By Laura Morrison, March 2011
If you are considering pursuing an advanced degree in psychology, you will gain access to dozens of career paths. Some of these career paths are more familiar (like caring for those with mental or emotional disabilities) while others are not as well known (like helping to design a work station or researching memory). Regardless of the specific career path, all psychologists share an interest in studying and exploring the minds of humans and/or animals. Psychologists draw on the growing body of scientific knowledge about how we think, act, and feel, and apply this research to their specialized area of psychology. This article will delve into the options available to you if you choose to head down this path.
A matter of degree
Before considering employment after completing graduate school in psychology, but it’s important to first recognize the difference between a terminal master’s degree (MS, MA) and a doctoral degree in Psychology (PhD, EdD, and PsyD) as there can be wide differences in the types of jobs for the two degrees.
The terminal master’s degree: For most areas of psychology, a terminal master’s is a stepping-stone to a doctoral degree in psychology. However, a master’s in psychology is adequate for those going into the private sector like business, consulting or marketing (especially for those with several years of business or industry experience). Some graduates with a master’s degree in psychology will qualify for positions as a school counselor, or in industrial organizational psychology as a consultant to businesses, or they’ll work for a company that provides I/O services to companies. Other master’s degree holders might find jobs in universities, government or the private sector as psychological assistants, counselors, researchers, data collectors and analysts. In addition, those with master’s degrees often work under the direction of a doctoral psychologist in areas of testing, clinical, counseling and school psychology.
There are also other degrees that are psychology-related but not typically found in a psychology department at a university, such as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and other specialties within addictions and Christian counseling. For example, you would receive your training through a Counseling Department or through a School of Social Work at a university setting. As there are different requirements depending on your state and type of license and degree for practicing as a therapist or counselor, it is important to know your state’s requirements when making a decision about programs and the type of job you want after graduate school.
The doctoral degree in psychology: As might be expected, the highest paid and greatest range of jobs in psychology is available to those with psychology doctorates. Most research and practicing professional psychologists have likely earned doctoral degrees to have jobs in academia, research firms, private practice, hospitals and institutions. Psychologists can work in many different areas; where they work distinguishes the kind of work they do. The American Psychological Association (APA) brochure on “Careers for the 21st Century” (citing a study from the National Science Foundation, 2001) notes that, for full-time psychologists:
- 10% work in non-profit
- 10% work in government (federal and state)
- 34% work in university settings
- 6% work in other educational settings (i.e., School Psychologist)
- 18% are self-employed
- 22% work in business or for-profit settings.
In addition to their particular mix of science and practice, many psychologists work in more than one setting. For instance, a college professor who spends most of her time teaching and doing research may also consult for an industry or see clients on a part-time basis. Again, it is important to know what is required for your specific desired subfield of study in psychology. There may be many different job options depending on the subfield of psychology you are interested in studying. It is important to note whether your degree entails training in research, applied psychology or practicing psychology, and where there is training on how to perform therapy, or a combination of these areas.
Careers in psychology
A career in psychology can have a person doing research, helping the way people learn, studying the way people interact, promoting physical and mental health and contributing to the work environment.
Conducting research: Those interested in working in research can have jobs in academia, government, private research institutes or nonprofit, or they can consult in any industry. They must have knowledge in how to gather, dissect and interpret data to gain knowledge and information in a specific discipline. People who work in this area have skills in gathering data and analyzing it. Research is performed at many types of jobs in government, at a university level, through evaluating programs or therapy. One could work in this field with a scientific-based degree with a master’s or doctorate.
Helping people learn: For people wanting to work in an area where they help people learn have many available job opportunities. For example, one could work at a university teaching classes, at a school helping someone with a learning disability, in private practice testing for autism, in a hospital evaluating brain damage after injury or a stroke or in collaboration with schools creating educational plans.
Studying human or animal interaction: To work in the area of human or animal interaction, one could work as a behavioral or social psychologist either working with animals in a lab or out in the field working at a zoo or in the jungle. For human interaction interests, one could work for the government, in the military, in private industry or in academia.
Promoting physical and mental health: The area that is the most thought of for psychology is the area that promotes physical and mental health. In this area, one has many options and specializations. For instance, you could own your business and work in private practice seeing clients, you could work for a hospital seeing people with emotional problems, you could work to rehabilitate people with brain injuries, you could work at a community clinic seeing people with mental disorders or you could work with the mentally disabled teaching them and their families how to interact. One could work as a psychologist, counselor, clinical social worker or therapist in this area.
Contributing to a work environment: To find a job that contributes to making the work environment better or more efficient, one would most likely specialize in industrial–organization, counseling or social psychology. In this area, one could work at a job placement site to help people find the best career choice for them, one could work for industry to help make a job more efficient or one could work as a consultant to businesses that want to promote healthy and satisfying work environments.
So many options are available to you, so choose your school, choose your focus, and get out there and start learning.
Check out: Social Behavioral Sciences Graduate Programs and MSW Programs
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.
Photo by Mark Marie Finnern