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How Do You Become a Psychologist?

Becoming a psychologist requires a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

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If you're an individual who often finds yourself observing and analyzing other's behavior, psychology may be the right field for you. Attaining a Master's degree, (Ph.D.), or (Psy.D.) are necessary qualifications to be a psychologist. It is a highly competitive field, so the greater education you have, the better off you'll be.

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Essential Information

Psychologists study human behavior and use their knowledge to help individuals and groups. Entering the field of psychology usually requires at least a bachelor's degree in psychology, though most psychologists hold a master's degree or doctorate, which is required by most states for psychologists running a private practice. Regardless of education, every state mandates some form of licensing for practicing psychologists. Psychologists who wish to specialize in a specific division of psychology may also seek certification through The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).

Required Education Master's degree or doctoral degree
Other Requirements Licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 19% for all psychologists* (much faster than average)
Median Salary (2015) $72,580 per year (all psychologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Completing a Graduate Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), individuals with a master's degree may work as industrial-organizational psychologists, and they may be approved for licensure in other psychology sub-disciplines in some states (www.bls.gov). Most states require individuals running a private practice to have Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D). While Ph.D. programs focus more on research, (Psy.D) programs are geared towards clinical practice. Prospective school psychologists may need to earn an educational specialist degree, which includes academic and experience requirements.

Students may consider doctorate programs that are approved by the American Psychological Association (APA), which accredits programs and internships for clinical, counseling, and school psychology (www.apa.org). According to the APA, graduating from an APA-accredited program is a requirement by some state licensing boards. Coursework may vary based on degree; however, most programs offer classes that explore topics in cognitive assessment, behavioral intervention, and psychopathology. Additionally, graduate students may be required to complete research in areas like substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and psychotherapy.

Finding Employment

The BLS predicted that the overall employment for psychologists is expected to increase by 19% for the years 2014-2024*. The BLS stated in May 2015 that clinical, school and counseling psychologists earned $70,580 as a median annual wage*. Psychologists may work for schools, businesses, mental health centers, and other healthcare facilities. Duties may include providing psychological assessments, counseling students, and helping those suffering from mental disorders.

Becoming Licensed

While requirements vary between states, all states have some form of licensing procedures for psychologists offering patient care. In addition to passing an exam, work experience may be required. A majority of states recognize school psychologists who hold the Nationally Certified School Psychologists credentials from the National Association of School Psychologists, which may help certified psychologists find work across state lines (www.nasponline.org). To become a member of the NASP, applicants must complete 60 graduate semester hours in school psychology, a 1200-hour internship in the field, and pass the National School Psychology Examination.

Certification Options

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers certifications for 14 divisions of psychology including school, group, and rehabilitation (www.abpp.org). To become certified, applicants must hold a doctorate from an accredited school, be licensed, and meet additional division criteria (if any). Each division has its own respective exam that applicants must pass.

A career as a psychologist may be tough to achieve, but if human behavior really intrigues you, it would be the ideal choice for an occupation, and there are many different types of jobs to choose from. You must have an advanced education, which requires earning a Master's degree, and further degrees, as well as a license. Psychology is a growing field, so there are plenty of opportunities to turn the dream of being a psychologist into a reality.

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