Roadmap for a Successful Psychology Career

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Interested in a career in psychology? If so, you aren’t alone. Psychology is a highly popular and competitive field, due to the high salaries and rewarding career opportunities. How can you get a jump on the competition? Here are some suggestions.

Choose Your General Area of Psychology Early

Psychology is a broad field, offering a wide range of career opportunities. Choosing your specialty—or at least your general area of psychology—early can provide you with an early lead in the race, because you will be able to tailor your classes toward your general area. You don’t necessarily have to choose your exact specialty area, but if can, so much the better.

To properly choose a general area, you will first need to figure out what general type of psychology you are most interested in. Do you consider yourself a lab rat, or would you rather work as a counselor? Or maybe you’d prefer to be a teacher, or even work in advertising.

Sometimes your choice might come down to examining the type of person you are. If you are an introvert who loves conducting experiments, you should consider becoming a researcher for a university or a private corporation. If you are an extrovert who likes helping people, you might consider becoming a counselor or a social worker.

Another factor to consider is the type of environment you would like to work in, such as a hospital, school, private office, research institute, governmental office, etc.

Here are a few of the most common careers in psychology to consider, as well as some specialty areas:

Counseling psychologists counsel clients who suffer from issues like stress, substance abuse, marital issues, depression or mental disorders, by using various types of psychotherapy. Many counseling psychologists set up their own private practice.

Clinical psychologists are similar to counseling psychologists, except that their clients generally suffer from more serious psychological disorders, often to the point of being institutionalized. Clinical psychologists generally work in hospitals or mental health institutions.

Social workers help clients develop plans to improve their general well-being, often by making referrals for services like health care or financial assistance. Social workers can help people cope with legal problems, poverty or human rights issues. They can act as advocates for clients or teach them new skills. Social workers often work for a governmental agency, though some work for a hospital or clinic.

Clinical social workers are a cross between clinical psychologists and regular social workers, as they can counsel mentally ill patients.

Researchers conduct laboratory experiments on humans or animals in order to gain a better understanding of mental functions, emotions, social capacities and feelings. Researchers help expand our psychological knowledge, which can lead to new scientific breakthroughs or revolutionary psychological theories. Some researchers are required to teach part-time or to write grants. A few of the specialty fields in this area of psychology include social psychologists, developmental psychologists and neuropsychologists.

Psychology teachers generally work for a high school or university, often performing research on the side.

School psychologists normally work in schools, working directly with students and school officials. They help students develop better strategies for learning and for coping with the stresses associated with school life. They counsel students and parents, while also working with educators and other professionals in helping combat issues like learning disorders or outdated methods of teaching.

Industrial psychologists help improve the efficiency and health of the workforce, helping to raise the morale and performance of the workers in any sort of workplace. Industrial psychologists work with employers to incorporate better hiring practices and to improve conditions in the workplace.

Forensic psychologists work within the criminal justice field, usually either for a law enforcement agency or for a court system. They help judges, lawyers or law enforcement agents understand the psychological aspects of a case and the mental condition of defendants. Forensic psychologists often appear in court as expert witnesses.

Get the Proper Education

Because psychology is such a competitive field, you will need to get good grades in high school and college. You will also need to tailor your school subjects toward the type of psychology you want to practice.

A research psychologist needs to get a Bachelor of Science degree (not a Bachelor of Arts) in psychology and a PhD in psychology.

Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a PhD in clinical psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) Degree, the latter being preferable for those who don’t plan to perform much research.

School psychologists need either a Specialist Degree in Education (Ed.S.), a PhD or PsyD Degree in psychology or, in some cases, just a master’s degree. Their coursework needs to include studies in both education and psychology.

Social workers can sometimes get away with just a Bachelor’s or a Master’s Degree, but clinical social workers usually need a PhD or PsyD Degree.

For many jobs in advertising, sales, business administration and high school teaching, a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology is adequate.

Get the Proper License

If you want to work independently as a psychologist, you will need a state license. In most states, all practicing psychologists need a license. Most clinical and counseling psychologists also need a year of two of internship or professional experience before they can get licensed.