Careers in Psychology and Counseling – Career Paths & Earning Potential

Find Your Dream Psychology or Counseling Career or Job

If you are the type of person who is very social, caring, and a good listener with the desire to help others find solutions in their lives when they feel stuck, then you are likely a good candidate for a career in psychology or counseling. Anyone can get to a point in their lives where they need someone objective to help them see their situation with a bit more clarity. That is where professionals in psychology and counseling come in.

According to Psychology Today, one common misunderstanding about careers in the mental health field is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Both psychologists and psychiatrists are devoted to improving the mental health of their patients. Psychologists help people work through their problems through the use of psycho-social techniques, behavioral interventions, and focusing on the patient's emotions.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are also trained to help patients improve their mental health. They are allowed to prescribe medications to help with therapeutic treatment. Psychiatrists will spend more time dealing with medications and their effects along with behavior interventions.

Psychology & Counseling Career Paths


What Can You Do with a Psychology or Counseling Degree?


There are a wide range of jobs available for people who have a psychology or counseling degree, but you first need to realize that the options available for those with only a bachelor's in psychology tend to be entry-level positions. An example of an entry-level position in psychology is an intake worker or a psychological assistant at a psychiatric facility. These workers provide assistance to psychiatric patients under the guidance of a psychologist or psychiatrist who has the training and clinical experience to prescribe a therapeutic treatment program for the patient.

The professional positions are often only open to those with a master's or PhD. Some psychologists and counselors work with children such as school psychologists and child psychologists. Others - such as psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric technicians, and therapists - work with anyone needing mental health services. There are also specialty careers in psychology such as forensic psychology, clinical psychology, substance abuse counseling, and marriage and family therapy.

The bottom line is that, someone who desires to have a professional occupation in psychology, as opposed to an entry-level position, must be willing to get at least a master's degree. Often, there are additional requirements such as clinical hours and state certification for many professional occupations in psychology.

Skills Gained and Learned


  • Overview Knowledge of Psychology:
    Pursuing a degree in psychology, the student will be able to discuss in-depth the foundations and history of psychology, biology and how it relates to psychology and the mind, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, the ethical issues of psychology, as well as cognitive and social psychology.

  • Research Skills:
    A student of psychology will learn how to utilize academic journals of psychology and compile previous research into a picture of the current state of research.

    The student will also learn how to conduct an experiment, including knowledge of:

    • The steps in the scientific method
    • How to narrow down a viable and testable research question
    • Research design and data gathering, including finding data sources
    • How to analyze data and make conclusions from the data gathered
    • How to share the results of studies
    • How to replicate studies

  • Statistical Skills:
    The student will learn how to utilize statistics for psychology and/or social sciences. SPSS is statistical analysis software that helps researchers from all fields of social sciences interpret their data. The student will learn about the different types of data, computations that can be performed on data, and validity and reliability issues with statistical data.

  • Measurement Skills:
    Psychology students learn about the different means of measuring behavior; popular psychometric measures as well as their uses and their limitations; how to design questionnaires; data gathering techniques such as personal interviews, direct observation, and self-reporting; and the use of pre-existing records.

  • Knowledge of Different Schools of Psychology:
    The psychology student will learn about the different schools of psychology such as Behaviorism, Psychoanalytic Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology, and Humanistic Psychology. Students will learn that there is no one school of thought that all psychologists find to be a full explanation for the entire range of human behavior.

Psychology and Counseling Careers Working With Children and Students


There are a number of occupations in which a trained psychologist can work with children, helping them with mental health and behavioral issues as well as with academic issues at school. Most of these positions require a master's degree as well as clinical hours and a state certification.

Child Psychologist

In most states, a child psychologist will need to have attained a doctoral degree, performed clinical supervised hours, and possibly passed a national licensure examination. Child psychologists often work counseling children who are experiencing developmental delays, academic deficits, or behavioral issues such as children who are autistic, developmentally disabled, or who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Child psychologists have the training and experience to devise treatment programs for such children. They may work with teams of other professionals such as teachers, school psychologists, pediatricians, and social workers. The child psychologist will conduct numerous assessments to evaluate the issues that the child is experiencing which will include interviews with the child and parents, standard cognitive testing, and/or behavioral observations.

