What do you want to become?
Alternate Career Titles: Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist
Career Overview: Psychologists evaluate, interpret and treat patient behaviors and processes
Career Salary Range: $42,330 to $124,520
Estimated Years of Schooling Required: 8
Required Minimum Degree/License: Doctor of Psychology Degree
Become an Psychologist
A Psychologist is a healthcare professional who evaluates and assesses a patient’s cognitive, emotional, social behaviors and social processes in an attempt to understand their thoughts and feelings. In order to reach clinical conclusions, Psychologists will often rely on controlled experiments, psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. After an evaluation, these professionals will interpret a patient’s behavioral state to determine if their condition warrants treatments or therapies which could be implemented to improve their well being. Psychologists discuss treatment plans with individual patients, conduct research and diagnose disorders. In addition, they sometimes test for emotional and behavioral patterns and write articles and papers to share findings with others in their field. They may also supervise other staff members such as clinicians, assistants, technologists and interns.
“Being a Clinical Psychologist is not an easy career,” Heidi G. Bank, Ph.D, BCB, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist practicing in Nevada stated. “In this role, you spend a lot of time listening to other people’s’ problems. However, your role is not to solve their issues, but rather to empower them to solve their own life challenges.”
Bank shared that she often wishes to “bottle the great feelings” she has when her treatment plans help a patient experience a new level of mental health.
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Education & Training
“To become a Psychologist, you need to earn a Bachelor’s degree, then a Ph.D. degree (or Psy.D degree),” Bank explained. “If you enter a graduate Ph.D. program, you receive a Master’s degree along the way (a non-terminal masters), but this does not yet make you a Psychologist.”
Bank noted that in the process of these studies learners will also need to complete two internships which their graduate program should help them find. Ideally, she explained, the second internships should be a full-time and accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Completing accredited internships will open more doors for newly qualified Psychologists.
“Your graduate psychology program will likely require about 2 years of educational coursework which includes training in statistics and the latest psychological testing materials,” Bank said. “At the end of these 2 years, students will have to complete and pass several (about 5) qualifying examinations. Around this time, you will begin to look into the Ph.D. research you will need to investigate for your final dissertation study.”
She continued by explaining that a dissertation study is an in-depth research project which requires a detailed statistical analysis. . The student will work with a faculty member (who shares similar research interests) on a unique research topic that will add to the body of knowledge related to psychology. Once the learner completes their research study, the required coursework and internship hours, they will be awarded their doctoral degree in psychology.
“To work as a Psychologist you need to complete two more exams; one is the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), a national psychology certification, and the second is the state exam in which you are seeking licensure,” Bank explained.
Each state has different requirements; some have a written or multiple choice exams while others include an oral exam. After passing the national and state exams, you receive licensure for the state, but that as well needs to be renewed every 2 years through continued education credits also known as CEUs.
“For me, not including my 4 years of college, graduate school took basically 7 years due to the lengthy data collection process for my Ph.D. dissertation,” Bank emphasized. “This road was not an easy process, and at times felt never-ending.” The road is certainly long, so only those dedicated to and passionate about the field of Psychology should consider this pathway.
To advance in a career as a Psychologist, many professionals will choose to become board certified in a specific area of specialty. Psychologists can become Clinical Psychologists, Counseling Psychologists, Forensic Psychologists, Rehabilitation Psychologists, Industrial Psychologists, School Psychologists or more. The type of psychology career a professional pursues largely determines their opportunity for advancement. For those looking to move away from a more clinical setting, advancement can be achieved through academia.
“To advance one’s career, a Psychologist can take on a supervisory role, obtain a certification in a different specialization to fill a needed niche, change positions to work with different populations, work with lawyers in the court system as an expert or fact witness, focus more on testing or specializing in neuropsychology (although this does require an APA internship),” Bank suggested. “But these are only a few of the many ways a Psychologist can advance their career.”
Experience & Skills
In this career, professionals must develop strong analytical skills and even stronger communication skills. Analytical skills help Psychologists to assess patients, analyze information or behavior and determine acceptable treatment options. Communication skills enable Psychologists to engage with their patients, allowing for clear and consistent dialogue to best understand and relate to the patient. A general knowledge of psychology, human behavior and communication are very beneficial in this field, as is the ability to maintain concentration and attention to the client.
“A Psychologist is often asked to do psychological testing for a variety of reasons, including diagnostic clarification, autism evaluation, fitness for duty, determination of learning disability, etc. All of this can be difficult and exhausting as you listen to and in a sense become a part of a very troubling part of people’s lives,” Bank explained. “As a Psychologist, you have to be a good listener, take diligent notes during or after each psychotherapy session and be able to extend discussions from one therapy session to the next.”
