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What is a Psychologist?

A psychologist is someone who studies a patient’s thoughts, mental state, and emotional behavior to figure out what method to use to help them cope with mental health problems and life issues. Most methods utilized by these professionals may include using available research, psychotherapy, evaluations, organizational behavior, and a variety of techniques while considering the patients' emotional state, characteristics, unique values, circumstances, and goals.

There are a number of areas a psychologist can specialize in, such as domestic violence, addiction, children, and more.

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Steps to Take

It takes years of study and a substantial commitment to become a psychologist. While there are multiple areas of specialty in the field, clinical psychology has two paths to choose from; a Ph.D. that is more focused on research and a Psy.D., which concentrates more on clinical settings. Both require the same basic steps to get started.

Following the right path is the key to getting where you want to be. To become a psychologist and earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D., here are the basic steps that you will need to take.

  • Step 1: Education - Work Your Way up to A Doctorate Degree

  • Step 2: Experience - Complete Internship

  • Step 3: Licensing - Complete Clinical Training and get Licensed

  • Step 4: Working – Get a Job and Continue Education


Step 1: Education Requirements

The most important aspect of your education is that you attend a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). This will allow you to become credentialed, no matter which path you take.

While there are numerous academic paths you can follow at the bachelor’s level, a clinical psychology degree is not one of them. A master’s degree in clinical and counseling psychology may be available; however, it does not qualify you for licensure, but it will qualify you to earn a doctoral degree and become a licensed clinical psychologist.

A Doctorate in psychology will prepare you for a rewarding career in the psychology field. You can hold either a Ph.D. (Doctor of philosophy) or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology). At the doctoral level, you can specialize in a number of areas such as health, counseling, or industrial organization.

Step 2: Experience

Experience is important in the field of psychology and is also required. At the doctoral level, most programs will require around 3,000 hours, or two years, of supervised experience that can be accomplished in multiple ways. However, before you will be able to get paid for your services, you may need some experience, which you can obtain by putting some hours into doing voluntary work.

No matter which degree you earn, you will be required to complete at least a year or two of pre-doctoral internship in addition to your coursework and dissertation. An internship allows you to hone your clinical skills while under the watch of professional licensed clinical psychologists.

You may gain some experience by accepting summer placements, part-time employment, completing an internship, or taking on voluntary work and work shadowing while you are studying to earn your degree.

Step 3: Licensing

To become a psychologist, Licensure is mandated at the state level and most states require you to complete post-doctoral training before sitting for the national license exam. Some states may also require you to present a case study to the psychology board. Check with the Board of Psychology in your state to find out state-specific requirements to become licensed.

Even if your state doesn’t require it, completing additional clinical training is a big leap toward obtaining licensure and will help you to gain more knowledge and skills in a specialized area. This is especially helpful in certain fields of clinical psychology such as gerontology and child psychology.

While the requirements differ between states, they all include:

  • Earning a doctoral degree from an accredited program
  • Gaining a specific amount of hours of supervised experience
  • Passing examinations to become state licensed
  • Continuing education and renewing your license regularly

Step 4: Working

Once you have received licensure you will be ready to work as a psychologist or take-on a related occupation that involves understanding human behavior. There are wide arrays of career choices in the field of psychology to choose from as well as a variety of different areas that you can specialize in, but some may require different licensing or training.

Just remember that research in the field of psychology is constantly being done and new technology is consistently being introduced. Therefore, you must stay updated and keep up with the times by continuing your education. To find out how to stay up to date with the industry, check with the American Counseling Association (ACA), on continuing education for counselors where professionals can earn credit toward continuing education by using the ACA’s professional development programming online.

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What Does a Psychologist Do?

Psychologists help people in a variety of ways. First, they talk to their patients to find their problem areas, then they will devise a plan on how to treat them using research and technology.

Sometimes a psychologist can help people who are angry, depressed, anxious, or in another emotional state just by talking to them, especially those who feel overwhelmed, possibly by a new job or grieving a loved one’s death. Psychologists can also assist those with chronic conditions, and physical or mental health issues by helping them cope with their conditions and live a better lifestyle. These professionals also help their patients overcome addictions, deal with stressful situations, and reach their goals.

