degree in psychology, individuals may be hired to help people of all ages to deal with life challenges.
- Postsecondary Teachers: With a doctoral degree in psychology, an individual could choose to pursue an academic career including the teaching of postsecondary students, academic research, and the publication of papers and books.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites offer more information about the psychology field.