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How to Become a Psychologist

psychologist career guide

Table of Contents

Overview

Job Responsibilities

  • Assess a client to identify any clinical concern
  • Interview patients to learn about their history
  • Diagnose any clinical condition based on the observation and interpretation of data gathered
  • Create a treatment plan for the patients and monitor their progress
  • Administer behavior modification schemes for patients
  • Give patients coping mechanisms to help them overcome their problems
  • Carry out a study about behavior and brain processes
  • Write research papers, blogs, and reports about findings to share with the medical field
  • Keep confidentiality of patients’ conditions for their privacy
  • Keep up with the current studies and trends in the medical field through continuous education and learning
  • Supervise other clinic staff including interns, clinicians, and counselors

How Much Does a Psychologist Make?

Psychologists made a median salary of $80,370 in 2019. The best-paid 10 percent made $132,070 that year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made $45,380.

psychologist-median-salary-bell-graph

Common Requirements

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology
  • Earn a master’s or associate degree specializing in psychology
  • Finish a doctorate degree in psychology
  • Complete required clinical trainings and internships
  • Obtain a license from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)

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Social Workers

Sociologists

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Survey Researchers

Training and Development Specialists

Common Skills

Communication Skills

Ethics

Patience

Empathy

Problem-Solving

Research

Numeracy

Open-mindedness

Computer Literacy

Trustworthiness

Expertise in Psychology

MEDIAN SALARY

$80,370 per year
$38.64 per hour

JOB OUTLOOK

3%

NUMBER OF JOBS

192,300

A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Psychologist

One in every four people in the world will get a mental or neurological problem at a certain point in their lives according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Mental illnesses are the second leading cause of deaths for 15-29-year-olds, in fact, more than 800,000 people end their own lives every year. This statistical data makes the demand for psychologists to grow exponentially. 

Psychologists help these individuals cope and heal themselves through clinical counseling. There are several causes of mental illnesses, and the main responsibility of psychologists is to help them overcome what they are going through.

These health professionals carry a heavy responsibility of giving emotional support and guidance to their patients—making this profession a tough one. As difficult it may be, being a psychologist is still a rewarding career to pursue.

What Does a Psychologist Do?

A psychologist is a licensed individual who studies and researches about human behavior and mental processes through observation, interpretation, and documentation of how people relate to one another and to their respective environment. Then, they use this research to improve and help the existing processes and behaviors.

A psychologist’s duties include the following:

  • Assess a client to identify any clinical concern
  • Interview patients to learn about their history
  • Diagnose any clinical condition based on the observation and interpretation of data gathered
  • Create a treatment plan for the patients and monitor their progress
  • Administer behavior modification schemes for patients
  • Give patients coping mechanisms to help them overcome their problems
  • Carry out a study about behavior and brain processes
  • Write research papers, blogs, and reports about finding to share with the medical field
  • Keep confidentiality of patients’ conditions for their privacy
  • Keep up with the current studies and trends in the medical field through continuous education and learning
  • Supervise other clinic staff including interns, clinicians, and counselors

There are many types of psychologist one could pursue to be and some of them include:

  • Clinical psychologists – they assess, interpret, diagnose and treat behavioral and mental disorders. They design treatment plans to provide patients the recovery they need based on the gathered data from tests, interviews, and history.
  • Counseling psychologists – they provide help on their patients to make them understand and cope with their problems in family, personal, career, love, etc. Through counseling, they find out the strengths and available resources of a patient which they can use to manage the issues.
  • Developmental psychologists – they focus on studying the psychological process and development of a person—whatever the age may be.
  • Forensic psychologists – they utilize psychological concepts to help judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals understand any psychological aspects of a case. They sometimes testify in court as the expert witness. 
  • Industrial-organizational psychologists – they use psychology to improve the quality of work-life in the workplace. With the use of psychological principles and relevant research methods, problems are solved and improved to promote harmony in an organization.
  • Rehabilitation psychologists – they help physically or developmental-disabled people. They help them recover from something or events that have tarnished their mental and behavioral stability like accidents or illnesses. 
  • School psychologists – they work from a school setting and serve as the guidance support of students, admin staff, and teachers who are battling any behavioral concerns. They use their expertise in psychology to address the concerns of students or school personnel and provide a performance plan to them. 

Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Psychologist

Psychology is a very interesting topic to study and provides benefits in everyday life. That’s why a lot of people find themselves pursuing a career as a psychologist. Although anyone can take up the program, not everyone is cut out for the role. To ensure you fit the role, here are some signs you should watch out for to know you are on the right track:

You are a people person.

