If you enjoy thinking about why people do the things they do, you might be interested in a career in psychology, the science of behavior. Although the field is rooted in the scientific method, it also requires creative thinking and general flexibility. The work can vary from day to day, and it generally incorporates new and ongoing research as well as technological breakthroughs. Here’s an overview of the current career outlook for psychologists.
Psychology Educational Requirements
To be a psychologist requires an advanced degree in psychology. That is, after obtaining an undergraduate degree (which does not have to be in psychology), students will need an additional two or more years of study in order to obtain a master’s, specialist (Ed. S), or doctoral degree in psychology. A doctoral degree could be either a Ph.D in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D), depending on the program and specific field of study. In addition, practicing psychologists must hold a license or certification in nearly all states.
Admission criteria for psychology programs are strict. In addition to grades, many graduate programs also evaluate a candidate’s analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills, in order to determine whether students will be able to work effectively with people and information.
What a Job in Psychology Looks Like
The field of psychology is broad; clinical and research psychologists — those who work with patients or in labs — generally need to complete a Ph.D in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) degree. School psychologists or those who choose to work in industrial organization typically need a master’s degree or a specialist (Ed. S) degree.
Jobs in psychology vary widely. For example, clinical psychologists work with patients, who might be adults, children, couples, or families, to help them change certain behaviors or deal with specific disorders. Some patients need treatment to help them work through short-term crises. Others may have emotional or behavior disorders that require long-term or even constant care.
School psychologists do similar work with school students, but they typically refer long-term patients for outside help. School psychologists may also be called upon to help identify at-risk students, or to help create strategies for struggling students or those with learning disabilities.
Research psychologists might carry out studies in labs to understand more about the ways in which people think, make decisions, or behave in given situations. These professionals are often also involved in teaching at the university and post-university level.
Forensic psychologists are frequently called upon to testify as expert witnesses in court cases. They help those in the legal system, such as litigators, judges, and even juries, to understand the psychological implications in a given case.
Industrial psychologists (sometimes called organizational psychologists) help improve the inner workings of companies by helping employees and managers use the principles of psychology to work together more effectively. They can also be involved in hiring decisions, employee training, and other important parts of work life.
Earnings Outlook and Average Earnings
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-2013 edition), put out by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of psychologists in the United States earned between $40,000 and $110,000 annually. What accounts for the discrepancy? The specific field of study in which psychologists practice. Those psychologists in private practice earned as much as $90,000 or more per year, but there is no data on how many hours they worked per week, and their earnings may not account for self-employment taxes that they paid.
It’s important to note that the Occupational Outlook Handbook lists the median salaries for professions. Although many people confuse “median” with “average,” the two terms are different. The median salary of a group is the point at which half the people in the group earn more than that amount, and half the people in the group earn less. This number can be significantly higher or lower than the average salary in a group. The median salary listed for psychologists is currently $68,640.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts that the United States will need 22 percent more psychologists by 2020, which is considered a faster than average rate of growth. Specifically, especially fast growth is expected in the field of industrial psychology, which also commands fairly high salaries. The field is currently quite small, however, so the 35 percent growth expected will only account for about 800 jobs over a ten-year period.
Furthermore, despite the overall increase in jobs, competition for positions will still be high. Those with higher level degrees such as a Ph.D or a Psy.D will have a significant advantage over psychologists with only a Master’s degree. To improve job prospects at the master’s level, candidates should consider supplementing their studies with computer science and quantitative research methodology.
Where to Live and Work
Psychologists can choose to live just about anywhere in the United States, with some caveats. Those who are interested in research psychology should look for areas with large universities. It’s very easy to learn about the hundreds of psychology labs in universities across the country by researching them online. Large cities, such as Boston or chicago typically have a number of universities with several labs each in a relatively small geographical area, which may provide better job opportunities in this field.
School psychologists are also in demand across the country, and, as before, choosing an area with several different schools may increase a candidate’s chances of finding a job.
Psychologists who wish to work in private practice are free to set up shop anywhere they choose. Large cities may provide more potential patients, but there may also be more competition with other practitioners. In more rural settings, the opposite may be true.
What to Consider When Going Into Psychology
If you’re considering a career in psychology, think about your own attitude towards other people. It’s rare to find a psychologist who spends all day alone in a lab. Most need to interact daily — if not with patients or clients, then with colleagues, so this isn’t a job for someone who doesn’t have the right people skills. In addition, it takes patience to work with those with disabilities or syndromes; they may have difficulty communicating or admitting their own problems. The psychologist’s job is to provide patients with a nurturing, empathetic relationship that allows them to feel safe as their work to change their behavior.
Of course, it’s also important that a psychologist be trustworthy. To be successful, a psychologist must not only hold information in confidence but must also engender a feeling of mutual trust and respect with patients.
Those who enjoy working with others and approaching problems and challenges to find creative solutions may well enjoy a rewarding — and profitable — career in psychology.