Psychology is quickly expanding to become one of the most important and busiest fields in healthcare. According to the CDC, one in five Americans will experience mental illness in a given year. Psychologists play a huge role in helping people who suffer from such problems. If you are interested in a career in helping people that offers several benefits, then learning how to become a psychologist may be for you.
In this article, we’ll answer every question you have about becoming a psychologist. How long does it take to become a psychologist? What does a bachelor’s degree in psychology entail? What are the benefits of entering the field of psychology?
What is a Psychologist?
A psychologist is a non-medical doctor who specializes in studying mental health and human behavior. Patients see psychologists to overcome a range of conditions from depression to schizophrenia. Most psychologists typically start working after earning their doctorate and gaining work experience.
Though the road to becoming a psychologist may be long and challenging, it is a very rewarding field. Trained psychologists can expect to work in a variety of settings and specializations. From forensic psychology to clinical psychology, a career in this field promises high pay, promising career prospects, and several opportunities.
What Does a Psychologist Do?
As mentioned, the field of psychology is very broad, meaning psychologists can fill several important roles. After students finish their education and training, the scope of their professional duties depends on their chosen specialty. Below you can find the duties of the most popular jobs in psychology.
Median Pay 2020: $77,470
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, becoming a clinical psychologist is among the most popular choices in psychology. Clinical psychologists often work in hospitals, mental health clinics, and private practice. They deal with individuals experiencing psychological distress and mental illness. They also perform psychotherapy and develop treatment plans.
Clinical psychologists can assess, diagnose, and treat mental disorders. They are trained in a variety of treatment techniques but may specialize in treating certain disorders or working with certain populations. For example, a clinical psychologist might specialize in an area such as substance abuse treatment, child mental health, adult mental health, or geriatric mental health.
If you’re wondering how to become a clinical psychologist, you can find more information from the American Academy of Clinical Psychology website here.
Median Pay 2020: $70,287
Forensic psychology programs combine the fields of psychology, criminology, science, and criminal law. Interest in the field of forensic psychology has skyrocketed of late thanks to exciting pop-cultural interpretations of the discipline. Though these professionals do study the relationship between the law and psychology to deter crime, they are usually involved in other roles.
For instance, forensic psychologists typically perform duties such as assessing juvenile and adult offenders and working with child witnesses. Furthermore, they may assist the police in investigations, work as expert witnesses in court cases, and aid the rehabilitation of offenders. They can also act as consultants in criminal cases or civil disputes, perform child custody evaluations, and offer psychotherapy services to crime victims.
If you’re wondering how to become a forensic psychologist, you can find more information from the American Board of Forensic Psychology here.
Median Pay 2020: $72,320
School psychologists work with children and adolescents to help them cope with behavioral, academic, and social problems in school settings. Although they are not teachers, school psychologists bring a unique and integral presence to any educational institution. They perform several important duties to address student needs and improve school support systems.
Along with helping students achieve their goals, school psychologists may also work with teachers and principals to design more effective school environments. They may work with administrators to design, implement, and garner support for comprehensive mental health programs in schools. By working with school faculty and students and their families, school psychologists are vital components of any educational institution.
If you’re wondering how to become a school psychologist, you can find more information from the National Association of School Psychologists website here.
Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychologists
Median Pay 2020: $92,880
I-O psychologists are ranked the highest-paid psychologists and can earn up to $250,000 per year. These psychologists investigate the relationship between economics and psychology. They conduct research and try to find how to select the best employees for particular jobs and how to increase worker productivity. I-O psychologists apply the principles of psychology to a plethora of business subjects, such as human resources and management to sales and marketing problems.
I-O psychologists have several roles, including studying worker attitudes and behavior, evaluating companies, and conducting leadership training. The overall goal of this field is to study and understand human behavior in the workplace. They are essential for any company to thrive since they look for new ways to reduce costs, improve efficiency, and increase employee satisfaction.
If you’re wondering how to become an I-O psychologist, you can find more information from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology here.
Essential Skills for Psychologists
Psychologists have a very unique and diverse skill-set. They not only have deep knowledge of the sciences associated with psychology, but they also possess exclusive skills and personality traits that allow them to excel in their field. Below are some examples of skills that all prospective psychology students should hone.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
A large portion of psychology involves thinking independently and applying learned concepts to various situations. Applying logic and reason is a key part of the analysis that’s required as part of a psychology degree. Analysis of research and ideas is a key part of studying psychology as you must consider each source and theory you reference or use.
By practising this regularly through your studies, you’ll develop strong reasoning skills. The ability to logically assess a problem and then produce a solution is a valuable strength that many employers desire. This skill is developed naturally throughout the modules of a psychology degree as each assignment or task poses a particular problem or question to overcome.
Communication and Interpersonal Skills
Possessing strong communication skills is essential in order to build relationships during your educational and professional journeys. The two primary forms of communication are verbal and nonverbal. Verbal communication entails being a good listener, speaking clearly and effectively, and asking the right questions in the right ways. Nonverbal communication involves positive body language, warm gestures, a friendly tone of voice, and inviting facial expressions.
Having excellent communication and interpersonal skills can help you stand out in your field, particularly as a psychologist. Soft skills and attributes such as clear communication, active listening, and a positive attitude will be particularly helpful in opening up dialogue with patients as well as peers and seniors.