Based upon evaluation of the assessments administered, the child psychologist usually will work in tandem with the other professionals in organizing a treatment plan. Treatments may include counseling, behavioral modification plans, therapy for the entire family, and/or other interventions.

School Psychologist and School Counselor

According to the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, school psychologists and school counselors have different functions within a school system. School counselors work directly with students to help them with behavioral issues that are harming their academic progress or the academics of other students around them. School counselors use individual and group counseling techniques to help promote behavioral interventions. They meet directly with parents and teachers, working jointly on intervention programs.

School counselors need a master's degree and state licensure. Licensure typically entails 100 to 800 hours of supervised work and may involve board examinations. Each state's requirements are a bit different. One caveat about school counselors is that some states require candidates spend a number of years in the classroom as a teacher first.

School psychologists are often more involved with testing, research, and assessment of students in an effort to support student behavioral health and academic success. Based on analysis of the testing they conduct, students within a school district may be referred to special education programs, placed on an IEP, or placed in programs with other students who have behavioral disturbances. School psychologists have the training to diagnose the student's problems within the school setting and devise a treatment program.

School psychologists also need a master's degree and they must meet other state licensure requirements - often one to two years of supervised clinical practice and passing of the state board examination.

Sports Psychologist

According to the American Psychological Association, sports psychologists hold a doctoral degree or better. Their work uses their training in psychology to help athletes perform as well as possible. They also help athletes through behavioral, social, and developmental aspects of participation in sports. Sports psychologists work with children in recreational programs, parents, coaches, and even professional athletes

Sports psychologists can help all levels and ages of athletes by using cognitive and behavioral science to aid their performance, such as using imagery to plan performances and learning means of focusing one's attention, self-esteem improvement strategies, behavioral control, and leadership skills. They also help athletes who are experiencing issues with eating disorders, substance abuse and steroid use, overly-aggressive behavior, and issues with rehabilitation after injury. Sports psychologists also work on team issues and problems, help parents and others involved with youth sports programs, and aid in the training of coaches in helping them spot behavioral issues in athletes and issues that can cause friction.

Recreational Therapist

According the American Therapeutic Recreation Association, a recreational therapist uses recreation and other activities in order to help those who are suffering from disabilities, illnesses, and/or mental health impairment to become more independent and find means of overcoming their limitations. Treatment is active and is designed to help the patient recover their previous level of functioning and independence, so they can participate in life again without limitations and have independence, well-being, and the highest level of productivity in their life.

Recreational therapists can be found in many medical and mental health settings, including:

  • Physical rehabilitation facilities
  • Mental health facilities
  • Assisted living settings
  • Adult day care

Recreational therapists are also called Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists. The candidates for a CTRS need a bachelor's degree from an accredited university and to complete supervised clinical internship hours as well as the national examination for recreational therapists. There are some states that require a separate licensure.

Professional Organizations

The American Therapeutic Recreation Association is the only national organization for recreational therapists. They provide an accreditation service that helps members find high quality recreational therapy graduate programs. They also provide advocacy for the field and its members, research, and a career center.

The Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling is an organization open to any counselor that serves children and/or adolescents. They sponsor a journal and provide professional development and training in behavioral intervention and mental health strategies for counselors of children and adolescents.

The Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology is a division of the American Psychological Association. They promote scientific research, professional training, and beneficial public policy for the mental health and welfare of children and adolescents.

General Psychology and Counseling Careers


There are many careers in general psychology and counseling. Those with a bachelor's degree will find that they are able to work as psychiatric technicians and assistants, social work technicians, life-skills instructors, case management assistants, social services workers, and non-profit workers. Those with master's degrees and clinical hours can find work as therapists and counselors. Those with doctoral degrees and clinical hours can find work as psychologists.

Except for psychiatric technicians and psychiatrists, these occupations do not require any medical training, nor use of such knowledge as a part of one's work.

Psychologist

According to the American Psychological Association, psychologists diagnose the mental and/or behavior disorders of patients and then use treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to provide psychotherapy to individuals, groups, and families. The goal is to help people find ways to cope with their difficulties. Some of these counseling psychologists work in private practice. Others work in mental health or healthcare facilities.

Other psychologists conduct research on the human brain and behavior. They research questions such as how people remember things or about organizational behavior in working environments. Research psychologists tend to work in universities, government organizations, and private research settings. There are even psychologists who work on teams to help private organizations create software.

