Are you interested in learning about how to become a psychologist? Psychologists enjoy rewarding careers helping people by studying human behavior and the mind. There are a number of different areas of specialization available to any psychology major, including becoming a child psychologist, a counseling psychologist, a school psychologist, a forensic psychologist, a social psychologist, an environmental psychologist, or a clinical psychologist.
There is often confusion regarding psychologist vs psychiatrist career paths. In the simplest terms, psychologists have medical degrees while psychologists obtain a doctoral degree in psychology. While much talk is centered on psychologist vs psychiatrist career options, here we focus on how to become a psychologist.
Psychologist: Job Description
Psychologists are social scientists focusing on human behavior and interaction. They work in a variety of settings, depending on their particular area of specialization. Some of the most common places for psychologists to work include schools, governmental organizations, clinics, and private practices. Psychologists may conduct research, teach, or provide professional services. Within the broader field of psychology, most social scientists specialize in a specific subfield. Five of the most common subfields of psychology are child, clinical, counseling, developmental, forensic, and research psychology.
- Child Psychology. A child psychologist focuses on children ranging in age from infants to adolescents. Child psychologists may work directly with children as a counselor, conduct research in a laboratory or field setting, or work as a consultant on programs at schools or other institutions with a focus on children. One of the greatest challenges in child psychology is that minors cannot legally give informed consent. Thus, research and treatment in this field require the careful design and implementation of research or therapy methods.
- Clinical Psychology. A clinical psychologist is concerned with helping those with severe emotional or mental disturbances. In particular, those specializing in this subfield focus on diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders, and finding ways, through therapy or research, to predict and prevent such disturbances. Clinical psychologists may open their own practices or work in private practices with other colleagues. Those working with individuals recovering from traumatic events often work in hospitals or rehabilitation centers where they help implement recovery plans and counsel patients coping psychologically with severe physical disabilities or illness.
- Counseling Psychology. A counseling psychologist is primarily focused on offering advice to those dealing with problems related to everyday life. Counseling psychologists may help couples considering divorce, a laid off or downsized employee, or children coping with peer pressure or traumatic events occurring at school, like the death of a classmate. Their main focus is on treating and preventing disorders, including physical, emotional, or social disturbances. Counseling psychology specialists typically work in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, universities, schools, crisis centers, or private practice settings.
- Developmental Psychology. A developmental psychologist is concerned with the various developmental stages associated with different phases of the life cycle. Those focusing on early development may be concerned with the particular cognitive and emotional challenges associated with infancy or adolescence. Specialists focusing on gerontological development tend to focus on helping the elderly maintain their independence as they undergo the various emotional, mental, social, and physical changes associated with aging. Still others focus on learning disabilities and other developmental challenges. Depending on the particular area of expertise, developmental psychologists may work in schools, universities, elderly care facilities, research institutes, or private practices.
- Forensic Psychology. A forensic psychologist specializes in applying psychological theory and practice to the judicial system, typically working in consultation with attorneys and judges. Forensic psychologists serve as expert witnesses in court cases, testifying on the psychological findings associated with a given criminal or civil case. Forensic psychologists specializing in family court cases often consult on custody or child abuse cases. Those working on civil cases may offer therapy to victims of crimes or offer expert opinions during court proceedings. In criminal case proceedings, forensic psychologists may evaluate those accused of committing a crime to determine whether they are competent to stand trial, or treat minors serving as witnesses to a crime.
- Research or Experimental Psychology. A research psychologist focuses on conducting laboratory or field experiments aimed at understanding a variety of cognitive and behavioral tendencies. Research psychologists work with human and animal test subjects. Current areas of research include the cognitive underpinnings of abuse of drugs, alcohol, and other substances; the effect of genetics and the environment on human behavior; and memory and learning processes. Experimental psychologists work for universities, private and public research institutes, governmental agencies, and corporations.
How to Become a Psychologist: Education Requirements
In addition to examining the different specializations available, it is also essential to consider specific educational requirements when researching how to become a psychologist. Those interested in specializing in psychology should start with a bachelor’s degree in the field. Those with a bachelor’s degree in psychology may work in corrections or community mental health facilities.
A psychology major interested in pursuing further avenues within psychology may then enroll in a graduate program in order to further specialize in a particular subfield. Those with a master’s degree in psychology may opt to work as assistants in private practices or as research assistants to experimental psychologists.
Those wishing to become licensed psychologists must obtain a doctorate in order to practice independently or work as a psychologist in another institution. Obtaining a doctorate typically includes five years of formal study plus the presentation of an independently researched doctoral dissertation. The American Psychological Association is the accrediting authority for graduate programs in psychology. In addition, the American Board of Professional Psychologyoffers certificates in multiple specializations, including forensic and clinical psychology.
Since clinical psychology is one of the most popular specialties, clinical psychology graduate programs are extremely competitive. In addition to academic requirements, clinical psychology graduate programs typically also include a practical experience aspect that requires recent graduates to gain experience under the supervision of a licensed psychologist before practicing independently.
How to Become a Psychologist: Licensing Requirements
Psychology licensing requirements vary by specialty and state. In addition to the formal educational requirements mentioned above, practicing clinical and counseling psychologists must also demonstrate several years of practical experience. Such experience is typically obtained as part of an internship under the guidance of a licensed psychologist. State licenses typically require psychologists pass the state test and participate in continuing education courses when their licenses come up for renewal.
Psychologist Salary and Job Outlook
Overall, psychology employment options are expected to increase more than 10% by 2018. Pay rates also vary, with annual salaries ranging from about $50,000 to $110,000. According to the howdb.org the top paying positions for psychologist in 2010 were:
- Physician offices: $109,600
- Research Facilities: $100,790
- Hospitals: $91,810
- Social Assistance (Individual and Family Service): $90,220
- Schools (Elementary and Secondary): $89,570
After learning about how to become a psychologist, it is important to remember that as with any field, salary rates and job prospects depend on one’s educational background and experience. Those with doctoral degrees specializing in clinical or counseling psychology may have the best prospects in addition to having the option to open a private practice.