How to Become a Psychologist in 2024

How to Become a Psychologist in 2024

Psychology can be a fulfilling career for those who enjoy helping others. Psychologists are trained to understand human behavior and assist people with mental health issues and other behavioral challenges. There are many different areas of psychology, such as clinical psychology and government psychology, each with unique responsibilities.

This guide will provide an overview of how to become a psychologist, including information on salary, job opportunities, and educational requirements.

Steps to Become a Psychologist

If you’re considering becoming a psychologist, it’s important to research the profession thoroughly, meet the minimum educational requirements, seek mentorship and internship opportunities, and obtain a license to practice.

1. Research the Profession

Many job opportunities are available for psychologists, which require different skill sets and qualifications. Therefore, beginning your journey by researching your field of interest is essential. Exploring job boards is one way to understand the work environment, working hours, and day-to-day duties.

2. Meet Educational Requirements

To work as a licensed psychologist, you must meet the minimum educational requirements, which include a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology or a related field, a doctorate, and a license from your state.

3. Gain Relevant Experience

To gain experience, seek out opportunities for mentorship from licensed psychologists during your studies. This can give you a clear idea of what to expect when you become a licensed psychologist. Additionally, you will be required to earn several hours of supervised clinical practice after completing your graduate degree and before obtaining a license from your state.

4. Obtain Certifications

After earning your doctorate in psychology and completing your state’s required supervised clinical hours, you can attend the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) examination to become licensed.

Depending on the field of psychology, some psychologists must register with the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) to practice their specialty. Others may earn certifications to practice specific forms of therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

5. Build a Portfolio

If you’re interested in applying for scholarships or grants or need peer feedback, having a psychology portfolio can be very helpful. Psychology portfolios demonstrate your ability to understand psychological theories and research methods. Additionally, they allow you to showcase your best research papers, presentations, and personal assignments.

Some psychologists also use portfolios to review their experiences over time.

Additional Steps

Many psychologists obtain certifications to demonstrate their expertise in a specific treatment area, although it is not always necessary. Certification requirements and eligibility criteria differ depending on the certification.

The following are the most common specialty certifications:

  • Master Addictions Counselor (MAC)
  • National Certified School Counselor (NCSC)
  • Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC)

Why Become a Psychologist

“Psychology is much bigger than just medicine or fixing unhealthy things. It is about education, work, marriage – it is even about sports. I want to see psychologists working to help people build strengths in all these domains.” ~ Martin Seligman

Psychologists play a crucial role in helping individuals navigate challenging times. Apart from the gratification of serving and positively impacting others, pursuing a career in psychology has other advantages.

They include:

  • Professional autonomy
  • Opportunity for career advancement
  • Opening a private practice
  • Working with a variety of people
  • Collaborating with other health professionals
  • Higher salary potential

Although there are many benefits to becoming a psychologist, there are also some potential challenges:

  • Need for continual education
  • Income variances
  • Finding new clients
  • Marketing your practice
  • Handling billing issues and late invoices
  • Extensive educational requirements

Many of these disadvantages are experienced at entry level and can be overcome with time and practice. Psychology is a fulfilling field to work in, and psychologists are generally satisfied with their career choices.

Where do Psychologists Work?

Psychologists may work independently or with other healthcare professionals. Typical working environments for psychologists include private practices, doctors’ offices, schools, and hospitals. While some psychologists work standard business hours, others provide services on contract, moving from location to location as needed.

Corporate Settings

Corporations hire industrial and organizational psychologists to provide services to their employees. This includes assisting with employee productivity and human resources. As this is a corporate position, services are provided during work hours and in an office environment. Psychologists who work in corporate positions may liaise with individuals or a group of employees.

Freelance Opportunities

Psychologists who want a more flexible schedule can work independently as freelancers. Freelance psychologists treat people with a variety of mental health issues online and in person. Some companies contract freelance psychologists to help them develop a safer work environment.

Government Organizations

What a psychologist does in a government organization is slightly different from what they do in other fields of employment. Government psychologists are involved in policy-making, public health programs, and crisis management. They also work with organizations in career development.

Other Venues

Additional venues where psychologists work include prisons, courtrooms, law enforcement agencies, and laboratories.

Psychologist Salary

Psychologists can expect to earn between $48,000 and $142,000 annually, according to BLS data. The precise pay rate depends on their location, field of study, and specialty.

Average Salary

According to BLS, the average annual psychologist salary is $85,330. However, the earnings can vary significantly depending on their job title. Among different types of psychologists, school psychologists earn the lowest salary, which is $81,500 annually. In contrast, clinical psychologists earn $90,130 per year.

Psychologists in private practice earn more than those in schools, hospitals, or government organizations because they can set their fees and work more hours.

Highest Psychologist Salary

Industrial-organizational psychologists earn the highest median annual pay at $139,280, followed by government psychologists at $106,690.

Highest Paying States

States where psychologists are likely to earn the highest salary are:

  • New Jersey: $164,110
  • Oregon: $134,830
  • New York: $128,520
  • Arkansas: $128,130
  • California: $124,450

Psychologist Career and Job Growth

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job openings for psychologists will grow 6% between 2022 and 2032. They expect 12,800 new openings for psychologists each year during this time across multiple environments, including hospitals and community health organizations.

