Becoming a psychologist leads you on a path where you can help people manage life's difficulties and better cope with their mental health problems. If you are interested in psychology as a profession, you generally need a doctoral degree—either a PhD, PsyD, or EdS—in the field. But a number of states do allow individuals to get a psychology license with a master's degree.
After receiving an undergraduate degree in any subject and a graduate degree in psychology, psychologists will complete an internship or postdoctoral training period that lasts at least one year. It is important to note that any individual with an undergraduate degree can apply for a master's in psychology. Once they receive their license and meet the state requirements or additional specialization credentials, psychologists can provide counseling and psychotherapy as well as testing and treatment for mental disorders. However, they are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medications. Instead, psychologists work alongside medical doctors who provide those treatments.
4 Steps to Becoming a Psychologist
There are four common steps to become a psychologist: earning a bachelor's degree; obtaining an advanced psychology degree (i.e., a master's, doctorate or both) from an accredited program; completing at least a one-year internship or postdoctoral program to gain experience working with patients; and obtaining a license, which includes passing a test on foundational knowledge. All together, the path to becoming a licensed psychologist can take up to eight years.
1. The first step to becoming a psychologist is to earn a bachelor's degree.
It can be in any subject, but it may be worth considering a major that lends itself to a career in psychology, such as social work, psychology or sociology.
2. Earn a master's and/or doctorate in psychology.
Depending on where you intend to practice and the specific concentration you are interested in (e.g., child psychology, social work, marriage and family therapy), you may be able to pursue a psychology license after earning a master's degree—either a Master of Arts or a Master of Science. If you must pursue a doctoral degree, you will choose between a PsyD, a practical degree for would-be counselors; a PhD, which is more research-oriented; an EdD, or Doctor of Education; and an EdS, or education specialist. Check your state requirements and consider your career goals to determine which degree is right for you.
3. Complete an internship or postdoctoral program.
After you complete a psychology master's or doctoral program, you must complete an internship or postdoctoral program. This required psychology internship gives you an opportunity to work alongside licensed psychologists to gain hands-on training in your field of interest. Most states require 1,500-2,000 hours of training and at least 1 to 2 years of supervised professional experience, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There are many online psychology programs. Some undergraduate degrees in psychology can be obtained through an online program at many colleges and universities. Advanced degree programs in psychology are also offered online.
There are a number of advantages to earning an online master's degree in psychology. Students benefit from the same courses and instruction as their counterparts on campus without the time and expense of traveling, and they have access to online support and can follow online lessons at their own pace. Working professionals enjoy greater flexibility in pursuing their degrees, and for programs with a clinical requirement, those hours can typically be fulfilled close to where a student lives.
Different Psychology Degrees
Advanced degrees in psychology begin with a master's degree in psychology, which can be concentrated in an area aligned with your career goals (e.g. industrial and organizational psychology, applied behavior analysis, and marriage and family counseling). The master's degree in psychology—either a Master of Arts or a Master of Science—may be followed by a doctoral degree. The four doctoral degrees for psychology include a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), a Doctor of Education (EdD), an Education Specialist (EdS) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
A PhD in psychology is considered the most common advanced psychology degree and involves scientific research—including data collection and statistical information—as well the requirement of a dissertation to show research knowledge. It can take five to seven years to complete a PhD in psychology. Career options for those with a PhD in psychology include business consultant, researcher, faculty member, health service administrator and counselor.
PsyD in Psychology
The Doctor of Psychology degree is designed for students more interested in providing counseling services than focusing on research. PsyD psychology programs focus more on clinical work than PhD programs, and the program takes four to six years to complete. Career options for those with a PsyD degree involve roles working directly with people in need as a counselor or therapist.
EdD in Psychology
The EdD in Psychology is a psychology degree granted by a college of education and allows students to develop skills and knowledge to improve outcomes in school systems. Career options for someone with an EdD psychology degree include education administrator, chief academic officer, survey researcher and community service manager.
EdS in Psychology
The Educational Specialist in School Psychology degree trains students in skills needed to work with children and families within school systems. You'll learn skills like evidence-based interventions, consultation, assessment and evaluation. The program typically lasts three years.
Choosing a Psychology Career Track or Specialty
There are a wide variety of career paths available to those with a psychology degree—and these careers differ in terms of the degree they require (e.g., MA vs. PhD), the clientele they serve (e.g., children and families vs. healthcare professionals) and the kind of work they do (e.g., primarily research vs. primarily practitioners). Interest in a particular field or concentration can help guide your psychology degree considerations. The range of psychology specialties include: clinical psychologists, community psychologists, counseling psychologists, developmental psychologists, environmental psychologists, forensic psychologists, health psychologists, rehabilitation psychologists, school psychologists and social psychologists.
Counseling vs. Clinical Psychology
Counseling psychologists work with people of all ages to help them recognize their strengths and abilities to cope with stress and adversity. They work in many settings, including college counseling centers, academic teaching roles, independent practice, health care settings and hospitals.
Both counseling and clinical psychologists use psychotherapy to treat patients, but counseling psychologists focus more broadly on well-being across a person's lifespan. Clinical psychologists are more focused on clients who have mental illness, assessing and treating mental, emotional and behavioral disorders for people of all ages.
Education requirements for counseling psychologist
A number of counseling careers do not require a psychology degree. These include becoming a career counselor who helps people to reach their career goals, a job that requires a master's in counseling and an internship experience, and a substance abuse counselor who helps clients develop the skills to recover from addiction, a career that requires a master's in substance abuse/addiction counseling and internship.