Empathy and Ethics
Emotional intelligence is very important when it comes to professional success, particularly in psychology. Since they primarily deal with issues related to mental health, psychologists must be empathetic and open-minded when approaching their work. Being emotionally intelligent not only helps psychologists when they are dealing with patients but also with research and collaboration.
On that note, a good psychologist has a firm grasp on the ethics they should incorporate in their practice. Psychologists must follow guidelines when conducting patient care or research. For instance, prospective students are typically taught about ethical principles relating to informed consent, confidentiality, giving advice, and deception. Being aware of ethics and how to practice them is an invaluable skill for psychologists, as it greatly helps psychologists in assisting patients and excelling in their work.
Psychology Job Outlook and Salaries
Though training can take several years, the job outlook and salary associated with a career in psychology is very positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists earn a hefty median salary of $80,370. This is much higher than the median wage for all other occupations at $39,810. Depending on your field of specialization and industry, you can expect to earn up to $132,070 per year.
Employment of psychologists is projected to grow 14 percent by 2028, much faster than the average for all other occupations; demand for clinical and counseling psychologists will increase as people continue to turn to psychologists for help with their mental health problems. Though competition is stiff due to a large number of qualified applicants, job prospects will be best for those who have a doctoral degree in an applied specialty.
Several other factors may influence your salary, such as location, experience, and individual performance. The bottom line is that a job as a psychologist allows for excellent job security, good pay, a rewarding career, and a chance to help many people.
How to Become a Psychologist: A Step by Step Guide
Step 1. Education: Degrees and Coursework
The educational track for a psychologist varies depending upon their career goals. You should choose a degree that most closely aligns with your career aspirations. With few exceptions, you will need a doctoral degree to become a psychologist.
If research is your passion, a PhD in Psychology is the best path. If you are more interested in the clinical and practical side of psychology, a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) degree is likely a better fit. A Master’s Degree in Psychology is sufficient in some professions.
For example, positions in industrial-organizational (I/O) settings like schools or corporations do not require a doctoral degree. However, they may require psychologists with specific state licensure and coursework, which we’ll discuss later.
In most cases, prospective psychologists have the option of completing their coursework on campus or through a hybrid or online degree program. The first is the more traditional approach that often requires full-time enrollment in a doctoral psychology program. Though on-site clinical coursework is still required for most psychology degrees, the hybrid and online programs are more conducive to those studying part-time while still working full-time.
A degree does not mark the end of a psychologist’s training. Most state boards require psychologists to complete some kind of field experience before obtaining their state licensure.
Step 2. Fieldwork Experience: Practicums and Internships
Another crucial step to becoming a psychologist is fieldwork. Field experiences vary depending upon the field you choose to work in, as well as where you hope to be licensed. Most psychology degree programs include supervised practicum courses that give would-be psychologists invaluable training in their field. For instance, a forensic psychologist’s fieldwork hours would look quite different from a child psychologist’s practicums.
Many schools offer practicum experiences as two semesters of their doctoral psychology programs. These experiences are more on-site learning than hands-on psychology. The purpose of practical experience like this is to ensure students can see what being a psychologist is really like. By working closely with experts in the field, students can learn about their field of work more in-depth.
After the practicum, psychologists must complete internship field experiences. Unlike practicum fieldwork, internships immerse students in the full day-to-day experience of being a practicing psychologist. Interns remain under the supervision of accredited psychologists but have a much broader and intense range of responsibilities than a practicum student.
Most states require 1,500 to 2,000 hours of training and at least one to two years of supervised professional experience, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prospective students should be prepared to put in some extra legwork to find a pathway to completing their required internship hours.
Step 3. Qualifications: Certification and Licensure
All 50 states and the District of Columbia require psychologists to be licensed where they practice. Technically, licensing requirements vary by state and field, but there are only minor discrepancies for most certifications. Certain specialties, such as clinical psychology and neuropsychology, require additional certifications in some states.
To get a license, a student has to earn a doctorate from an accredited program and complete a specific number of training hours. Finally, they must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. To stay licensed, continuous education is mandatory.
After obtaining a degree at the doctoral level and completing the required fieldwork, the only additional requirement is the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. This 225-question, multiple-choice test spans four hours and covers the foundational knowledge across all psychological disciplines.
Should You Become a Psychologist?
Ultimately, becoming a psychologist is a challenging journey that takes several years of training. However, it can be a very fulfilling career path that offers several opportunities. As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a career in psychology offers very high pay and an excellent job outlook.
If you aspire to pursue a career in helping others or conducting significant research, then there are few options as fulfilling and dynamic as a psychologist.
FAQs About Becoming a Psychologist
It can take around 10 or more years after graduating high school to complete your education and training before you receive your license to practice as a psychologist. This involves earning your undergraduate and graduate degrees, along with completing internships.
Here you can find the best undergraduate programs to pursue psychology. On this website, you can find the best master’s programs. Finally, you can find some of the best doctoral programs in psychology here.
There are several types of psychologists, such as environmental psychologists, biopsychologists, and military psychologists. Here you can find information regarding up to 70 different types of psychologists.