Guide to Careers in Psychology

Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior through examining the connections between brain functions and actions as well as environment and behavior interactions. Psychologists apply their learnings to help individuals with behavioral and mental disorders improve and maintain their well-being. 

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According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are many fields of psychology that focus on particular aspects of the mind, behavior, environment, or developmental level. A career in psychology can be pursued in brain science, environmental, industrial/organizational, counseling, developmental, forensic, and health to name a few! When considering a career in psychology, you could think first about who you want to help and why. If you are interested, for example, in the criminal mind - you may find yourself in forensic and public service psychology. If research is more your niche, you can consider quantitative or brain science psychology.

Psychology Career Roles
Psychology Career Role
Cognitive Study of how individuals obtain, perceive, process and store information.
Environmental Understanding how human behavior affects our environments.
Clinical Study by observation and experimentation to promote change in individuals with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
Counseling Understanding the influence of human traits in problems and people across different ages.
Developmental  Study of how people grow, develop, and adapt at different life stages.
Experimental Exploring theoretical questions about human behavior to prove or disprove through experimentation.
Forensic Conduct evaluations and assessments that inform legal and judicial systems and proceedings.
Health Study of the factors that permit individuals to be healthy, recover from illness or cope with conditions.
Human Factors and Engineering Study and application of interactions between humans and products, devices, and systems.
Industrial and Organizational Study of human behavior in the workplace.
Rehabilitation Support individuals with physical or developmental disabilities to adapt and pursue wellness.
School Apply theories of human development to understand individual learning and inform instruction.
Social Study of interpersonal relationships.
Sports Identification and application of psychological principles to influence peak sport performance, physical ability and human performance.

The APA states that psychologists are doctorate level professionals who complete coursework in ethics, statistics, biological and social bases of behavior, psychological assessments, and different types of therapeutic approaches. Some psychologists pursue licensure to prescribe medication after completing advanced and specialized training.

When you choose a career in psychology, your day-to-day could be different from another psychologist. Some assess, diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders while others may work with physically or developmentally disabled individuals only. Further according to the APA, majority of psychologists will typically engage in the following responsibilities:

  • Conduct research on behavior and brain function
  • Identify and diagnose mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders
  • Manage psychological assessments
  • Create and research papers and reports to share with others in the mental health field

Careers with a Psychology Degree

There are a variety of available careers with a masters in psychology. Professionals have many different paths they can pursue upon receiving their graduate degrees.

Masters-level graduates can work in a variety of sectors including:

  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Private practice
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Private healthcare clinics
  • Government/military

Securing a job after graduation may require additional internships, coursework, or licensure. Furthermore, some careers, as mentioned above, will require doctorate degrees. Thus, it is vital that prospective students understand the limitations associated with masters-level psychology degrees. For more information, see our guide on how to become a psychologist.

Deciding between a career in psychology or psychiatry? See our guide on the differences between Psychiatrists and Psychologists.

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Doctorate degrees are often required in both academia and research-based studies. Furthermore, many supervisory or director roles also need a doctorate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of September 2019, the majority of clinical, counseling, and research psychologists require a doctorate degree. However, master’s level graduates in psychology can work as a psychological assistant in clinical, counseling, or research under a doctoral psychologist.

How to Pick a Career in Psychology

Picking the ideal job in the field of psychology depends on the nature of your degree and how you see yourself in the future. Some different fields include:

  • Mental health
  • Forensic psychology
  • Engineering psychology
  • Social psychology

The BLS estimates there will be 14 percent more jobs for psychologists over the next decade. Psychologists earned on average $80,370 a year as of April 2020, the BLS reports.

Narrowing your career path to a particular field is the first step toward earning your master’s degree. One part of that process is deciding not only which area of study appeals to you most, but also how much psychologists in those fields are compensated. Keep in mind that you may require additional schooling, training or certification on top of a master’s degree in psychology to pursue these careers.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

The industrial-organizational (IO) psychologist studies workplace behavior and worker relations. They typically work in the business sector and specialize in:

  • Worker productivity
  • Employee training
  • Human resources

They seek to solve issues in the workplace regarding how workers feel and interact with one another. The median salary for I-O psychologists, according to the BLS, is $111,150.