Practicing psychologists may work directly with patients or conduct research studies independently. They are also trained to administer various tests and assessments that help them understand more about how a person feels, thinks, and behaves or to diagnose certain conditions. These tests may also help a psychologist to evaluate cognitive strengths and weaknesses, intellectual skills, neuropsychological functioning, personality characteristics, and vocational aptitude and preference.

Psychologists may work in hospitals, clinics, schools, prisons, or independently in their own private office.

Skills to Acquire

  • Communication:
    Good communication skills are crucial when dealing with patients who are not of sound mind. The ability to express yourself clearly, describe your observations, and explain your findings in detail are imperative so you won’t give off the wrong impressions.
  • Problem-Solving:
    Problem-solving is another critical skill set for psychologists, as it is their job to solve patient’s problems. Part of problem-solving also involves having a backup plan; in case one solution doesn’t work, an alternative strategy might be necessary.
  • Good Listener:
    Many patients find relief by just being able to tell someone their problems; therefore, a good psychologist must be able to listen to what their patients have to say. Being a good listener will allow you to better understand what the problem is and thereby find a solution that will fix it.
  • Research:
    Conducting research will play a big part in your psychology career, no matter what your specialty. A good psychologist will know what to look for and where to find the answers they seek. This is especially helpful when conducting experiments as you can find out if others have done the same and what their outcomes were.
  • Ethics:
    Psychologists take on a lot of responsibility when dealing with other people’s lives as they are capable of influencing how their patient’s think during a time where they are very vulnerable. Therefore, psychologists should have strong ethics to ensure the well-being and safety of their patient’s.
  • Patience:
    While working with patients, it can take a long time to finally get the successful results that you seek. It may take a long while just to figure out what the problem is, then even longer to research, devise, and implement a solution that works. If it fails, then you will have to start over in order to follow another route.

Alternative Paths

There is a direct path to becoming a psychologist and then there are also some alternative paths that you can take, which can lead to the same outcome.

Students who already know what they want to specialize in as a licensed psychologist find it much easier to use combined programs to earn a doctoral degree in less time rather than earn a masters and then a doctorate degree. Students who studied topics other than psychology may not have this option, as comprehensive studies are required in medical psychology.

An alternative is to earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then skipping over the master’s and going directly to a doctoral training program. In some cases, students are able to obtain a certificate in Psychopharmacology or merely a master’s degree to become a licensed psychologist. There are also some programs that integrate medical psychology into medical degree programs.

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Psychologist Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


While most work for healthcare providers, there are many practicing psychologists who choose to run their own private practice. Psychologists may work solo or work with a team of other psychologists. Some psychologists find themselves working as consultants for counselors who don’t have the advantages, skills, or knowledge of a licensed psychologist.

Psychologists are found in many different settings, but mostly in medical establishments. Places that hire psychologists are:

  • Colleges and Universities
  • Medical Centers
  • Veteran’s Centers
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Prisons
  • Mental Health Clinics
  • Nursing Homes
  • Businesses and Industry
  • Addiction/Rehabilitation Centers

In 2015, clinical psychologists earned a median annual salary of $70,580, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In addition, the 10th percentile made roughly $40,920 annually and the 90th percentile earned around $116,960. Psychologists with advanced certification or those with more experience earned even higher wages. Location is also a significant factor in wage differences.

For example, In Oklahoma, the 10th percentile is $20,150, the 50th percentile is $46,340, and the 90th is $76,910, while in New Jersey, the 10th percentile is $54,990, the 50th percentile is $76,750, and the 90th is $115,970.

Potential Career Paths

When you mention the role of a psychologist most people think of clinical psychologists who listens to people’s problems and then tries to help find a solution that will allow them to cope with their situations. However, with their newly acquired skills such as reasoning, critical thinking, and understanding human behavior, professional psychologists have a lot more career opportunities available to them in diverse fields, such as education, business, and even correctional facilities. The following are just some of the many different paths a licensed psychologist can take:

Learning and Development Specialist:
Learning and development specialists typically assess a business’s needs then, based on their findings, will develop training programs for employees. These programs are based on group discussions, presentations, and team exercises. Professionals with backgrounds in education, human resources, and psychology fit this position the best.

