Careers as a Psychologist
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The need for psychologists is continually growing. The current number of employed psychologists in the United States is 174,000 according to the Bureau of Labor, and this number is expected to increase to almost 211,600 by the year 2020. On a percentage basis, that's an increase of 22% over current totals, which signals a huge need for qualified professionals in the immediate years to come.
Becoming a licensed psychologist involves years of education and professional training in the field. There is little doubt that the educational path of an aspiring psychologist will be challenging both personally and academically, but the career outcome is worth the effort. Psychology consistently ranks as one of the top careers in terms of job outlook and job satisfaction.
The directory below provides career descriptions, licensing information, internship opportunities, and interviews with experts in the field. Use this directory to find all the information you need to begin your career in psychology.
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What is an Air Force Psychologist? An Air Force psychologist is a mental health professional that works with individuals associated with the United States Air Force. This professional will often be a part of an airman’s life before, during, and after his military career. One of the main duties of an air force psychologist is to evaluate potential airmen before Continue Reading
Applied psychology covers everything from organizational psychology to neuropsychology and everything in between underneath its umbrella. But generally speaking, applied psychologist is the use of psychological methods and scientific results to solve real, tangible and practical problems that affect students and animals. It is a very general term and there are a great deal of professional psychologists who can call themselves applied psychologists.
What Is an Army Psychologist? Army psychologists are the professionals responsible for the mental well-being of Army soldiers, veterans, and their families. Like traditional psychologists, these professionals diagnose and treat a variety of different mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Unlike traditional psychologists, however, Army psychologists are trained to deal specifically with the special needs of members Continue Reading
What Is Biogerontology? Aging is a normal part of life on our planet. Everyone and everything ages. Growing old, however, has its own set of problems and complications. We, as humans, have nearly been obsessed with slowing and even reversing the aging process for centuries. Before we can do this, however, we must first attempt to answer one question… "Why Continue Reading
Child psychologists are responsible for studying, analyzing, and diagnosing the mental, social, and emotional development and behavior of children from birth through adolescence. Some of the things that child psychologists study include genetics, personality and brain development, social maturation, and language development. They are also charged with helping identify, prevent, and treat social, emotional, and developmental issues that inevitably arise in children.
Clinical psychologists are the psychologists in charge of analyzing, identifying, treating, and preventing mental disorders and issues. Don’t mistake them for medical doctors as they can’t prescribe medical treatment in most of the country, instead they work in private practice, or state-run hospitals, or an academic environment and study psychological disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. Their job is to help their patients identify, understand, and treat both common and serious mental disorders.
Cognitive neuroscientists examine and understand brain functions and how they relate to behavior and development. Their primary job responsibility is to study and conduct research on how and why humans think and behave the way they do. They combine science and psychological knowledge to try and understand how behavior and actions are controlled by neural activity and functions.
Cognitive psychologists study the human thought process by examining how people process and store information, especially in regards to subjects like language, decision-making, deductive reasoning, and problem-solving. Their research consists of intensive study of the aforementioned subjects and then applying that information so they can help solve real-world problems and help people understand their behavior and the behavior of others better.
Community Psychologists have the unique job of studying, researching, understanding, and analyzing the relationships of people with their immediate and broader communities. They try to understand the reasoning behind community issues, how people interact with their communities, and how people behave and act with others within their community. A relatively new discipline, community psychology is important in understanding community mental health and well-being.
Using a comparative approach to behavior, comparative psychologists study non-humans (apes, birds, etc.) from different perspectives. They research and observe commonalities in the animals and how those commonalities have been passed through generations. The psychologists then use those observations and apply them to other aspects of the field. This kind of animal cognition work is not necessarily supposed to influence human psychology, but it has made an impact nonetheless.
Consumer psychologists study and analyze how thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, ideas, and impulses impact people’s behavior as consumers. They study how and why people use, buy, and experience certain products and then they draw psychologically-based conclusions surrounding consumer behavior, trends, and patterns. Consumer psychologists often look at factors such as decision-making, impulse control, and social and cultural influences when examining consumer behavior.
