Psychology Career Guide

Usmann Farooqui

Written By: Usmaan Farooqui

Published: 8/12/2022

The study of psychology attracts people who are fascinated by the human mind and how it influences behavior. Depending on their chosen program, students can take a deep dive into topics such as human development, sexuality, and family and marriage relationships. They may also explore how our minds, emotions, and personalities are influenced by physical and social factors, such as cognitive function, culture, and ethnicity.

Careers in psychology can therefore span multiple roles across many sectors, with opportunities to specialize in areas such as clinical, forensic, sports, industrial-organizational, or school psychology. Continue reading to learn more about the types of psychology careers available to graduates.

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What Do Psychologists Do?

A psychologist's job description can depend on several factors, including their level of education, industry of employment, and area of specialization. In general, psychologists work with patients to understand their needs and help them cope with life challenges, mental health issues, or other chronic conditions. They may conduct research into the cognitive and environmental factors that shape human behavior and, in some cases, also teach at the postsecondary level.

Types of Psychology Career Paths

Because of their interest in human behavior and social interaction, graduates with psychology degrees often choose careers that involve helping others. For instance, they may work one-on-one with patients in health-related professions as counselors, licensed psychologists, or therapists. A psychology degree is also a natural stepping stone to careers in social services or medicine. Two other common career tracks for people who've studied psychology are education and business, specifically in human resource management.

Counseling

School and Career Counselor

Annual Median Salary: $60,510
Job Outlook: 11%
Typical Education: Master's Degree

School and career counselors work in the K-12 education system, where they help students develop life skills. Those at the high-school level advise students on future career and education paths, particularly when it comes to applying for college. At the elementary and middle school levels, school counselors identify unique learning needs and environmental factors that may affect academic progress.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor

Annual Median Salary: $48,520
Job Outlook: 23%
Typical Education: Bachelor's Degree

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors help individuals overcome or manage various cognitive and behavioral issues. These can include challenges such as alcoholism, eating disorders, or chemical dependencies. They work with patients in both one-on-one and group settings, conduct outreach programs to create awareness, and also develop detailed recovery plans based on an individual client's needs.

Psychology

Clinical and Counseling Psychologists

Annual Median Salary: $82,510
Job Outlook: 10%-15%
Typical Education: Doctoral Degree

Psychologists are trained to address a wide range of behavioral and mental health challenges in their patients. They may work with clients who need help overcoming short-term life circumstances or those that suffer from long-term chronic conditions, and some conduct tests to learn more about human behavior. As medical professionals, psychologists may also prescribe medication to modify behavior.

Forensic Science Technician

Annual Median Salary: $61,930
Job Outlook: 15%
Typical Education: Bachelor's Degree

In some cases, the criminal justice system requires professionals who can apply their knowledge of psychology to help solve cases. Forensic science technicians who have a background in psychology work with lawyers, police officers, judges, and other legal professionals. They may testify as expert witnesses in court proceedings and conduct investigations, particularly in situations where mental and behavioral health situations raise legal questions.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

Annual Median Salary: $105,310
Job Outlook: 1%-5%
Typical Education: Master's Degree or Higher

Industrial-organizational psychologists study how businesses, government agencies, and other organizations function and utilize their resources. They are primarily responsible for finding ways to improve organizational practices and policies, as well as increase worker productivity and morale. Industrial-organizational psychologists typically work as consultants, though some may be employed full-time.

Neuropsychologists

Annual Median Salary: $102,900
Job Outlook: 1%-5%
Typical Education: Master's Degree or Higher

Like psychologists, neuropsychologists aim to better understand the factors that influence human behavior. However, these professionals focus on conducting research on how the human brain functions. They may publish their findings in scientific journals, present at conferences, or help develop general treatment plans for specific disorders. Their work is often used in developing medication.

Social Work

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Annual Median Salary: $60,250
Job Outlook: 4%
Typical Education: Bachelor's Degree

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists support individuals who have been convicted of a crime during and after their incarceration. They help newly released individuals find jobs and housing, tracking their progress as they attempt to reintegrate into society. In many cases, they work closely with an individual's family to implement rehabilitation plans.

Social Worker

Annual Median Salary: $50,390
Job Outlook: 12%
Typical Education: Bachelor's Degree

Social workers offer support to individuals, families, and groups in a wide range of circumstances. Their responsibilities may include keeping records, making house calls, and providing therapy services. Social workers also research ways to improve living conditions for others, often helping families and individuals gain access to employment, housing, or medical care. Some of these professionals may help develop and implement programs that seek to address systemic challenges such as poverty.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

Annual Median Salary: $49,150
Job Outlook: 10%-15%
Typical Education: Bachelor's Degree

Also known as caseworkers, these individuals specialize in a particular area of social work that deals with adolescent development and protection. Child, family, and school social workers are specifically trained to support children with learning disabilities or those facing social challenges related to school or family life. They are also involved in the adoption process, helping ensure abandoned or orphaned children find suitable foster families.

