Psychology Assistant Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a psychology assistant career? Read on to see real job descriptions, salary info and careers prospects to see if becoming a psychology assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Psychology Assistant Career

Psychology assistants work under a supervising psychologist in many areas of applied and counseling psychology. Check out these pros and cons of a psychology assistant career to see if it's the right fit for you:

Pros of a Psychology Assistant Career
Above-average salary (about $68,500 median for first five years in the field)**
Can work in many settings (human services, management, education, clinical, etc.)*
Opportunities to assist in research in addition to other duties*
Potential to help improve people's lives*

Cons of a Psychology Assistant Career
Need a master's degree*
All work performed under supervision*
May need to deal with rude, angry, upset or emotionally unstable people*
Work entails sitting for most of the time*

Sources: *iSeek.org, **American Psychological Association.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Psychology assistants work under the supervision of psychologists, performing administrative, counseling and research tasks. Although you can't directly diagnose or treat patients as a psychology assistant, you can help gather information and conference with your supervising psychologists to aid in forming a diagnosis and treatment plan. If you work in applied psychology, you would use your knowledge to study and improve your field, like how certain teaching mannerisms affect learning in schools or how to increase productivity through different management styles. In a research capacity, you would help to conduct experiments as determined by a psychologist, performing tests and analyzing results. Psychology assistants typically work full-time hours in offices where they spend most of their time sitting, often in close contact with patients or clients.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

The American Psychological Association's Center for Workforce Studies reported in April 2010 that those working in applied psychology with a master's degree for five or fewer years made a median annual salary of about $68,500 (www.apa.org). The same survey found that the top fields for employment for master's-level employees were private practices, business, consulting and education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that despite a projected 12% increase in employment for psychologists from 2012-2022, candidates with master's degrees in psychology may find the job market to be very competitive (www.bls.gov).

Education Requirements

Most psychology assistants have a master's degree. You don't have to major in psychology for your bachelor's degree in order to get into a master's program, but it may help when you're applying to graduate psychology programs where admissions can be competitive. If you don't major in psychology, you should take some coursework in the field, especially any introductory courses in psychology and statistics. Some master's programs focus on research and seek to prepare you for a doctoral program while others may focus more on theories in experimental or developmental psychology. Most master's programs culminate in a thesis based on your original research.

Licensing

Some states have registration or licensing for psychology assistants, though it varies by state and by the field you work in. Usually you only need to register with the state if you have completed your doctorate and are accumulating the required supervised hours, but you should check with your state's board for specific rules and regulations.

Skills

Whether you're working in counseling, education or research, you will be in close contact with people, so you need to have excellent communication skills. You should also be compassionate and caring because you may deal with people who have mental or emotional problems. You will use computers for many purposes, including testing, so you should feel comfortable using basic programs and learning ones specific to psychology.

What Employers Are Looking For

Depending on your field of psychology, you may find different job titles for psychology assistants, like research assistant or assistant counselor. Check out these summaries of job postings open in June 2012 to get an idea of what some employers may be looking for:

  • A rehabilitation center in Pennsylvania was looking to hire a drug and alcohol counselor assistant to run counseling sessions and document treatments. For this job, the company wanted someone with a registered nurse license, a bachelor's degree or a master's degree in psychology.
  • A psychiatric hospital in Hawaii was searching for a psychology associate to work a part-time day shift administering and scoring psychological assessments. They wanted to hire someone with a master's degree in psychology, clinical psychology or counseling psychology.
  • A children's hospital in Ohio was looking for a psychology assistant to work as part of a team in a specific department. The candidate should have a master's degree in psychology as well as a professional counselor license.

How to Stand Out in the Field

If you're interested in working in psychological research, you may want to gain some experience by participating in research during your undergraduate studies. You could find a professor who might let you help out or participate in an internship. To get a head-start in high school, you should take any psychology, sociology, anthropology or development classes offered by your school.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're interested in people but want to study cultures in different places and times, consider a career as an anthropologist. To study the development and behaviors of humans, you can get started with a master's degree and some experience doing field research. The BLS projected an employment increase for anthropologists and archaeologists of 21% from 2010-2020, some of which will be due to increased consulting work in the business realm. The BLS reported in May 2011 that anthropologists and archaeologists made a median annual salary of about $56,000.

If you're interested in studying people but want to apply your knowledge to the business world, you could become a market research analyst. Market research analysts study various populations to try to understand consumers' habits and figure out how a company could sell a product to that market. You can get started in the field with a bachelor's degree in marketing, statistics, business, computer science or a related major. The BLS projected a 41% increase in employment for market research analysts from 2010-2020, which is much faster than average. The BLS reported in May 2011 that market research analysts and marketing specialists made a median annual salary of about $60,000.

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Regent University

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