Counseling psychologists focus on the emotional, social, educational, and developmental behavior on people and use that research to help encourage and facilitate more successful personal and interpersonal behavior. Counseling psychologists do everything from consulting work for government agencies and large schools to individual and group therapy for those suffering from substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and many others.
Also known as forensic psychologists, these professionals occupy a niche part of the field by helping law enforcement and investigators with important tasks like building psychological profiles, understanding motives, narrowing down potential suspects and examine evidence. They draw upon their psychological studies to understand criminal behavior and actions and help use that understanding to draw inferences and notice patterns in criminality.
Cultural psychologists are part of a new frontier of the industry as psychologists learn to study the importance of cultural meanings and practices and how they influence both individual and group human psyches. As the world becomes more culturally diverse and intertwined, understanding that certain groups do or do not show the same tendencies under different social and cultural conditions can tell these psychologists a great deal about how the mind works. Most cultural psychologists work in academia as the nascent sub-field lends itself to academic research more so than proactive practice, but many universities have begun offering cultural psychology education programs to help uncover and understand controversial cultural differences in psychological processes.
The primary function of developmental psychologists is to study and understand human social and emotional growth and development over the course of time. Developmental psychologists are often asked to evaluate and diagnose patients with developmental disabilities, understand the origin and problems with language development, and work with people of all ages and personalities to pinpoint their developmental obstacles and successes.
Educational Psychologists have the unenviable job of studying and understanding how people are capable of learning in educational settings, the efficacy of certain educational methods, and the effectiveness of the instructional process. They help identify gifted and disabled learners and try to drill down to the root of the problem in hopes of identifying and treating issues in the early stages. Educational psychologists take a proactive rather than reactive approach to the job and use their research to improve educational experiences for people of all learning styles.
Engineering psychology is the science of human behavior in the operation of systems. This means engineering psychologists are primarily focused on anything that affects the performance of those who operate the system. This means studying and applying ergonomic equipment designs and optimizing the efficacy of the machine design. This also means analyzing and applying training procedures and principles that will help get the most out of human operators of the systems as well.
Environmental Psychologists take part in the study of environment and the psychological interaction that takes place in certain types of environments. It is believed that the understanding of an environment and how people interact with it can help to increase productivity, increase or decrease comfort, increase or decrease creativity, etc.
Experimental Psychology is not as ad-hoc as it might sound. In fact, experimental psychologists rely on scientific method, data and research as much as any other niche part of the profession. The profession has less to do with crazy mad scientists and bubbling potions and a lot more to do with rigorous testing, retesting, observation and analysis of highly controlled experiments. The results obviously help color the psychology trends from there.
Forensic Psychologists are the intermediaries between the field of psychology and the justice system because they are responsible for applying psychology to the field of justice, criminal investigation, and law. Forensic psychologists are called upon during legal disputes like custody battles, insurance hearings, and other types of lawsuits. They investigate reports, evaluate the behavior of both parties, and determine mental competency of defendants.
Geriatric Psychologists are specialized psychology professionals who work specifically with the elderly to treat their mental and physical issues. While many issues that affect the elderly may also affect younger adults, there are also specific mental and physical problems (dementia, Alzheimer's, etc.) that predominantly affect elderly patients. These psychologists have been trained in how to treat these issues in particular and thus generally work exclusively with elderly patients and clients.
Not to be confused with geriatrics, gerontologists study and research all the aspects of aging, including social, psychological, developmental, and biological influences. Gerontologists study the physical and social changes in people as they get older; they study the actual aging process; they study the importance of an increasingly aging population, and they identify, analyze, and attempt to understand the reasoning behind age-related disease.
Geropsychologists specialize in the psychological care of the elderly. The elderly suffer from many of the similar issues that young people do, but they also deal with a variety of issues related specifically to old age. Geropsychologists are trained to work with visitors struggling with memory loss, Alzheimer's, and reduced brain function. They have special skills that help them treat these issues specifically.
