The human mind is complex and mysterious, functioning in ways we are only beginning to understand. At the forefront of this research are psychologists, professionals who examine and unravel the reasoning behind why people think, act, and feel the way they do. Some psychologists delve into the unconscious mind to explore the intricacies of interpersonal relationships; others develop and refine theories to explain the human brain and then use that knowledge to assess and treat a number of disorders. Students can preview this academic field through several online psychology courses, made available for free from some of the best universities.
While careers vary, psychologists generally study human thought and behavior by observing, recording, and analyzing how people relate to each other and their environments. Psychologists work in many settings, with some providing mental care, some researching human behavior, and others developing new programs and treatments for pathologies. They can be university professors, therapists, social workers or researchers. A small number of professionals work as industrial-organizational psychologists, helping companies improve employee efficiency and morale. Regardless of which specialization psychologists choose, they aim to better understand thoughts, emotions, feeling, and behavior by exploring patterns, identifying causes, and testing theories via research and treatment.
Students pursuing a degree in psychology expect to take a number of foundational courses that will prepare them for more in-depth classes later. These include introductory courses in biology and chemistry as well as psychological theory, practice, and research methods. Additional coursework will focus on topics like neuroscience and cognitive, developmental, abnormal, and social psychology to give students a fuller perspective of the field. Students can also take more advanced courses in specific topics, such as psycholinguistics or a course on law and psychology.
Even at the bachelor’s level, students choose a concentration within their psychology major in order to further focus their studies. One of the most familiar specializations is clinical psychology, which assesses, diagnoses, and treats emotional, mental, and behavioral disorders. This path prepares students for careers as counselors and therapists in hospitals and care centers. There are many other specializations as well, which include counseling psychology, developmental psychology, forensic psychology, industrial organizational psychology, school psychology, and social psychology.
In addition to their specialization, students need to consider which degree level they wish to pursue. Here’s what students can expect to take away from the different degrees in psychology:
Associate: While there are associate programs in psychology, they do not prepare graduates for work in the majority of psych-related careers. However, an associate’s can provide training for assistant-level positions in health care facilities, or can provide aspiring careerists in psychology with the foundation needed to work towards higher levels of education.
Bachelor’s: One of the ways to start a career in psychology is through a bachelor’s in the field. While most hoping to work as researchers or advanced clinicians will need to go on to higher levels of education, those who graduate from a bachelor’s program will be poised to take on work in a wide range of other industries, such as social work or substance abuse counseling.
Master’s: For many careers, like school, career, and rehabilitation counselling, a master’s is required to gain licensure and find work in the field. Others, however, will find that additional education beyond this level is necessary to remain competitive and find work. Students interested in master’s level programs should note that they do not need a bachelor’s in psychology to be accepted, but will need some in the core sciences.
Ph.D.: Those hoping to work in clinical psychology will need to continue their education through the doctoral level, especially in order to gain licensure in the field. A Ph.D. requires students to complete a clinical internship as well as independent and innovative research, though some schools offer Psy.D. programs that do not require a dissertation.
In addition to these degrees, students can pursue certification through professional organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). These kinds of certifications may be required by certain employers and lend additional weight to the resumes of those already working in the field.
Ideal Candidates for Psychology
Even before enrolling in a psychology program, students can begin developing skills that will serve them well in their chosen profession. Psychologists need to be excellent communicators, as their work requires them to listen closely and work with people from many backgrounds. They will need to build their patience, observational skills, and trustworthiness if they are to successfully interact with patients. They must also be extremely analytical and have strong problem solving skills, as they not only listen to patients but need to understand, diagnose, and suggest appropriate treatments.
While nothing is certain, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, those in psychology can expect a bright job outlook for the next decade. The number of jobs is expected to grow overall by 22% through 2020, with the greatest demand seen for those specializing in industrial-organizational psychology, a field expected to expand by 35%. Most of these in-demand careers in psychology will require a doctoral degree, and even in those where a master’s will suffice, a Ph.D. will make it easier to find high-quality employment.
Psychologists need a lot of expertise to do their jobs well and often receive compensation that’s commensurate with their level of education. The average salary for psychologists is $68,640, but many specializations make a good deal more, with those in industrial-organizational psychology averaging $87,330 per year. Like other fields, earnings in psychology depend on a number of factors, including geographic location, education, experience, and area of expertise.
If you want to learn more about what it means to be a psychologist, there are a wide range of options to help guide you. Reach out to professional organizations, find students already enrolled in degree programs, talk to psychologists in your community, and get in touch with colleges and universities to find out more.