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Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse are all too common. One in five adults, and 17 percent of youth, in the United States experience some form of mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health 2020). Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 34 year olds. These disorders don’t simply go away and cannot be treated alone. Each year, more than 43 percent of those who suffer from mental illness will seek treatment from professionals, such as psychologists, to overcome their mental health issues.
Psychologists are an important part of the mental health care landscape. They hold doctoral degrees and have completed extensive studies and clinical training that gives them the expertise to tackle even the most complex mental disorders. Most psychologists have a strong background in research which gives them the ability to think analytically within the clinical field. Job duties can include evaluating patients, working in schools, writing treatment plans, and conducting psychological research. There are numerous specializations including child psychology, sports psychology, educational leadership, and conflict resolution.
As there has been increased recognition of the importance of mental health treatment the demand for psychologists has been steadily growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), there is anticipated to be a 14 percent growth in jobs in this field between 2018 and 2028. An aging population, increased services for veterans, and an emphasis on school counselors are driving the demand for more professionals in the field. Psychologists earn a median annual salary of $79,010.
Below is an overview of the profession of psychology, including job duties, top programs, a step by step guide to entering the profession, and licensing requirements.
Psychologist Specializations & Degree Types
Psychologists typically earn either a doctor of psychology (PsyD) or a doctor of philosophy in psychology (PhD) degree. PhD programs typically have more intensive research or academic focus, whereas PsyD programs are designed for those who are strictly interested in the practice of psychology without dedicating additional time to research. PsyD programs are ideal for those pursuing a clinical practice and typically take less time than a PhD.
Both PsyD and PhD psychology programs offer numerous specializations. Students can pursue studies in forensic psychology, educational leadership, mediation and conflict resolution, sport psychology, pediatrics, and quantitative psychology, among others.
Admissions Requirements for Psychologist Programs
Most psychology programs require students to have completed at least a master’s degree in psychology or a related field such as education or health sciences. However, some programs will admit students with just a bachelor’s degree in psychology or related field and a master’s degree will be earned as part of the studies.
Aside from proof of an undergraduate or graduate degree by submitting official transcripts, students typically are required to submit GRE scores, letters of intent, recommendation letters, and a resume.
Psychologist Program Accreditation
There are numerous accreditation agencies for psychology programs. The most prestigious one is through the American Psychological Association (APA). However, the APA is very stringent on online or distance learning programs so many programs have obtained regional accreditation such as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) or the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
Students should ensure the program they are pursuing is accredited as that guarantees a minimum level of quality as well as provides ease when applying for licensure or certification.
On-Campus Psychologist Degree Programs
Ranked number two in the nation by US News & World Report (2020), the clinical psychology program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the nation’s best. This program is highly competitive and only admits four to six new students out of the roughly 450 that apply each year. Most students who are successfully admitted to the program have already completed significant undergraduate clinical research projects.
As part of the program, students will complete their master’s and PhD so only a bachelor’s degree is required to apply. Students are required to attend an on-campus interview in February as part of the application process. Other requirements include GRE scores, a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.
- Location: Chapel Hill, NC
- Duration: Five to six years
- Accreditation: American Psychological Association (APA)
- Tuition: $28,278 per year
With an aim to produce leaders, educators, and professionals who influence policy, research, and best practices, the clinical psychology program at the University of California, Los Angeles is one of the top in the country. Ranked number one in the nation by US News & World Report (2020),this intensive program trains professionals to think critically and be innovative to improve the mental health of patients.
Through the course of their students will become scientifically minded scholars well-versed in research with the ability to apply findings to the clinical setting. The program takes six years to complete, including a one-year internship. Because students work individually with an advisor there is an opportunity for a wide variety of specializations inducing minority mental health, adult psychopathology, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and many more.
- Location: Los Angeles, CA
- Duration: Six years
- Accreditation: American Psychological Association (APA)
- Tuition: $26,544 per year
Online or Hybrid Psychologist Degree Programs
The online format of the PsyD program at Capella University allows students to complete a doctorate in psychology without having to relocate. The program has an emphasis on preparing students for state licensure by ensuring they complete all the necessary education and internship hours.