By understanding the mental, emotional, and socioeconomic factors that might lead to certain illnesses, doctors can also have a better understanding of how to prevent these illnesses. Health psychology also plays a role in helping medical professionals understand the mental and emotional effects of certain illnesses. This not only refers to the effects of certain symptoms on patients, but also the behavioral, social, and economic ramifications that illnesses might have as well.
Media psychology is the intersection between our media-rich society and psychology, and media psychologists are charged with examining and studying that intersection and trying to answer questions by merging their understanding of human behavior and emotions and how it relates to their use, consumption, and reaction to media. They measure motivations of the content producer, user response to the content, user perceptions and reactions, and research about technological development in order to help better understand how people interact with the media and technology.
Military psychologists use psychological research to identify, treat, prevent, and combat mental, emotional, and developmental issues with military personnel and units. Military psychologists can be deployed with active duty troops or they can work in hospitals and government agencies, and they assess individuals to identify things like emotional trauma, stress disorders, traumatic brain injuries and many other awful side-effects of war. They research behavior, emotions, and social development to try and nip serious issues in the bud before they become a problem.
Navy Psychology is a pretty self-explanatory branch of the discipline. But, naval psychologists obviously have to go through more training than just the academic variety. Members of the military are prone to all sorts of mental, emotional and physical issues and thus the role of psychologist takes on an added importance. Naval Psychologists are responsible for treating a wide-range of issues. They deal with everything from PTSD to depression.
Neurology is the study of nervous system disorders and thus a neurologist is a doctor trained to study, diagnose and treat disorders relating to the nervous system. In many ways, a neurologist is similar to a psychiatrist. Neurological disorders can include everything from alcoholism to brain tumors and even disorders such as dementia and Lyme disease. These disorders affect the central nervous systems and neurologists go through years of training and schooling to not just identify these disorders but also develop treatment plans to cure or cope with these disorders. Many are trained specifically in one area of neurology and almost all are required to go through postdoctoral training even after medical school.
Neuropathologists study diseases that affect the tissue in the nervous system via biopsies and autopsies. They examine tissue from the brain and the spinal cord in order to identify diseases such as Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. They usually work on recently deceased patients and identify dementia and then use those findings to help try and identify those diseases in living patients as well. The idea is to try and identify patterns and trends in the tissue so that other types of doctors can learn effective methods to treat and even cure potential nervous system diseases.
Neuropsychologists study the relationship of abilities, behaviors, and cognitive functions of people. They are in charge of assessing, diagnosing, and then clinically treating abnormal development, medical, psychological, or neurological conditions and problems. They study brain anatomy, diseases, and dysfunction in hopes of better understanding neurological issues that afflict people everywhere.
Industrial/Organizational psychologists are scientists who study employees, the workplace environment, and organizational structure. They are tasked with determining how to make an organization more productive and efficient by examining employee behaviors and the motivations behind them, external workplace influencers, and infrastructure in place and how it can be improved. They try to identify spots where effectiveness and efficiency can be improved through hiring best practices, feedback, and training drills.
Personnel Psychology is a branch of Industrial and Organizational Psychology that deals primarily with, you guessed it, personnel issues. These psychologists are responsible for helping identify and treat mental and emotional issues with members of the workforce, but they also deal with helping companies recruit and evaluate personnel to ensure that employees are the right fit for the culture and values of a company. They can deal with everything from company morale to relationship management and everything in between. They are often responsible not just for weeding out potentially troublesome prospective employees but also helping employees be healthy, happy and effective in their roles.
Physiatrists are often known as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians. They are specialized doctors and psychologists that treat medical conditions specifically related to the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. These are medical doctors moreso than psychologists, although there is always overlap between the two disciplines.
Police Psychologists are responsible for not only helping current police officers with an array issues but also assessing the candidacy of future police officers. They are trained not only as professional psychologists but also as police and public safety experts. It is important for these psychologists to understand the unique issues that affect police and public safety officers as treatment and intervention strategies should be created with those unique issues in mind. These psychologists are tasked with making sure that officers are mentally healthy, ethically responsible and effective in their work.