If you love spending time around people, the role of a psychologist will definitely work for you. Psychologists spend most of their time interacting with their patients which require energy, patience, and genuineness. Even if you get shy at times, as long as you feel invigorated when someone confides in you, your approachable personality will shine through and make you a good psychologist.

You are a good listener. 

Do your friends go to you first when they have problems? Maybe that’s because you are the best person to talk to in times like this. They are at ease with your listening skills and they trust your guts. Psychologists listen to their patients for long hours without getting bored as they need to come up with the right resolutions. 

You are a good observer.

Aside from listening, psychologists observe their patients often—especially when they are talking about their cases. You ought to have the curiosity and sharp observing skills to identify little details that add up to your conclusion. A keen observer does not let even the slightest detail pass up.

You are broad-minded.

Open-mindedness is key to being a successful psychologist. There is no way a closed mind will work in psychology. You have to be able to respect what clients are telling you as they need to feel the sincerity of your support. So if you are somebody who is an open book and does not judge easily, you are a good fit for the role.

You think analytically.

If you take pleasure in solving problems, you’ll have a good career as a psychologist as your main role is to help your clients solve their problems. Genuine thirst for answers and an analytical mind will help you ease your way as a successful psychologist.

You love helping people.

The role of a psychologist involves a lot of teamwork either with your colleagues or your clients. You share the common goal after all. You should enjoy the company of others and work closely with them because you will be exposed to countless interactions.

You have once conquered anxiety or depression.

Knowing the struggles of being depressed, you might want to give back to others and help them with their treatments. According to Kristina Randle, Ph.D. LSCW, having had depression doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be a better psychologist than someone who has not, it is just that the fact of being healed by a therapy is what motivates them to help others find their peace, too.

Things You Need to Know Before Becoming a Psychologist

Here are some things you need to consider before you pursue becoming a psychologist:

It takes long to become a psychologist.

The path to becoming a psychologist takes up at least ten years of grueling education and internship. The first four years will be for your undergraduate program, followed by a 5-year graduate program. The last year will be your postgraduate training or internship.

Before embarking on this career, you need to consider this 10-year long commitment. If you are not fully decided on sticking to a career that takes years of preparation, you might need to rethink your choices.

Psychology is quantitative, as well.

If you think you are getting away with Math by taking a Science major, you got it all wrong. That’s because Psychology comprises quantitative components as well. Some of the core subjects that have math include “Quantitative Research Methods” and “Mathematics of Neuropsychology.” 

Math skills are vital to being a psychologist. You’ll deal with statistical data from various studies, reports, experiments, and more. You ought to fully understand to quantify and interpret such data to arrive at logical conclusions.

You must know the specialization you want before entering graduate school.

During your undergraduate, you can complete a degree in Psychology, Mathematics, or any Science-related major. But once you enter graduate school, you need to know what exact specialty you want to major in. Some of these specializations include cognitive psychology, behavioral psychology, mathematical psychology, and more.

This is a crucial point to consider before entering graduate school as psychology is broken down into several branches.

Psychology isn’t just mental health.

Most people believe that psychology is about mental health. While a massive aspect of psychology centers around it, it’s more than just improving someone’s mental health. Psychology deals with a broader aspect of human behavior.

Some psychologists help organizations get better at communicating internally. Sports teams hire psychologists to help motivate and instill confidence. Industrial companies hire psychologists to help create efficient and safer products. A psychologist could offer so many services, and you need not be trapped in dealing with other’s personal problems if you don’t want that.  

License requirements for every state vary.

This information is crucial if you plan on moving states as you practice your profession. If you earned your X state license, that doesn’t mean you can practice once you move to a Y state.

This requires you to thoroughly research the state requirements when you plan on transferring to a different state. You might need to take additional classes, earn specific certifications, and do some additional work just to earn a license in the new state. If you want to check these state requirements, you can visit the American Psychological Association website.

The more well-rounded you are, the better.

This means that the more experience you have dealing with various psychology scopes, the better chance you have of being employed. Sometimes, being too concentrated on one field isn’t everything as some companies would prefer somebody who’s explored various interests.

Your 4-year undergraduate will be challenging.

Psychology is one of the most popular degrees to take up in college. This means that there is more competition in terms of excelling, getting recognized, and receiving personal recommendations. This also means that you have lots of classmates sitting in one class if your college is pretty big. This makes it hard to stand out in a sea of young minds.

