Psychology Degree


What Can I Do With A Psychology Degree?

Psychology is a wide-ranging field with many career possibilities. Some psychologists work with mentally ill clients to improve their functioning, while others teach and train the next generation of practitioners at colleges and universities. Other psychologists are focused on research and explaining physiological causes of mental disorders, while others consult with large businesses to devise methods for improving productivity. Careers in psychology can focus on working with a particular population, such as children or the elderly, or may involve the study or treatment of a specific illness such as schizophrenia.

Some careers in psychology require a master’s degree, while others require doctorate-level training such as a PhD or a PsyD. Special licensures and certifications are necessary for practice in some fields of psychology, such as mental health counseling, yet the specific requirements can vary widely from state to state and province to province. Wages also show wide variability depending on the field of practice, the employment setting, and the geographic area. Generally speaking, workers in private practice or that are employed by private companies make more money than those who work for non-profits, charities, or public agencies.

Below is a partial list of some of the career fields within psychology. Each career includes a brief description, a review of educational requirements, salary information, and the long-term job outlook. Although this is not an exhaustive list of all careers available to individuals with a master’s degree or doctorate in psychology, these are some of the most popular fields of practice.

Mental Health Careers

This is a broad category of occupations that involves direct contact with individuals that seek out assistance with a mental health or developmental issue. Each career within this field of work focuses on counseling as the primary duty, although some crossover with the education and research sectors can occur.

Mental Health Counselor

Counselors might work in private practice, in a community mental health setting, at a hospital, for a government agency such as Child and Family Services, or for a non-profit organization such as a church or a charity. Regardless of the setting, counselors provide therapeutic services that promote improved functioning in the emotional, social, personal, and interpersonal realms. A mental health counselor works with individuals, couples, families, or groups to help them cope with everything from day-to-day stressors to relationship issues to severe mental health disorders (APA, 2014a).

Although licensure requirements can vary between states and provinces, counselors must have a master’s degree at the very least, generally in psychology, counseling, or a related field from an accredited institution. A wide variety of licensures are available, including Marriage and Family Therapy, Grief Counseling, Addiction Counseling, and Geriatric Counseling. Regardless of the type of licensure, a probationary period is generally required, in which new counselors receive supervision and guidance from an experienced clinician, before they are allowed practice on their own. In 2012, the median annual salary for a mental health counselor in the United States was $41,500 per year (BLS, 2014a), while a counselor in Canada can expect to make an average of $25.96 per hour (Canada Job Bank, 2013b). With employment projected to grow by 29% through 2022 in the U.S. (BLS, 2014a), demand for qualified counselors will continue to be high.

Clinical Psychologist

Individuals that pursue a career in clinical psychology will spend their time working with individuals, families, and groups in need of mental health services, much like mental health counselors do. A primary difference, however, is that clinical psychologists tend to operate from a medical point of view and use assessments and diagnoses to explain the root causes of behavior (APA, 2014a; BLS, 2014c). Because they generally treat the most severe psychological disorders, many clinical psychologists work in hospitals, although a large number also work in private practice. Those in private practice typically have a specific population with which they work, such as individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, or depression, to name a few.

Clinical psychologists must have a doctorate, either a PhD in psychology, which focuses more on science and research, or a PsyD, which prepares individuals for clinical work. Clinical psychologists are required to be licensed by the mental health licensing agency in the state or province in which they practice (American Board of Professional Psychology, 2014), and like mental health counselors, they must also undergo supervised practice for a specified period of time. While some states allow doctorate-level psychologists to prescribe medication to their patients, in most cases a medical doctor must work with a psychologist to arrange medication. The latest labor statistics for clinical psychology reveal that the field is growing at a moderate rate in the United States, at about 12% per year. Annual wages for clinical psychologists in the U.S. average just over $69,000 per year (BLS, 2014c), while clinical psychologists in Canada make an average of $37.44 per hour (Canada Job Bank, 2013c). However, psychologists in private practice can make significantly more money.

Health Related Careers

Many people with training as a psychologist or mental health clinician work in fields related to general healthcare needs. The careers in this area are focused on improving the overall daily functioning of individuals that have a mental or physical health issue. Work settings typically include rehabilitation centers, retirement centers, acute care centers, or government agencies such as the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation or the Veterans Administration.

Rehabilitation Counselor

People that pursue a career in rehabilitation counseling most often work with individuals that have mental retardation, a developmental disability, or a social or emotional disability. These counselors also work with the elderly and veterans on a frequent basis. Rather than exclusively providing mental health counseling, rehabilitation counselors offer their clients methods to improve their lives and daily functioning. In many cases, this involves preparing individuals for entrance into the workforce (Ipsen, 2012). To achieve this end, rehabilitation counselors work with clients on improving interpersonal communication skills, developing job skills, and managing the personal impacts of their physical, social, or emotional disability (Council on Rehabilitation Education, 2014). These counselors generally work in assisted living centers, hospitals, in private practice, or at a rehabilitation agency.

