Psychotherapist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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A psychotherapist's median annual salary is around $68,900. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a psychotherapist is right for you.
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Psychotherapist Careers: Pros and Cons

As a psychotherapist, you would devise solutions to assist patients and analyze how the human mind works by studying behavior through various methods, including observation, testing, interviewing and surveying. Examine the pros and cons below to decide if a career as a psychotherapist is right for you.

Pros of a Psychotherapist Career
Relatively high earnings ($68,900 annual median salary for all clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)*
Average job growth (12% between 2012 and 2022 for all psychologists)*
Many specialty fields (13+ specialties certifications)**
Employment opportunities in various settings (hospitals, universities, private schools, public schools, clinics, community treatments centers and independent practice)*

Cons of a Psychotherapist Career
Doctoral degree required for many positions (minimum of five years of additional education after completing a bachelor's degree)***
Competitive field for admission to graduate school*
Certification or licensure required in most states*
Long, irregular hours and weekend shifts possible*
Inability to prescribe medication (except in New Mexico and Louisiana)*

Sources: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **The American Board of Professional Psychology, ***Georgia Institute of Technology.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Psychotherapists work with individuals, families, couples and groups to help them improve their mental health, by evaluating thoughts, emotions, feelings and behavior. As a psychotherapist, you could treat people with a variety of issues and mental disorders, ranging from short-term personal problems to severe, chronic mental conditions. You could gain insight into a patient's thought-processes through observation, interviews, tests and other techniques. Controlled laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are some of the methods you may use. After gathering relevant information, you could diagnose patients with mental, emotional or behavioral disorders and design a treatment plan.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

Psychologists have the potential to earn a healthy income. The BLS reported that clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned an annual median salary of $68,900 as of May 2014. The top 10% earned over $113,640 per year, while the lowest 10% made less than $40,080 annually. Overall job growth for psychologists was projected to increase by 12% between 2012 and 2022, which is as-fast-as the average for all occupations. Industrial-organizational psychologists have excellent career prospects, with job growth expected to increase by 53% over the same decade.

Career Specializations

You can also choose to focus your work on certain field-related specialties. For example, industrial-organizational psychologists work to improve the quality of life in the workplace by introducing psychological principles and methods to solve problems. School psychologists use their training to address education-related issues, such as student performance, learning and behavior. Forensic psychologists typically work within the criminal justice and legal system, helping law professionals understand the psychological aspects of court cases. Clinical psychologists can use a variety of methods to help their patients; they may work with individuals, families or conduct group psychotherapy sessions. Within clinical psychology there are subspecialties, such as neuropsychology that deals with the connection between behavior and the brain. Additionally, psychologists may choose to specialize in working with certain populations, such as a specific race or the elderly.

What Are the Requirements?

To work in research, counseling or clinical psychology, the BLS reports that you will likely need a doctoral degree in psychology. Industrial-organizational and school psychologists can sometimes find employment with only a master's degree in psychology. Master's degree holders can also work as psychological assistants in research, counseling or clinical psychology, under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist. Practicing psychologists, and those who wish to use the title of 'psychologist', must have a license or certification in most states. Licensing and certification requirements vary by state and your desired career position. In most states, you'll need internship experience, 1-2 years of work experience, a doctoral degree and the ability to pass a licensing exam to be eligible. Additionally, licensed psychologists are typically required to take continuing education courses to keep their licenses up to date.

Top Skills for Psychotherapists

Since this line of work involves a great deal of communication between patients and co-workers, psychotherapists typically possess strong speaking and listening skills. Patience and trustworthiness are also essential aspects of the patient-counselor relationship. In order to effectively treat those under your care, it's also vital to develop keen analytical, observational and problem-solving skills.

Job Posts from Real Employers

Employers advertise for general psychologists, but finding posts for specific titles, such as clinical, school, drug treatment and industrial-organizational, is also common. Some common qualifications desired include state licensure and experience working with certain segments of the population or providing particular mental health services. Although this is not a complete look at the current job market, the following are some of the qualifications employers sought in April 2012, based job postings found on CareerBuilder.com.:

  • A health services organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is looking for a licensed psychologist with a master's or doctoral degree to treat patients with substance abuse and addiction problems. The candidate should have experience evaluating and treating mental health conditions and working with urban populations, as well as with people of different races, genders, sexual orientations and religious backgrounds.
  • An outpatient clinic in New Jersey is seeking a licensed pediatric psychologist with at least 2-years experience to conduct psychological testing and provide psychotherapy services to their outpatient population. The applicant must have a Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D. degree in psychology to be considered.
  • A correctional facility in Mississippi is searching for a licensed staff psychologist / mental health counselor to provide services to inmates. Job duties include evaluating, diagnosing and treating inmates with behavioral, mental or emotional disorders. Potential candidates are required to possess a doctoral degree in psychology and two years of experience.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Select a Specialty

According to the BLS, psychologists who hold a doctoral degree in an applied specialty area typically have the best employment prospects. To stand out in this career field, you can focus your career on a specific area of psychology or obtain specialty certification. One way to specialize is to locate a program that can assist you hone skills in your chosen specialty area during your residency or internship. Another way to specialize is to obtain certification through The American Board of Professional Psychology. The organization offers certification in 13 areas of psychology, some of which include rehabilitation, clinical health, forensic psychology, counseling psychology and psychoanalysis.

Develop Skills Through Additional Coursework

If you seek to work with people for whom English is a second language, then it would be a good idea to study that population's first language during college. A job post found on CareeBuilder.com in April 2012 indicated a preference for bilingual applicants. Another skill that could be developed through additional coursework is computer literacy. Since many aspects of this job require using computers, taking classes in this area could also be beneficial.

Alternative Career Choices

If certain aspects of becoming a psychologist (such as the competitiveness of getting into an advanced studies program) are a deterrent, but you're still interested in pursuing a career that enables you to help people improve their mental conditions, then there are similar career fields that might be a better fit for you.

Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatric nurses care for patients or groups with various mental health issues and consult on psychiatric issues. You can become a registered nurse who works in psychiatric nursing with a diploma, associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing, but a master's degree and state certification are required to become an advanced practice nurse, which enables you to specialize in psychiatric nursing and to prescribe medication to patients. Since psychologists in most states are unable to do this, it could be an incentive to pursue this career path. The BLS reported that registered nurses earned an annual median salary of around $66,000, in May 2011, and job growth for registered nurses was predicted to increase by 26% between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

Clinical Social Worker

Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat patients with mental, emotional and behavioral health issues. They assess clients' needs and create plans to help them improve their mental state and functioning. A master's degree in social work (MSW) and a state license are required to practice as a clinical social worker. To be admitted into a MSW program, you don't need a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW); however, some programs allow BSW holders to earn a MSW in one year (versus the typical two years of study). Jobs for social workers were projected to increase by 25% between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations. On the downside, the pay is considerably less - the BLS reported the annual median salary of social workers was about $54,000 in May 2011.

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The George Washington University

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  • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality

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Kaplan University

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Indiana Wesleyan University

  • M.S. Nursing - Psychiatric Mental Health
  • Bachelor of Science in Addictions Couseling
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  • Undergraduate Certificate - Pastoral Care and Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
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  • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse
  • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Mental Health and Wellness Emphasis in Community Health Administration

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University of the Rockies

  • MA Counseling - Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  • M.A. in Human Services - Mental Health Admin
  • MA Counseling

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University of Delaware

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Northcentral University

  • PhD in Psychology - Mental Health Policy and Practice
  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
  • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
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