Although psychology formally appeared on the scene in the late 19th century, it’s a discipline as old as time. Understanding human behaviors, motives, and ways of thinking has always been of interest to curious individuals who never stopped asking “why”. Why do people do what they do? Why do they respond to some stimuli and not to others? Why do they behave like that?
If you share this curiosity and are dedicated to finding out the answers, a psychology career might be just the right thing for you. However, keep in mind that students of psychology need to develop a variety of different skills and talents.
While it’s not an exact science, it requires a deep understanding of scientific methods as it incorporates hours upon hours of observation, experimentation, and statistical analysis. Simultaneously, it requires creativity, open-mindedness, and excellent communication skills for connecting with and understanding patients and clients.
To find out whether career paths in psychology are the right choice for you, take a look at this thorough guide that will cover all of the basics of getting started with this wonderful discipline.
Steps to Becoming a Psychologist
Becoming a certified psychologist requires years of education and experience. You’ll need to enroll in one of many psychology programs, earn a degree, and maintain your license throughout your career. Here’s a brief overview of the steps you’ll need to follow.
A psychology degree is an absolute must for anyone who wishes to pursue this career. Depending on your psychology career choice, you’ll need a B.A., MA, or a Ph.D.
To dip your toes in the water and see whether this discipline suits you, you could first earn an Associate’s Degree, which will provide you with basic psychological education and offer you foundations for moving on to the B.A. program. Students who earn their B.A. in this field could find jobs in entry-level positions or pursue careers in management, HR, and the like.
For more specialized career paths, you’ll need at least an MA.
Over 47% of school psychologists, for example, hold a Master’s Degree, while many others who want to work in clinical or academic settings will need a relevant Ph.D.
To work as an independent psychologist, you’ll first need to have extensive clinical experience with supervision. Your responsibilities will be limited, but you’ll get a chance to work with patients and clients from different backgrounds.
You cannot practice it without a license, so obtaining one is a critical step in any psychology career. Different states might have different licensing requirements, so it’s in your best interest to apply for a psychology program in the state where you eventually want to work.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll need to have a B.A. or MA degree, clinical experience, and you’ll need to pass additional testing to obtain a license.
Depending on where you’re located, you could obtain clinical experience before, during, or after applying for a license.
Unlike the license, certification isn’t required to practice psychology. However, specialty certification can help you demonstrate a higher level of expertise and even earn you a higher salary.
What Psychologists Do
There’s a lot of confusion among the general public about what psychologists actually do. Commonly, they’re even confused with psychiatrists since the titles sound quite similar, and both professionals deal with mental health. However, their jobs and skills are vastly different.
A psychologist’s job is to understand and explain thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Their main objective is to provide psychotherapy, or talk therapy, that would help the patient understand what causes their behaviors and what influences their interactions with their environment. They seek behavioral patterns and look into the cause-and-effect of a person’s responses to different stimuli.
Psychologists often develop effective, personalized treatments for behavioral problems (such as anger issues, for example), mood disorders (like depression and anxiety), and learning difficulties (like ADHD).
Students can get into many different specialties. Although young, this is a broad discipline with a vast array of different career paths you could take, each more interesting than the other. Here are some of the most common psychology career specialties you could pursue:
From marital to career counselors, psychologists who choose this career path are trained to help people with a wide range of difficulties. They can help their patients better manage stress, adapt better coping strategies, develop more effective communication skills, change their destructive habits, and more.
- Child Psychology
It focuses on conscious and subconscious childhood development. If you devote yourself to this psychology career, your task would be to analyze how children interact with the world, their parents, and themselves. You’ll observe their emotional and cognitive development and provide parents or legal guardians with resources to help their children advance.
- Clinical psychology
Clinical psychologists are mental health experts who have specialized training to provide treatment for mental health, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Your job as a clinical psychologist would be to diagnose disorders, develop and implement treatment plans, and monitor patient progress. You’d work with patients who are dealing with more serious disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, PTSD, and more.
- Health psychology
It focuses on the interconnectedness between illness and psychology, sociology, biology, and behavior. It’s a well-known fact that mental and physical health are strongly intertwined and have an immense impact on one another. As a health psychologist, you would help your patients change the behaviors that negatively impact their health and adopt the behaviors that can lead to better health.
- Sports psychology
It is one of the more interesting career paths in psychology. You’d be working with athletes to help them improve their focus, stay motivated, and better handle anxiety and fear of failure that’s so common in such competitive fields.
- Social psychology
This is the study of how interpersonal relationships and interactions affect one’s behavior and mental health. You’d analyze individual and group influences and help your patients establish more positive relationships with their social circle.
While many social psychologists can often work as counselors, they can also find jobs in marketing where they’d focus on consumer attitudes and shopping behaviors or in business where they’d provide organizational and management assistance.
