Psychology Career FAQ
What Do Psychologists Do?First, understand that the field of psychology is incredibly broad and diverse. There are many areas of specialization; a forensic psychologist, for instance, performs very different tasks than, say, a clinical psychologist. In general, psychologists seek to understand the human mind and its manifestations in terms of behavior, emotions, relationships, etc. They also seek to use this knowledge to solve problems, whether these problems lay in the structure of a business or in an individual's personal feelings of distress. The field of psychology can be broadly divided into two categories: research psychology and applied psychology. Research psychologists ask questions about why the human mind works the way it does and how we can better solve psychological problems. They ask these questions, formulate hypotheses, and then collect data, either through laboratory experiments or through naturalistic methods such as interviews, surveys, or questionnaires. Applied psychologists use psychological principles to solve problems in the real world. They often work directly with patients, offering counseling and psychotherapy to alleviate the patient's psychological distress. They may also work within a business, helping to make intelligent hiring decisions, training staff members, and conducting market research.
What Are Working Conditions Like for Psychologists?The answer to this question varies greatly, depending on the psychologist's area of specialization. Many psychologists establish their own private practice. This gives them the freedom to rent or lease an office of their choosing, and design their own schedule. However, psychologists in this situation typically need to work evenings and weekends, in order to see clients who work during regular business hours. Psychologists who work in hospitals, mental health clinics, nursing homes, or physician's offices often work shift schedules. They may be required to work evenings or weekends, and their schedule may vary from week to week. Psychologists who work in academia or for the government, on the other hand, typically work a regular schedule during normal business hours. Psychologists typically need to deal with particular stressors on a consistent basis. They may need to meet strict deadlines or put in overtime, for example. Additionally, psychologists work with emotionally trying circumstances, and need to be able to develop the resilience necessary to deal with those circumstances.
Where Do Psychologists Typically Work?Almost 35% of psychologists are self-employed. These psychologists run private practices, typically offering counseling and psychotherapy services to clients in an office setting. Roughly 20% of psychologists work in health care settings such as hospitals, mental health clinics, substance abuse centers, and physician's offices. Of the remaining 45%, a significant number work in education, either at the university level as researchers or teachers, or at the grade-school level as counselors or high school psychology teachers. Many others work for federal, state, or local government agencies, often in correctional facilities, state-funded clinics, or hospitals. Psychologists are also commonly employed by private businesses or corporations, conducting market research and increasing business efficiency.
Are There Any Accreditation or Licensing Requirements for Becoming a Psychologist?Yes, psychologists must hold a degree from an accredited institution and a professional license before they can practice. Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists must hold a graduate degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA also accredits doctoral internship programs in these three areas of psychology. School psychology programs should also be accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. In addition to a degree from an accredited institution, all states require psychologists who offer patient care of any kind to hold a professional license or certificate. The specific requirements for these licenses vary by state, but typically involve a doctorate degree in psychology, a supervised internship, and at least one year of professional experience, as well as passing scores on the certification exam.
Are There a Lot of Job Opportunities in Psychology?It's estimated that job prospects for psychologists will grow by 12 percent over the next ten years, driven by the need for psychological services in hospitals, schools, mental health clinics, and other such facilities. This rate of growth is about average, but it will vary depending on area of specialization and educational attainment. Job opportunities will be more abundant for psychologists who hold doctorate degrees, particularly degrees with special emphases such as health psychology or counseling. Ed.S. degrees will also be quite valuable, as the need for school psychologists is rising throughout the nation's public education system. Jobs will be far more competitive for psychologists who hold a master's degree. In general, a doctorate degree in any specialty area will greatly increase your chances of finding a job. All others may find the field rather competitive.
How Much Do Psychologists Make?Earnings vary greatly depending on a psychologist's area of specialization and sector of employment. Consider the largest areas of employment within psychology: clinical, counseling, and school psychology. The median annual salary of these professions is $64,140, but depending on the specifics of the position, earnings can be as low as $37,000 or as high as $107,000. Psychologists who work in physician's offices, schools, and government agencies tend to earn higher salaries, while those who work in outpatient care centers and family service clinics tend to earn lower salaries. Industrial-organizational psychology experiences a similar spread of earnings. It's one of the fastest growing specialty areas of the field, and claims a median annual salary of $77,010. Again, earnings may actually be as low as $38,000 or as high as $150,000, depending on the employer, years of experience, and the psychologist's level of education.
How Many Years Do I Need to Go to School for a Career in Psychology?The answer to this question can vary quite a lot, depending on your specific career goals. Any psychology-related career will require a bachelor's degree at minimum, but most will require at least some amount of graduate-level study. Clinical psychology, for example, typically requires an undergraduate degree and a doctorate degree in psychology, amounting to anywhere from 8 to 12 years of higher education. Some specialty areas, however, only require a master's or specialty degree. You could become a family therapist, for instance, with only 2 to 3 years of graduate-level study. To become a social worker, only a bachelor's degree is required. While the minimum education requirements vary, opportunities are more abundant and pay is higher with more education and training, regardless of the area of specialty.