In their master's and doctoral programs, psychologists learn about social psychology, neuropsychology, psychopathology, psychotherapy techniques, statistics, ethics, and how to conduct research. Clinical psychologists are usually required to perform a year of supervised internship in their doctoral program, with other internships in their master's program. Some states allow licensure for psychologists with only a master's degree, but there is a requirement that they must work under the supervision of a psychologist who does possess a doctorate.

Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is trained to work with patients who are suffering from mental health or behavioral disorders. They also have the training and ability to utilize both psychotherapy and medications in order to help the patient overcome their difficulties. Unlike a counseling psychologist, a psychiatrist will spend equal portions of their time adjusting medications and determining the efficacy of medication treatment regimens as they will conducting psychotherapy. It is for this reason that, in some settings, such as psychiatric hospitals, psychiatrists and psychologists will work hand-in-hand on a treatment team with the same patient.

Another key difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that the latter will conduct medical and psychological testing on a patient in order to get a complete picture of the patient's physical and mental state.

A psychiatrist must graduate from medical school after their bachelor's degree program. They will study biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, psychiatry, neuroscience, and behavioral science in their first two years of medical school. Their last two years of medical school will entail rotations in different medical specialties, including working in mental health settings. Once they have graduated from their four years of medical school, the psychiatrist candidate must work in a residency that will last four or more years. Their first year of the residency tends to be in a in a hospital, where they work with many types of medical issues that patients exhibit. The last three or more years of their residency will be working in psychiatry.

Although half of all psychiatrists are in private practice, psychiatrists work in a variety of settings that include psychiatric and regular hospitals, prisons, medical centers of universities, schools and universities, rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes.

Therapist

Therapists engage with patients who are experiencing behavioral or mental health issues using the techniques of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy helps people with anger management, mood disorders, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders as well as communication issues, life changes, abuse recovery efforts, and the need for conflict resolution.

Therapists help people discuss and learn about how to modify their behaviors in order to successfully adapt to situations in their lives in a healthy manner. Patients often experience intense emotions during a therapy session and sometimes relive very unpleasant incidents in order to find a coping strategy for the future. Therapists often assign patients a homework task that will help them develop improved coping skills for future conflicts that may arise.

State licensure for therapists usually entails having a master's degree as well as two years of supervised clinical experience.

Counselor

According to the American Psychological Association, the difference between a clinical psychologist and a counseling psychologist is often the degree of difficulty that the patient is experiencing in their lives. People who are seeing a clinical psychologist often are experiencing mental illness, while people who are seeing a counseling psychologist tend to be experiencing adjustment issues to some events in their lives. The goal of the counseling psychologist is to help the patient find techniques to cope with and overcome situations of adversity. Counseling psychologists look to the interactions that people are having with their environment that are not working well for them.

Counseling psychologists pay particular attention to respecting diversity and differences in culture in their patients. They also understand that a person's age, psychological and physical condition, and traits play a role in adjustment, as well as their environmental factors, which include their family unit and the society in which they live.

Counseling psychologists need a doctoral degree as well as state licensure, which entails supervised clinical hours. They work in private practices as well as in schools and universities, mental health facilities, VA hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities.

Psychiatric Technician

Other than a psychiatrist, this is the only occupation in this list that involves using medicine, drugs, or any type of medical intervention. A psychiatric technician is the person who will carry out the treatment plan for a mental health patient in a mental health facility. They are responsible for interacting with patients directly and reporting on the efficacy of the treatment plan to the psychologist and/or psychiatrist.

Psychiatric technicians can admit and/or interview patients and are legally allowed to provide medications that are prescribed by a psychiatrist, both oral and hypodermic, to the patient. They can also take part in therapy that may be group or individual in nature. A psychiatric assistant is someone with less training that will help patients with daily living needs but cannot provide medications, nor do they conduct therapy sessions.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most states require a psychiatric technician to possess a certification that they would receive after their graduation from high school. Psychiatric assistants must be high school graduates. Psychiatric technicians often receive their training in a nursing assistant program or in a community college program specifically designed to train psychiatric technicians.

Professional Organizations

The American Psychological Association is the largest organization for professionals and students of psychology in the United States, with over 100,000 members. They publish a journal as well as a manual of style for all research publications in the fields of social science such as psychology, anthropology, sociology, and education. Students of psychology will be required to write their research papers in APA style, so it is imperative that you purchase the APA style manual.