Rehabilitation counseling is a rapidly growing area of work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 20% growth through 2022, mostly as a result of the population of elderly individuals continuing to increase. The median annual salary for a rehabilitation counselor is $33,880 USD, or $16.29 USD per hour (BLS, 2014d). Pay in Canada is generally much better, with a median hourly wage of $25.69 and $40.00 per hour on the high end (Canada Job Bank, 2013b). To enter the field of rehabilitation counseling, one must have at least a master’s degree in counseling or a related field. Some states and provinces may require specific certification, licensure, or training in order to practice as a rehabilitation counselor.

Health Psychologist

Health psychologists examine the social, psychological, and physiological factors that influence illness and health (APA, 2014a). Working closely with clients and patients, health psychologists study how individuals successfully and unsuccessfully deal with pain. They examine the best methods for improving health, including devising strategies for changing poor health habits such as smoking, poor nutrition, or lack of exercise. Some health psychologists team with healthcare providers to determine why some patients do not follow medical advice, even when doing so exacerbates their illness or increases their pain level. Many hospitals employ health psychologists to educate and train staff members about the psychological impacts of illness, as well as the types of psychological issues that may manifest as a physiological problem.

As the population of the United States grows older and becomes more health aware, the field of health psychology is expected to grow very rapidly (BLS, 2014c). Similar growth is expected in Canada, where the number of job openings over the next decade is projected to outpace the number of workers (Canada Job Bank, 2013c). Wages for health psychologists are on par with other sub-fields of psychology, with hourly pay in the United States averaging over $33.00 (BLS, 2014c) and over $37.00 in Canada (Canada Job Bank, 2013c). Training for health psychologists almost always includes a doctoral degree in psychology, but the type of training can be varied. Graduate and doctoral studies may focus on social psychology, counseling, or experimental psychology (APA Division 38, 2014).

Careers in Education

The occupations in this cluster are based in a school setting, either at the K-12 or collegiate levels. Generally speaking, workers in these fields do not engage in formal counseling, although individuals that teach at a university might have experience in the mental health field, depending on their area of specialty. School psychologists might counsel children at their school, however their primary focus is generally more on behavioral assessment and interventions. Research is a characteristic shared by both occupations in this area.

School Psychologist

Working with students, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders, school psychologists devise strategies that help students be academically, behaviorally, and socially successful. School psychologists work almost exclusively in K-12 settings. Intervention is a key component of a school psychologist’s toolkit, which they use to improve academic performance, promote positive behavior, and improve mental health functioning of students. School psychologists will often consult with teachers to develop support strategies for children with a mental, emotional, behavioral, or developmental disability (National Association of School Psychologists [NASP], 2000). Research, data collection, and analysis are central to a school psychologist’s work as they devise individualized and school-wide programs that promote learning.

Prospects for growth in this career area are particularly strong (BLS, 2014c). Highly specialized training is required in both education and psychology. A master’s degree is necessary, and a doctorate is often preferred by many school districts (NASP, 2000). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014c) school psychologists can expect to make an average of $69,280 per year in the United States. School psychologists in Canada have a median wage of and $37.44 per hour (Canada Job Bank, 2013c).

College Professor

Individuals that have experience in the practice of psychology, counseling, or a related field can parlay their work experience into a career as a college professor. College professors use their real-world experience to devise programs of study that prepare the next generation of workers in the helping professions. In addition to devising and implementing curricula and other educationally based duties, college professors may conduct and publish research, oversee professional programs for graduate and doctoral students, or manage counseling centers that provide mental health services for students and training opportunities for pre-practice counselors.

The job outlook for college professors is quite good. In the U.S, college professors earn a median annual salary of $68,970, and growth in the area is expected to be faster than average at 19% (BLS, 2014b). College professors in Canada earn anywhere from $16.87 to $48.21 per hour (Canada Job Bank, 2013a). The type of institution, be it a community college or a university, will determine the potential income as well as the of level of education required of a professor. Some community colleges may only require a master’s degree, while university-level professorships generally require a doctorate. Although licensure as a mental health clinician is not necessary to teach, many professors maintain their certifications and licensures after entering the education sector.

Science-Based Careers

The careers in this group focus on the scientific nature of psychology. Workers in this field are heavily involved in research and the application of knowledge to specialized situations, such as criminal profiling, improving athletic performance, and engaging in laboratory and fieldwork to determine the causes of mental illnesses. A primary focus is on explaining behavior and providing insight into why humans behave the way they do.

Forensic Psychologist

The field of forensic psychology involves the application of psychological principles as they pertain to the legal and criminal justice systems. Forensic psychologists work with law enforcement agencies to develop psychological profiles of criminals. They often testify as expert witnesses in matters of the court, providing insight into the ability of a defendant to stand trial, their level of criminal responsibility, and the presence or absence of mental disorders. Forensic psychologists also contribute to civil proceedings, such as those involving custody hearings, issues of personal injury, and employment discrimination (American Board of Forensic Psychology, 2014). In order to provide sound testimony, forensic psychologists must stay up-to-date on legal and psychological matters, including issues related to eyewitness testimony, jury selection, and the impact that publicity has on the legal process. Mediation, conflict resolution, and consultation with lawmakers regarding public policy are additional duties common to this field.

