When people think of psychology the first thing that usually comes to mind is a psychologist. While psychologists are indeed a large part of the field, psychology encompasses much more than that initial image.
Broadly, psychology is the study and understanding of the human mind and behavior. It examines and attempts to explain why people think, act, and behavior they way they do and looks at the internal factors—brain functions, thoughts, emotions—and external factors—social, environment—that motivate individuals and groups. As a result, psychology affects all aspects of human experience, from the functions of an individual’s brain to child development to the actions of entire nations, and can be applied to just about any setting, from the classroom to health care facilities to corporate offices to marketing campaigns.
Many of the “helping professions” within the field of psychology are misused or misunderstood by the general public. For the most part, what differentiates each one is the area of study and level of education that is required. Here’s a quick break down to illustrate the differences:Therapist or Counselor
These professions require a master’s degree typically in clinical or counseling psychology. Therapists and counselors work directly with clients to help them cope with and eventually work through various relationship, personal, or mental health problems.Psychologist
Psychologists treat patients with emotional, behavioral and psychological issues. They help people effectively cope with and work through issues such as stress, grief, and mental health problems through a number of psychotherapy (or “talk therapy”) approaches. These issues can be due to a chronic condition or may be short-term situations such as adjusting to a new job. Psychologists can also administer tests and assessments to diagnose cognitive or behavioral problems. These professionals are not medical doctors, but they do hold a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D.) and have received training that is focused on human behavior.Psychiatrist
Psychiatrists diagnose and treat patients with more severe mental health issues such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. They may also treat patients with mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. Unlike psychologists, however, psychiatrists earn an M.D. or D.O. and, therefore, are medical doctors or physicians. Their training is more focused on the biological aspects of mental illness. As a result of this medical training, psychiatrists can prescribe medications to patients, in addition to offering counseling services.Social Worker
These professionals earn an MSW (Master of Social Work). Much like psychologists, social workers perform psychotherapy to help people work through difficult and challenging times. Additionally, they provide support and services to ensure the safety of people. Social workers, however, tend to focus primarily on helping integrate people in a community setting.
One might think earning a graduate or doctoral degree in psychology would be enough to get their foot in the metaphorical career door, especially since these programs often include extensive classroom, research, and clinical components. That’s not the case, however. The last hurdle before practicing is licensure. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, every state and the District of Columbia require private practice psychologists to be licensed, and almost every state requires the same for any type of professional using the title “psychologist,” regardless of the type of work they do.
Licensing requirements can vary tremendously from one state to the next, and according to the American Psychological Association (APA), they are not always easy to meet. Potential candidates can look to The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board (ASPPB)—the primary licensing board for psychologists in the United States and Canada—to learn more about licensing within specific jurisdictions. There are a few licensing requirements that tend to be more general, however. Here are a few of them:
Education requirements. Most state licensing boards require licensing candidates to hold at least a doctoral degree in psychology from a regionally- or government-accredited program. Some states require applicants to attend programs that have also been accredited by the APA or the ASPPB. The APA warns those who have graduated from unaccredited programs to expect additional scrutiny during the licensing process.
Clinical requirements. Most doctoral programs require students to complete at least 2,000 clinical internship hours and another 2,000 post-doctoral (or residency) hours. The APA notes that for most licensure candidates, this is enough—but not always. Michigan, for example, requires applicants to complete at least six thousand supervised clinical hours. California, by contrast, only requires three thousand. Be sure to research your state’s licensing requirements to ensure that you meet all necessary criteria.
Examinations. All states require future psychologists to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, or EPPP, to become licensed to practice. The ASPPB administers the EPPP, which is a 225-question, multiple-choice test covering several core areas of psychology, including assessment and diagnoses, and biological or social behavior. The APA notes that each state sets its own minimum EPPP score for licensure, but most require applicants to earn at least 70 percent. Some states require candidates to pass an additional oral or competency-based exam in areas such as law or ethics.
Keep in mind that becoming a licensed psychologist requires both time and money: According to the APA, licensing fees vary, but can exceed $1,000. EPPP study and test prep materials can add up quickly, too.
