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Psychologists study human behavior and the mental processes related to that behavior. Research psychologists investigate the physical, cognitive, emotional, or social aspects of human behavior. Psychologists in applied fields provide mental health services in hospitals, clinics, schools, or private settings.
Like other social scientists, psychologists formulate hypotheses and collect data to test their validity. Research methods depend on the topic under study. Psychologists may gather information through controlled laboratory experiments, as well as through personality, performance, aptitude, and intelligence tests. Other methods include observation, interviews, questionnaires, clinical studies, and surveys. Computers are widely used to record and analyze this information.
Psychologists apply their knowledge and techniques to a wide range of endeavors including human services, management, education, law, and sports. In addition to a variety of work settings, psychologists specialize in many different areas. Clinical psychologists-who constitute the largest specialty-generally work in independent or group practice or in hospitals or clinics. They assist mentally or emotionally disturbed clients adjust to life and increasingly help medical and surgical patients deal with their illnesses or injuries. Some work in physical rehabilitation settings, treating patients with spinal cord injuries, chronic pain or illness, stroke, arthritis, and neurologic conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Others help people deal with life stresses such as divorce or the death of a loved one. Clinical psychologists interview patients and give diagnostic tests. They provide individual, family, and group psychotherapy, and design and implement behavior modification programs. They may collaborate with physicians and other specialists in developing and implementing treatment and intervention programs that patients can understand and comply with. Some clinical psychologists work in universities, where they train graduate students in the delivery of mental health and behavioral medicine services. Others administer community mental health programs.
Relatively new specialties within clinical psychology include cognitive psychology, health psychology, neuropsychology, and geropsychology. Cognitive psychologists deal with memory, thinking, and perceptions. Some conduct research related to computer programming and artificial intelligence. Health psychologists promote good health through health maintenance counseling programs that are designed to help people achieve goals such as to stop smoking or lose 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.
Counseling psychologists use various techniques, including interviewing and testing, to advise people on how to deal with problems of everyday living, including career choices. (Also see the statements on counselors and social workers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Developmental psychologists study the patterns and causes of behavioral change as people progress from infancy to adulthood. Some specialize in behavior during infancy, childhood, and adolescence, while others study changes that take place during maturity or old age. The study of developmental disabilities and how they affect people is a relatively new area within developmental psychology.
Experimental psychologists study behavior processes as they work with human beings and animals, such as rats, monkeys, and pigeons. Prominent areas of study in experimental research include motivation, thinking, attention, learning and retention, sensory and perceptual processes, effects of substance use and abuse, and genetic and neurological factors affecting behavior.
Industrial-organizational psychologists (I/O) apply psychological techniques to personnel administration, management, and marketing problems. They are involved in applicant screening, training and development, counseling, and organizational development and analysis. An industrial psychologist might work with management to develop better training programs and to reorganize the work setting to improve worker productivity or quality of worklife. They may also act as consultants to management.
School psychologists work with students, teachers, parents, and administrators to resolve students' learning and behavior problems. They collaborate with teachers, parents, and school personnel about classroom management strategies, parenting skills, substance abuse, working with students with disabilities or gifted and talented students, and teaching and learning strategies. They may evaluate the effectiveness of academic programs, behavior management procedures, and other services provided in the school setting.
Social psychologists examine people's interactions with others and with the social environment. Prominent areas of study include group behavior, leadership, attitudes, and interpersonal perception.
A psychologist's specialty and place of employment determine working conditions. Clinical, school, and counseling psychologists in private practice have pleasant, comfortable offices and set their own hours. However, they often must offer evening hours to accommodate their clients. Those employed in hospitals, nursing homes, and other health facilities may work 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 a few have administrative responsibilities as well. Many have part-time consulting practices as well. Most psychologists in government and industry have structured schedules. Psychologists often work alone, reading and writing reports. Many experience pressures due to deadlines, tight schedules, and overtime work. Their routine may be interrupted frequently. Travel may be required to attend conferences or conduct research.
Psychologists held about 144,000 jobs in 1994. Educational institutions employed nearly 4 out of 10 salaried psychologists in positions other than teaching, involving counseling, testing, research, and administration. Three out of 10 were employed in health services, primarily in hospitals, mental health clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and other health facilities. Government agencies at the Federal, State, and local levels employed one-sixth. Governments employ psychologists in hospitals, clinics, correctional facilities, and other settings. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense employ about 80 percent of the psychologists working for Federal agencies. Some psychologists work in social service organizations, research organizations, management consulting firms, marketing research firms, and other businesses.
After several years of experience, some psychologists-usually those with doctoral degrees-enter private practice or set up their own research or consulting firms. Over 40 percent of all psychologists are self-employed.
In addition to the jobs described above, many persons held positions as psychology faculty at colleges and universities, and as high school psychology teachers. (See the statements on college and university faculty and kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school teachers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
A doctoral degree generally is required for employment as a clinical or counseling psychologist. Psychologists with a Ph.D. qualify for a wide range of teaching, research, clinical, and counseling positions in universities, elementary and secondary schools, private industry, and government. Psychologists with a Psy.D.-Doctor of Psychology-generally work in clinical positions. Persons with a master's degree in psychology can work as organizational or industrial psychologists. Others work as psychological assistants, under the supervision of doctoral-level psychologists, and may conduct research or psychological evaluations or counsel patients. Many work as school psychologists or counselors, and some teach in high schools or 2-year colleges.
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. They may work as research or administrative assistants or become sales or management trainees in business. However, without additional academic training, their opportunities in psychology are severely limited.