- School psychology
A school psychology career would have you working in a school setting with young children, adolescents, and their parents. You’d diagnose behavioral issues, learning difficulties, social problems, and more. Additionally, you would even provide career counseling to high school students and develop behavioral interventions as needed.
Neuropsychology studies the relationship between neural systems and behavior. You could study how memories are created and stored or how brain injuries and diseases can impact behavior and perception. You’d work with imaging techniques like PET scan, SPECT, or fMRI to study brain functions and processes, and you’d often work closely with other health experts.
- Forensic psychology
It is critical for many legal processes as it involves applying psychological principles and methods to the legal system. As a forensic psychologist, you’d provide a professional opinion on whether a defendant is competent enough to stand trial, for example, or whether a parent is competent enough to receive custody.
In most cases, forensic psychologists need a Ph.D. Additionally, many of them have training in both psychology and law.
- Organizational psychology
Organizational or industrial psychology is focused on studying behavior and mental health in the workplace. In most cases, you’d be an HR specialist who would help with recruitment, employee training, and development. As an organizational psychologist, you could also develop strategies to boost employee morale and productivity, improve work-life quality, or even strengthen company culture.
These are just a few of the many different career paths in psychology you could pursue. As mentioned, it’s a broad discipline that keeps expanding, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from if you decide to get a psychology degree.
Salary and Employment Growth Snapshot
Pursuing a career in psychology could prove to be quite beneficial as the occupational outlook is quite positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of psychologists is expected to grow 3% between 2019 and 2029. Of course, those with Ph.D.-s and specializations could expect much better job prospects.
A psychologist’s salary will depend entirely on their location, specialization, and experience. The national median pay in the US is $80,370 annually. As many psychologists tend to work independently and start their own practices, their annual pay depends entirely on their work hours and the clients’ number.
3% between 2019 and 2029
Number of Jobs
Students with a psychology degree don’t necessarily have to work as psychologists. As mentioned, you could also find employment in a variety of business or government settings – HR, marketing, management, social services, education, healthcare, and more.
Certification and Licenses Necessary for Psychologists
To practice psychology and work with patients, you will need to obtain a state license. Each state has slightly different requirements for a license, so it’s critical to meet your local requirements. If you hold a psychology license in Washington state, for example, you cannot practice it in California.
Your state license will be awarded after you pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). Depending on the state, you’ll need to meet specific educational requirements and complete between 1,500 and 6,000 of supervised clinical experience.
Moreover, different careers could require different licenses. To become a school psychologist, for example, you’d need licensure as an educational psychologist.
As previously mentioned, certifications aren’t necessary for practicing psychology, as long as you have your state license. However, having certifications could help you find employment and negotiate a better salary. Relevant certificates will depend entirely on your chosen career paths in psychology, previous education, and professional qualifications.
Career Resources for Psychology
Students will often need to do thorough research to pinpoint the career path best suited to them. If you’re interested in exploring your options and learning more before committing, take a look at the following career resources for psychology:
- American Psychological Association (APA) – a scientific organization that aims to benefit society by providing knowledge and information.
- Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) – a regulatory body responsible for the licensure and certification of psychologists in the US and Canada.
- LearnPsychology – a vast database of accurate resources and information for psychology and mental health beginners and professionals.
- Association for Psychological Science (APS) – an international organization that provides access to valuable psychological research and science.
- Psychology.org – an online information center that allows you to explore available degree programs, career options, and more.
- Psychology Today – one of the largest psychology magazines that shares unique, easy-to-digest insights and information about everything psychology-related.
- Psychology Tools – a website that gives you access to a variety of evidence-based tools that are essential in every type of psychotherapy. The site also shares engaging articles and interviews with psychology leaders.
- Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) – a vast information hub with an insightful blog, helpful e-books, detailed wiki, and more; suitable for all teachers and students.
- American Academy of Clinical Psychology (AACPSY) – an organization of Board-certified psychologists that provides educational courses, professional events, and more.
- PsychCentral – a website dedicated to sharing information about clinical psychology and mental health.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – an excellent online resource where students can find the newest research and studies.
- Society of Experimental Social Psychology (SESP) – an international organization that promotes the advancement of social psychology.
- PubMed – a vast database with millions of scientific articles, research papers, and studies. It covers a variety of topics relevant to life sciences and biomedical fields.
- Practical Psychology – a YouTube channel that shares informative and entertaining videos on many psychology-related topics.
- Society for Health Psychology – an informative website that shares academic research and useful resources for students and professionals.
Psychology is a vast field that offers plenty of unique career opportunities. To earn your psychology degree and become a professional, you’ll need years of experience and lifelong dedication to your field. Career paths in psychology aren’t suitable for everyone, but if you are passionate and committed, you’ll find fulfillment in your chosen career.