Parole or Correctional Officer:
Parole and correctional officers listen to parolee’s situations and then provide them with a direction that encourages them to make better decisions in the future. Professionals with psychology and human behavior backgrounds are a good fit for this position and will be well-situated to convince lawbreakers to change their lives for the better.

Special Education Teacher :
A bachelor’s degree at minimum is all that’s required to become a special education teacher; therefore, having a master’s in psychology would make you highly qualified for this occupation. You can utilize your training in psychology to help assess student needs and provide them with emotional support as well as work with parents to determine effective home strategies.

Market Research Analyst:
These analysts look deeply into how consumers think, where they seek out information, how they spend their time, and what they are looking for to meet their needs. Psychologists have the perfect skills for this profession, as they are trained to recognize human behavior trends, and have strong research skills, which they can use to analyze data and draw conclusions on the state of the market.

Psychologist Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Psychologists $66,000 $82,000 $91,000
School Psychologists $55,000 $64,000 $78,000
Clinical Psychologists $70,000 $82,000 $100,000
Neuropsychologists $73,000 $94,000 $126,000
Clinical Therapists $62,000 $49,000 $65,000
Forensic Psychologists $51,000 $79,000 $94,000
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $51,000 $78,000 $132,000
Clinical Services Directors $62,000 $89,000 $133,000
Behavioral Health Directors $58,000 $85,000 $135,000
Mental Health Counselors $33,000 $43,000 $61,000
Licensed Professional Counselors $41,000 $50,000 $59,000
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists $49,000 $58,000 $65,000
Substance Abuse Counselors $31,000 $40,000 $53,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

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Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts, between 2016 and 2026, the job outlook for psychologists will grow by 14%, which is faster than average. Moreover, as of 2016, there were 166,600 psychologists and from 2016 to 2026 there are expected to be 23,000 more job openings in this field.

The future job prospects for psychologists looks promising, as the BLS predicts the demand for these professionals will see massive growth. This growth will be due to medicine trends that will constitute the need for medical psychologists catering to psychological disease impacting the population.

The BLS states that medical psychologists earn a mean salary of $72,540 annually or an hourly wage of $34.87. These earnings are based on many factors, including location. For example, those who practice in New York earn substantially more than practitioners in Kansas.

Advancing From Here

If you would like to know how to advance your psychology career, continuing education (CE) is one way. There are over 30 CE online courses, within a variety of related areas, to choose from that are offered by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Professional achievement is recognized by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) and rewarded with certifications in 13 different specialty areas, such as

  • School
  • Forensics
  • Rehabilitation
  • Clinical Health
  • Psychoanalysis

Candidates must meet certain criteria to obtain special board certifications that include holding a doctorate in psychology, being state licensed, having several years of experience, professional endorsements, and finally passing the board exam for your specialty.

In addition, once you have gained enough experience, you can advance your career by starting your own private practice, consulting service, or private research. Another way to advance your career is by choosing a higher-level specialty area to master that will put you ahead of the rest in your industry.

Some practicing psychologists will advance their career by becoming a psychiatrist. While psychologists’ yearly earnings may be approximately $75,000, the annual earnings of a psychiatrist are around $199,838, which is a big increase in salary.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What skills does a psychologist need?

A psychologist needs good communication, patience, and good listening skills. They also need to be good at problem-solving, research, and have strong ethics.

How much do psychologists make?

Phycologists make between $66,000 to $91,000 on average.

Where do psychologists work?

Psychologists can work in many different areas. Some common places include:

  • Medical centers
  • Veteran’s centers
  • Colleges and universities
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Businesses and industry
  • Mental health clinics
  • Addiction/rehabilitation centers
  • Schools
  • Prisons

What is the job outlook for psychologists?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts, between 2016 and 2026, the job outlook for psychologists will grow by 14%.

How long does it take to become a psychologist?

Most people take between 8 to 12 years to become a psychologist. Requirements will vary by state, but in every state you must earn a doctoral degree, gain a specific amount of supervised experience, pass a state licensing exam, and continue to renew your license.

Psychology & Counseling Career Paths

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