Conservation psychology refers to the scientific study of the interactions between humans and the natural world, with a particular emphasis upon encouraging the conservation of the natural environment and our natural resources. The term “conservation psychology” can also refer to the actual network of workers and researchers who work together in promoting and sustaining a harmonious relationship between people and nature.
Conservation psychology is both an experimental and an applied branch of psychology, meaning that it both conducts experiments and puts them to practical use. The focus of most conservation psychologists, however, is on the applied side.
In conservation psychology, the goals of research are (1) to discover how people behave toward nature, so as to learn how to create necessary changes in that behavior, and (2) to discover how people value nature, in order to develop a better environmental ethic within the general public.
Conservation psychology is unique in that it isn’t really a separate field of psychology, but rather an area of study where psychologists from various fields of study work together in order to help sustain and protect our natural environment. Their specific goals are to conserve our natural resources, conserve ecosystems, preserve biodiversity and improve the quality of life for humans and other species.
Conservation psychology is sometimes confused with environmental psychology. The latter is the study of both natural and unnatural environments, and of how people alter these environments and are altered by them.
Types of Degrees
Because conservation psychology has only been in existence since 2003, there currently aren’t any bachelor or master’s degrees in this subject. But conservation psychology is such a broad field that there are several undergraduate subjects that students can major in, such as biopsychology, social psychology, biology or environmental studies. But if you choose to major in a subject like biology or environmental studies, you’ll probably need to take a concentration of classes in psychology or use psychology as a second major. Some schools might allow you to design your own major in conservation psychology.
Another option is to major in a related area of study that offers better employment opportunities and then use conservation psychology as a side-line. This would allow for the possibility of incorporating conservation psychology into your specialty field of psychology, helping to spread conservation into other areas of psychology.
Or you an specialize in an area like bio-psychological research that would be valuable both in conservation psychology and in other areas, so you could still seek a job in conservation psychology while providing yourself with a fallback plan in case a job in conservation psychology doesn’t pan out.
Whatever subject you choose to major in, a bachelor’s degree takes about four years to complete.
Related: Becoming a Research Psychologist
Depending upon your specialty interests, this field offers a wide variety of applicable undergraduate coursework. Courses in social psychology are quite valuable, because changing the public’s perception of conservation and environmentalism involves the deprogramming of their social conditioning. Courses in ecology, energy use, ecopsychology, overpopulation, zoology, botany, water resources, environmental studies, conservation biology, natural resource management and environmental psychology are also important for most students.
At the graduate level, there are a few schools that offer master’s or doctoral degrees in environmental psychology, which is similar enough to conservation psychology to be a good option. Graduate degrees in social psychology and biopsychology are more common.
Master’s degrees take about two years to complete, and doctor’s degrees take at least that long, plus a year of internship. You might be able to find a school that offers a doctorate program in conservation psychology, but you might have to design your own.
There aren’t a lot of high-paying jobs in conservation psychology. Conservation psychologists typically work for governmental agencies, conservation groups, wildlife conservatories, forest conservatories or non-profit organizations.
Some clinical psychologists use conservation psychology as part of their therapy for patients. Getting patients out into nature—or even to a zoo—can make them feel better by making them feel more connected to a healthier and more natural environment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics website says that, as of 2012, the median annual wage for “psychologists, other” was $88,400 and the mean hourly wage was $42.50. Most likely, conservation psychologists should expect to make somewhat less than this.
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