What Does a Psychologist Do?
Psychologists are responsible for a number of job duties that often depend on what field of psychology they are serving in. The following is a number of common tasks undertaken by psychologists, but is not a complete list.
The most common task associated with becoming a psychologist is counseling individuals one-on-one. This is the primary job duty of clinical and counseling psychologists and is an important responsibility for sports and criminal psychologists as well. Counseling can take a variety of forms but commonly involves the psychologist listening to a client and taking note of what is both said and unsaid. The psychologist often takes a neutral, non-judgmental approach and will give constructive feedback when needed.
Psychologists sometimes need to diagnose a mental illness and advise clients how to move forward. They may need to refer the client to a specialist or psychiatrist so medication can be administered. Psychologists need to be well informed on the diagnostic guidelines set forth by the American Psychological Association, which is updated every few years.
Many times, clients need to be able to incorporate family members into counseling sessions, particularly when children are the main client. In other subfields of psychology, groups of individuals are the main client of the psychologist. For instance, industrial-organizational psychologists work with teams and groups to facilitate cooperation and cohesion.
Some psychologists act as counselors as well as researchers, while others choose to only conduct research. Research involves collecting data from individuals in the form of interviews, surveys, observations, or focus groups. Data is analyzed and the results are shared with colleagues in order to improve the field. For instance, many counseling psychologists at universities take a hybrid approach where they actively implement their research findings to improve their practice.
Psychologists perform basic administration procedures like organizing cases on clients and following up with clients via phone or email. Many psychologists are self-employed so they need to be able to handle these tasks alone. Others work for organizations or have personal assistants so they can reduce the amount of time spent filing papers and organizing cases.
Write Reports and Educate
Reports help to educate other psychologists within the field as well as external members of organizations and society. While writing reports is a common task undertaken by research-oriented psychologists, many others need to educate others as well. For instance, individuals working for the military have written extensive reports that has made post-traumatic stress disorder a mental health priority.
What are the Careers in Psychology?
Psychologists hold a number of careers that span a wide variety of topics. All careers focus on improving human mental health, whether directly through practice or indirectly through research. The following is a list of the most common careers within the field of psychology, however there are many more not mentioned here.
When people think of a psychologist, they typically are thinking of a clinical psychologist. These professionals offer counseling to individuals one on one or in group/family settings. They employ a number of guidance styles to assist clients. These styles are often learned in educational programs and may include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, or hypnotherapy.
Clinical psychologists often work with individuals who have mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder. Clinical psychologists may refer clients to psychiatrists when medication is needed, and may work closely with this professional to provide assistance to individuals.
This type of psychologist is a clinical psychologist that focuses their attention on helping children and adolescents. The children they help are often facing developmental issues, difficulties at home, or early signs of a mental illness. Child psychologists who help very young children often utilize special tools to assist in communication like toys or technology. Many of these psychologists work within the school system, and children may stay after school or spend classroom time to receive counseling.
These psychologists are responsible for studying criminal behavior as well as helping rehabilitate inmates. They may work full-time in a prison or study behavior and thought processes of criminals from a university or research center.
Criminal psychologists who focus on research of criminals often present their findings to prison systems to improve prisoner mental well-being and the prison system as a whole. Within the prison system, they may lead individual or group therapy sessions to help improve prisoner mental health.
A counseling psychologist is very similar to a clinical psychologist with just a few differences. Importantly, the majority of clients they see are often with day to day or temporary issues, rather than short or long-term mental illness.
Within the field of counseling psychology, there is a large amount of diversity as some will focus on treating certain types of individuals. Some focus on families, some serve specific racial or ethnic groups, and others focus on a particular gender or age group. Many counseling psychologists offer clients a number of options for therapy style during their sessions.
An “I-O” psychologist is one of the few who rarely works with individuals one-on-one. They spend their time within organizations to help teams work together, assist management practices, and support employee mental health. I-O psychologists spend a large amount of their time collecting data on employee mental health, evaluating the data, and presenting advice for improvements within the company. They may be employed full-time within larger corporations or act as a consultant for numerous organizations.
