The field of psychology is competitive and those with higher-level degrees will have the best employment opportunities. However, acceptance to graduate school programs is difficult because the number of candidates far exceeds the available slots. With that said, job prospects in this field are good and this is one area that is expected to continue to grow. There are also more and more opportunities for earning psychology degrees with distance learning.
Psychologists, in the general sense, study mental processes and human behavior by observing, interpreting and recording how people and other animals relate to one another and the environment. They use scientific methods, research studies, principles and procedures to look for patterns that will help them understand this behavior as well as help individuals, organizations and groups of people understand one another.
While the research methods used vary depending on the exact area of psychology being studied, the general techniques used are the same: observation, assessment and experimentation. Some research methods used include clinical studies, personality or intelligence tests, interviews and questionnaires. Additionally, psychologists may perform this research across a vast number of industries; they may work in health, law, government, sports and education, just to name a few.
By far, the largest specialty area in this field is clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists are concerned with the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental diseases and disorders. These are the psychologists who are often self-employed at small practices, private offices and community mental health centers and meet one-on-one with individuals to talk through problems that are confusing, worrying, or need interpretation. Others in this field work at schools and universities, training graduate students on the proper delivery of mental health services. Some work in physical rehabilitation centers, treating patients with chronic pain or illness, stroke or the like. Several subspecialties fall under the umbrella of clinical psychology including health psychology, neuropsychology, geropsychology and child psychology.
Counseling psychologists, another large career group in this field, help people deal with their everyday lives. Their work might include suggestions on how to improve home or work life, how to deal with problems in their relationships and ways to improve their quality of life. These psychologists are sometimes referred to as “counselors.” School psychologists do much the same work, but in a school setting. They also collaborate with a larger group of people including the student, parents, teachers and school personnel to create a happy, healthy and safe environment for all students; in the end, their work can improve teaching, learning and the socialization of students.
Other common areas in the field of psychology include industrial-organizational, developmental, social, experimental or research, and forensic psychologists. Each work in different areas but all are studying and deciphering behaviors. For example, developmental psychologists study the physiological, cognitive and social development that happens through different stages in life from infancy through geriatrics, while forensic psychologists study the psychological findings in a case, such as a mental health evaluation, a child custody evaluation, or an assessment of an adult offender, and help other legal professionals understand these findings.
For the vast majority of psychologists, a master’s or doctoral degree, plus special licensure, is required to work in this field. A doctoral degree enables a psychologist to work in private practice; in teaching, research, clinical and counseling positions at universities; in healthcare services; in elementary and secondary teaching institutions; in private industry and for the government. To obtain a doctoral degree, students can expect 5 years of studying beyond their undergraduate degree.
A master’s level degree will qualify a psychologist to work as an industrial-organizational psychologist or as a psychological assistant who conducts research under the direct supervision of a doctoral-level psychologist; this degree will take approximately 2 years of additional studying beyond the undergraduate study.
While a bachelor’s degree in psychology will not qualify a person for many positions, it is extremely helpful to have this undergraduate degree when it comes time to apply to a graduate program. Competition for available slots is fierce, and many graduate programs favor students who have already been studying psychology for 4 or more years.
In addition to having a degree, psychologists also need to be licensed to practice in their state. In addition, several professional organizations associated with psychologists also issue certifications.
This field will continue to grow thanks to an increased demand for psychological services in the school systems, hospitals, social service agencies, mental health centers, substance abuse treatment centers and private companies. In addition, veterans returning from combat and an increase in childhood bullying will drive demand. As a psychologist, one can expect to earn between $38,000 and $150,000 depending on the type of work being done, the level of degree obtained, and whether the psychologist is self-employed or employed by an organization.