Therapy

Art Therapist

Annual Median Salary: $59,500
Job Outlook: 10% - 15%
Typical Education: Master's Degree

Art therapists use techniques like painting, sculpting, and drawing to treat individuals with various cognitive and behavioral disorders. They focus especially on helping patients express themselves through different mediums, typically doing so by designing treatment plans that match an individual's talents or interests. Art therapists also monitor their patients' progress and conduct research on how art can be used to treat both short-and long-term conditions.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Annual Median Salary: $49,880
Job Outlook: 16%
Typical Education: Master's Degree

Marriage and family therapists are trained to help couples and families navigate challenges in their relationships. They may offer therapy to those grieving the death of a lost one, individuals going through a divorce, or couples seeking to strengthen their relationship or better understand one another. Their work is typically short-term-focused and emphasizes developing coping mechanisms for behavioral change.

Other Psychology Career Paths

Postsecondary Teacher

Annual Median Salary: $79,640
Job Outlook: 12%
Typical Education: Doctoral Degree

Many psychologists teach at the college or university level. As postsecondary teachers or professors, they design and deliver psychology courses, advise students, and conduct research in their area of expertise. Depending on their specific job description, they may also carry out administrative duties related to hiring new faculty members.

Human Resources Managers

Annual Median Salary: $126,230
Job Outlook: 9%
Typical Education: Bachelor's Degree

Human resources managers often start their careers by earning a bachelor's degree in psychology. Understanding human behavior provides a strong foundation for effectively managing and motivating others in the workplace, which are primary responsibilities for these professionals. Human resource managers may also use their knowledge of psychology to develop training programs, identify hiring opportunities, and resolve conflicts.

Psychology Salaries

Generally speaking, psychology can be a lucrative career path. With the exception of a few therapy and counseling professionals, most psychology-related professions yield annual salaries that are higher than the U.S. economy-wide average of $45,760. However, salaries in psychology can vary considerably based on your education background and industry of employment, as well as factors such as years of experience and licensure.

Individuals with graduate degrees are typically better positioned to earn more. For instance, psychologists who have a doctoral degree earn median annual wages of $81,040 — with the highest 10% making over $133,000 a year. Those who elect to pursue a career in business may be even better compensated, given that this is generally a high-paying field.

What Do You Need for a Career in Psychology?

Careers in psychology can require specialized knowledge, clinical training, and, in some cases, state licensure. It may therefore be helpful to understand which combination of skills and experience can qualify you for specific jobs in this multidisciplinary field.

Degrees

A majority, if not all, of careers in psychology require some familiarity with prominent behavioral theories, as well as an understanding of topics such as medication, medical ethics, and healthcare delivery, to name a few. More specialized knowledge is typically needed for higher-level positions. Given this, a post-secondary education from an accredited institution is essential if you aspire to work in this field.

Associate: An associate degree covers fundamental concepts in psychology. It also helps students develop critical soft skills such as communication and problem-solving. Graduates may therefore be prepared for various entry-level positions as therapy assistants, medical technicians, or psychiatric technicians.

Bachelor's: A bachelor's in psychology offers the chance to delve deeper into areas such as cognitive therapy, behavioral modification, and substance abuse. Graduates may meet minimum qualifications for jobs as counselors, though they may require certification in some states. A bachelor's degree can also prepare individuals for careers in business and the private sector.

Master's: Master's degree programs in psychology help prepare students for careers as therapists and counselors. Degrees are typically offered in highly specialized areas like marriage counseling or child development and often include clinical training in the form of an internship or practicum.

Doctorate: A psychology doctorate is a terminal degree and is the highest level of education in this field. While it can qualify graduates for many different jobs, these degrees are specifically designed for those who hope to work as licensed psychologists. In fact, a doctorate is often a requirement for this particular career path.

Licensure

Most clinical positions in which psychologists and counselors treat patients directly — either through therapy, medication, or some combination of the two — require licensure. Specific procedures can vary by state, but obtaining licensure typically involves completing the appropriate level of education, gaining several hours of clinical experience, and passing an exam.

Some non-clinical positions, such as school and career counselors, may also have licensure preconditions. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards provides more information about state licensure requirements for different positions.

Skill Set

Regardless of their area of specialization or day-to-day responsibilities, psychologists need a strong set of soft skills to effectively meet patient or client needs. Developing the following capabilities is essential for any aspiring psychologists.

  • Analysis: Analysis involves the ability to closely examine various pieces or elements and then draw conclusions about the relationships or structure among those elements. Psychology students are frequently presented with sets of information that they must study, analyze, and summarize.
  • Communication: The companion to strong listening skills is the ability to effectively convey information, both orally and in writing. Psychology students learn to explain their thoughts and ideas in a clear and logical way through practice, which will definitely take the form of written papers but may also involve oral presentations and clinical practice.
  • Listening: At the core of a psychologist's work is the ability to actively listen to others. Psychology students are trained to give a speaker their full attention, notice subtle cues in body language and voice, and ask for clarification without judgment so that the speaker feels comfortable and understood.
  • Problem-solving: These are relevant to virtually every career but particularly to work that involves helping others. Mental health professionals are routinely challenged to recognize and clarify problems, identify and weigh the benefits of all potential solutions, and then select and implement the best solution for any given problem.