But you don’t have to worry about being lost as you grind against a huge crowd. You just really need to instill that dedication to study hard and get to graduate school.

portrait-of-a-female-psychologist-in-a-white-blazer

How Do You Become a Psychologist?

So how does an aspiring psychologist land the profession? It requires a series of requirements you have to follow in order to successfully deserve the title. These are the qualifications you need to meet before you can practice in the field:

1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Medical professions are very specific to their educational requirements. An undergraduate degree of either Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in Psychology is a major prerequisite in order to move forward to internships and doctorate degree.

2. Earn a master’s degree.

The next step to becoming a psychologist is pursuing a master’s degree. This usually lasts for two years. While it opens up some opportunities to psychology, it is still not enough to fully exercise the practice of becoming a psychologist. Programs start to be more specialized in this level as the field of psychology is undeniably broad.

3. Attain a doctoral degree.

Most psychologists are required to have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) to fully meet the educational requirements on becoming a psychologist. Ph.D. focuses more on research and is more traditional, whereas Psy.D. lets you practice on your own. It takes up 4-7 years of studying to finish a doctoral degree. You will be concentrating on the specialization you want which typically include:

  • Counseling Psychology – Substance Abuse Counselor, Marriage and Family Therapist, School Psychologist
  • Clinical Psychology – Clinical Psychologist, Child Psychologist, Forensic Psychologist
  • Cognitive Psychology – Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, Human Factors Engineer, Psycholinguist

4. Obtain required clinical experience to get a license.

Internships and supervised clinical experience are your next big step to secure your license. The required duration of time will vary per state which are all stated at the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). This is imposed as a strict requirement in garnering your license. During this training, you will apply the knowledge you have learned from years of studying while gaining new learnings from real-world experience. 

5. Pass the board examination for professional practice in psychology.

In order to finally secure a license, you shall pass the board examination in your state. All the requirements and details about the board examination are listed in ASPPB. Each state’s requirements vary because they have their own set of limitations and laws, so it’s better to check them ahead of time.

6. Get certifications for your specialization.

Psychologists who engage in specialty practice are encouraged to get certified. Not only does this boost their credential, but it demonstrates competence in the specialty areas. For certifications like this, psychologists may get them from associations like  American Board of Professional Psychology for 15 areas of psychology and the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology for neuropsychology.

What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Psychologist?

The success of a psychologist will always depend upon the expertise he has equipped within himself. Here are the knowledge and skills that any successful psychologist has:

Inquisitive mind

A curious mind should be innate to a psychologist. As someone who spearheads research, the thirst for knowledge should be genuine. You will also be doing a lot of inquiries to your potential patients which is a fundamental part of your job. A psychologist’s role demands someone who never stops learning.

Analytical skills

As you gather information from various sources, you should be able to draw up logical conclusions. You will be interpreting your patient’s concerns most of the time, so your mind should be sharp and critical. 

Interpersonal skills

Psychologists work with a number of colleagues which require them to develop a good relationship with one another, especially when conducting research. Additionally, if your specialization is more clinical in nature, you are bound to talk to your patients for hours. You need to get along with them and earn their trust as you go on with your sessions.

Observational skills

As part of the assessment of a client’s condition, critical observation skills are needed to identify any diagnosis. Upon conversing with a client, you should be able to observe non-language factors that will contribute to your conclusion.

Problem-solving skills

In order to help your patients cope with their problems, you will come up with the best resolution that targets their concern. A competent psychologist should be able to properly assess, design, and implement a treatment program for his patients. 

Patience

Awaiting progress and conclusions take up a lot of time. A good psychologist knows the value of patience for everything is not measurable. Demonstrating patience also counts in sessions with your clients as you always have to contain yourself and remember your role as the support.

Compassion

Your patients need to guarantee that you are someone trustworthy. They are telling you their deepest secrets and they need you to be someone who will understand. Compassion and empathy play a big role in helping your patients feel at ease. Staying an open mind to whatever that comes into play is also vital to add in the mix of characteristics you need to have.

Numeracy

Just because you are dealing with medical terms, doesn’t mean you are steering clear of numbers. Frequent research requires you to understand and analyze numerical data you have gathered—making it easy for you to interpret and provide conclusions.

Competence in the field of psychology and specialty

Lastly, your competence in the field will be displayed once you have garnered your license. You would not have conquered all those grueling years of studying and passed the board examination if you have not proven your expertise in the field.

