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How to Become a Psychologist

psychologist
Psychologists often interview patients to identify patterns of behavior and diagnose mental problems.
Credit: Lisa F. Young | Shutterstock

Psychologists are students of the brain. It is the job of a psychologist to study mental processes, as well as behavior, and use his or her knowledge to solve conflicts, diagnose disorders and help people understand one another.

The field of psychology is broad, as psychologists work in a range of settings and can have many unique specialties. There are psychologists working everywhere from hospitals to courtrooms, as well as psychologists working primarily with children and others within large corporations.

Before getting started on the path to becoming a psychologist, those interested in this career should get a better understanding of what a psychologist’s responsibilities include, what their workplaces are like, and what qualifications they need to get hired.

Psychology jobs

It is the job of a psychologist to observe, interpret and record human behavior and mental processes. Psychologists have a range of duties depending on where they work, but most are responsible for interviewing, conversing, testing and otherwise observing their patients in order to identify patterns of behavior, solve conflicts and diagnose mental disorders.

Psychologists use what they know about the way the brain works and the ways in which people behave to increase understanding among individuals and groups. They may work one-on-one with patients or within a group or family setting.

If a psychologist recognizes a problematic pattern of behavior or mental disorder in a patient, he or she is responsible for creating and carrying out a plan for treatment. To accomplish this, psychologists often work with other professionals, such as psychiatrists, counselors or social workers to create an effective course of action.

Some psychologists work primarily in a laboratory setting in which they perform tests and experiments to try to discern the mental processes and environmental stimuli that cause certain behaviors and disorders.

School psychologists use the basic principles of psychology to help children within the school system achieve academic success and personal growth. They often work with teachers, administrators, and family members to resolve issues associated with behavior and learning. School psychology is the second fastest growing branch in the field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The fastest growing branch of psychology is industrial-organizational psychology, in which psychological principles are applied to workplace settings in order to increase productivity, boost employee morale, and develop strategies for effective hiring, training, and management.

Psychologist salary

Psychologists work in a range of settings depending on their specialties and qualifications. About 34 percent of all psychologists were self-employed in 2010. But nearly as many (29 percent) work in educational services, and 20 percent work in health-care settings.

Psychologists may work alone or as part of a health-care team, which often includes physicians, social workers, and other professionals. Those who work alone typically maintain a private practice where they set their own schedules. Others work traditional hours in clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, schools, courthouses, universities, government agencies, or research facilities.

However, most psychologists also work some weekend and evening hours to accommodate clients. Even those who work full-time during the week may also work as private consultants in the evenings or on weekends.

Careers in psychology are expected to grow by 22 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Industrial-organizational psychologist positions are expected to grow the fastest, followed by positions in clinical, counseling, and school psychology and health-care psychology.

The median annual wage of psychologists in 2010 was $68,640, with industrial-organizational psychologists earning quite a bit more than average at $87,330 annually.

Becoming a psychologist

Different psychology positions require different qualifications, but all psychologists must possess a master’s, specialist, or doctoral degree in psychology in order to practice. They must also be licensed or certified to work in the state in which they practice.

Most clinical, counseling and research psychologist positions require either a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. A Ph.D. in psychology is a research degree culminating in a comprehensive exam and dissertation based on original research. A Psy.D. degree is a clinical degree and is based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation.

School psychologists must obtain a master’s, specialist (Ed.S. degree), or doctoral degree in school psychology, which includes coursework in education.

Industrial-organizational psychologists need a master’s degree in psychology, and those working in this field usually take courses in psychology as well as statistics and research design.

To be accepted into a master’s program for psychology, it is recommended that candidates either obtain an undergraduate degree in the subject or complete certain prerequisite classes such as developmental and experimental psychology, as well as courses in statistics. Some Ph.D. programs require applicants to have a master’s in psychology, while others require only an undergraduate degree in the field.

Once psychologists have completed the necessary degree programs, they must obtain either a license or a certificate in the state in which they wish to practice. For more information about specific state requirements can be found from the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Board, the National Association of School Psychologists, or the American Board of Professional Psychology.

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