What Are the Education Requirements for Becoming a Psychologist?

Psychologists require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and requirements for certification and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

Becoming a licensed psychologist requires a graduate degree; however, with a bachelor's degree you can work in the field of psychology, as an assistant or in a federal government department. Disciplines where you do not work directly with patients, such as industrial-organizational psychology, can be practiced with a master's degree, but patient care requires completion of a doctorate, which can involve significant clinical work experience. Psychologists must also maintain a license in order to practice.

Essential Information

Psychologists study the mental processes of humans (and sometimes animals) and offer assessments for treatment, counseling and medication. Becoming a psychologist requires significant education, especially at the graduate-level. In addition to theoretical and applied coursework, psychology students must accrue significant work experience. Depending on the program, students may be able to choose a concentration, such as clinical psychology.

Required Education Doctoral degrees are necessary for all psychologists who work directly with patients; master's degrees will suffice for some positions
Other Requirements Most states require certification or licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 19% (for all psychologists)*
Median Salary (2015) $70,580 (for clinical, counseling and school psychologists)
$94,590 (for all psychologists not listed separately)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Educational Requirements for a Psychologist

Psychologists help patients overcome emotional difficulties through individual and group therapy. Some conduct experiments and publish research results. These professionals may work with large companies and organizations or operate their own private practice. Individuals may work in the psychology field with a bachelor's degree but most jobs require graduate schooling.

Undergraduate Programs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), individuals with a bachelor's degree may find jobs with the federal government or work as psychological assistants (www.bls.gov). These programs introduce students to fundamental concepts, such as human development and cognitive processes. In addition to general psychology courses, students may be required to take courses in major concentration areas or related subjects, such as neuroscience. Experience opportunities, including research and internships, may be offered.

Master's Programs

Industrial-organizational psychologists can practice with a master's degree. Individuals in other psychological disciplines may also work with a master's degree, depending on state regulations. Many programs offer a general psychology degree with optional concentrations, including clinical and developmental psychology. Some schools may offer specialties plus an emphasis, such as clinical psychology with marriage and family therapy.

Master's programs are usually completed in two years of full-time study. These curricula have core requirements in psychology learning principles, research and development. Some programs require students to complete a clinical experience. While the completion of a thesis is often the capstone requirement, some programs may give students the option of a project or comprehensive exam.

Doctoral Programs

The BLS indicates that psychologists who offer patient care of any kind are required to be licensed, which often includes having a doctorate. Prospective doctoral candidates may choose between earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). Individuals interested in research-based careers may consider a Ph.D., while those preferring to clinical practice may choose a Psy.D.

Both doctoral programs typically take 4-5 years to complete with advanced coursework and experience requirements. Some programs alternate coursework in the fall and spring with summer clinical experience or research. Psy.D. curricula include topics in applied psychology, while Ph.D. programs have requirements in experimenting and research. The BLS reports that programs in clinical, counseling and school psychology may include an additional year of post-doctoral supervised experience.

Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS reported that clinical, school and counseling psychologists earned a median annual wage of $70,580 in 2015. All other psychologists not listed separately earned a median salary of $94,590. All jobs for psychologists are expected to increase by 19% for the years 2014-2024, according to the BLS, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Making the decision to become a licensed psychologist who works with patients directly means committing to achieving a doctoral degree and completing internships and other work experience. If you want to work in the sector but don't wish to get a doctorate, some jobs are available with a bachelor's or master's degree. There are many potential areas of specialization within the field of psychology.

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