Education Needed to Become a Psychologist: Education Roadmap

Learn how to become a psychologist. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in psychology.

Should I Become a Psychologist?

There are many specialized types of psychologists, including social, school, industrial-organizational, counseling, research and clinical psychologists. School, social or industrial-organizational psychologists typically need master's or specialist degrees. However, clinical, counseling or research psychologists are required to earn doctoral degrees. Graduate students gain valuable research experience through classes, seminars, conferences and lab work.

A psychologist's main job is to help patients with emotional and behavioral issues. They may develop and carry out treatment plans, study human behavior and engage in research endeavors. Some psychologists work for schools or corporations. Those who own private practices may find it necessary to work evening and weekend hours to meet clients' scheduling needs. The following table summarizes the requirements for psychologists.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required, graduate degree preferred
Degree Field Psychology
Licensure Practicing psychologists and school psychologists must be licensed
Experience Supervised experience, internships or residencies are usually required
Key Skills Psychologists must have communication, analytical, observational and problem-solving skills, competence with statistical, client data, test-scoring and scheduling software may be helpful
Salary $75,790 (Annual mean salary for all psychologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), O*Net Online

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree with a psychology major or substantial psychology coursework is generally required for admission to psychology doctoral programs (some also require a master's degree in psychology). However, some master's degree programs accept applicants from any major.

Bachelor's degree programs in psychology offer courses in social psychology, consumer behavior and cognition. Some programs require students to select courses from major concentrations, such as developmental, clinical, behavioral and social psychology. Students may also take more specialized courses in decision-making, counseling and adolescence, depending on their focus. Undergraduate programs also cover data analysis techniques used in psychology research. Laboratory experience may be required.

Success Tips:

  • Take a career exploration course. Students should consider taking courses dedicated to investigating psychology career fields and developing career-related skills. Since there are many pathways open to individuals interested in psychology, this may be helpful for educational and career planning.
  • Pursue research opportunities. Some schools may offer the option to work on a senior honors thesis. Students who opt to work on these theses will propose research topics and develop in-depth academic papers. Gaining this experience may be useful, particularly for students who plan to pursue a Ph.D.

Step 2: Complete Graduate Studies

Both master's and doctoral programs offer advanced theoretical and practical study. Unlike undergraduate programs, graduate programs may be devoted to a single area of psychology practice. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a master's degree can help an individual qualify to work as an industrial-organizational psychologist and, in some states, a school psychologist. Research, clinical and counseling psychologist jobs usually require either a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, which is research based, or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree, which involves more practical training and experience. Some doctoral programs require a master's degree for admission; others accept students who have just finished their undergraduate studies. Most states require school psychologists to earn a minimum 60-credit hour Ed.S. degree.

Success Tip

  • Select an accredited program. Students who eventually plan to seek licensure should consider programs that are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). According to the APA, some governmental organizations and state licensing boards require an APA-approved degree.

Step 3: Complete an Internship, Residency or Supervised Practicum

According to the BLS, most psychologist jobs require experience, and many states require it for licensure. This experience is usually gained through an internship or residency that may be completed during or immediately after graduate school. Internships allow students to apply their learned psychological techniques to practical cases and gain experience working with patients. Depending on the branch of psychology, internships may take place in hospitals, schools or government-run facilities. Additional education in the form of seminars and research may be a requirement.

Success Tip:

  • Develop people skills. The BLS explains that psychologists who work with patients must have strong interpersonal skills. Interacting with patients in a real-world setting is a good opportunity for individuals to gain the ability to inspire trust and confidence in patients.

Step 4: Become Licensed

The BLS indicates that all states require psychologists who practice independently, as well as school psychologists, to meet licensing or certification standards. Besides minimum education and experience requirements, states typically require practitioners to pass an exam, such as the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology for clinical and counseling psychologists.

Step 5: Earn Certifications

Certifications show professional achievement and may require experience, endorsements or exams. The National Association of School Psychologists offers the Nationally Certified School Psychologist credential, and the American Board of Professional Psychology offers specialty certifications in many psychological concentrations, such as psychoanalysis and forensics. Each certification has its own respective requirements, which may include a peer-review process or an oral exam.

Step 6: Meet Continuing Education Requirements

Some states require continuing education to maintain licensure. Continuing education may take many forms, including independent learning, workshops, seminars, conferences or lectures. A variety of topics in psychology may be covered, including laws and ethics, and the new knowledge and skills learned may equate to a higher salary or career advancement.

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