By doing research and performing examinations, psychologists study all aspects of the mind. Health facilities employ approximately 30 percent of all working psychologists, while 40 percent work in educational environments, in such positions as counselors, educators, and researchers. Most often, these academically connected psychologists maintain a private practice while teaching or conducting research. Psychologists working in academic settings have flexibility in their schedules, but the demands on their time are high.
Private practice is the goal of many psychologists. While seeing private patients means a psychologist is her own boss, it also means accommodating patients with evening or weekend hours. A government or corporate psychologist, by contrast, works in a more structured environment. Their hours are fixed and they often work alone. There’s some relief and enjoyment in the occasional conference that takes them away from writing reports. Despite potentially grueling schedules and emotional demands, psychologists report great satisfaction in their jobs; the gratification they receive from helping others keeps them in the field. Wrote one psychologist, “The best thing about this job is that people open up their lives to you-that’s a great responsibility but also an honor.”
Plan on spending many years in school if you want to embark on a career in psychology. A Ph.D. will enable you to work in the widest range of positions, and doing graduate work toward a doctoral degree consumes between five and seven years. Obtaining this distinguished degree hinges on completing a dissertation based on original research. Before you begin this research, you must complete coursework in quantitative research methods, statistics, and computers. If you want to work in a clinical or counseling setting, you will begin to work with patients under supervision before the degree is completed, and at least another year of supervised work experience is required afterward. Most academic programs require counseling psychology students to undergo psychoanalysis as part of their training. The newer Psy.D., Doctor of Psychology, will qualify you for clinical positions. The Psy.D. is awarded based not on a dissertation but on clinical experience and exams. The time and effort it takes to get this degree are comparable to the Ph.D. The difference is the emphasis on counseling, while the Ph.D. candidate also does research. Thus, employment options for those with a Psy.D. are less flexible than for those with a Ph.D.
Besides the years of study and internships, psychologists offering patient care must be certified and licensed by the state in which they intend to practice. Most of these licensing exams are standardized tests, but some states require applicants to pass essay or oral exams. These tests are designed to ensure that candidates have both knowledge of the field and appropriate personal qualities.
Without a doctoral degree you can find job options within psychology, but these positions will always require supervision by doctoral-level psychologists. Candidates holding master’s degrees can work as assistants and may administer tests, conduct research and psychological evaluations, and counsel certain patients. The master’s degree requires a minimum of two years of full-time study and a one-year internship. The candidate has the choice of obtaining practical experience or completing a research-based thesis. Those with only a bachelor’s degree in psychology find their options more limited. They can work as assistants to psychologists and other mental health professionals. Graduate schools tend to look favorably on undergraduate degrees in psychology. Other good majors for future psychologists are biological, physical, and social sciences, statistics, and mathematics.
A Ph.D. in psychology creates numerous opportunities to work in fields other than counseling. Teaching and research are the areas most populated by non-practicing psychologists. With master’s-level qualifications, teaching in high schools or junior colleges is possible, while doctoral-level qualifications allow you to teach at the college and post-graduate levels. Other related fields include psychometrics, a new but burgeoning area that attracts psychologists. Psychometricians invent, refine, and administer tests of competence and aptitude that are usually used in corporate settings. Many advertising agencies also look favorably on applicants with some background in psychology.