It sounds campy on the surface but Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that impact individual and community success. Positive Psychologists work under the belief that people want to lead fulfilling and impactful lives in order to make their personal experiences better. The idea is that understanding positive emotions such as love and happiness and contentment or positive ideals like justice, peace, and work ethic will help the community and people within it thrive. So much of psychology focuses on human suffering, but positive psychologists believe understanding human strengths is equally as important to enhancing the quality of life.
Psychiatrists and Psychologists are similar but they are not the same. If someone is dealing with mental disorders related to behavior or cognition, they go to see a psychiatrist. Psychiatry is a field that deals specifically with issues related to the mind. This includes mental illness, personality disorders and serious learning disabilities. Psychiatrists are not just charged with identifying these disorders and disabilities. They are also charged with preventing, studying and, of course, treating these issues. Psychiatrists may work in private practice, they can be employed by niche clinics and many are employed by hospitals.
Psychological anthropology is the intersection between anthropology and psychology. These psychological anthropologists are charged with studying how cultural and mental processes interact with each other and focus specifically on how cultural tendencies such as language and tradition shape psychological processes like emotion, mental health and motivation. They also do the opposite, studying how the psychological processes can influence cultural tendencies.
A psychometrician is someone who measures a person’s psychological attributes such as knowledge, skills, problem-solving ability, and other abilities that someone might need to work in a particular field or profession. They conduct data analyses, measure the validity of an exam program, or create language tests. They also may develop test specifications and define the parameters of certain exams and tests to make sure they conform to industry standards.
Rehabilitation psychologists have the ever-important job of helping patients suffering from neurological trauma, chronic illness, chronic pain, and other physical disabilities with the psychological impact of their issues. They are often called upon to perform psychological interventions so that people are better able to manage their emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal problems and issues.
School psychologists have the job of aiding children and youth succeed academically, socially, and emotionally by collaborating with others in the school environment to provide the most supportive learning environment for students. They are trained in education and psychology and often deal with child development, learning disabilities, external factors, curriculum and instruction, and other factors that may influence an educational environment.
What Is Social Gerontology? As we approach old age, things in our lives will begin to change drastically. Not only do our bodies begin to deteriorate, but our social interactions become more difficult as well. Friends that we once had to lean on might pass away or become otherwise incapacitated. Family members and other loved ones often become busy with Continue Reading
The job of the social psychologist is to study social factors such as perception and interaction and determine how they affect and influence the behavior of individuals or large groups. They spend a lot of time researching and analyzing human behavior in hopes of better understanding the psychology influenced by social factors. Their primary job is to observe and analyze human interaction in certain social settings.
Spiritual psychologists have the job of helping people unlock their spiritual secrets by helping them overcome hidden or subconscious issues and overcome their fears. They help patients evolve spiritually and consciously and in turn that helps them grow stronger mentally, physically, and emotionally. Spiritual psychologists tap into a patient’s emotions and inner-psyche to help them feel more content with their lives.
Sports psychologists work with athletes, teams, coaches, and parents to help them overcome any psychological issues that result from things like career transitions, serious injuries, the long road of rehabilitation, and team-building concerns. Their work is an intersection between psychical and psychological science that often results in more effective performance, better communication, and an understanding of self.
Transpersonal psychologists use knowledge of the psychology of spirituality and the spiritual side of the human mind to help patients unlock enhanced capacity for thought, creativity, emotion, and compassion. It helps people better understand themselves and analyzes transpersonal experiences and what effect they have on the perception, emotions, and spiritual development of the person.
The human mind is a mysterious place – research into its functions has only revealed a fraction of its overall capabilities, leaving years of study ahead for the scientific community. Psychologists, as a professional group, are primarily defined by their role as leaders in the scientific study of the brain and their mission to help patients become happier, healthier versions of themselves. But their roles are not limited to scientific study. Psychologists also contribute to overall community by influencing public health policy, establishing standards for mental health treatment plans, and advocating on behalf of mental health practitioners.
What Is the Practice of Psychology?
