The psychologist profession is quite a popular one. Many students are interested in studying the way the human mind works and how it impacts our behavior and decision making processes. Psychologists are concerned with studying exactly that.
Psychologists also help with daily problems and stresses. They conduct therapy and work with people who have mental illnesses, are burnt out, and just generally need to talk to someone to go through their problems. Psychologists pride themselves in being able to bring some calmness and happiness in the lives of stressed people.
Becoming a psychologist is a noble profession. It needs a lot of work and dedication, but at the end gives the satisfaction of helping people lead more fulfilled lives. But it is not always clear how to start that path and many students wonder how to become a psychologist and what degrees do you need to be a psychologist.
This article will go through the requirements to be a psychologist and detail this highly popular occupation.
Branches And Specializations Of Psychology
The field of psychology is immensely vast. When people think of psychologists they mostly have a picture of a therapist or a counselor in their minds. But that is only one part of psychology, as there are many branches and specializations. Students who enroll in a psychology degree, whether it is an undergraduate or a graduate school, will have to choose their specialization.
- Industrial and organizational psychology – deals with studying the human mind and behavior in a working environment. I/O psychologists work with organizations on how to build better and more fulfilling work spaces and job descriptions.
- Clinical psychology – works with mentally ill patients in hospitals and other medical facilities to treat and help them.
- Neuropsychology – is a more research based psychology specialization. Neuropsychologists study the brain and its parts to better understand the human mind.
- Cognitive psychology – studies the way we use our cognitive abilities to work through problems, remember things, as well as articulate ourselves.
- Experimental psychology – is another research specialty of psychology. It is more technical as experimental psychologists develop and conduct experiments which shed light into many important processes that our mind goes through every day.
- School psychology – trains psychologists to work in educational environments. They work with professors and students to improve the system and the way learning is conducted.
There are many more focuses which students can take in psychology, but these were the most common ones. However, it is important to mention one more branch, which many people confuse and want to know what it is. Psychiatry is another psychology specialization, but it is very different from the other branches.
Both psychologists and psychiatrists go through similar training, but psychiatrists have another additional qualification. Psychiatrists are required to go to medical school since at the end of their education, they are allowed to work with patients and prescribe medication.
So whereas you go to a psychologist to try and work through problems by discussion, you go to a psychiatrist if you need to get medication for your mental health problems.
The Educational Path To Becoming A Psychologist
So you’ve decided you want to give psychology a try? You need to follow a clear educational and career path which will give you the knowledge and experience of becoming a licensed and practicing psychologist. Here are the steps to become a psychologist.
Get an undergraduate degree in Psychology
High school students are rarely sure about what career they want to choose. However, some of them might be sure that they want to pursue a career in psychology. Because of that they start preparing early, taking advanced placement classes in psychology and working hard to get good SAT scores.
Then they go to college and choose psychology as their major. Getting an undergraduate degree in psychology is a major advantage for your career. You will learn the basics of psychology and statistics, and it will prepare you for graduate education.
Many students have the opportunity to go from a different major into psychology graduate school, but they will have to take introductory classes to learn the basics that those with an undergraduate degree in psychology have already mastered.
Become involved in research
While you are completing your undergraduate degree in Psychology, try to become involved in research. This includes talking to a certain professor who is doing research you are interested in and volunteering to assist. They might let you write minor reports or observe their work.
In addition, you could also go to different shelters, hospitals, and other psychological facilities and volunteer. You might not get to do much, but you will become more familiar with the work that awaits you in the future. Also, you will enrich your resume which will help you when the time comes to choose a graduate school.
Take the GRE
After you get your undergraduate degree, you will need to go to graduate school. You cannot become a psychologist without a more advanced degree. In order to get admitted into schools, you will need to complete the GRE.
The GRE is a standardized graduate test which claims to measure how a student will perform in graduate school. To get admission offers from highly ranked universities, you will need to get high scores in the GRE.
Research and apply to graduate programs
Your GRE scores, grades, and other qualifications and experience will determine what graduate schools you can apply to. Research graduate schools based on their curriculum, faculty, accreditation, and the availability of specializations.
Try to have an idea of what specialization you would like to go into so that you can choose better universities. Find the admissions requirements, apply, and wait for an admissions offer. Hopefully, if you’ve worked hard enough during your undergrad and meet all the requirements, you will get admitted into the graduate program of your choice.
Do an internship and other school activities
After you start your graduate school in psychology, you are required to complete an internship. Internships are supervised at any psychological facility which matches your specialization. You will have to do around 2,000 hours of your internship to qualify for graduation.
In addition to your required internship, try to become involved in other university activities that are related to your field. Most universities have psychology clubs, and professors are eager to hire research and teaching assistants to help them. Try to make the most out of graduate school, so that at the end you won’t just have good grades, but also experience on your resume.
Graduate with a Master’s Degree in Psychology
Amongst the courses, internship, and other activities that you have to do during psychology graduate school, you will also have to do a thesis or dissertation. Thesis or dissertations are final research projects that you submit to the university in order to graduate.
You can choose the topic of your dissertation and you will have a faculty member as a mentor to help and advise you. At the end, you will present your research and the panel members will evaluate you.
For more on this topic, visit the Dissertation vs. Thesis article.
Get a Doctoral Degree in Psychology
With a master’s degree in Psychology, you will not be able to work in many places, so getting a PhD will open more career doors for you. A PhD in Psychology will signal to the labor market that you are a fully qualified psychologist.
PhD programs in Psychology are highly competitive and you will need excellent qualifications to get admission. Through a PhD, you will get research and clinical experience. If you aren’t interested in that, there are also other options to doctoral qualifications in Psychology such as:
- EdS – with this degree you will be able to work in school psychology settings.
- EdD – these degrees are helpful to those who do not have a lot of background on psychology, and can serve as a conversion degree.
- PsyD – has little emphasis on research, so if you are aiming for counseling or therapy psychology, this is the degree for you.
Get some work experience
During and after your doctoral degree, try to get some supervised working experience. This can include working in shelters, medical facilities, or the university to practice your profession. You can work up to two years before you can apply to get a license.
Become a licensed psychologist
In many countries, psychologists cannot work independently without a license. In the U.S for example, each state has their licensing requirements, so it is best to check those before you embark on your journey to becoming a psychologist.
Based on those requirements, you will also enter the licensing exam. These can be different exams, but in the U.S it is the Examination for Processional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). If you pass the licensing exam and meet the educational and experience requirements, you are now a licensed psychologist. Licensed psychologists can work under unsupervised conditions and even open their own practices.
Join professional associations
Different countries have different professional associations and boards for different professions. For psychology, there are also organizations which regulate and oversee the work of psychologists. In the U.S the organization is the American Psychological Association. So if you are in the U.S, try to join the organization so that you can create a network of like-minded professionals and get access to countless resources.
Where Can You Work As A Psychologist?
Congratulations! You are now a psychologist. But you might be wondering where you can work? Here are only a few examples of places where psychologists can get jobs:
- Medical facilities
- Government agencies
- Private businesses
- Rehabilitation centers
- Nursing homes
- Schools and universities
- Non-profit organizations
Based on the knowledge that you now have on how to become a psychologist, you can start your year-long journey to getting the profession of your dreams.