What's the Best Part About Being a Psychologist?Psychology can be a highly rewarding field of work, for many reasons. First of all, it's highly gratifying to help people overcome psychological and emotional problems. To see your clients set goals for themselves and then achieve those goals, and to be able to assist in that process in a meaningful way, can be a wonderful experience. Psychology can also offer a flexible work schedule, especially if you own and operate a private practice. This isn't always the case for individuals working in hospitals or mental health clinics, but most psychologists find that their work schedule is able to accommodate their family and personal life. Furthermore, psychology can be a very lucrative field of work, yielding average earnings of $50,000 to $100,000 a year. It's also a field which appeals to entrepreneurs, who want to own their own business and be their own boss. Establishing a private practice is a great way to do these things.
What's the Worst Part About Being a Psychologist?Every career path has its downsides, and psychology is no exception. There are a few significant disadvantages to the field that aspiring psychologists should consider. One of the main issues faced by these professionals is the large amount of paperwork involved, especially regarding billing and insurance. Furthermore, starting your own private practice can be a daunting, even overwhelming, task. You'll need to secure office space, establish a client base, take care of malpractice insurance, billing procedures, taxes, and on and on. Another significant problem is the emotional drain of dealing with patients day in and day out. You'll likely deal with very emotionally exhausting people and situations on a regular basis, and although it can be highly rewarding to help them, it can be a long and difficult process along the way. Additionally, many psychologists struggle with an unpredictable work schedule. Your clients will have busy schedules themselves, and it will be your responsibility to accommodate them, possibly by making last minute changes and rearranging your personal obligations.
What Are Some Different Psychology Career Options?The field of psychology is incredibly diverse. There are a large number of potential careers you can pursue with a psychology degree. Some are available with only a bachelor's degree, others require a certain amount of graduate-level study or specialized training. Some are hallmarks of the psychology field, others are only indirectly related to the field. Psychology training can set you on your way to become, among many other options, an academic counselor, an advanced psychiatric nurse, a correctional treatment specialist, a grief counselor, an environmental psychologist, or a music therapist. You could pursue a career as a recreational therapist, a neurologist, a social worker, a substance abuse counselor, a youth counselor, a probation officer, a human resources advisor, or a crisis counselor. The list goes on and on. Indeed, there are a large number of options available to individuals with an education in psychology.
What is the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?The main difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist lies in their education and training. Psychologists hold a doctorate degree in psychology (either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.), whereas psychiatrists hold a medical degree. Beyond these degrees, these professionals must also complete a certain amount of specialized training. Psychologists, after earning their doctorate, must complete a one- to two-year internship, and fulfill their state's requirements for professional licensure. Psychiatrists, after going to medical school and earning their M.D., must complete an additional four years of residency training in mental health. Another key difference between the two professions is that psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications, while psychologists are not. In some states, this policy is under dispute, but as yet it remains a primary distinction between the two careers.
What's the Difference Between a B.A. and a B.S. in Psychology?Bachelor of Arts degrees typically focus on liberal arts general education courses, and may require a certain number of years or credit hours studying a foreign language. Bachelor of Science degrees, on the other hand, place more emphasis on math and science courses. In reference to psychology, specifically, B.S. programs often require more courses in applied psychology, research methods, and statistics. B.S. degrees offer graduates in psychology more flexibility and opportunities in the job market, generally speaking. This is not always the case, however, and the opposite may in fact be true, depending on your unique career goals. A B.A. in Psychology, for example, can serve as an excellent springboard for careers in related fields such as law, business, journalism, and education. Before choosing one or the other, carefully consider your own goals, and then consult with an advisor in the psychology department.
Should I Get a Graduate Degree in Psychology?A graduate degree is a huge commitment, and will require a great deal of time and energy. It's important to consider what your educational and career goals actually are before making any decisions. That being said, a graduate degree in psychology will certainly open doors for you, career-wise, which would otherwise remain shut. If you hope to become a clinical or counseling psychologist, for example, you'll definitely need to pursue a doctorate. Some professions, however, only require a master's degree; others require a specialist degree or certificate. If you're unsure about your own professional goals, it may be better to wait until you know more clearly what you hope to do. Also, remember that graduate school will be very demanding of you in terms of time, energy, and money. Unless you're completely committed to the project, it may simply be too large a task to take on. In the end, only you can decide what's right for your personal goals and your unique situation.
What Prerequisite Classes Do I Need to Take to Get into Graduate School?The specific classes required will vary from program to program, so it's important to do your research and check with the programs you hope to enroll in. However, there are a few classes which are required or preferred by most programs. Over 85% of graduate psychology programs require or prefer that applicants have taken a statistics class in undergraduate school. Research methods/Experimental design is another common prerequisite, required or preferred by over 65% of programs. Roughly 30% of programs require applicants to complete an abnormal psychology course, a child development/developmental psychology course, and a personality psychology course. Other important courses, which will make you a stronger candidate for admittance, include cognitive psychology, social psychology, sensation and perception, and history of psychology.
