Psychology Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Psychology Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Wondering what you can do with your psychology degree? Psychology covers a variety of disciplines and a psychology career path is one that can lead to exciting jobs not just in the healthcare sector but also in other fields, such as communication, education, manufacturing, and social work. Ultimately, your career goals will only be limited by the requirements of a position. For example, some jobs may require a master’s or doctoral degree and several years of related experience.

This guide discusses some of the most common Psychology careers and their educational prerequisites. You will also get insights on how to start your career as a psychologist, the salary you can expect, and other career options for psychology degree holders.

Psychology Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in Psychology?
  2. Psychology Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Psychology
  4. How to Start Your Career in Psychology
  5. How can I advance my career in Psychology?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Psychology

While most jobs for Psychology majors require a bachelor’s degree, you can also get started with an associate degree. For more high-level positions at clinics or educational institutions, candidates often need to have a master’s, doctoral degree, and license to practice as a psychologist.

No matter what degree you choose to pursue, the core skills needed to be successful in your psychology degree remain the same. You must have strong research and communication, analytical, and collaboration skills. Also, your personality should be one that can cope with emotionally demanding situations. Patience, empathy, and good listening skills are also necessary for one’s work as a psychologist.

Why pursue a career in Psychology?

A career in psychology can be fulfilling, especially if you have a passion for learning and listening to others. If you also enjoy recording, analyzing, and interpreting data, psychology careers might just be right for you. The job responsibilities can be challenging and stressful but your work also has the potential to make a huge impact on people’s lives. As of 2019, a total of 177,655 degrees in psychology have been awarded in the United States (DataUSA, n.d.).

There are many types of specializations in the field of psychology so the job responsibilities are also different from one job to the other. Some of the most common duties you can expect as someone in psychology-related occupations include conducting scientific research on behavior and brain function, identifying/diagnosing mental and emotional disorders, and researching/writing articles to educate and share your findings with others.

Moreover, you might also be in a position where you will need to deliver counseling services, discuss medical treatments with clients and their families, or supervise other clinicians and interns while performing their duties. You might also work in the criminal justice system where you will be tasked to interpret and provide your expert opinion on a criminal case.

Psychology Careers 1

Psychology Career Outlook

Overall employment for psychologists is projected to grow at 3% between 2019 and 2029, which is just as fast as the average for all occupations. The available employment for each specialization will vary but overall demand for clinical psychologists, counselors, and school psychologists will continue to increase as their services in hospitals, schools, and social service centers remain in high demand.

Furthermore, with the aging population of the US, the expertise of psychologists will also be needed as patients need assistance in understanding the mental and physical changes they are experiencing as they age. Caring for veterans and soldiers who have gone through war trauma, patients who suffered from other traumas, and people with developmental disorders are more reasons why the services of psychologists will continue to be in demand.

Other factors that can affect the level of competition in jobs for psychologists include specialty and level of education/experience. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), candidates who hold a doctoral degree or have experience in postdoctoral work will have bigger chances of securing the best job opportunities. The employment change in a decade for psychologists is estimated at 5,700 jobs (BLS, 2021).

Median Salary of Psychologists

In May 2020, BLS recorded the median annual wage for psychologists at $82,180. The lowest 10% took home less than $46,270, while the highest 10% earned more than $137,590 (BLS, 2021). The median salaries of psychologists based on the top industries they worked in were as follows:

  • Government – $100,360
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private – 90,640
  • Ambulatory healthcare services – 85,970
  • Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private – 77,560

Source: BLS

Required Skills for Psychologist

As you consider pursuing a career in psychology, it is also important to be aware of the essential skills for psychologists. There are specialized skills and general skills that are not really exclusive to the field but if you possess them or work on acquiring these skills then you can increase your chances of becoming a great psychologist.