Engineering Psychologist

Engineering psychologists examine the way people interact with products and technology. They seek to make products easier and safer for people to use, reducing malfunctions and injuries.

School Psychologist

School psychologists work with teachers and other people in the education system to better understand behavioral and learning problems in children. They typically deal with students who struggle with violence, bullying, hyperactivity, autism and various learning disabilities. It is up to them to develop special education programs that facilitate unique environments for these students in which they can thrive.

Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists study the ways mental and emotional problems hinder the talents of athletes. They educate athletes on the ways their mental state can affect their performance, and develop and propose solutions to help them better manage their emotions during an event, such as relaxation and visualization techniques.

Sports psychologists also compile research for people who work regularly with athletes, such as trainers and coaches, to help them better understand the nature of their players and how to better manage them.

Developmental Psychologist

Developmental psychologists study how people change over the course of their lives. Developmental psychology deals with every stage of life, from infancy to the latter stages of adulthood. Developmental psychologists address the emotional, psychological and physiological changes people experience at various life stages.

Which Field of Psychology Should You Concentrate in?

Deciding which subfield to practice in is a matter of personal interest. For example, you may be interested in studying neuropsychology if you have an interest in how the brain impacts human behavior; or you may decide to pursue forensic psychology if you have an interest in the legal system. Of course, there may be other factors to consider when deciding on a specialty in professional psychology.

The APA used the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to look at the 10-year growth in the number of psychology master’s degrees awarded by subfield. An excerpt from this survey shows the concentrations that experienced the most growth between 2008 and 2017:

Psychology Concentration Growth
Subfield 2008 2017 Percent Growth
Experimental 57 224 293%
Developmental 90 307 241%
Industrial/
Organizational
845 1,395 65%
Forensic Psychology 529 746 41%
School Psychologyy 1,613 2,054 27%
Psychology, General 5,347 6,352 19%
Counseling Psychology 8,149 8,824 8%

Job Outlook

The psychology career outlook varies largely depending on the field and specific degree obtained. Research from the BLS, as of September 2019, indicates that the job outlook for psychologists is expected to rise 14% between 2018-2028 (the average growth rate for all jobs is currently 7%). The BLS cites the following reasons for growth: greater demand in psychological services, care for an aging population, increased awareness between mental health and learning, and increased organizational effectiveness for organizations.

As the field continues to evolve, psychology careers are increasingly requiring flexibility and adaptability. Many professionals may work in multidisciplinary settings in conjunction with other service providers. Likewise, healthcare changes and insurance costs continue to make a significant difference in how professionals render their services.

Salaries

When it comes to the average masters psychology salary, the range varies significantly. According to the BLS in September 2019, a psychologist earns an annual average of $79,010.

However, as mentioned, many psychologist careers require a doctoral degree. The combination of clinical, counseling and school psychologists (which calculates professionals in all relevant industries and sectors) make a median salary of $75,090.

With respect to masters in psychology salary subgroups, each profession also varies. For instance, Marriage and Family Therapists earn a median salary of $50,090 per year. Scientific Research and Development Services psychologists appear to have the highest pay scale, with the average wage currently at $119,690.

The field of psychology can offer tremendous room for growth and opportunity. Graduating professionals have the invaluable ability to work in a variety of sectors serving diverse populations and giving back to their communities.

The Final Word on Education Requirements for a Career in Psychology

When you’re charting the course of your career in psychology, keep in mind that a master’s degree is not always the final step toward acquiring a job. Some jobs with “psychologist” in the titles require a doctorate. It is important to research the specific educational requirements of whatever career you are considering to make sure you stay on track as a student.

A Master of Psychology still plays a critical role in the development of a future psychologist, and it speaks to his or her aptitude and expertise. The skills you will obtain in your postgraduate journey are invaluable to your growth as a mental health professional.

Last updated: June 2020