Psychologist Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a psychologist career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a psychologist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Psychologist

Psychology can be a challenging yet rewarding field because it involves helping people overcome emotional struggles. Check out these pros and cons to decide if being a psychologist is right for you.

Pros of Being a Psychologist
Flexible schedule*
Multiple specializations available (clinical, health, counseling, school, etc.)*
Help people daily*
Research opportunities available*

Cons of Being a Psychologist
Pressure from deadlines and long hours*
Emotionally stressful career*
Becoming a psychologist can take many years (5 to 7 years for a doctoral degree)*
Continuing education may be required for license renewal*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description

Psychologists study how people connect and respond to their environment in order to understand human behavior. These professionals rely on observation, testing and experimentation to gather information about patients. As a psychologist, you can find work in many different areas, including private offices, hospitals, community clinics and schools. Since you deal with patients directly, many who face emotional challenges, your work may be emotionally draining.

Career Paths and Specializations

Most psychologists choose a specialization based on their interests. For instance, you can become a school psychologist; these professionals work in elementary or secondary school settings and help students, parents and families overcome school-related challenges. As a social psychologist, you can explore how individual people are affected by groups and greater society. If you'd like to help people cope with crises or everyday concerns, consider becoming a counseling psychologist. If you're interested in implementing organizational change or improving the quality of employees' work lives, you may choose to become an industrial/organizational psychologist.

Job Growth and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that about 160,200 psychologists were employed in 2012. Psychologists were spread across various industries, including counseling, healthcare and mental health centers. During this time, many psychologists (about one-third) were self-employed and managed their own private practices. It's also common for psychologists to serve as teachers and professors within high schools and colleges.

The BLS reported that employment of psychologists is likely to increase at an average pace of 12% from 2012-2022. Job growth may stem from an increased need for psychologists who can provide support services for social service agencies, clinics or hospitals. The best job prospects are expected for psychologists with doctoral degrees.

Depending on your specialty, you may be able to earn a decent living as a psychologist. As of May 2014, clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned an average salary of $74,030. During this time, industrial-organizational psychologists made an average of $90,070 per year.

Education Requirements

In general, you need to earn a bachelor's degree and a doctoral degree in order to become a psychologist. Some people choose to earn a master's degree before enrolling in a doctoral degree program, but it's not always necessary. In fact, you may be able to find work with a master's degree, particularly as an industrial-organizational psychologist, but the BLS notes that competition is often more intense for positions that don't require doctorates.

Many colleges and universities offer a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D). Doctoral programs often last at least five years and include internship, research and dissertation components.

Licensure or Certification Requirements

Aside from earning a doctoral degree, your state may require you to be licensed or certified before you can practice as a psychologist. In order to get a license or certification, you need to hold a certain number of credit hours and pass a national or state test; however, requirements may vary by specialty. For example, clinical psychologists must have a doctorate and 1-2 years of professional experience for licensure, while school psychologists need to complete an internship in a school setting in order to become certified. In order to renew your license, you'll need to take continuing education courses every few years.

Job Postings From Real Employers

Psychologists are in demand, whether it's at community health clinics and hospitals or in private practices. The key to finding employment is holding a degree and licensure or certification. Many job postings for psychologists highlight the type of patients you'll work with and the general experience and skill set needed to thrive in the position. Below are some examples of job postings from the American Psychological Association (APA) in March 2012:

  • A university in Wisconsin is looking for a psychologist who can lead the counseling department and provide assessment, therapy and crisis intervention. The position is geared towards psychologists who have experience working with college students from culturally diverse backgrounds.
  • A hospital in Wyoming seeks a psychologist who can support families, individuals and groups through therapy and assessments. Part of the job requires engaging in community education and leading tests for patients. Prospective applicants must possess a doctoral degree and licensure.
  • A California health agency is looking to hire psychologists who can treat patients with medical illnesses and conditions related to the aging process. The agency seeks a licensed psychologist who can speak multiple languages and serve diverse populations.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

One way to stand out from the crowd is to earn a specialty credential. For example, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers certification for school psychologists who complete a doctoral program, a 1,500-hour internship and two or more years of professional experience. Completion of an exam is also required. The ABPP offers additional specialty credentials in counseling, forensic and business consulting psychology, among others.

Continuing Education

While continuing education (CE) is a requirement for licensure renewal, taking CE courses in your specialization can show employers that you're committed to the field. Many universities offer continuing education coursework in a variety of psychology topics. Professional organizations, like the APA, also offer CE classes. In fact, becoming a member of a professional group can also prove to employers that you're a committed practitioner.

Alternative Career Paths

Counselor

If you don't want to run your own private practice or aren't ready to handle a lengthy doctoral program, consider becoming a counselor. Much like psychologists, there are many different types of counselors, including rehabilitation, mental health and school counselors. Entrance into the field typically requires a master's degree, and you may need to be licensed by your state. The job outlook for counselors is expected to be favorable, with employment growing at a faster-than-average rate of 18% from 2008-2018, the BLS reports.

Social Worker

Social work is another career path to consider if you don't want to be a psychologist. There are different kinds of social workers, like those who specialize in schools or those who work in mental health and rehabilitation centers. Some positions only require bachelor's degrees, but it's more common for social workers to hold advanced degrees, along with certifications and licenses. According to the BLS, the number of employed social workers was expected to grow by 16% from 2008-2018. As of May 2010, healthcare social workers earned an average of $49,200 per year; child, family and school social workers earned an average salary of $43,850.

Popular Schools

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    1. Kaplan University

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    Certificate
      • Psychology
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    2. Grand Canyon University

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    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
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      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
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      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
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    3. Colorado Technical University

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      • B.S. - Psychology
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    4. Regent University

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    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring
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    5. Sacred Heart University

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      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
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    7. Colorado Christian University

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    9. Penn Foster High School

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MS in Psychology
  • BS in Psychology in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
  • Psychology

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Grand Canyon University

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  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • BS in Psychology

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Colorado Technical University

  • B.S. - Psychology
  • B.S. - Psychology - Organizational Behavior
  • B.S. - Psychology - Consumer Behavior

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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring
  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Psychology
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology

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Sacred Heart University

  • MSAP - General Track
  • MSAP - Industrial/Organizational Technology
  • MSAP - Community Psychology

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis

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Colorado Christian University

  • Counseling, M.A.
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  • Psychology, A.S.

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Baker College Online

  • Psychology - Bachelor

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