How to Become a Psychologist
Psychologists focus on people’s beliefs, feelings, and the behaviors that influence their actions. Psychologists usually specialize in one of many different areas.
- Clinical psychologists focus on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders. Clinical psychologists offer clients different ways of interpreting and analyzing situations, and allow them to talk about things that are confusing or bothersome. Clinical psychologists may work in community mental health centers, crisis counseling services, or drug rehabilitation centers.
- Health psychologists study how biological, mental, and social factors affect the health and illnesses of their patients. Through counseling, they promote healthy living and disease prevention.
- Counseling psychologists help their patients deal with problems in the home, place of work, or community, to help improve the quality of their lives. Counseling psychologists promote good mental health, and may work in university or crisis counseling centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and individual or group practices.
- School psychologists address students’ learning and behavioral problems in early childhood, elementary, and secondary schools. They collaborate with teachers, parents, and school staff to create healthy and supportive learning environments. School psychologists also evaluate gifted or disabled students to determine the best way to educate them.
- Experimental or research psychologists work in university, private research centers, or in business, nonprofit, and governmental organizations. They study the behavior of humans and animals, in such areas as motivation, attention, learning and memory, sensory and perceptual processes, effects of substance abuse, and genetic and neurological factors affecting behavior.
- Forensic psychologists help judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals understand the psychological findings of a particular case. Forensic psychologists serve as expert witness and usually specialize in family court, civil court, or criminal court.
Psychologist Education Requirements
If you want to become a psychologist, you will need a master’s or doctoral degree and a license to practice. A doctoral degree in psychology generally requires five years of study, and is required for independent practice as a psychologist. Psychologists with a Ph.D. are also qualified for teaching, research, clinical, and counseling positions in universities, healthcare services, elementary and secondary schools, and in the government. A master's degree in psychology requires two years of study, and includes practical experience in the field and a thesis based on a research project.
If you earn a bachelor’s degree you can find work assisting professional psychologists in community mental health centers, vocational rehabilitation offices, and correctional programs. Earning only a bachelor’s degree, however, will not qualify you to obtain a license to practice on your own.
Psychologists must meet certification and licensing requirements in all states, although laws will vary by state and by type of position. Many states require continued education to renew the license.
Psychologist Job Opportunities
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of psychologists is expected to grow 12 percent from 2008 to 2018. Employment is expected to grow due to the demand of will grow because of psychologists in schools, hospitals, social service agencies, mental health centers, substance abuse treatment clinics, and private companies. In 2008, the median annual wages of wage and salary clinical, counseling, and school psychologists were $64,140, where the middle 50 percent earned between $48,700 and $82,800.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 20010-2011 Edition