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.
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.
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.
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.
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.