About 4 out of 10 psychologists are self-employed, compared
with less than 1 out of 10 among all professional workers.
Most specialists, including clinical and counseling psychologists,
need a doctoral degree; school psychologists need an educational
specialist degree, and industrial-organizational psychologists
need a master’s degree.
Competition for admission to graduate psychology programs
Overall employment of psychologists is expected to grow faster
than the average for all occupations through 2014.
Nature of the Work
Psychologists study the human mind and human behavior. Research
psychologists investigate the physical, cognitive, emotional,
or social aspects of human behavior. Psychologists in health service
provider fields provide mental health care in hospitals, clinics,
schools, or private settings. Psychologists employed in applied
settings, such as business, industry, government, or nonprofits,
provide training, conduct research, design systems, and act as
advocates for psychology.
Like other social scientists, psychologists formulate hypotheses
and collect data to test their validity. Research methods vary
with the topic under study. Psychologists sometimes gather information
through controlled laboratory experiments or by administering
personality, performance, aptitude, or intelligence tests. Other
methods include observation, interviews, questionnaires, clinical
studies, and surveys.
Psychologists apply their knowledge to a wide range of endeavors,
including health and human services, management, education, law,
and sports. In addition to working in a variety of settings, psychologists
usually specialize in one of a number of different areas.
Clinical psychologists—who constitute the largest specialty—work
most often in counseling centers, independent or group practices,
hospitals, or clinics. They help mentally and emotionally disturbed
clients adjust to life and may assist medical and surgical patients
in dealing with illnesses or injuries. Some clinical psychologists
work in physical rehabilitation settings, treating patients with
spinal cord injuries, chronic pain or illness, stroke, arthritis,
and neurological conditions. Others help people deal with times
of personal crisis, such as divorce or the death of a loved one.
Clinical psychologists often interview patients and give diagnostic
tests. They may provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy
and may design and implement behavior modification programs. Some
clinical psychologists collaborate with physicians and other specialists
to develop and implement treatment and intervention programs that
patients can understand and comply with. Other clinical psychologists
work in universities and medical schools, where they train graduate
students in the delivery of mental health and behavioral medicine
services. Some administer community mental health programs.
Areas of specialization within clinical psychology include health
psychology, neuropsychology, and geropsychology. Health psychologists
promote good health through health maintenance counseling programs
designed to help people achieve goals, such as stopping smoking
or losing weight. Neuropsychologists study the relation
between the brain and behavior. They often work in stroke and
head injury programs. Geropsychologists deal with the special
problems faced by the elderly. The emergence and growth of these
specialties reflects the increasing participation of psychologists
in providing direct services to special patient populations.
Often, clinical psychologists will consult with other medical
personnel regarding the best treatment for patients, especially
treatment that includes medication. Clinical psychologists generally
are not permitted to prescribe medication to treat patients; only
psychiatrists and other medical doctors may prescribe certain
medications. (See the statement on physicians and surgeons elsewhere
in the Handbook.) However, two States—Louisiana and New
Mexico—currently allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication
with some limitations, and similar proposals have been made in
Counseling psychologists use various techniques, including
interviewing and testing, to advise people on how to deal with
problems of everyday living. They work in settings such as university
counseling centers, hospitals, and individual or group practices.
(See also the statements on counselors and social workers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
School psychologists work with students in elementary
and secondary schools. They collaborate with teachers, parents,
and school personnel to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning
environments for all students; address students’ learning and
behavior problems; improve classroom management strategies or
parenting skills; counter substance abuse; assess students with
learning disabilities and gifted and talented students to help
determine the best way to educate them; and improve teaching,
learning, and socialization strategies. They also may evaluate
the effectiveness of academic programs, prevention programs, behavior
management procedures, and other services provided in the school
Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological
principles and research methods to the workplace in the interest
of improving productivity and the quality of worklife. They also
are involved in research on management and marketing problems.
They screen, train and counsel applicants for jobs, as well as
perform organizational development and analysis. An industrial
psychologist might work with management to reorganize the work
setting in order to improve productivity or quality of life in
the workplace. Industrial psychologists frequently act as consultants,
brought in by management to solve a particular problem.
Developmental psychologists study the physiological, cognitive,
and social development that takes place throughout life. Some
specialize in behavior during infancy, childhood, and adolescence,
or changes that occur during maturity or old age. Developmental
psychologists also may study developmental disabilities and their
effects. Increasingly, research is developing ways to help elderly
people remain independent as long as possible.
Social psychologists examine people’s interactions with
others and with the social environment. They work in organizational
consultation, marketing research, systems design, or other applied
psychology fields. Prominent areas of study include group behavior,
leadership, attitudes, and perception.
Experimental or research psychologists work in
university and private research centers and in business, nonprofit,
and governmental organizations. They study the behavior of both
human beings and animals, such as rats, monkeys, and pigeons.
Prominent areas of study in experimental research include motivation,
thought, attention, learning and memory, sensory and perceptual
processes, effects of substance abuse, and genetic and neurological
factors affecting behavior.
A psychologist’s subfield and place of employment determine his
or her working conditions. Clinical, school, and counseling psychologists
in private practice have their own offices and set their own hours.
However, they often offer evening and weekend hours to accommodate
their clients. Those employed in hospitals, nursing homes, and
other health care facilities may work shifts that include evenings
and weekends, while those who work in schools and clinics generally
work regular hours.
Psychologists employed as faculty by colleges and universities
divide their time between teaching and research and also may have
administrative responsibilities; many have part-time consulting
practices. Most psychologists in government and industry have
Increasingly, many psychologists are working as part of a team,
consulting with other psychologists and professionals. Many experience
pressures because of deadlines, tight schedules, and overtime.
Their routine may be interrupted frequently. Travel may be required
in order to attend conferences or conduct research.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A doctoral degree usually is required for employment as an independent
licensed clinical or counseling psychologist. Psychologists with
a Ph.D. qualify for a wide range of teaching, research, clinical,
and counseling positions in universities, health care services,
elementary and secondary schools, private industry, and government.
Psychologists with a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree usually
work in clinical positions or in private practices, but they also
sometime teach, conduct research, or carry out administrative
A doctoral degree generally requires 5 to 7 years of graduate
study. The Ph.D. degree culminates in a dissertation based on
original research. Courses in quantitative research methods, which
include the use of computer-based analysis, are an integral part
of graduate study and are necessary to complete the dissertation.
The Psy.D. may be based on practical work and examinations rather
than a dissertation. In clinical or counseling psychology, the
requirements for the doctoral degree include at least a 1-year
A specialist degree is required in most States for an individual
to work as a school psychologist, although a few States still
credential school psychologists with master’s degrees. A specialist
(Ed.S.) degree in school psychology requires a minimum of 3 years
of full-time graduate study (at least 60 graduate semester hours)
and a 1-year internship. Because their professional practice addresses
educational and mental health components of students’ development,
school psychologists’ training includes coursework in both education
Persons with a master’s degree in psychology may work as industrial-organizational
psychologists. They also may work as psychological assistants
under the supervision of doctoral-level psychologists and may
conduct research or psychological evaluations. A master’s degree
in psychology requires at least 2 years of full-time graduate
study. Requirements usually include practical experience in an
applied setting and a master’s thesis based on an original research
Competition for admission to graduate psychology programs is
keen. Some universities require applicants to have an undergraduate
major in psychology. Others prefer only coursework in basic psychology
with courses in the biological, physical, and social sciences
and in statistics and mathematics.
A bachelor’s degree in psychology qualifies a person to assist
psychologists and other professionals in community mental health
centers, vocational rehabilitation offices, and correctional programs.
Bachelor’s degree holders may work as research or administrative
assistants for psychologists. Some work as technicians in related
fields, such as marketing research. Many find employment in other
areas, such as sales or business management.
In the Federal Government, candidates having at least 24 semester
hours in psychology and one course in statistics qualify for entry-level
positions. However, competition for these jobs is keen because
this is one of the few areas in which one can work as a psychologist
without an advanced degree.
The American Psychological Association (APA) presently accredits
doctoral training programs in clinical, counseling, and school
psychology, as well as accrediting institutions that provide internships
for doctoral students in school, clinical, and counseling psychology.
The National Association of School Psychologists, with the assistance
of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education,
also is involved in the accreditation of advanced degree programs
in school psychology.
Psychologists in independent practice or those who offer any
type of patient care—including clinical, counseling, and school
psychologists—must meet certification or licensing requirements
in all States and the District of Columbia. Licensing laws vary
by State and by type of position and require licensed or certified
psychologists to limit their practice to areas in which they have
developed professional competence through training and experience.
Clinical and counseling psychologists usually require a doctorate
in psychology, the completion of an approved internship, and 1
to 2 years of professional experience. In addition, all States
require that applicants pass an examination. Most State licensing
boards administer a standardized test, and many supplement that
with additional oral or essay questions. Some States require continuing
education for renewal of the license.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) awards
the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) designation,
which recognizes professional competency in school psychology
at a national, rather than State, level. Currently, 26 States
recognize the NCSP and allow those with the certification to transfer
credentials from one State to another without taking a new certification
exam. In States that recognize the NCSP, the requirements for
certification or licensure and those for the NCSP often are the
same or similar. Requirements for the NCSP include the completion
of 60 graduate semester hours in school psychology; a 1,200-hour
internship, 600 hours of which must be completed in a school setting;
and a passing score on the National School Psychology Examination.
The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) recognizes
professional achievement by awarding specialty certification,
primarily in clinical psychology, clinical neuropsychology, and
counseling, forensic, industrial-organizational, and school psychology.
Candidates for ABPP certification need a doctorate in psychology,
postdoctoral training in their specialty, five years of experience,
professional endorsements, and a passing grade on an examination.
Aspiring psychologists who are interested in direct patient care
must be emotionally stable, mature, and able to deal effectively
with people. Sensitivity, compassion, good communication skills,
and the ability to lead and inspire others are particularly important
qualities for persons wishing to do clinical work and counseling.
Research psychologists should be able to do detailed work both
independently and as part of a team. Patience and perseverance
are vital qualities, because achieving results in the psychological
treatment of patients or in research may take a long time.
Psychologists held about 179,000 jobs in 2004. Educational institutions
employed about 1 out of 4 psychologists in positions other than
teaching, such as counseling, testing, research, and administration.
Almost 2 out of 10 were employed in health care, primarily in
offices of mental health practitioners, physicians’ offices, outpatient
mental health and substance abuse centers, and private hospitals.
Government agencies at the State and local levels employed psychologists
in public hospitals, clinics, correctional facilities, and other
After several years of experience, some psychologists—usually
those with doctoral degrees—enter private practice or set up private
research or consulting firms. About 4 out of 10 psychologists
were self-employed in 2004, compared with less than 1 out of 10
among all professional workers.
In addition to the previously mentioned jobs, many psychologists
held faculty positions at colleges and universities and as high
school psychology teachers. (See the statements on teachers ).
Employment of psychologists is expected to grow faster than average
for all occupations through 2014, because of increased demand
for psychological services in schools, hospitals, social service
agencies, mental health centers, substance abuse treatment clinics,
consulting firms, and private companies.
Among the specialties in this field, school psychologists—especially
those with a specialist degree or higher—may enjoy the best job
opportunities. Growing awareness of how students’ mental health
and behavioral problems, such as bullying, affect learning is
increasing demand for school psychologists to offer student counseling
and mental health services. Clinical and counseling psychologists
will be needed to help people deal with depression and other mental
disorders, marriage and family problems, job stress, and addiction.
The rise in health care costs associated with unhealthy lifestyles,
such as smoking, alcoholism, and obesity, has made prevention
and treatment more critical. An increase in the number of employee
assistance programs, which help workers deal with personal problems,
also should spur job growth in clinical and counseling specialties.
Industrial-organizational psychologists will be in demand to help
to boost worker productivity and retention rates in a wide range
of businesses. Industrial-organizational psychologists will help
companies deal with issues such as workplace diversity and antidiscrimination
policies. Companies also will use psychologists’ expertise in
survey design, analysis, and research to develop tools for marketing
evaluation and statistical analysis.
Demand should be particularly strong for persons holding doctorates
from leading universities in applied specialties—such as counseling,
health, and school psychology. Psychologists with extensive training
in quantitative research methods and computer science may have
a competitive edge over applicants without background.
Master’s degree holders in fields other than industrial-organizational
psychology will face keen competition for jobs, because of the
limited number of positions that require only a master’s degree.
Master’s degree holders may find jobs as psychological assistants
or counselors, providing mental health services under the direct
supervision of a licensed psychologist. Still others may find
jobs involving research and data collection and analysis in universities,
government, or private companies.
Opportunities directly related to psychology will be limited
for bachelor’s degree holders. Some may find jobs as assistants
in rehabilitation centers or in other jobs involving data collection
and analysis. Those who meet State certification requirements
may become high school psychology teachers.
Median annual earnings of wage and salary clinical, counseling,
and school psychologists in May 2004 were $54,950. The middle
50 percent earned between $41,850 and $71,880. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $32,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more
than $92,250. Median annual earnings in the industries employing
the largest numbers of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists
in May 2004 were:
Offices of other health practitioners
Elementary and secondary schools
Outpatient care centers
Individual and family services
Median annual earnings of wage and salary industrial-organizational
psychologists in May 2004 were $71,400. The middle 50 percent
earned between $56,880 and $93,210. The lowest 10 percent earned
less than $45,620, and the highest 10 percent earned more than