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Psychology Programs

What are Psychologists?

Psychologists focus on how the human mind works and how people behave toward each other and their environment according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They collect information through scientific studies, observation, interviews and tests. This information allows them to treat individuals, couples, families, and others with psychological issues affecting their emotions, behaviors and thoughts. For more information, see our psychologist career page.

Psychology Program Information

Psychology programs can be found in a variety of formats, including on campus, online and in a hybrid fashion, combining virtual with classroom-based education. In addition to core psychology courses, psychology programs can consist of general education classes, lab work and school-sponsored experiential learning opportunities. Students may also get the chance to do an internship with a professional psychologist or at a clinic. For those looking to become licensed psychologists, earning a master's or doctoral degree from an accredited program is fundamental, so it's important to check whether psychology programs are accepted by the regulatory organizations in the state they wish to practice in.

Psychology Program Types

Those interested in studying psychology can find programs at many levels, including:

  • Diploma/Certificate: Psychology diplomas and certificates introduce students to the field and can prepare them for associate or bachelor's studies. More advanced certificates are also available at some psychology schools. These programs are designed for those who have earned their bachelor's degrees in another field and wish to enter graduate psychology programs, or for professionals looking to augment their current career skills. Program lengths vary, but students can expect fewer credit requirements than degree programs.
  • Associate Degree: Associate degree programs typically take two years to complete and teach students the core concepts of psychology. While more advanced degrees are needed to start a career as a psychologist, skills gained from these programs may translate to other career fields, including marketing research. Credits earned may also transfer to some bachelor's programs.
  • Bachelor's Degree: Four years of full-time study are usually required to earn a bachelor's degree. These programs typically provide students with a more well-rounded education than associate or certificate programs. Bachelor's psychology programs can provide a solid foundation for master's and doctoral level studies.
  • Master's Degree: Aspiring school or industrial-organizational psychologists need at least a master's degree according to the BLS. A master's may also be required as a prerequisite to some doctoral programs. Typically, a full-time student can complete a master's degree in psychology in two years, but this can vary. To demonstrate their mastery of the material, students may need to write a thesis, complete a capstone project or pass a comprehensive exam.
  • Doctoral Degree: Clinical, counseling and research psychologists usually need doctoral degrees to practice, according to the BLS. Earning a doctorate could also lead to research and teaching positions. Doctoral programs can entail examinations, practical work and/or a dissertation. The length of these programs varies considerably, but may take upwards of seven or more years.

Psychology programs may help students fulfill certification or state licensing requirements. Before enrolling, potential students should check to see if psychology schools and programs are approved by their state's regulatory boards.

Psychology Course Descriptions

While every psychology program is different, they often share similar core curricula. Here are a few courses psychology students may see during their studies.

Undergraduate:

  • Psychology Foundations: Surveys the basics of psychology, exploring how individuals behave according to their environments. Other areas of focus include learning and memory, motivations and emotions, and sensation and perception.
  • Psychology as a Science and Career: Examines psychology as a social science and explores psychology-related professions, paying special interest to issues such as ethics.
  • Social Psychology: This class investigates how individuals interact with one another and explores topics such as conformity, group dynamics, anti-social behavior and self perception.

Graduate:

  • Psychopathology: Contrasts normal versus pathological behaviors, examining the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
  • Psychological Research Methods: Examines various research techniques used in the field, including performing tests and analyzing findings.

Psychology Specialties

At psychology schools, students may gain knowledge about particular specialties to later pursue careers and professional certification in those areas. According to the BLS, psychology courses and programs in the following specialties may be available:

  • Clinical Psychology: Focuses on the treatment of behavioral, emotional and mental disorders.
  • Counseling Psychology: Teaches individuals how to deal with personal challenges.
  • Forensic Psychology: Helps judges and juries understand the behavior and mindset of those involved in criminal cases.
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology: Examines ways to improve quality of life for employees and tackle other challenges through the use of psychology.
  • School Psychology: Examines strategies for helping students overcome learning and behavioral problems.
  • Social Psychology: Centers on social interactions between individuals and groups, and how they can be improved.

Related Career Options

Students considering psychology programs may also be interested in pursuing education paths that could lead to similar careers, including:

  • Mental Health Counselors: Work with individuals who are suffering from mental and emotional disorders. Requires master's degree in counseling as well as state licensure.
  • Postsecondary Teachers: Instruct students at the college level. May also conduct research and publish papers. Typically require a Ph.D.
  • School and Career Counselors: Help students develop social skills and succeed in school. Also assist in the career decision-making process. Requires master's degree and a state license.

Links to Sources and Associations

Visit the following websites to find more about the field of psychology:

American Board of Professional Psychology

American Psychological Association

Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards

National Association of School Psychologists

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Psychologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

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