Clinical training is carried out in the students’ home community. Students are also required to travel to intensive one to two week residency programs across the country.
Typical courses students are required to take include evidence-based practice in psychology, theories of psychotherapy, and advanced psychopathology. Graduates understand how to administer psychological testing, apply interventions, and implement treatment plans.
- Location: Minneapolis, MN
- Duration: Two-and-a-half to five years
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Tuition: $540 per credit-hour
At Ashford University students have the opportunity to personalize their PsyD education by choosing one of six specializations including sports psychology, criminal and justice studies, and health and wellness psychology. This program is offered online so students can pursue their studies while maintaining work and family obligations. There are three required in-residence weekend workshops.
Since this program is a doctoral program, students will need to have completed a master’s degree in order to be eligible for admission. In order to graduate from the program, students will need to complete an intensive capstone of either a dissertation or a research project. As part of this project, students will apply the knowledge they have learned to a real-world problem
- Location: San Diego, CA
- Duration: Three-and-a-half to four years
- Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
- Tuition: $1,082.00 per credit
How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychologist?
It takes anywhere between 10 to 12 years (or more) to obtain a PsyD or PhD in psychology after graduating from high school. The length of study varies based on if the graduate program requires a master’s degree or if the master’s degree is completed en route to a doctorate. Most programs have a clinical or residency component requirement that is included in the course of study.
How To Become a Psychologist – Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)
Prior to enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program, students will need to graduate from high school or obtain a GED. If a career in psychology is a goal, students should take courses in high school to prepare for further studies including health, psychology, biology, and English.
Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology (Four Years)
Graduate psychology programs require that students have already completed a bachelor’s degree. Students should choose psychology as a major or a closely related field such as health science, sociology, anthropology, or even geography. Top programs in the country look for students who have completed clinical research as part of their undergraduate studies, so students who wish to gain a competitive advantage should also focus on lab courses.
Step 3: Complete a Master’s degree in Psychology (Two Years, Optional)
As some doctorate programs require completing a master’s degree prior to enrolling, this may be a necessary step towards becoming a psychologist. Typical master’s programs include psychology, education, sociology, and health sciences. These programs can take anywhere from one to two years to complete.
Step 4: Obtain a Doctorate in Psychology (Four to Seven Years)
Students can pursue either a PsyD or PhD in psychology to enter this career. While some programs require a master’s degree, there are many programs that you can pursue a doctorate degree having just completed a bachelor’s degree. Students can choose from numerous specializations such as educational leadership, child psychology, and even sports psychology. As part of their studies, students will often be required to complete clinical rotations or internships to gain the experience required to apply for licensure.
Step 5: Complete Clinical Hours (Timelines Vary)
Depending on state requirements, aspiring professionals may need to complete additional supervised clinical hours prior to applying for licensure. Hour requirements vary based on the state.
Step 6: Pass Required Exams (Timelines Vary)
All states require examination in order to work as a psychologist. All states require the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) and many states require a jurisprudence exam as well.
Step 7: Apply for Licensure (Timelines Vary)
Once all the state licensure requirements have been met, an application for licensure can be submitted. Professionals will need to apply to their state board and submit all the evidence required.
What Do Psychologists Do?
Psychologist work is extremely varied based on the field and specialization chosen. Overall, psychologists work to improve the mental health of individuals. This is done in numerous ways including therapy, research, or working within organizations to improve employee wellbeing. Jobs duties can include:
- Conducting psychological research
- Assessing patient well-being through one-on-one appointments
- Administering psychological tests
- Diagnosing mental illness
- Writing and implementing treatment plans
- Providing counseling to clients
- Observing groups or work teams to identify any issues
- Providing business, government entities, and organizations with best practice recommendations based on observations
- Providing counseling in school settings
- Assisting with patients managing chronic illness
Psychologist Certifications & Licensure
All psychologists in the United States must be licensed. Licensing is done on a state by state basis by the local licensing board. Requirements vary by state but all states require passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology administered by the ASPPB. Some states also require passing a jurisprudence exam.
How Much Do Psychologists Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2018), clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earn $85,340 on average. Workers in the bottom 10 percent earned $44,040 or less, while the top 90 percent earned more than $129,310.
Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.