How to Become an Operational Psychologist

Is Operational Psychology Right for You?

Regardless of how strong and resolute a person is, he/she will at some point in life need some form of psychological help. Nowhere is this more evident that in the military. Every day our troops sacrifice invaluable amounts of time and effort to keep us safe. Moreover, they do so under circumstances so dire we cannot begin to fathom them. There are some things we can do, however. Willing to lend a hand? Consider a career in operational psychology.

Considering occupational psychology is closely intertwined with military matters, it goes without saying that a strong psyche isn’t just recommended in this area of psychology – it’s downright imperative. A substantial number of psychologists who venture into the military sphere bow out because they cannot handle the pressure, or simply because the job does not match their expectations of what it will be like. They frequently operate in an environment that may seem cold, grim, and harsh, and such circumstances are sure to take their toll on anybody. Hence, it is only common sense to ask whether you have the emotional stamina to do this job before you decide to actually pursue it.

If the answer is yes, remember that you are not precluded you from the role of any traditional psychologist – and that too will require strength and staunchness.

What Does an Operational Psychologist Do?

The job duties of operational psychologists are diverse. While some positions involve very military-like responsibilities, others are quite conventional. Some work in close cooperation with military authorities, and are even integral to combat operations. They may be involved in the process of interrogating suspects of military crimes, or influence how combat operations are executed by using their expertise to uncover the hidden motives of enemy forces (Society for Military Psychology).

A majority tend to clinical and counseling matters, however. They may diagnose and treat service members with mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, a devastating remnant of painful war experiences (American Psychiatric Association). They may also act as mediators and resolve issues of a racial, sexual, or marital nature, issues which may not seem to be a part of the military experience, but in fact are. Members of the military have the same problems as you and me.

Another common job responsibility is conducting research. This is done on behalf of the Department of Defense. Why? Without new scientific discoveries, there is little chance to make improvements in the application of psychology to military matters, something which is sure to jeopardize the effectiveness and safety of our brave service members (Society for Military Psychology). Your knowledge and skills are just as wisely put to use here as anywhere else.

What are the Requirements to Become an Operational Psychologist?

Operational psychologists hail from various concentrations and levels of psychological training. It is hence hard to talk requirements without making sweeping generalizations that are true for all, or at least most, psychologists.

Commonly, you must obtain a license to practice. It is unlawful to call yourself a psychologist if you do not have one, and this applies to all US states, as well as the District of Columbia. Variations depending on the state and type of position you are in do exist, however.

If entering the operational sub-field with a background in clinical or counseling, a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and at least 1-2 years of professional work experience isn’t just recommended – it’s mandatory. In addition, you must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which is easier said than done (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Graduate level courses in industrial-organizational psychology may give aspiring operational psychologists a head start on what’s to come. Quite a few universities offer programs that contain these courses (gradschools.com).

What is the Employment Outlook for Operational Psychologists?

Operational psychologists may have training from various backgrounds in psychology. Hence, it is hard to enumerate the expected job growth of military positions in the discipline. A qualified guess puts the figure at 18-35% over the next few years, based on the government’s own projections. You will regardless have a better chance of finding working within psychology than outside of it (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

According to the American Psychological Association, the Army, Navy, and the Air Force are offering more and more incentives to attract operational psychologists. Despite a large influx of psychologists to the military in recent years, demand still has not been met.

What is the Salary for an Operational Psychologist?

Figures from Simplyhired.com indicate that operational psychologists average a yearly income of $61,000. Your exact salary will vary based on factors such as company of employment, geographic location, industry, work experience, and accrued benefits. The increasing demand for professionals in the concentration is likely bring about a future pay raise.

When the day arrives, it may however be eclipsed by the mental rewards of helping our brave service members – and that’s a good thing.

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