Essential Skills for Psychologists

  1. Research skills. Research skills are essential no matter what type of job role you have in psychology. They will be necessary when you are conducting experiments, writing reports, or helping patients by interviewing other doctors or experts who know about their condition. Also, there are literally thousands of journals and information online so knowing where to get the data you need and from which resources will be crucial to your work.
  2. Numeracy and Analytical. Related to research skills in a psychologist’s facility with numbers, especially if they are working on quantitative information. You could be looking at large amounts of data that you need to summarize using mathematical equations or statistical tests. Therefore, if you sharpen your skills in numeracy and data analysis, it can help make you better understand the research you are conducting.
  3. Observational skills. Psychologists need to have an eye and an understanding of how people’s facial expressions, interactions, body language, and actions relate to their behavior and attitude. Improving one’s observation skills entails working on other abilities that affect it, such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence, attention to detail, and communication.
  4. Tech/digital skills. Technology adoption is one of the fastest changes happening with organizations and pundits say every company is or is in the process of becoming a tech company (CNN, 2019). In the healthcare sector, it has been projected that 50% of healthcare services will be provided virtually by 2030 with 100% of healthcare providers planning to adopt AI technologies. Meanwhile, 30% said they plan to prioritize training employees to work side-by-side with robots and AI (Cross Country Nurses, 2020). Psychologists need to equip themselves with tech/digital skills that will be necessary when conducting research, analyzing data, or working with patients.

General Skills for Psychologists

  1. Problem-solving skills. These skills are necessary since psychologists need to find treatments for the mental and behavioral problems of patients. Also, obstacles in an experiment or unexpected results in treatment might arise. In these situations, psychologists must think of alternative strategies and implement them quickly.
  2. Communication skills. Strong verbal and written communication skills are important if you want to work as a psychologist. Aside from consulting and helping with patients, psychologists also need to write reports, explain the findings of an experiment, or present their works to other colleagues or professional organizations.
  3. Patience. Many of the job roles in psychology will require patience and sensitive listening and questioning skills. If a psychologist works with people with mental or behavioral issues, their patience will be tested.

Psychology Careers 2

How to Start Your Career in Psychology

Psychology education that you can take at the undergraduate level includes an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree. Though specific admission requirements will vary depending on your chosen program, most are commonly shared so you can have an idea of what to prepare before you start your application. 

You can begin your career in psychology by choosing which field you would like to focus on when finding a job. The psychology professional has three primary fields: clinical and counseling psychology, behavioral psychology, and academic or research psychology (Shelton, n.d.).

Positions under the clinical and counseling field include child psychologists, clinical forensic psychologists, and geropsychologists. On the other hand, you can work as a marriage and family therapist, a behavioral counselor, or an industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologist if you choose to focus on behavioral psychology. In the academic or research field, you can work as a psychology professor, a researcher, or a lab manager. Entry-level jobs in each field often require a bachelor’s degree, while clinical roles and positions in the academe will require a postgraduate degree.

What can I do with an Associate’s Degree in Psychology?

Social Service Assistant

Social service assistants provide services in a wide range of fields, including psychology, social work, and rehabilitation. They can take on many job titles, such as family service assistant, casework aide, addictions counselor assistant, or family service assistant. The job responsibilities of a social service assistant can include helping clients find assistance with daily activities, such as eating and bathing, coordinating social services, working with other professionals to develop treatment plans, or researching services or aid that are available to clients.

Median salary: $35,960

Psychiatric Technician or Aide

Psychiatric technicians work as part of a team, assisting psychiatrists, medical doctors, and patients with a variety of tasks. They often assist the elderly, patients who have been psychiatrically hospitalized, and persons with disabilities. Their job responsibilities include administering therapeutic aid and medications, assisting patients with daily activities, documenting patients’ conditions, and updating physicians.

Median salary: $31,570

What can I do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors advise people on mental or behavioral issues. These include drug addiction, alcoholism, and eating disorders. They also provide treatment and support to help people overcome their addiction and mental problems. Their daily duties include evaluating clients’ physical health and assessing their preparedness for treatment, working with clients to identify behaviors that impede their recovery, conducting outreach programs addressing addiction and mental issues, and helping people take steps to avoid these problems.