Forensic psychologists who work within the criminal justice system have a wide variety of job duties that relate specifically to the justice system rather than criminals. They can serve within the court system by educating the jury on how criminals think, assist judges and attorneys, and help improve the justice system as a whole. While prisoners will see criminal psychologists, guards and other prison staff may be seen by a forensic psychologist, who is more familiar with the prison system than a counseling psychologist is.
Most school psychologists work within education systems to study and improve learning habits. They work with children who have learning disabilities as well as school systems to advise learning outcomes and processes as a whole. They assist teachers to improve their teaching style, ultimately helping children learn. These psychologists may be employed full-time at one school or serve multiple schools within a district.
Sports psychologists are responsible for ensuring that professional and non-professional athletes receive mental assistance when needed. They can help individuals during career transitions, through sports injuries, and improve team relationships. They often have in-depth knowledge of kinesiology or personal experience playing with a sports team. The vast majority of professional sports team have a sports psychologist to assist players, even in the off-season and during training.
A research psychologist is rarely known by this title, but he or she is someone who performs research within a specific field of psychology. They often work within a university setting and aim to improve theory and application of various psychological constructs. They research human behavior and thought processes with the intention of improving human mental health.
Many psychologists already mentioned also serve as researchers either part-time or full-time. A number of counseling psychologists may shift their career to fully research based after a number of years practicing counseling.
What are the Requirements to Become a Psychologist?
The path to becoming a psychologist can take a number of different directions, mainly dependent on what field a psychologist is interested in entering. However, the majority of steps are similar across specialties. The following is a list of steps that are commonly taken to become a psychologist. Note that certain subfields or industries may have additional requirements.
Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or GED
Students will need to finish high school before entering into higher education. Students should aim to complete AP courses and pass AP exams, perform well on their SAT exams, and obtain a high GPA in school. This will give them a higher chance of succeeding in a university setting as well granting them more options on where they would like to obtain their degree.
Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
Many universities offer degrees in psychology, however some are more rigorous and prestigious than others. While in the degree program, students should consider gaining an internship as well as a minor. For instance, students interested in research psychology should minor in statistics and assist professors with research projects.
Those interested in counseling or clinical psychology should shadow a therapist to gain experience. Students should always go above and beyond normal coursework to stand out when applying for graduate school. Professors are relied on by students for letters of recommendation so a positive relationship and reputation is important.
Another option is obtaining an Associate’s degree prior to entering a four-year program. Students will also have the option of taking some or all of their courses online, however they should make an effort to build relationships with professors and undertake internships.
Step 3: Choose a Discipline
This step may occur during a student’s pursuit of their Bachelor’s degree or sometime before applying for graduate school. Within a Bachelor’s program, students often have choices of paths to take that will set them up to enter their desired profession. For example, students wanting to focus on children will often take courses on child development whereas a forensic psychologist will study criminal justice.
Graduating without having a clear interest in a particular discipline is not the end of the world, however it will make entering a graduate program difficult. Professors like to see that a student is passionate about a particular topic and has the relevant background to support their interests.
Step 4: Obtain a Master’s Degree (Optional)
Earning a standalone Master’s degree is a good option for students who have a Bachelor’s degree in a field other than psychology. It is also a good option for students who are not sure of which direction to take and need more time to decide. Master’s degrees are often earned on the way to completing a PhD, which lets students stay in higher education for less time. Students will need to complete the GRE’s, send in transcripts and letters of recommendation, and write a statement of purpose.
Master’s degrees often give students more hands-on skills like building client-therapist relationships, learning how to counsel, and performing their own research studies. A Master’s degree alone does not give psychologists in training the ability to counsel others, however it provides opportunities for shadowing and practical training.
Step 5: Obtain a PhD or PsyD
Most students choose to enter into a doctorate program directly after completing their Bachelor’s degree, earning a Master’s degree on the way. These programs have high expectations for students so admission requirements are often rigorous, particularly for top universities. Many of these programs require students to have previous experience in internships or performing research, which can be acquired within the Bachelor’s program or through a standalone Master’s program.
