Become a Military Psychologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

This lesson focuses on the requirements to become a military psychologist. You'll learn about the job description and duties, and see the degrees, licensure and continuing education needed to start a career in the mental health field.

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Career Requirements

Military psychologists maintain and assess the mental health of service members and veterans in a variety of roles such as consulting, teaching, and advising senior military commands.

Psychologists work full-time, and while most working outside of the military have the option of flexible schedules, those who serve as psychologists within a military post work hours scheduled by their commanders. The job can result in stress and emotional toil, especially for those working while deployed.

When it comes to career requirements, military psychologists are required to have a doctoral degree in psychology, pass a licensing exam, and meet other state licensing requirements. Some type of related work experience is also typically needed. The key skills required of psychologists include patience and compassion, communication skills, observational skills, problem-solving skills, and computer skills.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2018, the average annual salary for state government, excluding schools and hospitals as industrial-organizational psychologists is $66,600.

Degree Level A doctoral degree is typically required
Degree Field Psychology
Licensure/Certification Must pass a licensing exam and meet other state licensing requirements; voluntary certification is available from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP)
Experience Related work experience is typically needed
Key Skills Patience and compassion; communication, observational and problem-solving skills; computer skills including medical, spreadsheet, analytical and accounting software
Salary $109,030 (average salary as of May 2018 for industrial-organizational psychologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET Online

Evaluate the Options

Since aspiring military psychologists have several education and career scenarios open to them, informed decisions are important at each juncture. For instance, it's possible to practice psychology with veterans without joining the military, in which case only civilian training is needed. On the other hand, psychologists who are interested in working with active duty soldiers may have to join the military in an active capacity. It's also important to note that each branch of the military has unique training. Knowing in which direction one is headed will help choose the correct school and education.

Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is necessary for military psychologists to lay the foundation for graduate degrees. While a bachelor's degree in psychology is preferable, it's possible to gain entry to a graduate program with a number of different backgrounds. Undergraduate courses in psychology and statistics can be beneficial to students seeking to enter a master's degree program.

Complete a Doctoral Program

Military psychologists need to earn a doctoral degree. They may earn either a Doctor of Psychology or a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology degree. Students in Ph.D. programs need to complete a dissertation based on original research, while practical work and examinations are the basis for Psy.D. programs. Some doctoral programs require students to earn a master's degree in psychology first, while others allow students to enter directly into the doctoral program if they have met the course requirements.

In addition, a military internship can be beneficial for active-duty military psychologists. Although the program structure and requirements vary by branch and civilian background, the experience typically includes supervised patient care and rotations through specializations.

Gain Work Experience

After completing graduate school, most entry-level psychologists continue working under the direct supervision of a licensed psychologist to complete the requirements to become licensed. The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests new psychologists attend workshops and conferences to network with experienced clinical health psychologists.

Earn and Maintain Certification

Military psychologists are required to obtain a state license to practice. Specific requirements vary by state, but generally licensure is granted to people who successfully complete an accredited doctoral degree program in psychology and an internship. Candidates must also pass licensing exams that test relevant competency and knowledge.

Though board certification isn't required for military psychologists, obtaining it can offer several advantages to a military psychologist, because it's the highest professional credential in the field. It's also a credential that is easily transferable to jobs outside of the military. Candidates for certification must pass exams, have a doctoral degree and have a professional license. They must also meet other specific requirements for their specialty

Certified military psychologists are typically required to meet renewal requirements, such as participating in continuing education classes and seminars. Keeping certification up-to-date will ensure that you're always readily prepared for career and/or professional advancement.

In summary, becoming a military psychologist requires a bachelor's and doctoral degree in psychology, which may include an internship in the military, relevant work experience, state licensure and certification and the completion of continuing education in order to maintain official certification in the field.

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