For many, the term psychologist evokes the image of a therapist. In fact, psychologists serve in a wide range of capacities. Psychologists conduct experiments, work as consultants, test intelligence and personality, provide leadership training and perform marketing research. What they share is expertise in the intricate workings of the human mind and knowledge of how cognitive functions are linked to behavior and environment.
What Does a Psychologist Do?
Psychologists work across a broad range of sectors. A psychologist may:
- Conduct individual and group therapy to address problems such as substance abuse and depression
- Evaluate and treat cognitive problems, learning disabilities and developmental disabilities
- Help develop concentration and enhance performance among athletes and actors
- Advise businesses on ways to enhance worker performance
- Provide expert testimony in court proceedings
Within the field of psychology are several branches of specialization.
Clinical psychologists assess and treat people who have mental disorders. They also help individuals cope with illnesses, injuries or who are undergoing traumatic life events.
School psychologists work in educational settings to help students with learning and behavioral problems, work with families on parenting skills and provide other expertise to faculty members.
Industrial-organizational psychologists are experts in workplace behavior. They may devise ways to increase worker productivity, train and assess employees, test products and provide organizational development and analysis.
Forensic psychologists work within the legal and criminal justice system and may provide testimony in court or assist with investigations.
Other areas of expertise among psychologists include research and experimentation, human development and social interactions.
Whatever the specialty, psychologists are generally astute observers, good listeners, skillful analysts, strong leaders and compassionate individuals. As scientists of the mind, psychologists often develop hypotheses and test them through observation, experimentation and evaluation. Many psychologists are therefore innovators, whose approaches evolve based on research and acquired knowledge.
What Are the Steps to Becoming a Psychologist?
Psychologists are compassionate, curious, patient and strong leaders. It takes more than these qualities alone, however, to become a psychologist. Following are some of the key steps that will help you build a successful career.
- Talk to practicing psychologists to learn about specific jobs in the field and the profession in general. Determine whether psychology is right for you and which specialty interests you--clinical, industrial-organizational, experimental, forensic, etc.
- Learn about educational requirements for your preferred profession. The most competitive psychologists hold PhDs or Doctors of Psychology (PsyD). A PsyD is usually required if you intend to practice as a clinical psychologist. School and industrial-organizational psychologists, on the other hand, may be able to obtain jobs with master's degrees.
- Start your psychology education. Choose a school (or schools) that can lead you to the degree you need to secure a job and that will provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to succeed.
- Obtain licensure, if necessary. All states have licensing requirements for psychologists who offer patient care, whether in clinics, private practices or schools. Licensing requirements vary by state.
How Can You Become a Great Psychologist?
Great psychologists have knowledge, skills and experience--and they can make a tremendous impact on people's lives. Whichever branch of psychology you choose, you can make the most of your career and excel in your profession by taking the following steps.
- Network with other professionals. Take advantage of professional support groups, conferences and other opportunities to meet people and experts in the field. Networking is a good way to gain and share skills and knowledge.
- Maintain memberships in professional organizations. Join relevant associations and take advantage of the services they provide to members.
- Pursue additional training opportunities. Psychology is a constantly evolving field. As new research emerges, so do new practices and techniques. Carve out time in your schedule to stay abreast of developments in the field and strengthen your expertise.
- Learn from your mistakes. Gaining experience as a psychologist is about learning through practice, so expect to make mistakes over the course of your career. Use them as opportunities for professional growth.
Becoming a great psychologist may take years, but with dedication and the right education, you may be rewarded with a career that satisfies you for the rest of your life.
Career Outlook for Psychologists
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for psychologists are projected to grow from 2010 to 2020. With a 35 percent growth rate, industrial-organizational psychologists should be in greatest demand as companies turn to psychologists to enhance worker productivity, address workplace diversity and perform marketing research. Employment for clinical, counseling and school psychologists should increase by 22 percent, while jobs for all other psychologists should increase by 18 percent.
Jobs are also expected to be competitive, particularly for psychologists without doctorate-level degrees. However, those who secure jobs may be rewarded with lucrative salaries. As of 2012, the median annual salary for industrial-organizational psychologists was $83,580. Clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned $67,650, while all other psychologists earned a mean annual salary of $90,020.
Resources for Psychologists