How to Become A Psychologist

This article provides an overview of psychologist careers and the requirements to become a psychologist. This article will outline a psychologists’s job duties, salary levels, and employment prospects, as well as discuss the career’s necessary skills, training, educational requirements, and certification requirements.

Psychologist Job Duties

Psychologists study the human mind and human behavior. The specific job duties of a psychologist can vary depending upon their areas of specialization. Areas of specialization include:

  • Clinical psychologists – This is the largest specialty for psychologists. They most often work in counseling centers, independent or group practices, hospitals, or clinics. They help mentally or emotionally disturbed patients adjust to life, deal with illnesses or injuries, or deal with times of personal crisis. Subspecialties within this field include: health psychology, neuropsychology, and geropsychology.
  • Counseling psychologists – Counseling psychologists work in university counseling centers, hospitals, and independent or group practices. They advise people on how to deal with the problems of everyday living.
  • School psychologists – School psychologists work in elementary and secondary schools. They work with parents, teachers, and administrators to improve classroom management, provide advice on parenting skills, counter substance abuse, and help gifted students and students with disabilities.
  • Industrial-organization psychologists – These psychologists work with businesses and apply psychological principles and methods to improve productivity and quality of work life.
  • Developmental psychologists – Developmental psychologists work in applied psychology fields such as organizational consulting, marketing research, or systems design.
  • Experimental or research psychologists – These psychologists study behavior processes using human beings and animals.

Psychologist job duties vary by specialty, but can include:

  • Investigating physical, cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of human behavior
  • Providing mental health care
  • Collecting data through observation, interviews, questionnaires, clinical studies, and surveys
  • Performing laboratory experiments
  • Formulating theories about human behavior
  • Administering personality, performance, aptitude, and intelligence tests
  • Implementing behavior modification programs
  • Consulting with other medical personnel
  • Advising people on how to cope with issues
  • Collaborating with teachers, parents, and administrators
  • Conducting screening, and training and development
  • Studying developmental disabilities
  • Examining human interactions
  • Studying behavioral processes
  • Prescribing medication – this is currently only legal in New Mexico after additional training

Psychologist Job Skills

The job skills of a psychologist include:

  • Emotional stability and maturity
  • Ability to deal effectively with people
  • Excellent communication skills and patient interaction skills
  • Sensitivity and compassion
  • Ability to lead and inspire others
  • Ability to work independently or as a member of a team
  • Excellent observation and listening skills
  • Patience and perseverance

Psychologist Income

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2002, salaries for clinical, counseling, and social psychologists were around $51,170, with the top 10% earning more than $87,060. Salaries for industrial-organizational psychologists were around $63,710, with the top 10% earning more than $112,660. Earnings for psychologists vary by industry segment with the median annual incomes for the industries employing the largest number of psychologists being:

IndustryMedian SalaryOffices of other health care practitioners$59,600Elementary and secondary schools$54,480Physicians offices$51,140Outpatient care centers$44,010Individual and family services$37,490

Training and Education Required to Become a Psychologist

A doctoral degree is usually required for employment as a licensed clinical or counseling psychologist. Psychologists can earn either a Ph.D. of Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree. Such a doctoral degree usually requires 5 to 7 years of study with a dissertation, or practical work and examination, or a 1-year internship, depending on the type of degree. A doctoral degree qualifies an individual for the widest range of career opportunities.

Individuals with a master’s degree in psychology may work as industrial-organizational or school psychologists. A master’s degree in psychology typically requires at least 2 years of study.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology qualifies an individual to assist a psychologist and other professionals.

Doctoral psychology programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychological are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education with the National Association of School Psychologists is also involved in the accreditation of advanced degree programs in school psychology.

All states and the District of Columbia require licensing or certification of psychologists. Psychologists must limit their practice to the areas in which they have developed professional competence. Most state licensing boards administer a test. Some states require continuing education for license renewal. Most states certify individuals with a master’s degree in school psychology after completion of an internship.

There are also come certification credentials available for psychologists. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) awards the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential. NCSP certification is recognized by 22 states allowing individuals with NCSP certification to transfer credentials from state to state. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) also awards specialty certification, primarily in clinical neuropsychology, and counseling, forensic, industrial-organizational, and school psychology.

Click here for information on schools offering Psychology Degrees and the programs that they offer.

Psychologist Employment

In 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that psychologists held about 139,000 jobs in the United States. About 30% of them worked in educational institutions in positions other than teaching. Another 30% worked in health care. Government agencies at the state and local level employed an additional 10%. More than 25% of psychologists are self employed.

Psychologist Job Outlook

The need for psychologists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations over most of the next decade. This job growth is being driven by demand for psychological services in schools, hospitals, social service agencies, mental health centers, substance abuse treatment clinics, consulting firms, and private companies.

Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists will experience faster than average growth while industrial-organizational psychologists will have average growth. School psychologists may enjoy the best prospects for employment.

Disclaimer: Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.