How to Prepare for a Career in Psychology

What is a Psychologist?

Psychologists help people by studying their brain function and behavior through a variety of methods. Psychologists observe people and collect information gathered through interviews and other methods to identify behavioral and emotional patterns. They may also conduct studies of individuals and groups and test people to predict behavior. By analyzing information, psychologists can devise strategies to help individuals cope with their environment and deal with problems and people more effectively.

Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose and treat long and short term disorders for individuals experiencing emotional, behavioral and mental problems. They may provide psychotherapy to the individual, the family or to groups. Clinical psychologists gather information through interviews and diagnostic testing and use the data to design behavior modification programs.

Psychologists may also specialize to treat the elderly or people with health issues, brain injuries or marriage and family problems. School psychologists address student learning and behavioral problems. Forensic psychologists work in the criminal justice system to assist attorneys and judges understand the psychological elements of a case. Other psychologists apply psychological principles to the workplace to address issues like productivity and morale.

What is the Work Environment for a Psychologist?

According to the According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, 31 percent of psychologists worked in educational services, where they evaluated student performance and counseled students and their families. School psychologists often meet with educational professionals to improve teaching and learning. Another 29 percent of psychologists worked in healthcare and social assistance. Almost a third of psychologists were self employed.

Psychologists may work independently to conduct research or provide patient counseling, or they may be part of a team of healthcare professionals to treat illnesses and promote wellness.

Clinical and counseling psychologists in private practice typically set their own schedules and work in their own office space. Others may work in mental health centers, hospitals and clinics. School psychologists work in educational institutions from nursery level to college. Others work in hospitals, clinics, community treatment centers or in private practice. Research psychologists generally work at governmental agencies, private research organizations or colleges and universities.

What are the Requirements to Become a Psychologist?

Education

Psychologists typically need a doctoral degree (Psy.D.) in psychology. Practicing psychologists also need to be licensed. A Ph.D in psychology is a research degree that requires a comprehensive examination and a dissertation based on original research. Students planning to become a school, counseling, clinical or health services psychologist typically complete a one-year internship that is part of the doctoral program. For such clinical psychologists, practical work and examinations take the place of a dissertation.

A school psychologist may need an advanced degree such as Ed.S., which requires at least 60 graduate semester hours and 1,200 hours of supervised internship or a doctoral or master’s degree in school psychology. Coursework includes education as well as psychology.

Master’s degree programs generally require coursework in general psychology, experimental psychology and statistics, but they do not require an undergraduate major in psychology. Individuals with a master’s degree in psychology might work as industrial or organizational psychologists. They may also work as psychological assistants in research, counseling and clinical settings under the supervision of a psychologist with a doctoral degree.

To gain admission to a doctoral degree program, an applicant may be required to have a master’s degree in psychology. Other programs may accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree and a major in psychology. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in psychology typically work in fields like sales, education or business administration.

Licensing/Certification

According to the US Department of Labor, practicing psychologists require a license or certification in most states, and psychologists in private practice must be licensed in all states. Requirements to obtain a license vary from state to state and by the type of position. In most cases, a clinical and counseling psychologist is required to obtain a doctoral degree in psychology, complete an internship of one to two years and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

Many states require continuing education courses to meet licensing requirements. Individuals interested in learning about state requirements can obtain information from the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Boards.

Licensing typically requires pre or post doctoral supervised experience, an internship and/or a residency program. There are several areas of specialty certification granted by the American Board of Professional Psychology including couple and family psychology. Psychologists who work in hospitals and clinics may need to have board certification, which requires a doctoral degree and a state license or certification.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

To become a psychologist an individual should have the sharp analytical skills necessary to examine information and draw logical conclusions. They should use strong communication and people skills in listening to patients and talking to them. Psychologists should be able to interpret body language, facial expressions and social interactions to help assess a patient’s attitudes. It helps for a psychologist to use problem solving skills when dealing with patients.

What is the Salary and Job Outlook for Psychologists?

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists in general earned an average of $89,810 in 2014, with the highest pay in Illinois at $125,230. Marriage and family therapists earned an average of $51,730 and $72,300 in New Jersey, one of the highest paying states.

The BLS prediction for growth in the field is 12 percent between 2012 and 2022, the average rate for all professions. Jobs in marriage and family therapy are predicted to grow at the rate of 29 percent between 2012 and 2022, much faster than average.

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