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Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and to their environments. They use their findings to help improve processes and behaviors.
Psychologists typically do the following:
Psychologists seek to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. They use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence individuals.
Psychologists often gather information and evaluate behavior through controlled laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis, or psychotherapy. They also may administer personality, performance, aptitude, or intelligence tests. They look for patterns of behavior or relationships between events, and they use this information when testing theories in their research or when treating patients.
The following are examples of types of psychologists:
Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists help people deal with problems ranging from short-term personal issues to severe, chronic conditions.
Clinical psychologists are trained to use a variety of approaches to help individuals. Although strategies generally differ by specialty, clinical psychologists often interview patients, give diagnostic tests, and provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy. They also design behavior modification programs and help patients implement their particular program. Some clinical psychologists focus on specific populations, such as children or the elderly, or on certain specialties, such as neuropsychology.
Clinical psychologists often consult with other health professionals regarding the best treatment for patients, especially treatment that includes medication. Currently, only Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and New Mexico allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication to patients.
Counseling psychologists help patients deal with and understand problems, including issues at home, at the workplace, or in their community. Through counseling, these psychologists work with patients to identify their strengths or resources they can use to manage problems. For information on other counseling occupations, see the profiles on marriage and family therapists,substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, and social workers.
Developmental psychologists study the psychological progress and development that take place throughout life. Many developmental psychologists focus on children and adolescents, but they also may study aging and problems facing older adults.
Forensic psychologists use psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological aspects of a particular case. They often testify in court as expert witnesses. They typically specialize in family, civil, or criminal casework.
Industrial–organizational psychologists apply psychology to the workplace by using psychological principles and research methods to solve problems and improve the quality of worklife. They study issues such as workplace productivity, management or employee working styles, and employee morale. They also help top executives, training and development managers, and training and development specialists with policy planning, employee screening or training, and organizational development.
Rehabilitation psychologists work with physically or developmentally disabled individuals. They help improve quality of life or help individuals adjust after a major illness or accident. They may work with physical therapists and teachers to improve health and learning outcomes.
School psychologists apply psychological principles and techniques to education disorders and developmental disorders. They may address student learning and behavioral problems; design and implement performance plans, and evaluate performances; and counsel students and families. They also may consult with other school-based professionals to suggest improvements to teaching, learning, and administrative strategies.
Psychologists hold about 166,600 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up psychologists was distributed as follows:
|Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists||147,500|
|Psychologists, all other||17,400|
The largest employers of psychologists are as follows:
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private||27%|
|Ambulatory healthcare services||18|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||7|
Some psychologists work alone, doing independent research, consulting with clients, or counseling patients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, social workers, and others to treat illness and promote overall wellness.
Psychologists in private practice often set their own hours, and many work part time as independent consultants. They may work evenings or weekends to accommodate clients. Those employed in hospitals or other healthcare facilities may also have evening or weekend shifts. Most psychologists in clinics, government, industry, or schools work full-time schedules during regular business hours.
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Although psychologists typically need a doctoral degree in psychology, a master's degree may be sufficient for school and industrial organizational positions. Psychologists in clinical practice need a license.
Most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree. Students can complete a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. A Ph.D. in psychology is a research degree that is obtained after taking a comprehensive exam and writing a dissertation based on original research. Ph.D. programs typically include courses on statistics and experimental procedures. The Psy.D. is a clinical degree often based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. In clinical, counseling, school, or health service settings, students usually complete a 1-year internship as part of the doctoral program.
School psychologists need an advanced degree and either certification or licensure to work. Common advanced degrees include education specialist degrees (Ed.S.) and doctoral degrees (Ph.D. or Psy.D.). School psychologist programs include coursework in education and psychology because their work addresses both education and mental health components of students' development.
Industrial–organizational psychologists typically need a master's degree, usually including courses in industrial–organizational psychology, statistics, and research design.
When working under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist, other master's degree graduates can also work as psychological assistants in clinical, counseling, or research settings.
In most states, practicing psychology or using the title "psychologist" requires licensure. In all states and the District of Columbia, psychologists who practice independently must be licensed where they work.