The American Counseling Association is actually international in scope. They are the world's largest membership organization for professional counselors. They produce a newsletter, an ezine, and a research journal. They also provide free professional development for their members.

The American Psychiatric Association is the US organization for psychiatrists. They focus on promoting humane care of patients with mental illness and/or substance abuse. They provide a free continuing education course each month for members, information for the general public, as well as information for medical students and residents.

What Are Some Specialized Careers?


Since psychology is such a diverse field, there are many specialized occupations. Those that are interested in the psychology of the business environment may be interested in industrial/organizational psychology. People who have recovered from substance abuse may feel called to help others recover as a substance abuse counselor. Psychometrists administer psychological testing, while psychometricians research and create those tests. Marriage and family therapists help families work out dynamics that are tearing them apart.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists use the principles of psychology in order to further justice in courts of law. For example, they can be called upon to help decide if an accused person is mentally competent to stand trial or help judges who need to decide on child custody issues. They are trained in research techniques and can make decisions about how a jury is conducting their duties, how to best conduct a police lineup, and the veracity of eyewitnesses. They need solid training in both the fields of psychology and law.

Forensic psychologists also are employed by law firms, where they help attorneys choose juries and create focus groups of mock juries that evaluate the presentation of evidence by the firm. They can also work on legal mediation and dispute resolution teams in civil matters and have training in social issues research.

Forensic psychology is a newer branch of psychology, yet forensic psychologists can already be found in the court system, law firms, police departments, the military, rehabilitation facilities, prisons, and other government agencies. Some are in private practice.

Training for a career in forensic psychology begins with a bachelor's degree that includes major coursework in both psychology and criminal justice. Then, the typical course today is for the forensic psychology candidate to work through a master's and doctorate in clinical psychology. The candidate must then receive board certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology. Usually, after certification, the candidate will pursue post-doctoral coursework with forensics as their specialty.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors help people who have gotten mired in drug or alcohol abuse find their way clear of their addictions. Substance abuse counselors evaluate a patient's current situation and the substance they are abusing and devise a plan of treatment. Addictions today include not only alcohol and illegal drugs but legally-prescribed painkillers as well.

In order to devise a plan of treatment, the counselors look at the current addictive behaviors of their client, their current mental and physical condition, their willingness to be a part of their treatment plan as well as other factors. Substance abuse counselors must help their clients deal with the types of situations that keep them from recovery. Counselors may also examine the family unit as a whole.

They often utilize the principles of Alcoholic Anonymous' 12-step program to help the patient achieve recovery. Recovery in the field is often defined as when a patient has improved their lifestyle to one that is physically and mentally healthy, with a stable home, a supportive social situation, and daily activities that promote a strong will to live.

Substance abuse counselors work in treatment centers, mental health facilities, and halfway house programs. Those in private practice need a master's degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised experience. They also have to pass their state's examination and meet yearly continuing education requirements. For substance abuse counselors who are not in private practice, the state requirements vary considerably. Many states require candidates to pass an examination; some do not require a degree.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists often treat patients who are mentally ill. They utilize psychoanalytic techniques to help patients find stability and mental health. They work with patients who may have severe issues, such as schizophrenia or severe depression. They may have a focus group, population, or demographic on which they focus their practice. They often work in concert with psychiatrists and other medical care providers to help patients who are physically impaired but also have psychological problems.

They can be found in private practice, mental and physical healthcare facilities, the government, as well as private and non-profit agencies. Besides psychoanalytic practice, they also conduct research and help develop programs and public policy.

Clinical psychologists need a bachelor's degree in psychology. After that, they move through their master's and doctoral programs. They will need to complete a year-long, supervised clinical internship. Some states allow those with master's degrees to practice under the guidance of someone with a doctoral degree. Most states require clinical psychologists in private practice have a doctoral degree as well as state licensure.

Industrial/Organizational Psychologists

One specialty within this field is industrial/organizational psychology. These psychologists can be involved in research to promote effectiveness and productivity in the workplace, but they also can be involved in recruitment, testing, and training employees or measuring performance. Industrial/organizational psychologists look to help companies create the optimal workplace, by helping management find solutions to communication issues, ineffective management practices, and conflicts.