Psychology is the study of the human mind and its functions. Psychology is a science, and therefore relies heavily on experimentation and data. Though the field is certainly informed by anecdotal evidence, as well as individual and group experiences, its foundation rests on the scientific process and quantitative evidence.
“Psychology” is an umbrella term that encompasses a large range of niche sciences. These include cognitive behavioral psychology, hypnotherapy, counseling, social work, and pain research, to name a few. Psychologists may focus on a single age group – adolescents or the elderly, for instance – or a single population, such as an entire ethnic group.
The practice of psychology requires careful analysis, data collection, and observation of human thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Psychologists rely on evaluation, assessment and experimentation to help individuals find solutions to behavioral problems, and to increase the psychologist’s understanding of the brain. To this end, the practice of psychology may focus either on individual experiences or on patterns of human thought and behavior. Psychologists may seek insights into the underlying cause of behavior or dysfunction through a variety of assessment techniques, such as talk therapy, psychotherapy – Freud’s practice of uncovering the subconscious – experimentation, or other means.
Read more about the practice of psychology.
What Does a Psychologist Do?
The main goal of a psychologist is to understand the reasons behind otherwise unclear thoughts, emotions and behaviors. People experience a huge range of feelings about events in their lives, people, relationships, career and family, and more. Some of those feelings are healthy, and some may have damaging short-term and long-term effects. A psychologist’s role is to help people improve, day by day, so their interactions with the world around them become increasingly healthy and happy.
Psychologists help to treat a wide variety of behavioral disorders, such as anger, depression, anxiety, guilt, grief and more. They may also help treat chronic conditions, such as congenital mental disorders (think schizophrenia) or pain conditions (think fibromyalgia). Any life-disrupting condition with its roots in the human mind can qualify a person for psychological help.
While a psychologist’s duties depend heavily on the specific job they perform, these duties may include:
- Helping patients or clients to work through emotional disruption, such as death, moving, loss of a job, divorce or other major life changes
- Collecting information about patients through assessments, evaluations, surveys or other methods
- Researching and identifying patterns of human behavior
- Assisting with serious mental disturbances, such as psychosis, neurosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, schizophrenia and much more
- Conducting scientific experiments and studies
- Looking for and testing patterns of human thought and behavior
- Writing and publishing articles to add to the overall understanding in the field
- Working with other members of a care team, such as physicians, family members, orderlies, nurses or specialists
- Helping people through both short-term problems (such as grief), and longer-term issues such as serious mental disorders
- Giving patients tools to help them deal with stress, anxiety and other normal human emotions
- Providing support in overcoming addictions or other hindering conditions (think procrastination)
Depending on which of these duties interests you, the patient demographic you would like to focus on, and the type of setting in which you want to work, you may opt for a number of different roles. These include:
- Clinical psychologists, who diagnose a variety of mental, social, emotional or behavioral disorders
- Neuropsychologists, who study the effects of trauma and injury on the brain
- Counseling psychologists, who help their patients deal with a wide variety of life challenges
- Health psychologists, who study and aid patients with the interaction between mental and psychical symptoms and maladies
- Forensic psychologists, who give evidence in court and help other lawmakers understand human motivations
- Workplace psychologists, who help people and organizations function in more healthful ways at work
- Developmental psychologists, who study the path of the human mind through life
- School psychologists, who assist students and teachers in educational settings
- Social workers, who use psychological principles to assess and make recommendations about home and living situations
Because a psychologist may be expected to fulfill a wide range of daily functions, it’s reasonable to expect that a psychologist will work in variety of work environments. Nonetheless, there are a common work settings and experiences shared by most professionals in the practice of psychology.
Typical Work Environment & Occupational Challenges
Most psychologists work in private practice, generating their own client base and serving either specific populations or working as general practitioners, serving patients with any need they are qualified to help with. Those that don’t work for themselves usually work in schools, government facilities, clinics or hospitals. These may include elementary schools to colleges, inpatient and outpatient programs, physician offices, rehab centers and mental health institutions. Other psychologists work in corporate settings.