Licensing laws vary by state and by type of position. Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and at least 1 to 2 years of supervised professional experience. They also must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Information on specific state requirements can be obtained from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. In many states, licensed psychologists must complete continuing education courses to keep their licenses.
The American Board of Professional Psychology awards specialty certification in 15 areas of psychology, such as clinical health psychology, couple and family psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. The American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology offers certification in neuropsychology. Board certification can demonstrate professional expertise in a specialty area. Certification is not required for most psychologists, but some hospitals and clinics do require certification. In those cases, candidates must have a doctoral degree in psychology, a state license or certification, and any additional criteria required by the specialty field.
Most prospective psychologists must have pre- or postdoctoral supervised experience, including an internship. Internships allow students to gain experience in an applied setting. Candidates must complete an internship before they can qualify for state licensure. The required number of hours of the internship varies by state.
Analytical skills. Psychologists must examine the information they collect and draw logical conclusions.
Communication skills. Psychologists must have strong communication skills because they spend much of their time listening to and speaking with patients or describing their research.
Integrity. Psychologists must keep patients' problems in confidence, and patients must be able to trust psychologists' expertise in treating sensitive problems.
Interpersonal skills. Psychologists study and help individuals, so they must be able to work well with clients, patients, and other professionals.
Observational skills. Psychologists study attitude and behavior. They must understand the possible meanings of facial expressions, body positions, actions, and interactions.
Patience. Psychologists must demonstrate patience, because conducting research or treating patients may take a long time.
Problem-solving skills. Psychologists need problem-solving skills to collect information, design research, evaluate programs, and find treatments or solutions to mental and behavioral problems.
The median annual wage for psychologists is $75,230. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,890, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $121,610.
Median annual wages for psychologists are as follows:
|Psychologists, all other||$95,710|
|Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists||73,270|
The median annual wages for psychologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||81,740|
|Ambulatory healthcare services||75,870|
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private||72,910|
Psychologists in private practice often set their own hours, and many work part time as independent consultants. They may work evenings or weekends to accommodate clients. Those employed in hospitals or other healthcare facilities also may have evening or weekend shifts. Most psychologists in clinics, government, industry, or schools work full-time schedules during regular business hours.
Overall employment of psychologists is projected to grow 14 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by occupation.
Employment of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is projected to grow 14 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. Greater demand for psychological services in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and social service agencies should drive employment growth.
Demand for clinical and counseling psychologists will increase as people continue to turn to psychologists for help with their problems. Psychologists also will be needed to provide services to an aging population, helping people deal with the mental and physical changes that happen as they grow older. Psychological services will also be needed for veterans suffering from war trauma, for survivors of other trauma, and for individuals with autism.
Employment of school psychologists will continue to grow because of the raised awareness of the connection between mental health and learning and because of the increasing need for mental health services in schools. School psychologists will be needed to work with students, particularly those with special needs, learning disabilities, and behavioral issues. Schools rely on school psychologists to assess and counsel students. In addition, school psychologists will be needed to study how factors both in school and outside of school affect learning. Once aware of those factors, teachers and administrators can use them to improve education. Job opportunities may be limited, however, because employment of school psychologists in public schools and universities is contingent on state and local budgets.
Employment of industrial–organizational psychologists is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Organizations will continue to use industrial–organizational psychologists to help select and retain employees, increase organizational productivity and efficiency, and improve office morale.
Competition for jobs for psychologists will vary by specialty and level of education obtained.
Industrial–organizational psychologists are expected to face competition for positions because of the large number of qualified applicants. Industrial–organizational psychologists with extensive training in quantitative research methods may have a competitive edge.
Candidates with a doctoral or education specialist degree and postdoctoral work experience will have the best job opportunities in clinical, counseling, or school psychology positions.
There are expected to be better opportunities for psychologists who specialize in working with the elderly and in rehabilitation psychology.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2016||Projected Employment, 2026||Change, 2016-26|
|Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists||147,500||168,400||14||20,900|
|Psychologists, all other||17,400||19,000||9||1,600|