Here is the Niche’s list of the best schools for psychology in 2021 based on key statistics and student reviews from the US Department of Education.

  • Harvard University
  • Stanford University
  • Yale University
  • Manhattan College
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Rice University
  • Duke University
  • University of Chicago
  • Northwestern University
  • Princeton University
  • Dartmouth College
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Michigan – Ann Harbor
  • John Hopkins University
  • Columbia University
  • Brown University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of Southern California
  • Georgetown University
  • University of California – Los Angeles
  • Tufts University
  • Barnard College
  • Pomona College
  • Carnegie Mellon University 
  • Cornell University
  • Haverford University
  • University of California-Berkeley
  • New York University
  • Boston College
  • Carleton College
  • Wellesley College
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Emory University
  • Wesleyan University
  • Davidson College
  • Northeastern College
  • University of Georgia
  • William & Mary
psychologist-writing-on-a-notepad-with-a-patient

How to Get a Job as a Psychologist

Securing a license won’t guarantee you a job that lands on your lap. Of course you still have to make an effort on applying for job postings you want. To help you secure your first official role and score a job, here are some tips you should remember:

Check your professional network.

One of the best ways to find a job is to check on your professional acquaintances who can refer you to a job opening. This network consists of your previous professors and advisors you met on your internship. So it’s a good habit to always keep in touch with people who will help you grow your career. 

List your desired employers.

Look at the local job listings or companies you see yourself in. You can check out the local yellow pages or online listings in your area to see if there are any available jobs that fit your specialty, qualifications, and preferences. This way, you can ensure that the job you are pursuing is a perfect match for you.

Watch out for career fairs in your area.

Career fairs happen every once in while at a prominent location in your area. This kind of event is a great way to scout any job opportunity as you have a lot of choices and you are face-to-face with them all at the same time. It’s a good practice to watch out for job fairs through browsing their sites online:

Browse through online job portals.

Job portals are your most convenient option when seeking job opportunities. You have a lot of opportunities you can choose from as there are thousands of clinics, hospitals, schools, and other industries that post their job openings online. Here are some of the most popular online job websites you can check out:

Look for openings in specialty job listings online.

A few online websites are specifically created to offer job opportunities for psychologists. Here are a few of them:

Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

The wage of psychologists varies per location. To know how much they make annually, here is a complete list of the average pay they received in 2019 according to BLS.

State2019 Mean Annual Wage
Oregon$112,010
California$111,750
New York$96,170
Louisiana$96,040
New Jersey$95,680
Colorado$92,840
Connecticut$92,790
North Dakota$92,370
Goergia$90,760
Michigan$90,700
Massachusetts$90,180
New Hampshire$89,000
Virginia$88,880
Utah$88,480
Wisonsin$86,920
Pennsylvania$85,170
Minnesota$84,550
Rhode Island$84,120
Alaska$82,770
Nevada$83,280
Iowa$83,090
Missouri$81,700
Indiana$80,750
Maine$80,700
North Carolina$80,670
State2019 Mean Annual Wage
Delaware$80,060
Maryland$79,870
Wyoming$78,620
Tennessee$78,270
Washington$77,700
South Dakota$77,560
Florida $77,460
Ohio$77,440
Illinois$75,050
Texas$73,920
New Mexico$73,550
Arkansas$73,050
Mississippi$72,470
Nebraska$71,130
Vermont$70,120
Kansas$69,530
Alabama$69,190
South Carolina$68,040
Kentucky$66,940
Oklahoma$66,400
Arizona$65,400
Montana$64,160
Idaho$60,880
West Virginia$54,780
Hawaii-

Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Make Your Resume Stand Out

A well-constructed resume creates a remarkable impression to employers. Make sure you craft yours with the utmost effort. Here are some tips to make sure your resume stands out among a pile of other candidates:

Start out with a sharp objective.

A precise and well-constructed objective will give them an overview as to how you tick as an employee. Write at least 3 sentences describing your goals, experience, and where you see yourself in the future. Lastly, make sure that what you state is aligned to their company goals to add that extra point of being the perfect match to their company.

Show off your expertise precisely.

Time to introduce them to your skillset and knowledge you’ve earned. Strike a good impression by listing down your qualities—both soft and hard skills. Also, do not be shy to show off any exceptional expertise that you can be proud of. Remember to align your skillset to the needs and requirements of the employer to amplify your chance of getting hired.

Highlight your licenses garnered.

Most types of psychologists are required to pass the board examination in order to practice. Highlight these credentials on your resume as it is probably the major qualification of the job you are applying for. Plus, do not forget to add the post-nominal title (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) on your name.

Enumerate the certifications of your specialty.

Though it is not a requirement, most psychologists get certifications for their specialty to prove their competence. As much as you can, try to get them to boost your credentials and demonstrate an exceptional skillset.

Impress them with your internship and experience.

Your internship and previous experience say a lot about you. Any experiences you have acquired in the past matter, especially for your first official job. You want to show them your training that has molded your expertise. Ensure to write a brief rundown of what you have learned during that experience.

Showcase your educational background.

As a psychologist, you have spent an enormous amount of time specializing in the study. It’s time to showcase that hard work by enumerating each level of educational attainment you have. From your bachelor’s degree, associate or master’s degree to your doctorate degree, list them down! Most psychologists are required to obtain a license which makes these compulsory.

List down your professional affiliations.

As you have passed your licensure exam, you are bound to be networked with professional associations that can help you grow your career. Being an active member pays off to your credentials because being associated with these kinds of organizations contribute to your progression. 

Here are some of the professional organizations you could list down on your resume:

  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)
  • APA Division 15 (Educational Psychology)
  • American Educational Research Association (AERA) 
  • Association for Psychological Science (APS)
  • Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)
  • National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
  • Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)
  • National Register of Health Service Psychologists
  • APA Division 17 (Counseling Psychology)
  • International Association for Cognitive Psychotherapy (IACP)

Add your professional references.

To top everything off, make sure you include professional contacts in case your potential employer wants to know your background working with other people. You can put your former professors, advisers, and previous colleagues. Let these people know that you have put them in your resume so that they won’t be surprised when they get a random call from an employer asking about you.

Ace Your Psychologist Interview

So you’ve secured your coveted interview–how do you prepare for the questions now? Interviews have a way of making people feel nervous even if they know they fit the role. To guide you on how to properly answer questions related to your specialty, here is a quick guide to answer specific questions for psychologists:

How do you get along with others?

This question wants to know how you interact with people in the same environment you are in. Being a psychologist, you will be spending lots of time co-working with colleagues and talking to your clients or patients. They expect you to be a people person.

To answer this, describe your qualities that point out how good you are with being around people. Gather up some instances that will demonstrate how you build relationships with people in your work. You should be able to emphasize that people relate to you and they feel comfortable with you around.

What are the fundamental skills of a psychologist?

A psychologist should be aware of the elemental abilities he needs to instill within himself. The interviewer wants to verify your self-awareness as being a successful professional starts with understanding your own role.

The best answer you can come up with is stating both hard and soft skills. Cite them individually and describe briefly how it relates to your job. You should always include skills like data analysis, problem-solving, decision-making, interpersonal skills, and of course, your knowledge in psychology.

What is your great strength as a psychologist?

The interviewer seeks to know the expertise they can be of value to them. This question is always asked to know how much of a good fit you are for the role, thus, you need to elaborate the skillset that matches them.

Give them an ample overview of what you know by sharing your knowledge with various specialties of psychology, the experiences you’ve had, the learnings that have contributed to your expertise, and the skills that you think are your best. Enumerate your best assets and back them up with circumstances that’ll prove your adeptness in them.

How will you provide motivational support to your patient?

One of the expected responsibilities from you is providing support to your clients. In most of your sessions, you will be dealing with various cases, but all will conclude to giving them the motivation they need. So how do you do that?

First, you should follow the method of assessing, interpreting, and recording their behavior. When you are done identifying the root cause of it all, you can now turn to the treatment plan and strengthen their mindset with words of encouragement. You need empathy, compassion, and patience to understand what kind of motivational support they need.

Are you planning to continue your education and pursue more specialty?

A continuing education not only proves your desire for career growth, but it also displays your plan to stay in the field for a long time. Employers want to confirm how invested you are with yourself and they will be betting on you if they have proven you are worth it.

Share your plans with your interviewer. If you have not considered pursuing any form of continuing education, tell him so. It’s okay not to have any plans as of the moment, but you should explain that you that you will be considering it in the near future. Remember, it’s a good investment to expand your knowledge as this shows your passion for the field.

Top Online Courses for Aspiring Psychologists

Sharpen your skills in psychology by taking these top online courses

Here are some of Skill Success’ top Psychology programs that will help you get started on the field:

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