Study and Careers in Psychology

Undergraduate and Graduate Study in Psychology

Only people with doctoral degrees are called “psychologists,” but people with master’s or bachelor’s degrees also have many career options available.

Learning Objectives

Identify the educational requirements for various careers within psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • By definition, a psychologist holds a doctorate degree. There are many fields of work open to psychologists, but individuals that hold master ‘s degrees and even bachelor’s degrees have options in the field too.
  • PhD graduates can have careers in clinical psychology, industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology, occupational psychology, forensic psychology, school psychology, sports psychology, and more.
  • PsyD graduates, while still active participants in research, focus more on assessing and treating clients. They can have careers in counseling, clinical, school, forensic, organizational, sports psychology, and more.Master’s degree holders with several years of experience in business and industry can obtain jobs in consulting and marketing research, while others can find jobs in government, at universities, and in the private sector as counselors, researchers, data collectors, and analysts.
  • Bachelor’s degree holders are often great candidates for careers in administrative support, public affairs, education, business, sales, service, health, the biological sciences, and computer programming. They may also be employment counselors, analysts, probation officers, and writers.

Key Terms

  • applied psychology: The use of psychological principles and theories to overcome problems in other areas, such as mental health, business management, education, health, product design, ergonomics, and law.
  • forensic: Relating to the use of science and technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence in a court of law.

Psychology continues to be one of the most popular majors at universities, and for good reason: understanding why people think and feel the way they do has generated endless questions for centuries. To this day, the mechanisms that explain our emotions and behavior are still being studied and explored. A psychologist, by definition, holds a doctorate degree, and there are many fields open to psychologists. However, individuals who hold master’s degrees or even bachelor’s degrees also have many options within applied psychology.

Doctoral Degrees

Options for doctoral graduates in psychology include the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, occupational psychology, forensic psychology, education psychology, and engineering psychology, as well as many other areas such as school psychology, sports psychology, and community psychology. A psychologist evaluates, diagnoses, treats, and studies behavior and mental processes. Some psychologists (such as clinical and counseling psychologists) provide mental health care, while others (such as social or organizational psychologists) conduct research and provide consultation services. Psychologists often help clients change behaviors that are having negative effects on their physical health.

Psychologists are involved in all aspects of maintaining the world’s behavioral and emotional homeostasis. People with PhDs in psychology can work with business executives to reduce stress and improve performance, advise lawyers on jury selection, help victims recover from trauma, or collaborate with educators on school reform.

Master’s Degrees

Studying psychology at the master’s level can yield one of several degrees:

  • Master of Social Work (MSW).
  • Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in counseling psychology, clinical psychology, or educational psychology.
  • Master of Science in Counseling (MSC)
  • Master of Arts in Professional Counseling (MPC)
  • Masters of Science in Education (MSEd)

A Master of Social Work (MSW) degree typically includes six years of college/university; clinical coursework where students learn the skills of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment; and extensive practicum experience that includes counseling or therapy. A master’s degree in any specified area may require completion of a master’s thesis, dissertation, and/or project.

Individuals with a master’s degree in psychology may qualify for positions in many areas, such as school and industrial/organizational psychology. However, they will likely be unable to use the term “psychologist” to describe their position, as this term is reserved for individuals with PhDs. Master’s degree holders with several years of experience in business and industry can obtain jobs in consulting and marketing research; others may find jobs in government, universities, or the private sector as counselors, researchers, data collectors, and analysts.

Bachelor’s Degrees

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Counseling psychology: Counseling psychologists focus on the assessment and treatment of emotional and behavioral disorders.

Studying psychology at the bachelor’s level can yield a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), or Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Bachelor’s degrees usually require four years of study and are required prior to entry into graduate programs where master’s or doctoral degrees may be earned. A bachelor’s degree does not meet the requirements for clinical practice or licensure. While it is common for students who earn bachelor’s degrees in psychology or social work to go on to graduate school, students who major in concentrations other than psychology or social work may still qualify for entry into psychology graduate programs.

People who have earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology are often great problem-solvers, pay close attention to detail, have good research and writing capabilities, and are capable of higher-order thinking, analyzing, and distilling of information. Bachelor’s degree holders are often great candidates for careers in administrative support, public affairs, education, business, sales, service industries, health, the biological sciences, or computer programming; they may also find jobs as employment counselors, analysts, probation officers, or writers.