Some psychologists work as researchers at universities or other institutions of learning, and spend most of their time devising and carrying out studies, then interpreting the results. Still others may travel from place to place performing assessments and making recommendations about the setup of schools, foster homes, family homes and more.
Most psychologists work full-time, and many work in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate their patients’ work schedules. While practicing psychologists often set their own hours, it is common for a psychologist in private practice to exceed the typical 40-hour work week.
Psychologists, like many professions in the field of mental health, must be prepared to witness difficult, and sometimes even heartbreaking, situations. Abuse and neglect are common issues, as are severe traumas such as rape, progressive illness or death. To deal with these challenges, it is important for a psychologist to make their own mental health and wellness a priority, along with proper fitness, rest, and diet.
Psychologist Salary & Job Outlook
Psychologists can earn an excellent salary. The average salary reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is roughly $75,000 per year, which translates to about $36 per hour. There are several factors that contribute to an individual’s earning power, including the location of their practice (metropolitan areas tend to support higher salaries and wages), years of experience (the more experience you have the more you can charge), and the area of specialization (a highly-specialized practice typically demands higher rates of pay).
The field of psychology is growing at a rate of 19 percent, which is much faster than average. This is a promising statistic for students considering a career in the field, because it is reasonable to expect that you will be able to find employment if you meet all the education and licensing requirements to legally practice as a psychologist.
Psychologist Salary By State
|District of Columbia||$44,040||$67,730||$98,150||$110,580||$127,870|
Table data taken from 2016 BLS (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193039.htm)
Psychology Jobs & Job Description
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The job title and job description of a psychologist may vary greatly depending on the role and the setting in which they work. To be successful, a psychologist must be able to adapt to their environment, and harness a wide base of knowledge and specialized skills. A few of these include:
- Good bedside manner
- A firm understanding of psychological tenets, human behaviors and motivations, and the main conditions that typically affect people
- Knowledge of the more severe psychological conditions
- Ability to work not only with patients, but with family members, other members of the medical community, specialists and educators
- Excellent observational and analytical skills
- Good communication skills
- Skepticism without judgment, enabling you to question patients on their thoughts and beliefs without being unkind or unsympathetic
- Patience, as change often takes a long time
- Excellent problem-solving skills
- Facility with a range of psychological techniques, such as behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, talk therapy and more.
Psychology Training, and Certification
Students who earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology may be able to find employment in a support role, but they are restricted (by law) from taking part in advanced duties and client interactions. Examples of such entry-level roles include research assistant, data analyst, or administrative assistant.
A master’s degree is required to practice psychology (and to refer to oneself as a “Psychologist”) in every state across the country. It is the professional standard that every person must meet if they wish to pursue private practice, or to treat patients with mental health issues.
Many licensed professional psychologists choose to pursue a doctoral degree after completing a master’s program, which further increases their career options. With a doctoral degree, an individual possesses the credentials to teach in an academic setting and may pursue advanced research projects. Individuals holding a doctoral degree may also practice as a clinical, counseling, or research psychologist, and are qualified for dozens of other job titles that require an advanced degree.
The typical path to become a psychologist, begins with a bachelor’s degree. Students enrolled in a bachelor’s program will learn the fundamentals of psychology practice, along with basic concepts and principles. Core curriculum will include some of the pre-requisites necessary to apply to a master’s program, but students should be careful to address all the pre-requisite courses required by master’s programs if they intend to pursue the career beyond the entry level.
To pursue a psychology career in earnest, an individual must plan to earn a master’s degree. A master’s degree in psychology (or closely related field) will prepare a student to practice in settings ranging from hospitals, private practice, and community mental health centers, with advanced theoretical concepts grounded in clinical practice. The degree satisfies the education requirements for licensing established by virtually all states across the country, and is a legal requirement to treat patients in a counseling, therapy, or clinical setting.
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Find a Psychology Degree in Your State
Looking for more information about psychology degrees near you? We have psychology degree overviews that cover everything from career opportunities to schools in the area. Click on a state to find out more about potential options for you. You may also consider online psychology degree options available from many accredited colleges & universities.
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