Wanna talk? A psychologist is ready to listen. Psychologists are perceived as the kinder, gentler brand of "shrinks." They are distinct from psychiatrists in that they do not prescribe drugs and do not hold medical degrees. Psychologists are social scientists and behavioralists--they are students of human behavior. More specifically, they investigate the physical, cognitive, emotional and social aspects of human behavior. They formulate hypotheses and collect data, and gather information through controlled laboratory experiments, as well as through personality, performance, aptitude and intelligence tests.
The most common specialty is clinical psychology--or the hands-on diagnosis and treatment of patients experiencing some kind of mental distress. The majority of clinical psychologists work either in a private group or individual practice, though many hold staff positions in hospitals or clinics. Clinical psychologists provide group therapy, such as bereavement counseling, marriage and child counseling, and drug or alcohol counseling. They may collaborate with physicians and other specialists in developing and implementing treatment and intervention programs. As part of their involvement, psychologists work to make these programs less alienating and complex to their patients.
Other specialties within psychology include cognitive psychology, health psychology and neuropsychology. Cognitive psychologists deal with memory, thinking and perception. Health psychologists promote wellness by providing health counseling programs that help people quit smoking, lose weight and battle chemical dependency. Neuropsychologists study the relationship between the brain and human behavior; they are particularly interested in head injuries and strokes.
Another major group is the developmental psychologists, who study the patterns and causes of behavioral change as people progress from infancy to adulthood. Some developmental psychologists specialize in behavior during infancy, childhood and adolescence, while others study changes that take place during maturity or old age. The study of developmental disabilities and how they affect people is a relatively new area within developmental psychology.
Psychologists aren't simply confined to the study of the disturbed or other special cases. As behavioralists, their work is applicable in every aspect of human life. For example, industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological techniques to personnel administration, management and marketing problems. They are involved in applicant screening, training and development, counseling, and organizational development and analysis. An industrial psychologist might work with management to develop better training programs and to reorganize the work setting to improve worker productivity or quality of worklife.
Work from home
About half of all psychologists in the United States are self-employed. Clinical, school and counseling psychologists in private practice generally set their own hours and can work in comfortable offices--often even within their homes. They are, however, expected to be available to their clients on weekends and evenings. Psychologists on the faculties of colleges and universities divide their time between teaching, research and administrative responsibilities, while some even choose to do consulting on the side. The life of a psychologist, save for the occasional conference and the company of patients, is a solitary and studious one. They work alone, reading and writing reports and articles for trade journals. Although they set their own schedules, they are often under a great deal of time management pressure, while trying to juggle treating patients, doing research and writing all at once.
Psychologists without PhDs are limited in their career options. They can work as organizational or industrial psychologists, or work as psychological assistants under the supervision of doctorate holders, conducting research or psychological evaluations. A few work as school psychologists or guidance counselors, or teach in high schools and community colleges. For entry-level positions, the federal government employs non-doctoral candidates with 24 semester hours in psychology and a statistics course. Competition is stiff for these jobs, since they do not require an advanced degree. Vocational and guidance counselors generally need two years of graduate study and one year of counseling experience.
Psychologists with PhDs qualify for a wide range of teaching, research, clinical and counseling positions in universities, elementary and secondary schools, private industry and government. Psychologists with a PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology, generally work in clinical positions. And those interested in becoming a school psychologist need look no farther than an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree.
Earning a doctoral degree usually requires five to seven years of study; the PhD degree culminates in a dissertation based on original research. The PsyD is usually based on practical work and examinations rather than a scholarly dissertation. The doctoral degree generally requires at least a year of internship.
Psychologists in independent practice and those who offer clinical patient care or counseling must meet certification or licensing requirements. Clinical and counseling psychologists generally require a doctorate in psychology, completion of an approved internship, and one to two years of professional experience. In addition, most states require that applicants pass a standardized test. The American Board of Professional Psychology recognizes professional achievement by awarding certification, primarily in clinical psychology, clinical neuropsychology, counseling, forensic, industrial, organizational and school psychology. Candidates need a doctorate in psychology, five years of experience, professional endorsements and a passing grade on an examination.
Psychologists work "without knowing if [they] are being successful a good share of the time." Thus, in addition to being a deeply satisfying experience, the job can be at times "difficult and frustrating." Psychologists must be self-disciplined in that they cannot "give in to their feelings" and speak their mind, as "only the patient gets to do that." Psychologists are irked by the misconception that "doing therapy" is "just a matter of having a friendly, kind and helpful conversation." Therapy is grueling and requires "the most comprehensive clinical training you can find." One downside to being a psychologist is that they are often "affected by hearing other people's problems all the time."
According to a school psychologist, that specialty is becoming more challenging because psychologists are dealing with "more and more students with all types of emotional baggage." Psychologists who work in the public sector, like school counselors, "must like challenges and cannot require pats on the back."
Wide variety of career options; Intellectually stimulating
Emotionally demanding; Long career path
Logical; Rational; Sympathetic; Perceptive; Patient
Average about 40 per week
Median income (clinical, counseling, school): $59,440; Median income (industrial-organizational): $86,420
Master's degree; PhD or PsyD for private practice; Certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology