Be a Psychologist: Requirements, Education & Qualifications

Dec 11, 2019

Psychologists help patients work through mental health problems with therapy and behavioral modification, or they perform research to this same end. Psychologist education and training can be intensive, so find out what qualifications you'll have to meet.

What Are the Qualifications to Be a Psychologist?

Psychologists are mental health professionals who study human behaviors and mental states, including cognitive ability, emotional capacity, and social interactions. Psychology is generally broken up into two areas, clinical practice and scholarly study, with the former group applying knowledge to help patients while the latter perform research which may provide insight into how or why certain people differ in these areas. To work as a clinical psychologist, one must complete years of study, internships and residencies as well as obtain certification or licensure to practice. Psychology requirements are quite strict, since they work with patients who may already be suffering from things like trauma, anxiety, and paranoia, and need special care to recover.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychologist?

Psychologist schooling requirements consist of around six years of study - which includes a bachelor's and a master's degree; however a doctorate degree and 1-2 years of internships and/or professional experience is often needed to secure licensure for clinical positions, which brings the total time up to 10-12 years.

What Degrees Are Needed to Be a Psychologist?

There are several degrees needed to become a psychologist, beginning with a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degree programs in psychology are fairly common and cover the basics of the field and the history of the profession, although some graduate-level programs may accept bachelor's degrees in other areas as well. After completing a bachelor's degree, you will need to find and enroll in a master's degree program aligned with your career goals.

Most master's-level psychology degree programs are designed to prepare you for doctoral programs, however some may be designed to lead to careers in research. A master's in general psychology can prepare you for whatever path you may choose, while an individual planning to obtain a master's in industrial and organizational psychology will likely stop there and enter the workforce. Another option is to complete a combined bachelor's/master's degree program in psychology, which is one program that typically take five years to complete, rather than four years and two years for the separate programs.

A prospective psychologist's education from here will depend on their intended path. Ph.D.s in Psychology programs are often, though not exclusively, meant for those planning to go into research and scholarly work. Since Ph.D. programs often lead to research careers, they may have more specific degree titles available, such as social psychology or cognitive psychology. Those who intend to work with patients directly are more likely to pursue a Doctor of Psychology or Psy.D. degree. The primary difference between the two is that the Ph.D. has a focus on performing research and completing a dissertation, whereas the Psy.D. focuses on practical experience and exams. Psy.D. programs are also more likely to include internships, which may count towards the supervised work experience requirement for licensure.

Some states require that practicing psychologists have completed their doctorate at a school which is accredited through the American Psychological Association (APA). At present, the APA does not recognize any online-only degree programs, although some online coursework in APA-accredited programs may be available.

What Classes Do You Need to Be a Psychologist?

The classes that prospective psychologists will take will vary significantly with degree level. You might take courses with titles such as:

  • Introduction to Neuroscience (bachelor's)
  • Psychology of Adjustment (bachelor's)
  • Introduction to Psychopharmacology (bachelor's)
  • Techniques of Psychotherapy (master's)
  • Psycholinguistics (master's)
  • Advanced Psychological Assessment (doctorate)

Courses can also differ from university to university, the particular degree name, and with catalog year, so those listed are only a preview of possible options.

Do I Need to Secure Licensure?

In order to work as a psychologist in many countries, including the U.S., it is necessary to be licensed. Licensure requirements differ somewhat from state to state, but all states use the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) test, which is called the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). After completing an accredited Ph.D. or Psy.D. program and meeting the necessary supervised practice experience requirements, an applicant for licensure will have to pass the EPPP. Some jurisdictional areas may require other tests to be passed as well, such as a jurisprudence exam dealing with laws and regulations by which psychologists must abide. Oral exams are also sometimes required, which might cover topics like diagnostics, diversity, or ethics.

Expert Contributor: Jennifer Levitas Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

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