How to Become a General Psychologist [2024 Schooling and Degree Guide]

Last Updated: June 25, 2024

What is a General Psychologist?

The word psychology is derived from the Greek word psyche, for soul, and logos, meaning to study. Psychology is the study of the human soul. General psychologists are trained to help patients deal with emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems at all ages and in a wide variety of circumstances.

A general psychologist might see a caregiver struggling to take care of a loved one, a child having trouble paying attention in school, an older person dealing with memory losses, a family member dealing with bereavement, or someone admitted to the hospital for a suicide attempt or a psychotic break.

What Does a General Psychologist Do?

General psychologists help people cope with life and mental health issues more effectively. In some instances, problems may involve a sudden life event, such as the death of a loved one. In other cases, a general psychologist may help with lifelong problems, such as low self-esteem or anxiety.

Unlike specialists, general psychologists do not limit the work they do to a certain patient population or particular problem. Instead, a general psychologist may help patients with various types of mental health conditions, such as relationship issues, emotional troubles and behavioral problems.

General psychologists may work with children, adolescents and adults of all ages. In addition to individuals, general psychologists may work with families and couples. They may use a variety of techniques depending on the age of the patient and their problem.

Before a general psychologist can develop a treatment plan, they need to understand the problem. In some cases, a patient is not even sure what is causing their feelings.

General psychologists can help people discover why they feel and behave in a certain way. For example, a psychologist may administer certain assessments, which can help shed light on an individual’s personality characteristics, weaknesses and strengths. Certain tests can also aid in diagnosing a mental health condition.

In addition to administering assessments and tests, these psychologists also use evidence based techniques. For instance, they may use talk therapy to help patients identify and work through their issues.

General psychologists utilize additional styles of therapy. One type of therapy used may include cognitive behavioral therapy. During this type of therapy, psychologists help patients become aware of negative thought processes to change patterns and respond to situations in a more positive and effective manner.

It’s also common for general psychologists to use a combination of therapy styles. The exact type of therapy used will depend on what would work best for an individual patient.

Although laws may vary based on geographic location, some general psychologists may also prescribe medication to treat certain conditions. It some instances, a combination of therapy and medication is used to help patients deal with their problem or mental health condition.

Related: How to Become a Family Psychologist

What are the Requirements to Become a General Psychologist?

Below is a quick breakdown of requirements to become a general psychologist:

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree
  • Complete your master’s degree in psychology
  • Obtain a doctoral degree in psychology
  • Complete required internships
  • Fulfill supervised experience reqirements
  • Pass the EPPP and state psychology exams
  • Apply for your license

General Psychology Bachelor’s Degree

The first educational requirement leading to a career in psychology is a bachelor’s degree, which can be either a Bachelor of Science (BS) or a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology. Four year universities have different requirements for admission, but all consider applicants’ high school or junior college grades.

Most universities require students to complete about 120 academic units of study to earn a baccalaureate diploma.

Full time students take about 15 units per semester and graduate in four academic years. About 30 to 45 units must be taken in psychology, and the rest are taken in general education. General education includes English, humanities, science, math, history, political science, and foreign languages.

Programs vary by the university. Pennsylvania State University, for instance, requires 50 units in psychology and 15 business option credits along with supporting courses and general education, making up a total of 123 units.

Kansas University requires 37 units in psychology and a total of 120 units for graduation. The aspiring general psychologist is advised to read the catalogs of the schools in which he or she is interested and discuss his or her plans with school counselors.

General Psychology Master’s Degree

After completion of the bachelor’s degree, the future general psychologist is ready to enter graduate school. Graduate schools look at undergraduate grades and sometimes require letters of recommendation from undergraduate faculty members when considering whether a candidate is a good match for their graduate programs.

Many also require applicants to submit scores from the Graduate Records Exam (GRE). Click here to search graduate psychology schools.

General Psychology Doctorate Degree

Once the candidate is accepted into a graduate program he or she works toward a Doctor of Philosopy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Some programs require coursework and many arrange for their students to serve clinical preceptorships to obtain actual experience counseling patients. Research is required in all programs.

Under the supervision of a faculty adviser and a committee of faculty members who themselves have doctoral degrees the candidate chooses an area of study. He or she then designs and carries out a research study to add to the body of psychological knowledge, and writes a paper explaining the research design, results, and conclusion.

The report, or dissertation, must be defended in a presentation before the graduate adviser and faculty committee. The report should be eligible for publication in a refereed psychology journal.

What are the Requirements for Psychologist Licensure?

The final task for the future practicing psychologist is becoming licensed from the government of his or her state, territory, or province. Governments regulate the practice of psychology to protect their citizens and assure proper care.

Individual Boards of Psychology establish their own rules for licensure, but in general psychologists are required to have a doctorate in psychology, experience under the supervision of licensed psychologists, and usually pass a test with a specified minimal grade.

The Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP) is used by the vast majority of state, territiorial, and provincial Boards of Psychology to test candidates’ knowledge. Most Boards also require a certain number of hours of experience under appropriate supervision.

Some also require other tests. Utah requires candidates to sit for the Psychology Law Examination of Utah as well as the EPPP. Candidates in Utah are also required to submit descriptions of psychology classes they passed.

Licenses are usually good for two years or more. To maintain a license, psychologists must take courses in continuing education to stay abreast of new developments in their field.

How Much Does a General Psychologist Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a psychologist in 2023 was $106,420 per year. The amount varies depending upon the setting.

A psychologist in a thriving private practice can expect to make more than one working for a county mental health center, and salaries in metropolitan areas are generally higher than in poorer rural communities. The average salary in 2023 for a psychologist working in Alaska, California, and Maryland was $113,040, $112,210, and $111,350 respectively.

Where Does a General Psychologist Work?

After obtaining a license, the new psychologist is ready to find a practice opportunity. Working alone or in a solo private practice is one possibility. Others might prefer working for schools, hospitals, county health departments, or other healthcare settings. Whatever the setting, it is time to go to work.

What is the Difference Between a General Psychologist and a Clinical Psychologist?

The primary differences between general psychologists and clinical psychologists are in their level of education and area of expertise.

General psychologists can work in a wide variety of fields, from research to education to counseling. They are not at all limited to “typical” psychology duties, like therapy. This is because psychology is such a broad-based discipline with many subfields in which practitioners can specialize.

Specialization is usually obtained through a combination of education and experience. General psychologists must have an advanced degree – a master’s or a doctorate – and must participate in extra training, such as an internship, in their area of interest. While many general psychologist jobs require workers to be licensed and/or certified, some, such as those in research or other areas in which there is no therapeutic component, may not require licensure by the state.

By contrast, clinical psychologists have a narrower focus. Rather than working in one of many fields, clinical psychologists focus their education and experience on working directly with clients that have a mental health issue.

Clinical psychologists are much more aligned with the popular notion of what a psychologist is – a mental health worker that meets with clients in one-on-one or group settings to work through issues such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse, to name a few.

Because of their emphasis on working with clients, clinical psychologists are required to hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D in Clinical Psychology. And unlike some general psychologists, clinical psychologists must obtain licensure from the state in which they practice.

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