Psychology Training, Degree Levels, and Careers

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If you are interested in seeing a psychologist or even thinking of a career in psychology, you might find yourself wondering exactly what type of training these mental health professionals have. What kind of training do you need to be a psychologist? What sort of training do different mental health professionals possess? The answers to these questions vary quite a bit because there are several degree options that can ultimately lead to the title of "psychologist" as well as differing requirements for various states.

Learn more about the level of education and training required for a variety of positions in psychology.

The Basic Training

A master's degree or doctorate are required to become qualified as a psychologist. There are a variety of degree options to choose from, and the career options available at each level can vary.

Doctoral Degrees in Psychology

In order to become a licensed clinical or counseling psychologist, a doctorate degree is required. There are two types of doctorate degrees to choose from: the Ph.D. and the PsyD.

The traditional Ph.D. in psychology degree is a research-focused degree that usually qualifies graduates to work in the field of clinical or counseling psychology, depending upon the focus of their program. Earning a Ph.D. also qualifies psychologists to teach at the university level, conduct research, and practice at mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, private industry, government, and private practice.

The PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology is a more practice-based educational model. Psychologists who earn a PsyD usually work as clinicians in mental health settings and may also work in private practice.

It usually takes around five to seven years of graduate study to complete a doctoral degree in psychology. Those enrolled in Ph.D. programs complete a final dissertation that is based on original research, while those enrolled in PsyD programs may complete more clinical work and examinations instead of a dissertation. Counseling and clinical psychology programs also require an internship that usually lasts one to two years.

It is important to note that with either degree option, earning a degree alone is not enough to become a licensed psychologist. Once a degree has been earned, aspiring psychologists must take required professional licensing exams in order to qualify to practice in their state.

Specialist Degrees

In most states, those interested in becoming school psychologists must complete a specialist degree in school psychology. The EdS degree in school psychology usually takes a minimum of three years to complete and consists of at least 60 graduate credit hours. In addition to the course requirements, students must also complete a one-year internship.

Master's Degrees in Psychology

A master's degree in psychology requires at least two years of graduate level coursework beyond the undergraduate level.

Professionals with a master's degree sometimes work in mental health under the direct supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist. Master's programs can also prepare students to become industrial-organizational psychologists, although many choose to continue on to earn their doctorate.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the competition to get into graduate psychology programs can be tough. Although it is possible to get into psychology graduate school if you have an undergraduate degree in a non-related topic, having a bachelor's degree in psychology can boost your chances of admission. Strong grades and a good score on the GRE and GRE Psychology Subject test may also boost your chances of earning a spot in a psychology graduate program.

What About a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology?

Earning a bachelor's degree in psychology alone will not qualify you to possess the title of "psychologist," but it can be a great way to get into an entry-level psychology career or as a basis for entry into a psychology graduate program.

A bachelor's degree in psychology can serve as a stepping stone to further graduate study, or it may prepare students to work in a variety of entry-level jobs. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, jobs at the bachelor's level tend to be limited.

The College Majors Handbook reports that fewer than 25 percent of people with a bachelor's degree in psychology find work in jobs that are closely related to their college major. Instead, many find work in areas that are indirectly related such as social work or market research.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that people with more than 24 semester hours in psychology and at least one statistics course can qualify for entry-level positions with the Federal Government. However, the competition for these jobs is particularly fierce since it is one of the few sectors of employment where one can work as a psychologist without holding a graduate level degree.

Undergraduate psychology interested in pursuing career options should be encouraged to learn more about this field. They should discuss options with their counselors regarding what different types of psychologists do, where they work, how much they make, what type of training is needed, and what the job outlook is like for professionals in this field

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Article Sources

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists; 2018.