These same psychologists often work to create products, such as hardware and software, that are more user friendly and work on teams to analyze customer behavior to determine engagement and improve customer satisfaction. They may also help create and provide employee assistance programs that can help employees who are mired in substance abuse or who are depressed or suicidal. I/O psychologists conduct research and evaluate their findings in order to create plans of action to improve productivity and cohesiveness at workplaces.

Very few positions are available for psychologists in I/O with only a bachelor's degree, though students with master's degrees can usually find entry-level positions. It is advised that students with master's degrees also take part in an internship or other paid positions in order to get hands-on experience in the field. Those with doctorates find the most doors open in I/O psychology. I/O psychologists find the most employment opportunities as consultants for managers, scientific companies, technical organizations, and state governments.

Neuropsychologist

A neuropsychologist is someone who has a strong understanding of the workings of the brain and how it impacts behavior. They utilize imaging machines to watch how the brain functions as a part of experiments to learn how we remember, how we learn languages, and how brain injuries affect behavior and capabilities.

They aid in the treatment and rehabilitation of people who have brain injuries from trauma or illness. These scientists are also at the forefront of helping improve education and help patients who are suffering from Alzheimer's disease, developmental disorders, and memory or speech deficits.

Other than entry-level positions as assistants, neuropsychology occupations require a minimum of a master's degree. Those with a master's degree will find work in research on the limits of human performance and in industrial/organizational psychology, working to improve productivity in the workplace. Those with master's degrees are usually under the guidance of a neuropsychologist with a doctorate. Those with doctorates are often employed in colleges and universities as professors and researchers.

Psychometrist

A entry-level psychometrist provides psychological testing and test scoring. They do not interpret the scores because that is the realm of the psychologist that they work under. An applied psychometric psychologist develops psychometric testing.

The psychometrist will either work in a hospital or mental health facility and provide psychological testing to patients, or they will work in an organization, such as a school or business. In the case of the latter, the testing is provided to students, job applicants, or employees.

In the business sector, psychometric testing of job applicants can entail intelligence, skill, and personality testing. A number of employers have begun utilizing psychometric testing that mimic real-life job situations that could be challenging for new employees. Also, companies need to have a means of evaluating the skill set of new employees. In the school setting, one of the most famous psychometric tests is the Woodcock-Johnson test of cognitive ability and achievement. It is usually used by school psychologists to identify learning difficulties.

Entry-level psychometrists, whose job entails administering and scoring the tests, need a bachelor's degree in psychology and some additional training in administering the tests as well as coursework in statistics. Psychometricians who develop psychometric testing need a minimum of a doctorate in the field. They also need to take part in an internship under a mentor who is a psychometrician.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists are mental health professionals who use psychoanalytical techniques to help families and individuals overcome conflicts and mental and behavioral problems. Their patients are often suffering from abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, depression, and/or fallout from the issues of infidelity. MFTs also help people solve communication issues with family members as well as relationship and divorce counseling. They look at the entire family unit, even when they work with individuals, because they know the power of the patient's environment on their life. Marriage and family therapists can be found in private practice, colleges, mental health facilities, employee assistance programs, the government, and hospitals.

More people are seeing marriage and family therapists for issues that can best be treated with psychotherapy than psychologists, because it is less costly. Marriage and family therapists need only the completion of a master's program and two or more years of supervised clinical internship as a part of the licensure process. There is a national examination to pass as well. To maintain their licensure, they need to engage in continuing education.

Experimental Psychologist

Experimental psychologists use research-based methods to study all types of psychological interactions and phenomena in humans and animals. They seek to learn about cognition, comparisons of behavior across different species, how we learn, how sensation and perceptions occur, and the role of emotions. They are well-versed in all parts of the scientific method and in the use of statistical analysis.

Experimental psychologists can be found in colleges and universities, businesses, and zoos. Sub-fields of experimental psychology include education, business, urban design, addiction, and child development. Those who seek to become experimental psychologists need to emphasize coursework in mathematics, statistics, and research design. Those with a master's degree will find that they can work in research laboratory or on a research team. Many experimental psychologists continue on to complete their doctorate.

Professional Organizations

The National Organization of Psychometrists provides communications and networking opportunities for both professional psychometrists and students.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy is the leading organization in the nation for marriage and family therapists. It provides members job boards, links to state licensing organizations, and continuing education.