Career Advancement

Getting a graduate degree is one of the most common ways to advance your career in psychology. Indeed, many master's and doctorate programs help students develop essential skills in research, as well as in-depth knowledge of particular topics, which can prepare them for many different clinical and non-clinical occupations.

While a graduate education can improve your career prospects, certification can further show employers that you have specialized training in a particular psychology sub-field. Unlike licensure, certification is not necessary for employment — though some employers can require it. Nevertheless, getting certified is a great way to distinguish yourself as a highly qualified candidate with unique subject matter expertise. The American Board of Professional Psychology offers certification for both early and mid-career psychologists.

Where Can I Work in Psychology?

A psychology degree can open the door to careers in many different economic sectors. This is because several industries such as healthcare, marketing, education, and consulting — to name a few — all value employees who can understand and can help shape human behavior. This can also be true for government agencies and nonprofits that deal explicitly with specific populations. Furthermore, given that many clinical psychologists are self-employed, a graduate degree and state licensure can pave the way to starting your own private practice.

From a geographical standpoint, a degree in psychology can help you land a position in a wide range of states, provided you have the appropriate license to practice in a given jurisdiction. In most cases, some states have reciprocity agreements with each other that allow psychologists to practice in multiple jurisdictions while being licensed in a single state. Unsurprisingly, most therapists and counselors end up in states which have high populations. For example, California, Illinois, Texas, and Florida employ the largest number of psychologists, many of whom specialize in specific areas.

Advice From a Psychology Professional

Expert Contributor

Dr. Roberta Ballard is an Atlanta-based clinical psychologist who provides online therapy for creative professionals and artists in Georgia who are struggling with burnout, depression, and anxiety.

How Would You Describe Your Job?

Currently, I have an online therapy practice. For about 20 years, I worked as a forensic psychologist with a small therapy practice on the side. The flexibility of working in psychology is one of the things I like.

What Soft Skills Do You Think Are Needed to be Successful in Psychology?

A good capacity for empathy. Humility. Love of learning. Analytical. Writing skills. Critical thinking.

What General Advice Do You Have For Students Aspiring to Work as Psychologists?

Get clear on what you envision doing as your daily job. If it is only therapy, there are many paths that take less time and money that can equip you as a therapist, such as master's level degrees in counseling or social work. If you want the ability to also do assessments, such as I did in the years I spent doing forensic psychological assessments for the courts, for example, and/or research, then a doctorate in psychology would suit you better.

What Are the Most Challenging Parts of Your Job?

There is a lot of responsibility invested in psychologists to care for their clients and do solid work based on empirically-validated methods. I'm always learning and striving, which I enjoy, but it also is something that is never "done."

The other challenge is that the emotional toll of being a psychologist is significant. It is important to implement a solid plan of caring for yourself, refueling, processing difficult feelings, and balancing out your work with time for family, personal interests, friends, etc. The work you do needs to be sustainable, and can't be done well if you are too tired, stressed, worn out, and so forth.

Is a Graduate Degree Necessary to Work in This Field?

Yes, to be a psychologist, you need a doctorate-level degree. To practice psychology, you need a doctorate-level degree in Clinical Psychology.

Frequently Asked Questions About Psychology Careers

Which Psychology Career Pays the Most?


The business world typically offers psychology graduates the chance to earn a high salary. For instance, the top 10% of human resource managers can earn over $200,000 annually. Another high-paying career choice for those with psychology degrees is medical and health service management, where professionals earn a median annual salary of $101,340.

Beyond the business world, psychology graduates can make good money in sectors such as education and research. Better-paying jobs in counseling and therapy typically go to those who've earned advanced degrees in psychology, such as a master's or doctorate.

What Careers Can You Get With a Bachelor's in Psychology?


A BA or BS in psychology provides graduates with skills and insights that can be applied in many careers. An understanding of human behavior is useful for people who are going into social work, law enforcement, health care, marketing, teaching, human resources, sales, business management, and more. A bachelor's degree in psychology is also a natural first step on the career path for those students who would like to pursue higher-level degrees in psychology, counseling, and mental health in order to become practicing therapists or researchers.

What Careers Can You Get With a Master's in Psychology?


While a bachelor's equips graduates with the knowledge and skills to look for jobs in multiple industries, a master's is better suited to those who hope to land a job in this field. In fact, many therapist positions — including in school, family and marriage, and child counseling — require a graduate-level education.

Should You Pursue a Career in Psychology?

Studying psychology can be an invigorating experience that may lead to many different career opportunities when you graduate. However, there are a few important points to consider before deciding to pursue a career in psychology.

First, psychology is a discipline where a graduate education is typically required to work in a counseling or therapy capacity. Many positions may require a master's or doctorate along with licensure, which can take time and effort to earn before paying dividends. Secondly, psychologists often deal with individuals who are going through difficult life circumstances, which can make their profession difficult and, at times, distressing. Given this, it's important to understand that becoming a psychologist takes time, and the work that these professionals do can be extremely challenging.

On the other hand, psychology is a field that is dedicated to better understanding the human condition and finding ways to help others navigate what may, at times, seem like insurmountable odds. A career in psychology can therefore be an extremely rewarding career for those who aspire to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

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