To succeed in the role of a Psychologist professionals should be able to relate to their patients by exemplifying kindness, compassion, understanding and patience. Having strong interpersonal skills can also lead Psychologists to better relate to their patients, establishing a true sense of openness and trust. Integrity is critical in this occupation as Psychologists often deal with sensitive and personal information. As in any healthcare career, some patients may be more challenging to work with and can require more time and effort to reach successful outcomes.
“In this career professionals need to be able to deal with people who make them uncomfortable and who they may not necessarily like. This needs to be done with an understanding that everyone has difficulties and challenges in life,” Bank stressed. “A Psychologist should have a balance of extroversion and introversion, as well as have a good listening ear to build rapport.”
Unlike some healthcare fields, Psychologists can choose whether they wish to own and operate their own practice, providing them with the freedom to build their own schedules and procedures. In this career most professionals work full-time schedules, including evenings, nights and weekends as there is a need to accommodate patient availability. Psychologists employed by hospitals, other healthcare facilities, government agencies or schools may also be required to work these shifts or on holidays.
“As a Psychologist, I get up around 6 am, get to the office at around 7:30 am, see my first patient at 8 am followed by one patient every 45 to 60 minutes,” Bank explained. “I usually work until 6 pm from Monday through Thursday, leaving Friday open for test scoring and report writing. Before leaving, I check through all my patient files on the computer to make sure I have completed the notes on everyone from the week.”
Now is a great time to enter a career in healthcare as a Psychologist!
Why? Over the next decade, this career is projected to grow 14 percent, which is much faster than the average for all occupations! This growth can largely be attributed to an increased awareness surrounding mental health issues. Because of this awareness, there has been a push to increase the number of Psychologists in schools, mental health centers, social service agencies, and hospitals. There is also a need for these healthcare workers to assist veterans suffering from disorders like PTSD, seniors coping with aging and employees for retention or productivity purposes. With greater need for these professionals comes greater demand.
Ultimately, the facilities which hire the greatest number of Psychologists are elementary and secondary schools, ambulatory care services, the government and hospitals. However, some Psychologists do choose to become self-employed, and can pursue research, consulting or counseling. The states which hire the largest number of Psychologists are California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
“The career outlook for Psychologists fluctuates with the economy like any other career,” Bank stressed. “Generally, the outlook is good and a Psychologist can always take on positions aimed at Psychotherapists or Master’s-level positions if Psychologist roles are lacking.”
Psychologists have the potential to earn very lucrative salaries! Today, the median annual wage for these professionals is $77,030. While the lowest 10 percent is recorded to make less than $42,330, the top grossing 10 percent is recorded to earn more than $124,520 per year. The top paying facilities which hire Psychologists are the government, state, local and private hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services and elementary and postsecondary schools. New Jersey is the highest paying state for this occupation, followed by Alaska, Hawaii, California and Oregon.
“Naturally, the salaries of Psychologists change with the current economy, their location, level of experience and whether a particular site has increased risks,” Bank explained.
Unions, Groups and Associations
The American Psychological Association (APA) is a professional organization dedicated to advancing the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives. To achieve this goal, the APA encourages the development and application of psychology in the broadest manner.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is a professional association working to advance effective practices and to improve students’ learning, behavior and mental health. The organization’s vision is that all children and youth thrive in school, at home and throughout life.
The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) is an alliance of state, provincial, and territorial agencies responsible for the licensure and certification of Psychologists throughout the United States and Canada.
- Take courses on psychology
- Shadow a professional in the field
- Ask questions of practicing Psychologists
- Enroll in a graduate degree program in psychology
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Heidi G. Stark-Bank Ph.D, BCB
Practice: Oasis Counsel, LLC
Location: Henderson, NV
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Learn as much as you can about psychology through textbook learning, internet research and by talking to professionals who already work as Psychologist or in another social science position.
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Entering a career as a Psychologist is not a fast or easy process. Professionals need to be in the career for the long-haul. If they don’t wish to practice in psychology long-term, this is probably not the right career for them.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Who does a Psychologist vent or open-up to?”
Why did you choose to become a Psychologist?
“Initially, I was very focused on helping people with medical illnesses because of personal family experiences growing up. This is still one of my areas of focus today.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
*Credentialing organization: National Register of Health Service Psychologists, American Board of Professional Psychology