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Psychology Careers

Career Description

Psychologists study the human mind and human behavior.  Research psychologists investigate the physical, cognitive, emotional, or social aspects of human behavior. Psychologists in health service fields provide mental health care in hospitals, clinics, schools, or private settings.  Psychologists employed in applied settings, such as business, industry,  government, or nonprofit organizations, provide training, conduct research,  design organizational systems, and act as advocates for psychology.

Common Work Tasks

  • Formulate hypotheses and collect data to test their validity
  • Gather information through controlled laboratory experiments or by administering personality, performance, aptitude, or intelligence tests
  • Help mentally and emotionally distressed clients adjust to life and assist medical and surgical patients in dealing with illnesses or injuries
  • Treat patients with spinal cord injuries,  chronic pain or illness, stroke, arthritis, or neurological conditions
  • Help people deal with personal crisis, such as divorce or the death of a loved one
  • Provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy and may design and implement behavior modification programs
  • Collaborate with physicians and other specialists to develop and implement treatment and intervention programs
  • Promote healthy living and disease prevention through counseling
  • Use various techniques, including interviewing and testing, to advise people on how to deal with problems of everyday living,  including career or work problems and problems faced in different stages of life

Other Job Titles

Psychologists are also known by other titles, including:

  • Therapist
  • Counselor
  • Social Worker
  • Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
  • Psychiatrist

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
A doctoral degree usually is required for independent practice as a psychologist.  Psychologists with a Ph.D. or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) qualify for a wide range of teaching, research, clinical, and counseling positions in universities, health care services, elementary and secondary schools, private industry, and government. Psychologists with a doctoral degree often work in clinical positions or in private practices, but they also sometimes teach,  conduct research, or carry out administrative responsibilities.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology qualifies a person to assist psychologists and other professionals in community mental health centers, vocational rehabilitation offices, and correctional programs. Bachelor’s degree holders may also work as research or administrative assistants for psychologists. Some work as technicians in related fields, such as marketing research. Many find employment in other areas, such as sales,  service, or business management.

Licensure and Certification
  Psychologists in independent practice or those who offer any type of patient care—including clinical,  counseling, and school psychologists—must meet certification or licensing requirements in all States and the District of Columbia. Licensing laws vary by State and by type of position and require licensed or certified psychologists to limit their practice to areas in which they have developed professional competence through training and experience. Clinical and counseling psychologists usually need a doctorate in psychology, an approved internship,  and 1 to 2 years of professional experience. In addition, all States require that applicants pass an examination. Most State licensing boards administer a standardized test, and many supplement that with additional oral or essay questions. Some States require continuing education for renewal of the license.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) awards the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) designation, which recognizes professional competency in school psychology at a national, rather than State, level.

Aspiring psychologists who are interested in direct patient care must be emotionally stable, mature, and able to deal effectively with people. Sensitivity,  compassion, good communication skills, and the ability to lead and inspire others are particularly important qualities for people wishing to do clinical work and counseling. Research psychologists should be able to do detailed work both independently and as part of a team. Patience and perseverance are vital qualities, because achieving results in the psychological treatment of patients or in research may take a long time.


The median annual salary for a Psychologist is $79,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $128,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $36,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of psychologists are:

  • Federal Executive Branch - $78,550
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners - $73,730
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools - $67,020
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals - $87,810
  • Offices of Physicians - $142,220

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  15%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 25,000
  • Employment 2006 : 166,000
  • Employment 2016:  191,000
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