Careers in Psychology

Psychology is a very broad field that offers a wide range of career options.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate among the various subfields within psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Psychology is a very broad field, and there are many career options available for graduating students of psychology.
  • Clinical and counseling psychology involve the study and application of psychology for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and treating psychological disorders.
  • Other careers in psychology include industrial-organizational psychology, school psychology, sports psychology, forensic psychology, biological psychology and behavioral neuroscience, comparative psychology, evolutionary psychology, and health and medicine.
  • In addition, many graduates of psychology will choose to make careers in academia, in either teaching or conducting research.

Key Terms

  • natural selection: A process by which heritable traits conferring survival and reproductive advantage to individuals tend to be passed on to succeeding generations, therefore becoming more frequent in a population.
  • prosocial: Contributing to a beneficial outcome through negotiation, problem-solving, analysis, clarification, and respectful behavior.

Psychology is a very broad field, and there are many career options available for graduating students of psychology. The following subfields give a sense of the diverse work psychologists can engage in.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology involves the study and application of psychology for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and treating psychologically based dysfunction. Clinical psychologists use various treatment methods to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Although clinical psychologists may engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development, many clinical psychologists focus on using psychological assessment and psychotherapy to treat individuals with psychological disorders. In many countries, clinical psychology is a regulated mental-health profession.

Counseling Psychology

Similar to clinical psychology in many respects, counseling psychology focuses on the assessment and treatment of emotional and behavioral disorders. These can range from short-term crises, such as difficulties resulting from adolescent conflicts, to more severe or chronic conditions, such as schizophrenia. Some counseling psychologists exclusively treat specific problems or populations.

Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology

This subfield applies psychological concepts and methods to the workplace in order to optimize human potential. It focuses on the psychology of the workforce, including issues such as recruitment, selecting employees from an applicant pool, performance appraisal, job satisfaction, work behavior, stress at work, and management. There are several subfields within the field I-O psychology: for instance, personnel psychology focuses on the selection and evaluation of workers, while organizational psychology examines the effects of work environment and management styles on worker motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity.

School Psychology

Educational psychology studies how humans learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and schools as organizations. School psychology combines principles from educational psychology and clinical psychology to understand and treat students with learning disabilities, foster the intellectual growth of gifted students, facilitate prosocial behaviors in children, and otherwise promote a safe, supportive, and effective learning environment.

Sports Psychology

Sports psychology seeks to understand the psychological and mental factors that affect performance in sports, physical activity, and exercise; it then applies these principles to enhance individual and team performance.

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is concerned with the application of psychological methods and principles to legal questions and issues. Most typically, forensic psychology involves a clinical analysis of a particular individual and an assessment of some specific psycho-legal question.

Biological Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience

This subfield focuses on the biological aspects of behavior and mental processes, and there are different specialties within this subfield. For instance, physiological psychology uses animal models to study the neural, genetic, and cellular mechanisms that underlie specific behaviors; cognitive neuroscience investigates the neural correlates of human psychological processes using neural-imaging tools; and neuropsychology uses psychological assessments to determine the extent of cognitive deficits caused by brain damage or disease.

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Neuroimaging: Neuroimaging has been helpful in many areas of psychology, particularly in the subfield of biological psychology. This image depicts the location of the hypothalamus using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Comparative Psychology

Comparative psychology is the scientific study of the behavior and mental processes of nonhuman animals, especially as they relate to adaptive significance and the development of behavior, which can lead to a deeper and broader understanding of human psychology. This subfield researches many different species, from insects to primates.

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Primates and comparative psychology: The study of chimpanzees using tools to gather food is an example of a potential area of research in comparative psychology.

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology examines psychological traits —such as memory, perception, and language—from a modern evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary psychologists seek to identify which of these traits are evolved adaptions: in other words, how they are the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection.

Health and Medicine

Careers in health settings can vary widely and include health psychology (sometimes called health-and-wellness psychology), occupational-health psychology, and medical psychology. Health psychology concerns itself with understanding how biology, behavior, and social context influence health and illness; health psychologists generally work alongside other medical professionals in clinical settings, although many also teach and conduct research. Medical psychology involves the application of a range of psychological principles, theories, and findings to the effective management of physical and mental disorders to improve the psychological and physical health of the patient. Occupational-health psychology (OHP) is a relatively new discipline concerned with identifying psychosocial characteristics of workplaces that give rise to health-related problems in people who work.

Academic Careers

In addition to the many options listed above, many graduates of psychology will choose to make careers in academia. Some may become full-time or adjunct faculty at universities, while others may take on faculty positions that are exclusively devoted to conducting research, or a combination of the two.