A therapist may have several titles, including social worker, psychologist and counselor. Educational preparation for this field includes learning assessment techniques and theories behind human emotional, cognitive and behavioral development. A career as a therapist typically begins with a bachelor's degree in psychology, followed by a master's and finally a doctorate. Psychologists also need licensure and/or certification in order to practice in most U.S. states.
Applicants for bachelor's programs must have a high school diploma, a minimum 2.0 grade point average (GPA) and letters of recommendation, along with submitting standardized exam scores.
Master's programs are thesis-based, build upon the basic principles covered at the undergraduate level and introduce in-depth research methods, clinical observation and treatment response monitoring.
Doctoral concentration options, requiring a 3.0 GPA and letters of recommendation, afford students the opportunity to delve deeper into areas of interest and draft scholarly material for publication. Prospective enrollees must also have a master's degree, a statement of purpose for the specialty area of study, Graduate Records Exam (GRE) scores, research experience and complete an interview.
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
At the bachelor's level, students develop the ability to explain human behavior and pose interview questions to gather the pertinent information needed to analyze cases, as they take classes in research methods, clinical psychology, child behavioral issues and emotional issues. Other core subjects include:
- Personality disorders
- Cognitive psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Research and analysis
- History of psychology
Master of Science in Psychology
Students in a M.S. in Psychology degree program typically choose a concentration in clinical, counseling, sports, educational or organizational psychology. Some central topics discussed are:
- Counseling techniques
- Marriage and family
- Child development
- Psychological testing
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Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology
Through seminars, lectures and a practicum (pre-internship), students hone the skills needed to research psychological behavior, keep client records, stay current on field issues and understand the related laws. Depending on the program and state, students may be required to complete pre-doctoral internships to meet licensing and graduation requirements. Some courses and seminars may cover the following:
- Mind and culture
- Research and theory
- Personality assessment
- Social psychology
Popular Career Options
With an undergraduate degree in psychology, graduates who do not seek advanced degrees may find employment in several areas. Some job titles for which graduates are qualified include the following:
- Career advisor
- Case manager
- Employee relations specialist
- Marriage counselor
- Social services assistant
Some state guidelines allow individuals with master's degrees in psychology to work as psychologists. An advanced degree in psychology may open the door to many other therapy positions as well. Common job titles include the following:
- Life coach
- Pastoral counselor
- Professor of psychology
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Doctoral degree graduates typically go on to become psychologists in their given specialties. Depending on the area of expertise, psychology graduates may find employment in several areas, including hospitals, private practices, universities, government and elementary schools. Growth of all psychology jobs was predicted to rise approximately 19% between 2014 and 2024 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the median annual salary for clinical, school and counseling psychologists was $70,580 in May 2015.
Continuing Education Information
While some graduates of the B.A. in Psychology degree program may seek immediate employment, others may enroll in master's degree programs. Graduate degrees offer more flexibility in career selection and get students closer to becoming licensed psychologists.
For professionals who seek careers as licensed psychologists, a doctorate degree in psychology is the next step. A Ph.D. is also necessary for individuals serious about contributing to the profession through research, education and as clinical practioners. They must also pass the state licensing examination, known as the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which is comprised of multiple-choice questions and is given by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. While some state boards allow prospective professionals to take the exam following their internships, but most require that candidates have two years of supervised psychological experience.
Students interested in psychology can seek education at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels, depending on the specific career they wish to pursue. In general, the mental health field is expected to grow by a healthy margin in the next ten years.