Median salary: $47,660

Psychologist

Psychologists study people’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral processes and how these affect their interaction with other people and their environment. They use different methods in their work, such as experimentation, observation, and assessment to come up with theories and explanations about their chosen case or problem.

Psychologists can focus on many types of specializations. For example, clinical psychologists primarily diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, while forensic psychologists work with legal professionals to understand the psychological aspects of a case.

Median salary: $82,180

Can you get a psychology job with just a certificate?

Yes, you can. Certificates in psychology are offered to both undergraduates and graduates. Though a certificate alone will not qualify you for many coveted positions in the field, it can help get you into many supporting positions. Moreover, certificates can enhance your resume and help you gain real-world experience before pursuing other career goals or degrees in psychology.

How can I advance my career in Psychology?

Most high-level positions in psychology require postgraduate education. As such, you can advance your career by pursuing either a master’s or doctoral degree. A master’s degree typically takes one to two years to complete, while a doctoral degree can take five to seven years depending on your program’s requirements. Both degrees may require students to complete a dissertation and clinical or field training.

If part of your career development plan is to practice as a psychologist, you will need to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). This exam is one of the requirements of licensure for psychologists in the US. Others include your postgraduate degree and supervised clinical hours between 2,000 and 6,000 hours depending on state requirements.

What can I do with a Master’s in Psychology? 

Industrial-Organizational (I/O) Psychologists

Industrial-organizational psychologists work in a corporate setting and specialize in the behavior of employees in the workplace. They apply principles of psychology and research methods to identify human resource problems in the workplace and improve the overall communication and performance of employees; thus, also improving the overall work environment. Their job responsibilities include organizational development and analysis, policy planning, and employee training.

Median salary: $96,270

School or Career Counselor

School or career counselors help people develop their plan for academic or career paths after graduation. They also work with schools or companies to develop skills, advise on educational programs that can lead to a specific career, or help students explore an occupation. Their job responsibilities include evaluating students’ abilities and interests through aptitude tests and interviews, reporting possible cases of abuse or neglect, referring parents to resources or aid they can receive as additional support, and working with clients to develop skills they can in learning such as time management skills and study habits.

Median salary:$58,120

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Psychology? 

The majority of individuals who hold a doctoral degree in psychology (29.9%) find work in the university setting. Their activities are mostly focused on conducting research both in controlled lab environments or in the field. Others work at hospitals (25%) or at government medical centers (16.3%) (APA, n.d.).

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers in psychology (often referred to as faculty or professors) teach psychology courses both to undergraduate and graduate students. They can focus on teaching or divide their career between teaching, research, and publishing books and scholarly papers. The typical job responsibilities of professors of psychology include working with other professors or colleagues to create or modify their program curriculum, developing instructional plans or course outlines, and serving on the administrative and academic committees of their university.

Median salary: $80,790

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists work with people in the context of marriage and family instead of focusing on the individual. They often take a holistic approach (mind and body) to help people resolve issues in their married life or finding a plan of action against domestic problems. Marriage and family therapists can use a variety of psychotherapeutic and family systems theories and techniques when diagnosing and treating emotional and mental disorders.

Median salary: $51,340

Which certification is best for Psychology? 

There are 15 specializations recognized by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). You do not need board certifications to practice psychology—you only need to meet the education and licensure requirements of the state where you intend to practice.

However, becoming board certified does bring certain advantages to your career as a psychologist. For one, it increases your marketability. It can prove that you are at the top of the profession compared to others in your field. Also, it protects the public and gives your patients peace of mind knowing that they are consulting with a psychologist who possesses the competence to practice the profession.