In the Federal Government, candidates having at least 24 semester hours in psychology and one course in statistics qualify for entry-level positions. Because this is one of the few areas where one can work as a psychologist without an advanced degree, competition for these jobs is keen. Clinical psychologists generally must have completed the Ph.D. or Psy.D. requirements and have served an internship. Vocational and guidance counselors usually need 2 years of graduate study in counseling and 1 year of counseling experience. School psychology requires a master's degree followed by a 1-year internship.
Most students need at least 2 years of full-time graduate study to earn a master's degree in psychology. Requirements usually include practical experience in an applied setting or a master's thesis based on an original research project.
A doctoral degree usually 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. usually is based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. In clinical or counseling psychology, the requirements for the doctoral degree generally include a year or more of internship.
Competition for admission into graduate programs is keen. Some universities require an undergraduate major in psychology. Others prefer only basic psychology with courses in the biological, physical, and social sciences, statistics, and mathematics.
Most colleges and universities offer a bachelor's degree in psychology. Over 600 departments offer either a master's or a full Ph.D. program. A smaller number of professional schools of psychology offer the Psy.D.
The American Psychological Association (APA) presently accredits doctoral training programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, with the assistance of the National Association of School Psychologists, also is involved in the accreditation of advanced degree programs in school psychology. The APA also accredits institutions that provide internships for doctoral students in school, clinical, and counseling 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. All States and the District of Columbia have such requirements. Licensing laws vary by State and by type of position. Clinical and counseling psychologists generally require a doctorate in psychology, completion of an approved internship, and 1 to 2 years of professional experience. In addition, most States require that applicants pass an examination. Most State boards administer a standardized test and many supplement that with additional oral or essay questions. Most States certify those with a master's degree as school psychologists after completion of an internship. Some States require continuing education for license renewal.
Most States require that licensed or certified psychologists limit their practice to those areas in which they have developed professional competence through training and experience.
The American Board of Professional Psychology recognizes professional achievement by awarding certification, primarily in clinical psychology, clinical neuropsychology, counseling, forensic, industrial and organizational, and school psychology. Candidates need a doctorate in psychology, 5 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, and the ability to lead and inspire others are particularly important for clinical work and counseling. Research psychologists should be able to do detailed work independently and as part of a team. Verbal and writing skills are necessary to communicate research findings. Patience and perseverance are vital qualities because results from psychological treatment of patients or from research usually take a long time.
Employment of psychologists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. The need to combat alcohol and drug abuse, marital strife, family violence, crime, and other problems plaguing society should stimulate employment growth. Other factors spurring demand for psychologists include increased emphasis on mental health maintenance in conjunction with the treatment of physical illness and public concern for the development of human resources, including the growing elderly population and children in school.
Job opportunities in health care should remain strong in health care provider networks, such as health maintenance and preferred provider organizations, and in nursing homes and alcohol and drug abuse programs. Job opportunities will arise in businesses, nonprofit organizations, and research and computer firms for psychologists working as consultants. Companies will use psychologists' expertise in survey design, analysis, and research to provide marketing evaluation and statistical analysis. The increase in employee assistance programs, which offer employees help with personal problems, also should spur job growth.
Opportunities are best for candidates with a doctoral degree. Persons holding doctorates from leading universities in applied areas, such as clinical, counseling, health, industrial, and educational psychology should have particularly good prospects. Psychologists with extensive training in quantitative research methods and computer science may have a competitive edge over applicants without this background.
Graduates with a master's degree in psychology will encounter competition for the limited number of jobs for which they qualify. Graduates of master's degree programs in school psychology should have the best job prospects, as schools are expected to increase student counseling and mental health services. Other master's degree holders may find jobs as psychological assistants in the community mental health field, which often requires direct supervision by a licensed psychologist. Still others may find jobs involving research and data collection and analysis in universities, government, or private companies.
Bachelor's degree holders can expect very few opportunities directly related to psychology. 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.
According to a 1993 survey by the American Psychological Association, the median starting salary of psychologists with a doctoral degree was $39,100 in counseling psychology; $39,000 in research positions; $40,000 in clinical psychology; and $45,000 in school psychology. The median annual salary of master's degree holders was $26,000 in counseling psychology; $24,000 in clinical psychology; $28,000 in research positions; $34,500 in school psychology, and $58,000 in industrial-organizational psychology. Some psychologists have much higher earnings, particularly those in private practice.
The Federal Government recognizes education and experience in certifying applicants for entry level positions. In general, the starting salary for psychologists having a bachelor's degree was about $18,700 a year in 1995; those with superior academic records could begin at $23,200. Counseling andschool psychologists with a master's degree and 1 year of counseling experience could start at $28,300. Clinical psychologists having a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree and 1 year of internship could start at $34,300 and some individuals with experience could start at $41,100. Beginning salaries were slightly higher in selected areas of the country where the prevailing local pay level was higher. The average salary for psychologists in the Federal Government in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was about $58,300 a year in 1995.
Psychologists are trained to conduct research and teach, evaluate, counsel, and advise individuals and groups with special needs. Others who do this kind of work include psychiatrists, clinical social workers, sociologists, clergy, special education teachers, and counselors.
For information on careers, educational requirements, financial assistance, and licensing in all fields of psychology, contact:
American Psychological Association, Research Office and Education in Psychology and Accreditation Offices, 750 1st St. NE., Washington, DC 20002.
For information on careers, educational requirements, and licensing of school psychologists, contact:
National Association of School Psychologists, 4030 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814.
Information about State licensing requirements is available from:
Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, P.O. Box 4389, Montgomery, AL 36103-4389.
Information on traineeships and fellowships also is available from colleges and universities that have graduate departments of psychology.
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