Psychology Career Overview
One motivating factor for being a psychologist is that over a quarter of psychologists are self-employed, which is four times the national average. Psychologists generally need a graduate level psychology degree to be successful. Medical school is required for many psychologists who specialize in clinical psychology or counseling, and a master's degree is minimum requirement for most educational facilities and organizations.
The work of psychologists is to examine human mental processes and how they affect behavior. Many psychologists are involved in research, where they explore the intellectual, physiological, emotional, or social facets of human conduct. Researchers hypothesize and then gather information; either by experiments performed in a lab or by dispensing tests, and then draw conclusions. Psychologists might also observe test subjects, study physiological effects of mental stimulation, or administer questionnaires and surveys as part of their research. Other psychologists provide health services at hospitals, schools, clinic, or private practices.
Psychologists not only collect data but find applications for it in almost every field, e.g. business, government, management, employee relations, law, and sports. Most psychologists have a firm grasp of general principles but specialize in one particular field where they help with training, counseling, or developing programs.
Types of Psychologists
Psychology Training and Job Qualifications
Being a psychologist requires a quite a bit of schooling and an advanced degree.
Having a bachelor's degree in psychology will enable an applicant to work as an assistant to other psychologists or other personnel at community medical centers, behavior modification programs, or programs for vocational rehabilitation. Some are employed in other fields, like market research, as consultants or specialists. Others might work as administrative assistants, help with research, or train for managerial positions in corporations.
A master's degree will qualify individuals to work as school psychologists or industrial-organizational psychologists. They might also help with research or be an assistant of someone with a doctorate. A master’s degree in psychology takes two years to complete, and generally includes some hands-on experience in a professional setting and original research in the form of a written thesis. Not all schools require an undergraduate psychology for admission, but all are competitive and will require understanding basic concepts in the social sciences and statistical skills.
A PhD will qualify people to be licensed as a clinical psychologist or counselor. It will also qualify them to teach at a university, work at a research group, be employed by the government, work at a medical facility, or work as a school psychologist. The majority of PhD holders work as clinical psychologists at private practices.
Earning a PhD generally requires five to seven years of post-graduate work. It involves courses in research, using computers for analysis, psychological theory, and practices. Also, earning your degree involves either original research in the form of a written dissertation or examinations. Many degrees in clinical or counseling psychology involve a practical internship as well.
Working for the federal government requires 24 credit hours in psychology at statistical experience for entry-level jobs. However, since this is one of the few opportunities available to those without higher degree, competition is fierce.
There are a number of national organizations that provide accreditation for psychologists and psychological programs. One of the larges is the American Psychological Association (APA) which certifies PhD programs for clinical, school, and counseling psychologists. They also help students find internships and supply their own internships in those areas. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) certify doctoral programs in school psychology.
Most psychologists, meaning all those in independent practice or who work with patients, must be certified according to their state laws. These laws often differ from state to state and vary according to position. This certification has other implications in that it limits the work the psychologist can do according to what they’re certified in. Certification for clinical psychologists or counselors generally involves a PhD, internship, and at least a year of clinical experience. Certification for school psychologists usually requires a master’s degree, an internship, and often involves periodic continuing professional education in order to retain certification. In addition, almost all licensures require some sort of examination.
Not all certification is done at the state level, however. School psychologists can receive the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) license issued by the NASP, which is a national organization. Almost half of all states recognize the NCSP and allow holders to practice in the state without additional certification. The requirements for the NCSP are similar to those of most states, including 60 hours of graduate work in school psychology, an internship of 1200 hours including at least 600 hours of work in a school, and an an acceptable grade on an examination.
Another national organization is the American Board of Professional Psychology. The ABPP issues certification in one of the specific areas of psychology. Licenses from the ABPP are granted to applicants with a PhD, instruction in their chosen field beyond their schoolwork, five years of experience, recommendations from professionals in the field, and an acceptable grade on an examination.
Aside from formal schooling, there are some personal attributes that are necessary to being a psychologist. Psychologists interested primarily in research need to be self-motivated and self-disciplined workers, but also need to able to work on a team. They also need to be persistent and patient as research is often extremely long-term. Psychologists who want to work directly with patients need to be responsible, mature, and secure. Psychologists have to approach their patients non-judgmentally, insightfully, and with compassion. They need to have excellent communication skills, being able to both express ideas clearly and listen.
Job Outlook for Psychologists
More schools, medical facilities, consulting firms, nonprofit organizations, and government organizations are demanding the skills of psychologists. Consequently, employment is projected to increase faster than the average for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists while it increases at the average rate for industrial-organizational psychologists.
Potential may be strongest for school psychologists. Demand is rising for their services as more people recognize their effectiveness in dealing with behavioral problems, maximizing learning, and contributing to the mental health of students.
There are also many new opportunities for clinical psychologists and counselors. New expenses in healthcare associated with harmful habits like smoking and alcoholism are motivating people to seek help from psychologists in avoidance and treatment. Other issues like depression, divorce, abuse, stress, and eating disorders provide opportunities for psychologists to help. Job growth in this area is increasing further as more corporations and organizations are implemented programs to provide counseling services for their employees.
Industrial-Organizational psychologists have many opportunities to help corporations become more efficient, increase productivity, increase employee longevity, increase diversity, and avoid discrimination. They will also help companies by providing consultation on marketing techniques by developing surveys and researching customer demands.
Despite projected industry growth, prospective psychologists should be aware that positions will have stiff competition and should be prepared with appropriate graduate degrees, experience, and competence.
Historical Earnings Information
According to data compiled in 2002, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned between $30,000 and $88,000, with the median being $51,000. Earnings varied based on what industry they were employed in. The median income of those employed in medical offices was about $60,000; the median income of those employed in elementary and secondary schools was about $54,000; the median income of those employed in physician’s offices was about $51,000; the median income of those employed in care centers for outpatients was about $44,000; the median income of those employed in individual or family services was about $37,000.
Industrial-organizational psychologists earned a median income of $63,000. The range was $36,000-112,000, and the majority earned between $49,000 and $82,000.