15 Psychology Certifications Approved by ABPP

  1. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology
  2. Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
  3. Clinical Health Psychology
  4. Clinical Psychology
  5. Clinical Neuropsychology
  6. Counseling Psychology
  7. Couple and Family Psychology
  8. Forensic Psychology
  9. Geropsychology
  10. Group Psychology
  11. Organizational and Business Psychology
  12. Police & Public Safety Psychology
  13. Psychoanalysis
  14. Rehabilitation Psychology
  15. School Psychology

Source: APA

Alternative Career Options for Psychologist

Psychology ranked 5th in the top bachelor’s degrees earned for the school year 2018/2019 with 116,536 degrees awarded to students (NCES, 2020). One of the reasons why psychology is a popular degree is because graduates can apply to jobs directly connected to psychology or look at other occupations that make good use of the knowledge and skills they learned. Here are a few of those careers outside of psychology where a degree in the subject can be a huge asset.

What else can a Psychologist do?

Criminal Profiler

Criminal profilers create psychological profiles of criminals based on the evidence available. They assist detectives or investigators by visiting the crime scene, reviewing evidence, and helping deduce likely characteristics or traits of the responsible criminal. Some profilers also teach prospective FBI agents and police officers techniques on criminal profiling.

Market Research Analysts

Market research analysts collect data and study market trends to help companies understand what products and services consumers want and how much they are willing to pay for them. They can also conduct surveys and create reports that can identify potential business opportunities. Through their studies and presentations, market research analysts help company decision-makers gain insights into their organization’s position on the market and if business goals or targets are being achieved.

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers work with students who have mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders. They also teach students who have learning disabilities and cannot study under regular classroom instruction or methods. Some of the common job responsibilities of special ed teachers include developing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for their students and supervising or mentoring other teachers or teacher assistants who are teaching students with special needs.

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

In general, advertising, promotions, and marketing managers focus on creating interest in products and services with the goal of either increasing sales or increasing brand awareness. They study customer sentiments and behavior and devise marketing campaigns targeted at a specific audience. They can work with writers, art directors, sales agents, and other professionals depending on their project.

High School Teachers

High school teachers help students prepare for postsecondary education. They teach the academic subjects necessary to meet the requirements for college admission or to get into the workforce. High school teachers are also tasked to prepare students for standardized tests and assess students’ strengths and weaknesses to help them improve their abilities.

Public Relations Specialists

Public relations specialists work to create and maintain the favorable image of their organization. Some of their job responsibilities include writing press releases, responding to interviews and requests from media, evaluating public opinion based on social media, and helping clients communicate effectively to the public.

Source: NCES

Choosing Your Career Path in Psychology

Psychology graduates have different criteria when choosing which jobs or career paths to take. Most will naturally look at psychology salary differences, while others might look at the educational requirements of a position.

However, there is no one right career path for people who hold a psychology degree. As discussed in this guide, there are those who end up working in jobs directly utilizing their degree. This might be the most ideal scenario but the fact is that most psychologist jobs require postgraduate education, so it will be difficult to qualify for those positions if you just completed your psychology degree.

When choosing your career path, one practical approach is to see what type of jobs are available on the market and check how your psychology background and skills match up. If you are still working on your degree, you might want to learn more about these top companies hiring workers without a degree. The key is not to limit yourself in terms of the jobs you can apply for. Instead, find those positions where you can still make good use of your psychology background even if they are not jobs for psychologists.

 

References:

  1. DataUSA (n.d.). Psychology. Retrieved from DataUSA
  2. BLS (2021). Occupational Outlook: Psychologists. Retrieved from BLS
  3. Cross Country Nurses (2020). Evolving Skill Sets Required by Medical Practitioners — The Digital Side. Retrieved from Cross Country Nurses
  4. Shelton (n.d.). A Guide to Careers in Psychology. Retrieved from LearnPsychology
  5. APA (n.d.). Careers in Psychology. Retrieved from APA
  6. NCES (2020). Number of bachelor’s degrees earned in the United States in 2018/19, by field of research. Retrieved from Statista

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