Psychologist: Career Definition, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become a licensed psychologist. Learn about job duties, job growth, education and licensure requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Psychologist?

Licensed psychologists provide mental and emotional support services within hospitals, government agencies, private organizations and educational facilities. They study behavior and brain function through observations, surveys, interviews and more. Through their research they are able to identify emotional and behavioral patterns, and then in turn test the patterns to help predict behavior. Psychologists also discuss the treatment of any issues a client may be experiencing. They may report findings of their research through scientific articles and research papers. Psychologists can specialize in an array of areas, including clinical psychology, forensic psychology, school psychology and more. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a licensed psychologist.

Degree Required Doctorate is typical; some jobs are available with a master's degree
Training Required 1-year internship or residency
Education Field of Study Psychology
Licensure or Certification Most states require psychologists to be licensed; board certification in 15 specialties is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 19%*
Median Salary (2015) $72,580*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is the Career Definition of a Psychologist?

Psychologists identify and treat mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, and they offer help for emotional problems, drug addiction and stress-related conditions. It'd be your responsibility as a psychologist to help patients as they make necessary life adjustments. Your job would involve conducting interviews and administering psychological examinations, then formulating diagnoses and treatment plans for their patients. Treatment options can include hypnosis, psychotherapy, laboratory experimentation, and aptitude and personality testing.

The majority of psychologists specialize in clinical psychology and work in schools, psychiatric hospitals and clinics. Counseling psychologists are the second most popular specialty, and their work frequently takes place in private offices where they help patients cope with their emotional concerns. If you end up working for an organization, a hospital and or a business, you'd usually work regular office hours, whereas you'd set your own hours if you worked in your own private practice.

What Is the Employment Outlook?

Psychologists held about 173,900 jobs in the United States as of 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs in the field were expected to expand by about 19% from 2014-2024. This expansion could be due to a growing need for psychologists in many industries, including social service organizations, schools and hospitals. Also, it was believed that more specialists would be needed to help growing numbers of people dealing with problems such as stress and family conflicts.

Additionally, job opportunities were expected to increase due to rising healthcare costs, as people began seeking interventions for weight issues, smoking and excessive drinking rather than suffer health and financial consequences later. If you pursue a specialty in clinical or counseling psychology, you'd have the largest increase in employment opportunities. As of 2015, psychologists who specialized in clinical, counseling and school psychology earned median annual wages of $70,580.

How Do I Fulfill the Education Requirements?

When training to become a psychologist, you'll need a minimum of a master's degree. A doctorate degree will be required if you want to establish your own practice, or if you'd like to work in specialized areas such as clinical psychology, research, teaching or university counseling. First, you must acquire a 4-year undergraduate college degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Typical undergraduate psychology programs should include mathematics, statistics, biological and social science courses.

Next, you'll enter a graduate program of study to earn a Master of Science in Psychology degree, which can take from 2-4 years. Master's degree programs often cover developmental psychopathology, research methods, advanced assessment, health psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Finally, you'll be ready to pursue your doctoral degree in psychology. Accredited doctorate training programs can be located through the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the American Psychological Association (APA). Your doctoral degree will require about five years of postgraduate study, a dissertation and an internship. Courses may include psychometrics, medical psychology, professional and ethical issues, research design and methodology, and child psychology.

In every state, psychologists who provide patient care must be properly licensed or certified, but exact laws and requirements will depend on the state in which you reside and practice. Generally, state licensing prerequisites may include completing a doctoral degree and an internship. Additionally, you'll need some years of professional experience in your area of specialty. If you meet your state's requirements, you must then pass a licensing examination which will be given by your state board.

If you specialize in school psychology, you can receive a nationally recognized certification from the National Association of School Psychologists. Requirements include completing a minimum of two years of graduate school and a year-long internship and successfully passing the National School Psychology Examination. When all requirements have been satisfied, you'll be awarded the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

School and career counseling is a similar occupation that requires a master's degree. These professionals help students develop the skills they need to do well in school and prepare for future goals and careers. Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists also require a master's degree. These counselors and therapists listen to their clients and help them overcome conflict, emotional disorders and more. A similar career that requires a doctorate or professional degree is that of a physician or surgeon. These doctors treat injuries and illnesses of the body through diagnostic tests, medication and/or surgery.

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