Should I Earn My Psychology Degree Online?There are certainly some major advantages to earning a degree online. Distance learning is convenient, accessible, and may offer highly flexible scheduling to students who are unable to attend classes during daytime hours. There are some important factors to keep in mind, however, before committing to an online degree. Online schooling requires students to manage their own time and motivate themselves, which many find quite difficult. It also requires students to be comfortable using computers and technology. If these requirements pose a problem for you, you may want consider a traditional campus experience instead. If you do decide to pursue an online education, make sure the program is properly accredited. Check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) online database, and ensure your school is a reputable institution which will provide you with a degree worth your time and money.
Can I Go to Psychology Graduate School if My Undergraduate Degree Is In a Different Field?Yes, it's certainly possible to go to psychology graduate school after earning an undergraduate degree in a different field. In fact, it's not at all uncommon. The opposite is also true: many students with undergraduate psychology degrees go on to graduate school in a different field, such as business or law. However, you'll need to research your prospective graduate program and answer some questions. Are there any prerequisite courses? Many programs require specific undergraduate psychology courses which you may need to take before applying. Also, check to see what tests are required. You may need to pass both the GRE and the psychology subject test with a minimum score. Many programs will also want to see that you have a genuine interest or aptitude for the subject. Volunteer work and previous study will make you a much stronger candidate for admittance.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology?While most jobs within the field of psychology require a graduate degree of some kind, a bachelor's degree in psychology can provide valuable training and opportunities in a number of different fields. Psychology programs teach you about the human mind, behavior, and motivation. It also teaches you about effective communication, both in written and verbal forms. These skills can be tremendously useful in many fields of work, such as sales, marketing, and advertising. Your time in college likely required a good deal of writing, which can lead to positions in journalism, content editing, or technical writing. A bachelor's in psychology can also serve as a springboard for social work, teaching, or child care. Many individuals with this degree go on to become laboratory assistants, parole officers, or career counselors. There are a wealth of options available to you.
What Can I Do With a Graduate Degree in Psychology?A large number of opportunities become available with a graduate degree in psychology--so many, in fact, that choosing only one career path can seem like an overwhelming task. The opportunities will vary depending on the type of graduate degree you have; in general, doctorate degrees come with the largest number of opportunities. A Ph.D. or a Psy.D. degree can lead to a rewarding career as a clinical or counseling psychologist, a social worker, or psychology professor. It may also lead to work in the realm of education, as a school counselor or educational psychologist, although a specialist degree may be required for some positions. You may find yourself working with a government agency as a rehabilitation counselor, psychosocial specialist, or social service manager. Still more options exist: industrial-organizational psychology, forensic psychology, human factors psychology, and so on. The real question is: what kind of work do you want to do as a psychologist? A graduate degree is a good first step to get you there.
What Are Some Different Entry-Level Career Options with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology?Many jobs within the field of psychology require a graduate degree, but there are some entry-level options for individuals with a bachelor's degree. Many of these individuals become a career counselor, a rehabilitation specialist, a psychiatric technician, or case manager. These jobs require workers to accurately assess the needs of a client, to keep organized and thorough records, to express compassion and empathy, and to work towards your client's overall well-being. An undergraduate training in psychology can also lead to opportunities in indirectly related fields, such as sales, market research, writing, or teaching. When considering job options, take inventory of your strengths, and of the skills you acquired in your undergraduate program. You'll find that these skills will make you a strong candidate for a wide range of entry-level career options.
What Are Some of the Fastest-Growing Psychology Careers?In the midst of a struggling economy, and with many positions remaining stiffly competitive, it's important to learn which careers are experiencing the fastest growth. As more and more people search for a job, it's no surprise that the job of career counselor is growing at a particularly rapid rate. Career counselors use psychological tools principles to help people find their dream job, and earn an average annual salary of $46,000. School psychology is another career enjoying rapid growth, due to the rising need for psychological services in the public education system. Some other rapidly growing careers include: counselor, genetics counselor, forensic psychologist, engineering psychologist, industrial-organizational psychologist, and sports psychologist. These professionals all use their psychology training to do a wide variety of work, and demand for their services is steadily on the rise.
Where Can I Find Psychology Jobs?It can be tricky to know where to find that first job after graduation, but don't worry. There are a number of resources available which will help you find a good career. One of the best things you can do to find jobs is to network with your professional contacts. These may be your professors, advisors, or fellow classmates. There's good reason to keep in close contact with these individuals; over 60% of all jobs are found through networking. On top of that, you'll want to consult the yellow pages and online job listings for your city, keeping in mind that psychology jobs are found in a wide range of settings: schools, hospitals, universities, government offices, and mental health clinics, to name a few. Go to job fairs, and utilize online job search sites. Keep an up-to-date online presence on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Stay persistent, and remember that opportunities often crop up where you least expect.
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