Psychologists are students of the human mind and human behavior. Psychologists in the health-service field provide care for patients in hospitals, clinics, schools, or private settings. Psychologists employed in business, industry, government, or nonprofit organizations provide training and conduct research. Psychologists gather information on the human condition through controlled laboratory experiments or by administering a variety of personality, performance, aptitude, and intelligence tests. They also observe people, conduct interviews, and have people fill out questionnaires and surveys. Psychologists ply their trade in many areas, including health and human services, management, education, the law, and more.
Clinical psychologists are most commonly employed in counseling centers, independent or group practices, hospitals, or clinics. They treat mentally and emotionally disturbed clients and counsel them with the goal of returning them to ordinary, productive lives. They interview patients and give diagnostic tests. They provide individual, family, or group therapy. Some administer community mental-health programs.
What are the job opportunities available for research and experimental psychologists?
Experimental or research psychologists work in universities, private research centers, businesses, and governmental organizations. They study the behavior of both human beings and animals like lab rats, monkeys, and pigeons to learn about motivation, thought, attention, learning and memory, the effects of substance abuse, and genetic factors that affect behavior.
The specializations available within the realm of clinical psychology include health psychology, neuropsychology, and geropsychology, which is the study of the effects of aging on the psyche. Health psychologists promote good health through counseling programs designed to help people achieve goals like quitting smoking and losing weight. Neuropsychologists study the relationship between the brain and behavior. They often work in stroke and head injury programs. Geropsychologists deal with the special problems faced by the elderly.
The following specialties are those most commonly found in government social work:
School psychologists work with students in elementary and secondary schools, collaborating with teachers, parents, and school personnel to create a safe and healthy learning environment.
Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological principles and research methods to the workplace in the interest of improving productivity and the quality of working life. They are also involved in research on management and marketing problems.
Developmental psychologists study the physiological and social development that takes place over the course of a person's life. Some specialize in behavior during infancy, childhood, and adolescence; others monitor changes that occur during maturity or old age.
Social psychologists examine people's interactions with others. Prominent areas of study include group behavior, leadership, attitudes, and perception.
A psychologist's specialty determines his or her working conditions. Psychologists in private practice have their own offices and set their own hours. They offer evening and weekend hours to accommodate clients, since the average citizen is working during weekday business hours.
Psychologists who work for the government do not have that luxury. Psychologists who work in hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare facilities work shifts that include evenings and weekends, while those who work in schools and clinics generally work regular hours. Psychologists in government and industry have the most structured schedules.
A doctoral degree is mandatory to be a licensed clinical or counseling psychologist. Psychologists qualify for a wide range of teaching, research, clinical, and counseling positions in the government. A doctoral degree usually takes between five and seven years of study. The doctorate ends with a dissertation based on original research. In clinical or counseling psychology, the requirements for the doctoral degree include at least a one-year internship.
What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor — that is, a person who has been through medical school and has chosen psychiatry as his or her medical specialty. While a psychologist can treat patients and offer therapy and counseling, only a psychiatrist can write prescriptions for medications like antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and other medications designed to treat psychiatric conditions.
A specialist degree is required in most states to work as a school psychologist. A specialist degree in school psychology requires a minimum of three years of full-time graduate study and a one-year internship.
People with a master's in psychology can work as industrial-organizational psychologists and psychological assistants under the supervision of doctoral-level psychologists. A master's degree in psychology requires at least two years of full-time graduate study. Requirements usually include practical experience and a master's thesis based on original research. Competition for admission to graduate psychology programs is intense. Some universities require students to have an undergraduate major in psychology.
A bachelor's degree in psychology qualifies a person to be an assistant to a psychologist in community mental health centers, rehabilitation offices, and correctional programs. Those with a bachelor's degree can work as research or administrative assistants for psychologists. Some work as technicians in fields like marketing research.
Psychologists hold about 179,000 jobs. Government agencies at the state and local levels employ psychologists in public hospitals, clinics, correctional facilities, and other areas. Increased demand for psychological services in schools, hospitals, social-service agencies, mental-health centers, substance-abuse treatment clinics, and the government will contribute to job growth in the coming decade.
In the federal government, candidates having at least twenty-four semester hours in psychology and one course in statistics qualify for entry-level positions. Be warned that competition for these jobs is especially fierce because the government is one of the few employers that hires psychologists who do not have advanced degrees.
The American Psychological Association accredits doctoral training programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology. It also works conjunction with institutions that provide internships for doctoral students in school, clinical, and counseling psychology. The National Association of School Psychologists, with the assistance of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, is also involved in the accreditation of advanced-degree programs in school psychology.
Aspiring psychologists who are interested in working with patients (rather than performing research) should be stable, mature, compassionate, and able to deal well with emotionally disturbed people. Research psychologists should be detailed-oriented and be able to work both independently and as part of a team.
Median annual earnings of wage and salary clinical, counseling, and school psychologists are $54,950. Other salaries fall into the following ranges:
Copractitioners with other health professionals: $64,460
Elementary and secondary schools: $58,360
Outpatient care centers: $46,850
Individual and family services: $42,640
Opportunities and Outlook
School psychologists, particularly those with advanced degrees, will enjoy the best job opportunities. Growing concern about students' mental health and behavioral problems, such as bullying, will keep them busy. Since the awful day of the Columbine High School massacre at Littleton, Colorado, school psychologists have remained on red alert. They no longer simply focus on the underlying problems behind falling grades or attendances issues. They are now on the lookout for malcontents and misfits who might be planning to commit acts of violence or destruction of property.
Clinical and counseling psychologists are always in demand to help people deal with depression, marriage and family problems, job stress, and addiction. An increase in the number of employee assistance programs that help workers deal with personal problems should also create job growth in clinical and counseling specialties.
Master's-degree holders will face keen competition for jobs because most positions that require an advanced degree give preference to those holding a Ph.D. They may find jobs as psychological assistants or counselors, providing mental health services under the direct supervision of a licensed psychologist. Others may find jobs involving research and data collection and analysis in the government.
Government agencies at the state and local levels employ psychologists in public hospitals, clinics, correctional facilities, and other settings. After several years of experience, some psychologists, usually those with doctorates, enter private practice or set up private research or consulting firms. In addition to the previously mentioned jobs, many psychologists hold faculty positions at colleges and universities and as high school psychology teachers.
Opportunities will be severely limited for bachelor's-degree holders. Some might find jobs as assistants in rehabilitation centers or in other jobs involving data collection and analysis. Those who meet state certification requirements may become high school psychology teachers.