Psychologist Degrees

Psychology degrees provide the foundational framework for those looking to work as licensed psychologists. By pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in psychology, psychologists comprehensively understand the human mind, diversity, multiculturalism, and behavior’s cognitive and affective bases.

Bachelor’s Degree

To start a career in psychology, you must first earn a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. A bachelor’s degree prepares you for advanced research and clinical work as it helps you understand the inner workings of the human mind.

Bachelor of Science (BS) in Psychology 

A bachelor’s degree in psychology is the undergraduate degree of choice for those wishing to pursue a career in psychology. This degree focuses on research and theory, which prepares students to work in social services and various healthcare fields.

Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology

This degree lays the foundation for working in social work and criminal justice. Its central focus is on liberal arts, humanities, and languages.

To earn a Master of Arts (MA), you must complete a BA.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is essential for anyone looking to become a licensed psychologist. There are three master’s programs, though a Master of Arts in Psychology is the most advantageous.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

The MSW program covers social welfare policy, ethics, human behavior, and clinical practice. Although some students use this degree to go into a doctorate program, others graduate and become licensed to work as mental health counselors.

Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in Counseling

Both degrees focus on psychological testing and specific counseling techniques. These specializations include rehabilitation, family therapy, and substance abuse. Graduates may enter a doctorate program or apply for a license to work as professional counselors.

Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in Psychology

These degrees suit individuals wanting to work in therapeutic settings, although they have separate focuses. The MA in psychology primarily focuses on applying counseling concepts, whereas the MS focuses on research and scientific methods. They include psychological research and practice and clinical or school psychology specialties. Students who cannot join a traditional classroom can earn an online master’s in psychology.

Further Studies

Doctoral degree programs teach core psychology theory and specialized focus areas like human lifespan development. They also include an internship for hands-on experience. To work as a licensed psychologist, you must earn a doctorate in psychology. A doctorate also provides information on specialty fields in psychology, such as child psychology and social psychology.

The doctorate programs of choice are Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Psychology:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): This program focuses on research and experimental methods. It suits those looking to work in research or related science fields. Coursework includes theoretical psychology, psychopathology, and ethics in psychology.
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD): The doctor of psychology program prepares students to start their practice. This program places a central focus on clinical work and professional training. A typical curriculum includes courses in psychopathology, psychotherapy, and human development.

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the main accrediting body for both PhD and PsyD programs. An APA-accredited PsyD program follows stringent standards the American Psychological Association sets, ensuring graduates offer their patients the best care.

Psychologist FAQ

This FAQ section covers general questions about what a psychologist does and how to become one.

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Psychologist?

While a master’s degree is sufficient to practice as a licensed mental health counselor, a doctoral degree such as a Ph.D. or a PsyD is required to work as a licensed psychologist.

What Do Psychologists Do?

Psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat people with behavioral dysfunctions resulting from physical and mental health conditions. They also help their clients develop healthier habits to improve their quality of life. It’s important to note that psychologist job descriptions will vary depending on their roles.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychologist?

The total time from beginning a bachelor’s degree to obtaining licensure to practice as a psychologist typically ranges from 11 to 14 years. However, the time it takes to reach this goal will vary depending on your pace of learning and career goals.

  • Bachelor’s Degree: Typically requires four years of full-time study. The degree is usually in psychology but can also be in a related field.
  • Master’s Degree: This can take two to three years of full-time study. Some psychology careers require only a master’s degree, while others require a doctoral degree. Not all paths to becoming a psychologist require a master’s degree; some doctoral programs accept students directly after their bachelor’s degrees.
  • Doctorate (Ph.D. in Psychology or Psy.D.): The duration for a doctoral program can vary widely, ranging from four to seven years of full-time study. The length depends on the nature of the program, whether the student has already completed a master’s degree, the specific requirements of the doctoral program, and the time needed to complete the dissertation research or applied clinical work.
  • Training and Licensing: After completing the doctoral degree, psychologists typically undergo one to two years of supervised professional experience, which is a requirement for licensure. The exact requirements can vary by state. Following this, candidates must pass a professional practice exam to become licensed to practice psychology.

It’s important to note that the timeline can also be influenced by the field of specialization within psychology, such as clinical, counseling, school, or industrial-organizational psychology, among others. Each specialty might have slightly different paths or requirements for training and licensure.

Additionally, some psychologists pursue postdoctoral fellowships or additional specialized training after their doctoral degree, which can extend the timeline further.

How Much Do Psychologists Make?

Psychologists earn a median annual wage of $85,330. However, the top ten percent earn more than $141,910 annually, and the lower 10% earn $48,010.

What Skills Do I Need to Be a Psychologist?

People seek out psychologists to help them cope with complex mental health challenges. A psychologist must possess the right skills to hear the patient out, evaluate their situation, and offer guidance and treatment.

Aside from excellent communication skills, a psychologist must possess the ability to:

  • Problem-solve
  • Actively listen
  • Research
  • Think critically
  • Empathize
  • Analyze

Other skills include:

  • Environmental awareness
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Ethics

While interning, psychologists pick up additional skills such as time management and organization.

Are There Internship Opportunities for Psychologists?

Yes, there are internship opportunities available for psychologists. Many psychology programs mandate that students complete an internship before graduation. Additionally, psychologists must complete several hours of supervised clinical work to gain practical experience and acquire new skills before applying for a license to practice.

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