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How to Become a Psychologist
Although psychologists typically need a doctoral degree or specialist degree in psychology, a master’s degree is sufficient for some positions. Practicing psychologists also need a license or certification.
Most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree. Psychologists can complete a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. A Ph.D. in psychology is a research degree that culminates in a comprehensive exam and a dissertation based on original research. In clinical, counseling, school, or health service settings, students usually complete a 1-year internship as part of the doctoral program. The Psy.D. is a clinical degree and is often based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation.
School psychologists need an advanced degree and certification or licensure to work. The advanced degree is most commonly the specialist degree (Ed.S. degree, which requires a minimum of 60 graduate semester hours and a 1,200-hour supervised internship), a doctoral degree in school psychology, or in some instances, a master’s degree. School psychologists’ training includes coursework in both education and psychology, because their work addresses education and mental health components of students’ development. School psychologists may administer psychological tests to students.
Graduates with a master’s degree in psychology can work as industrial-organizational psychologists. When working under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist, master’s graduates can also work as psychological assistants in clinical, counseling, or research settings. Master’s degree programs typically include courses in industrial-organizational psychology, statistics, and research design.
Most master’s degree programs do not require an undergraduate major in psychology, but do require coursework in introductory psychology, experimental psychology, and statistics. Some doctoral degree programs require applicants to have a master’s degree in psychology; others will accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree and a major in psychology.
Most graduates with a bachelor’s degree in psychology find work in other fields such as business administration, sales, or education.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
In most states, practicing psychology or using the title of “psychologist” requires licensure or certification. In all states and the District of Columbia, psychologists who practice independently must be licensed. Licensing laws vary by state and type of position. Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctorate in psychology, an internship, at least 1 to 2 years of professional experience, and to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Information on specific requirements by state can be obtained from the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Boards. In many states, licensed psychologists must complete continuing education courses to keep their licenses.
The American Board of Professional Psychology awards specialty certification in 13 areas of psychology, such as clinical health, couple and family, psychoanalysis, or rehabilitation. Although board certification is not required for most psychologists, it can demonstrate professional expertise in a specialty area; however, some hospitals and clinics do require certification. In those cases, candidates must have a doctoral degree in psychology, state license or certification, and any additional criteria of the specialty field.
To become licensed, psychologists must have completed one or more of the following:
- pre-doctoral or post-doctoral supervised experience
- residency program
Analytical skills. Psychologists must be able to examine the information they collect and draw logical conclusions from them.
Communication skills. Psychologists must have strong communication skills because they spend much of their time listening to and speaking with patients.
Observational skills. Psychologists study attitude and behavior. They must be able to watch people and understand the possible meanings of people’s facial expressions, body positions, actions, and interactions.
Patience. Psychologists must be able to demonstrate patience, because research or treatment of patients may take a long time. They must also be patient when dealing with people who have mental or behavioral disorders.
People skills. Psychologists study people and help people. They must be able to work well with clients, patients, and other medical professionals.
Problem-solving skills. Psychologists need problem-solving skills to find treatments or solutions for mental and behavioral problems.
Trustworthiness. Psychologists must keep patients’ problems in confidence, and patients must be able to trust psychologists’ expertise in treating sensitive problems.