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Psychologist Job Description, Career as a Psychologist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Master's degree or doctorate

Salary: Median—$54,950 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Psychologists are scientists who study behavior. Their work usually involves teaching, research, or social service in schools, clinics, government agencies, and private industry. About forty percent are in private practice.

To learn about behavior, they may conduct tests and laboratory experiments, record case histories, or take surveys. Using their research, they develop theories to explain the reactions of people to their environment. They also use their knowledge to help emotionally or mentally disturbed people adjust to life. Some psychologists work with medical and surgical patients who must cope with illness and injury.

Psychology is a broad field with several areas of specialization. In experimental psychology, for example, psychologists carry out research projects to develop theories about learning, motivation, and other aspects of behavior. Developmental psychologists study the growth and change that takes place throughout life. They may concentrate on one particular stage of development, such as adolescence or old age. Other specialties include educational psychology, comparative psychology, social psychology, and psychometrics.

Just as there are many areas of specialization, there are also many kinds of psychologists. The largest group is made up of clinical psychologists, who often provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy for people with emotional problems. Clinical psychologists help emotionally or mentally unstable people understand and cope with their problems. They constitute the largest area of specialization within the field of psychology. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) They may implement behavior modification programs. School psychologists work with teachers and parents to create supportive learning environments for all types of students. They often give tests to identify gifted, handicapped, and emotionally disturbed students. Industrial and organizational psychologists study problems of motivation and morale in offices and factories. They may advise companies on personnel, management, or marketing methods. Other kinds of psychologists include engineering psychologists, counseling psychologists, and environmental psychologists.

Education and Training Requirements

Competition for graduate programs in psychology is stiff. All applicants must have bachelor's degrees in psychology or related fields. Those who want to work as school psychologists must earn specialist degrees, which require three years of graduate study and a one-year internship. Master's degrees may be sufficient in some areas. Clinical or counseling psychologists in private practice and those in teaching and research positions usually need doctorates, which require from five to seven years of graduate study. Clinical and counseling psychologists must spend at least a year in internships. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists are not physicians.

All states require that psychologists be certified or licensed to start private practices. Candidates for licenses usually need doctorates plus two years of experience. The American Board of Professional Psychology recognizes professional achievement by awarding specialty certification in areas such as clinical, counseling, school, and industrial and organizational psychology. Candidates for certification must have doctorates, five years of experience, and professional endorsements.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to agencies or get help from school placement offices. Professional associations can provide information about opening private practices. Professional journals, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet list openings for psychologists.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement depends on many factors, including education, experience, and other personal qualities. Psychologists can expand their private practices or move into high-level jobs in research, teaching, counseling, or administration. Some psychologists advance by serving as consultants to government or industry or by writing about their special fields.

The employment of psychologists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. Job opportunities should increase slightly in health maintenance and preferred provider organizations, in nursing homes, and in alcohol and drug abuse programs. More opportunities will arise in businesses, nonprofit organizations, and research firms, especially for psychologists who work as consultants. Companies will employ psychologists to design and analyze surveys and to help employees with personal problems.

Working Conditions

Working conditions vary widely. Psychologists in private practice usually have comfortable offices. Most work forty hours per week. However, their schedules vary according to the type of work and may include some evening and Saturday hours. They spend additional time studying the latest developments in the field. Psychologists must be emotionally stable, intelligent, and able to communicate with a wide variety of people. Those involved in research must be suited for detailed work.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary with education, experience, and type of work. In 2004 the median earnings of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists were $54,950 per year.

Where to Go for More Information

American Psychological Association
750 First St. NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
(800) 374-2721

Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
PO Box 241245
Montgomery, AL 36124-1245
(334) 832-4580

American Board of Professional Psychology
300 Drayton St., 3rd Fl.
Savannah, GA 31401
(800) 255-7792

Benefits for salaried psychologists usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans. Psychologists in private practice must provide their own benefits.

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