Licensed Social Workers
A licensed social worker helps provide services to underprivileged communities and works within school systems, nonprofits and health care systems. Becoming a licensed social worker requires a bachelor's degree in a related field and a master's degree in social work.
Marriage and Family Therapy
Marriage and family therapists help couples, families and individuals who need solve interpersonal problems, using psychotherapy to improve clients' relationships, coping mechanisms and overall well-being. Becoming a marriage and family therapist typically requires a master's degree in marriage and family therapy and 2,000–4,000 approved clinical hours in order to obtain a license.
Psychology vs. Psychiatry
Psychologists and psychiatrists both treat patients with mental health issues using psychotherapy. But psychiatrists are Doctors of Medicine (MDs) who must complete medical school – because psychiatry is considered a physician specialty. Typically, MDs will complete an internship prior to residency and before they enter the real world to practice as a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication to patients. Psychologists generally must complete a doctoral degree and one to two years of an internship before practicing and do not typically prescribe drugs but work alongside other health professionals who do.
School psychologists provide counseling to school children and also consult with staff and parents to guide children and adolescents' positive mental, emotional and behavioral development. To become a school psychologist requires a bachelor's and master's degree and an accredited graduate program to earn a PhD or EdS. You'll also need to complete at least 1,200 hours gaining hands-on experience at a supervised internship.
Developmental psychologists study how people grow and develop throughout life. This career is increasingly moving toward a focus on childhood and adolescence to working with older adults in staying mentally active into their later years. They work in research and teaching in academic settings and also on assessment, evaluation and treatment in health care and nursing home facilities. To become a developmental psychologist, you must earn a doctoral degree.
Environmental psychologists study the way human behavior intersects with a person's environment, both on a personal level (social groups) and more broadly (within a person's culture, city and the planet at large). They study how various environments—urban, suburban, rural—and major environmental issues—such as climate change—affect behavior and human well-being and help in planning environments that encourage positive growth. To become an environmental psychologist, you must earn a doctoral degree.
Why Become a Psychologist?
A career as a psychologist is one in which you have direct impact on the mental health and well-being of others. There are many career options in the field of psychology that will allow you to pursue work that you find rewarding—whether that is working with children, people with developmental disabilities or older adults or focusing on research, assessments, teaching and systems design. In addition, job prospects for psychologists are strong, and the median salary was more than $79,000, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Where Do Psychologists Work?
Psychologists work in a variety of settings, which include:
Universities or four-year colleges
Other schools (e.g., high schools, elementary schools)
Hospitals or other health services
Government or Veteran's Association medical centers
Businesses or nonprofits
Psychology Licensure Requirements by State
Licensure requirements for psychologists require you to meet specific standards three key areas: education, examination and supervised experience. Most states require a doctoral degree in psychology to receive a license, but about half have a category that allows someone to practice psychology with a master's degree (often called a psychological associate) if they are under the supervision of a doctorate-level licensed psychologist, according to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. Most U.S. states require you to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) in order to be a licensed psychologist; find out what your state requirements are by contacting your preferred school's office of admissions. Others require a jurisprudence examination and/or an oral exam in addition to the EPPP. In order to receive a license, it is almost always required that you have successfully completed at least a one-year internship and at least a one-year postdoctoral program. To better understand a specific state's licensing requirements for psychologists, consult the PSYBook from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.
California License Requirements for Psychology
As of February 2020, California requires the following for a psychology license: a doctoral degree in psychology, postdoctoral hours, a passing score on the EPPP, a jurisprudence examination, continuing professional development and temporary practice that is authorized by the board, according to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.
Coursework in scientific and professional ethics and standards of practice and issues of cultural and ethnic diversity
At least three semester hours or five graduate quarter hours in each of the following seven substantive content areas: biological basis of behavior; cognitive-affective basis of behavior
Social basis of behavior
History and systems of psychology
Research design, methodology, and statistics
One year of supervised practicum, internship, field experience or applied research
A passing score on the EPPP.
The median pay for psychologists in May 2018 was $79,010 per year, according to May 2018 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest-paid psychologists made $43,800 or less while the highest-paid psychologists made more than $129,250. The best-paid psychologists are found in government—with a median income of $96,410—followed by hospitals ($86,530) and ambulatory health care services ($79,180).
Psychology Career and Job Growth
The BLS indicates that the demand for psychologists is on the rise, and is projected to grow 14% from 2018 to 2028 according to May 2018 data from the BLS. much faster than the average for all occupations. Schools, hospitals, social service agencies and mental health centers are all facing increasing need for counselors. Psychologists are also needed to help individuals cope with life and career transitions, provide services to people who are aging, and support veterans and other people who have experienced trauma. Schools, too, increasingly need counselors to support student mental health and provide services to students with autism.
How long does it take to become a psychologist?
To become a psychologist with a master's degree requires four years of an undergraduate degree and another two years to complete a master's degree. To become a psychologist with a doctorate degree—typically necessary to receive a license—requires an additional four to six years beyond the master's for a PsyD or an additional five to seven years beyond the master's for a PhD.
What courses are required to earn a master's degree in psychology?
Courses needed for a master's degree in psychology include theoretical psychology, developmental psychology, ethics and psychology, research, and communication.
What courses are required to earn a doctoral degree in psychology?
Courses needed for a doctoral degree in psychology might include psychopathology, developmental disabilities, basic emotional processes, prevention and intervention, and quantitative analysis.
What are the best undergraduate majors for psychologists?
Undergraduate majors that lend themselves well to higher psychology degrees and specialized pursuits of study within psychology include psychology, biology, neuroscience, education, social work, and sociology.
Which states have the most licensed psychologists?