Students interested in mainly performing research should pursue a PhD while those interested in clinical/counseling work should obtain a PsyD. Students will be required to undergo numerous hours of supervised training, which may include counseling, advising businesses, or performing research studies, dependent on the field/degree. These internships often last 1-2 years. Students should be aware that while online degrees are offered, they are not accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and will not lead to licensure.
Step 6: Complete Post-Doctoral Training (Optional)
Students who wish to obtain more specific training will enter into a post-doctoral program, which will last 1-2 years. These programs offer students the chance to gain experience in certain subfields of psychology. For instance, this would be a good option for a student who wishes to counsel children with special needs like autism or learning disabilities. This option may be mandated by certain states before obtaining licensure, so students should check to see if this is a required step.
Step 7: Obtain Licensure
The exact process for this step is highly state-dependent, as licensure is overseen by state boards. Most commonly, states require 3,000 hours of supervised clinical work (most of which occurs during the PhD), obtainment of a PhD or PsyD, and passing an exam. The most common exam required is the Examination of Professional Practice in Psychology, which is a 225-question multiple choice exam.
Step 8: Remain Licensed
States often require psychologists to take continuing education courses throughout their career in order to remain licensed. The number of hours as well as the exact content required is state-dependent. The APA oversees and approves courses that appropriately satisfy the requirements for continuing education.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychologist?
Becoming a psychologist is not a quick career to obtain, although this depends on the field a student enters as well as which state they are licensed in. After graduating from high school, students should expect to spend a bare minimum of eight years within educational programs and gaining experience before becoming a licensed psychologist with the legal ability to counsel.
More likely students will spend extra time either within Associate’s, Master’s, or Post-Doctoral programs and may even spend additional years gaining additional experience. More commonly, 8-12 years is an average estimate for becoming a psychologist with many taking longer than this.
Do You Have to Go to Medical School to Become a Psychologist?
Medical school is not a requirement to become a psychologist. In fact, it is not recommended as medical school takes numerous additional years of study and will not help to serve a psychologist’s career. The exception to this is if the individual wants to become a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are similar to psychologists except they can prescribe medication to patients. This requires extensive medical training and knowledge of brain function in combination with certain pharmaceuticals.
A neuropsychologist may benefit from medical school, however it is often not necessary. Neuropsychologists gain advance degrees specifically in the field of neuropsychology, which teaches them specifics of brain chemistry and how it relates to human behavior. Some of these courses may overlap with those taught within medical programs, however they stand apart as neuropsychologists are not trained to treat medical conditions.
Where Does a Psychologist Work?
Psychologists work in a variety of areas although the vast majority work indoors within an office setting. The largest employers of psychologists across all disciplines are schools, including elementary and secondary schools that are private or public.
Nearly 45% of all psychologists are self-employed and have their own practice. These are most commonly the clinical, counseling, and child psychologists. They may share an office space with other psychologists, employ an assistant, or work completely independently. They are able to set their own hours and choose where to have their office.
Certain disciplines of psychology may require psychologists to appear in courtrooms, prisons, military bases, or business offices. While many of these individuals have their own office space, they can spend a large amount of their time in meetings or traveling to meet clients.
What Skills are Required to Be a Psychologist?
Psychologists need a number of skills to succeed in their career. Some of these are learned within education programs while others are parts of the psychologists’ personality. Here are a few skills that psychologists commonly have.
- Active Listening: The most important skill a psychologist can have is the ability to actively listen to individuals and respond in a sensitive manner. Psychologists who struggle to listen will have difficulties succeeding in the field
- Application of Diagnostic Tools: Psychologists need to be familiar with the APA’s guidelines for diagnosing mental illnesses and know when a client should be diagnosed.
- Flexibility in Counseling Style: Most psychologists have a preferred counseling style, however they need to be able to adapt to serve different clients. One style does not often fit all, although a client with especially different needs should be referred to a different psychologist.
- Data Collection: Psychologists who conduct research need to know how to collect data from individuals in an unbiased, ethical manner. This can include, for example, collection through observation or surveys.