Persons who practice as a forensic psychologist can have either a master’s degree or a doctorate in psychology. Specialized training is required, generally in the form of a certification or licensure in the field of forensics. Many forensic psychologists hold dual degrees, such as a PhD in psychology and a JD in law (American Psychology Law Society, 2014). Annual salaries for forensic psychologists vary widely, from lower-than-average wages for public sector employees to above-average wages for individuals in private practice. In the U.S., the median salary for a psychologist is $69,280 (BLS, 2014c), while in Canada the average per-hour wage is just over $37.00 (2013c). Growth in this career area is projected to be strong over the next ten years throughout North America.

Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists work with amateur and professional athletes to promote optimal performance through the application of psychological principles. This might involve helping an athlete overcome performance anxiety, diminishing the effects of psychological trauma after an injury, or facilitating the development of improved communication skills (APA, 2014d). Sports psychologists also work with clients to improve motivation, set attainable goals, and overcome fear of failure (APA, 2014a).

To work as a sports psychologist, one must have a doctoral degree in psychology with additional post-graduate study and specialization in sports psychology. Training in kinesiology, health, and sports performance is also necessary (APA, 2014e). This is a rapidly growing field of psychology in both the United States and Canada, given the popularity of sports on both the amateur and professional levels. Pay for this career can be lucrative, particularly for psychologists who work with professional athletes. However, most workers in this field consult with amateurs, such as those in high school and college. Sports psychologists who work for a university athletic department can expect to earn between $60,000 to $80,000 USD per year (APA, 2012).

Research Psychologist

The field of research psychology is extremely broad. Individuals who engage in experimental psychology may conduct research with human subjects in an effort to understand certain behavioral phenomena. Some researchers work exclusively in the field of environmental psychology, in which they study the interactions between humans and their environment, be that the natural world or human-made constructs such as factories. Evolutionary psychologists study human behavior through the lens of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, focusing on the role that adaptation and natural selection have had on thought, emotion, and behavior. Some researchers dedicate their time to devising new methods to quantify and measure psychological data, while others explore brain-based influences on behavior (APA, 2014a).

Individuals who work in the field of research psychology work in many different settings, from government agencies to private businesses to public universities. Salaries in this area are highly dependent upon the place of employment, with those employed by a public institution making an average of just over $76,000 USD per year. Research psychologists working in private industry can make upwards of $115,000 USD per year (APA, 2014b). As with other areas of psychology, careers in the research sector are predicted to grow at a faster-than-normal rate over the next decade, particularly in Canada where there will be more jobs available than qualified applicants (Canada Job Bank, 2013c).

Careers in the Business Sector

People with a degree in psychology or a related field can choose from a number of business-related occupations. Each of these careers focus on improving productivity of workers, either by conducting employee training and development programs or devising new methods for human-machine interaction. Because these careers involve the application of psychological principles, each requires educational training that makes use of the scientist-practitioner model.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Workers in the field of industrial-organizational psychology specialize in devising strategies to boost worker productivity. Creating a good work environment is key to this endeavor. To achieve this, industrial-organizational psychologists use assessments to gauge workers’ skills and abilities, participate in hiring and staffing procedures, and help workers reach a healthy work-life balance (APA, 2014c). Employee development, including devising criteria for promotions and assisting employees to cope with organizational change, are also primary duties of an industrial-organizational psychologist (APA, 2014a).

Psychologists with industrial-organizational training most often work in the business sector, although a good number also work as university professors who teach in both the psychology and business departments. Salaries in this area of psychology are highly dependent upon employment type and location, with individuals working for large corporations in metropolitan areas making the most money. Starting annual salaries for a doctoral level worker range from nearly $82,000 USD to $88,000 USD per year, while master’s level workers can expect to earn between $65,000 USD and $80,000 USD per year at the beginning of their career. Incomes increase substantially with experience, especially for workers with a PhD (Khanna, Medsker, & Ginter, 2012). The potential for growth in this area is strong, especially in the United States (BLS, 2014c).

Engineering Psychologist

Careers in engineering psychology began to develop in the 1940s as manufacturers began to consider how users interact with and experience the products they purchase. Safety concerns regarding human interaction with machinery also spurred the development of this field of work. Today, engineering psychologists use their understanding of human behavior to design and develop products that are ergonomic, safe, and visually pleasing to consumers. They conduct testing to get feedback on an item’s usability, performance, and appearance to ensure the final product will be well received by its target market. Most engineering psychologists are employed in business and industry, with a large number of workers in the medical technology field (Psychology Education Association [PEA], 2014).

Because there is heavy emphasis on manufacturing and engineering, psychologists in this field of work are generally required to have a varied educational background, usually involving study in psychology as well as computer science, statistics, physics, or engineering. Although entry-level positions are available for a master’s level engineering psychologist, many more opportunities are available for individuals with a doctorate and advanced training (PEA, 2014). Job growth is especially strong for engineering psychologists because of the desire of corporations to develop user-friendly products. The demand for workers in this field is projected to outpace applicants in both the United States and Canada over the course of the next ten years (BLS, 2014c; Canada Job Bank, 2013c).


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