- Presentation: Psychologists need to be able to communicate research findings through presentations and reports. Industrial-organizational psychologists will need to be skilled in presenting information to businesses.
- Knowledge of EMG Units: Specifically for neuropsychologists, understanding of facial electromyography equipment (EMG) is important for conducting research and studying human thought processes.
- Acquiring New Knowledge: Staying licensed requires attending continuing education courses as well as staying updated on new research findings and announcements from the APA.
- Ethics: Psychologists need to be aware of how to form a helpful relationship with clients without crossing ethical boundaries. This is often taught within educational programs and perfected with practice.
- Emotional Stability: Many psychologists, especially those who work with individuals with mental illnesses, need to regulate their emotions. This also means knowing how to leave work at work and not let any negative emotions filter into their personal lives.
What are the Benefits of Being a Psychologist?
Psychologists have a number of benefits within their career, including the following:
- Independence: Many psychologists are able to work for themselves, which allows them to set their own schedule and pay rates.
- Pay: Psychologists across all disciplines are paid well for their time. Certain fields offer substantial benefits, and experienced psychologists can often charge clients more for their time.
- Respect: As seeking healthcare becomes more commonplace, psychologists are being treated with respect. This is particularly the case for those serving the military or who are working on cutting edge research.
- Rewarding: At the core of a psychologist’s job description is the need to help others. Helping patients achieve healthier lives is inherently rewarding.
- Variety of Location: Psychologists are in-demand across a wide array of fields and within every state. Although psychologists can often choose where to work, they need to be aware of state requirements before moving to a new state.
Are Psychologists in High Demand?
There is a positive job outlook for psychologists for the next decade, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting a predicted 14% increase in careers for psychologists. This is twice as high as the estimated 7% increase for all careers. This estimate ranges depending on what specific career someone chooses to pursue. For instance, clinical and counseling psychologists can expect a 14% increase in available jobs while industrial-organization psychologists can expect an 8% increase.
This increase is due to a number of reasons. As addressing mental health needs becomes less taboo in the United States, more individuals will turn to counseling, clinical, and school psychologists particularly where health insurance supports these resources. Additionally, as the population ages, more individuals will need to seek mental health resources to cope with aging and life transitions.
What is the Average Salary for a Psychologist?
As becoming a psychologist requires completing extensive educational milestones and undergoing years of training, these professionals are often well paid. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists as a whole earn about $77,000 per year. Neuropsychologists are one of the highest paying type of psychologist with an average salary of $98,000 across all industries.
Pay varies by industry and location. For instance, psychologists who work for the government> (for instance in politics or through government agencies) earn about $95,000 per year. Specifically, those who work for the military earn close to $120,000 annually. Psychologists who work for hospitals are also paid well, at about $84,000 per year. While psychologists who work for elementary and secondary schools only earn about $75,000 per year.
Annual salaries differ by state as well. The top paying states include New York, California, and Maryland with average salaries ranging from $119,000 to $102,000. These states are likely the highest due to mental healthcare initiatives as well as housing renowned universities. Importantly, some industries or fields of psychology may differ between states so these are only estimates.
What Professions are Similar to Psychology?
Most of these mental health professionals share similar job duties with psychologists, however they have additional training. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication to individuals alongside offering mental health counseling, while a few choose to only prescribe medication. Many patients are referred to psychiatrists by doctors or clinical psychologists.
Substance Abuse Counselors
These individuals work specifically with individuals who have substance abuse issues. They have less formal training than psychologists and often work within a substance abuse center. Depending on the situation, they will offer counseling services to the individual as well as their family members to help assist in recovery.
Social workers often serve individuals at the community level to help support them in gaining social services, mental health services, and searching for jobs. They also work specifically with children, particularly when living in an abusive home or undergoing difficult life changes. Social workers also work to improve community outreach programs.
While psychologists most often work with and research individuals, sociologists focus on groups of people as a whole. Most of their time is spent researching various groups, which includes conducting interviews, focus groups, and surveys. They write up the results and present them to help improve policy and other agendas.