It bears noting that school psychologists must typically become licensed or certified to work in public schools before they can practice. These credentials are administered by each state’s Department of Education—not its general licensing board. Requirements vary, but according to the Northamerican Association of Masters in Psychology, 25 states will accept a master’s or specialist degree in lieu of a doctoral degree for licensure. School psychologists must also pass a statewide exam and, in some cases, complete an internship.
Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. According to the APA, some clinical psychologists specialize in a specific type of disorder, such as depression, schizophrenia, or phobias. They may also work with a specific type or age group of patient, such as children, couples, or the elderly. Whoever they treat, clinical psychologists strive to help patients better understand and cope with challenges they face. They often consult with patients’ physicians, and may include loved ones in sessions when appropriate.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most clinical psychologists need doctoral degrees to practice, namely Ph.D.s in psychology or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degrees. Doctoral degrees require four or more years of advanced postgraduate study. Many programs include a clinical component requiring an additional year of study under the direction of a practicing clinical psychologist. Clinical psychologists must also be licensed to practice. Licensing requirements vary by state, but usually require students to complete doctoral degree programs, internships, and a specified number of clinical hours in the field. They must also pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology offered through the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Board.
Counseling psychologists work with patients of all ages, helping them recognize their strengths and cope with problems both big and small. These can include personal problems, or problems at work and school. According to the APA, counseling psychologists focus on cultural factors that can influence views and behavior, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. They also consider environmental factors, such as family and cultural groups. They believe that all of these things can influence one’s psychological well being, and that understanding those relationships can help patients overcome barriers to happiness and success.
Future counseling psychologists should be prepared to commit to several years of postsecondary education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they must typically earn doctoral degrees—Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology—to practice. These advanced degrees usually require at least four years of intensive postgraduate study, plus a year or more of supervised clinical experience through internship or residency programs. Ph.D. students must usually present a dissertation and pass an exam to graduate. Psy.D. programs, by contrast, emphasize practical experience over exams. In either case, graduates must typically become licensed to practice. Licensing requirements vary by state, but usually require candidates to meet minimum education and experience requirements as well as pass a national exam.
School psychologists work with students in schools and other applied settings. Often, that means treating children and adolescents, but some also work with adults, education professionals, and students’ families. School psychologists assess and counsel students with learning, personal, or behavior challenges, recommending and overseeing behavior interventions when appropriate. They usually coordinate these efforts with school staff, patients’ families, and physicians.
Unlike many other psychologists featured here, school psychologists must typically earn degrees that combine both psychology and education instruction. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the most common degree among school psychologists is the Ed.S. degree, or Educational Specialist degree, which requires a minimum of 60 semester hours of graduate school and at least 1,200 hours of supervised internship experience. Some professionals earn doctoral degrees in psychology instead. In rare cases master’s degrees will suffice. Whatever educational path they choose, school psychologists must be licensed to practice.
Industrial-organizational psychologists put their extensive psychology savvy to use in the workplace solving problems and improving the quality of employees’ lives. They might address such things as workplace productivity, management styles, and even company policy planning. In some cases, industrial-organization psychiatrists screen or review employees and job candidates for mental fitness, especially in industries that require some degree of security clearance.
Industrial-organizational psychologists are unique in that they can usually enter the field with a master’s degree in psychology rather than a more advanced doctoral degree, especially when working under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist. Industrial-organizational degree programs typically include coursework in psychology, but also in areas such as business, counseling, and research design. Many professionals earn professional or graduate certificates in industrial-organizational psychology, either because their employers require it, or to expand their career options on a voluntary basis.
Sports psychology is perhaps one of the least known psychology specialties, but according to the APA, is one of the fastest growing. Sports psychologists help athletes succeed. They might, for instance, help athletes become more motivated, manage competitive anxiety, or cope with fear of failure. Sports psychologists can work with athletes of all age levels and abilities, from big name professional athletes to young children. The APA notes that some sports psychologists may even work in the military, keeping troops mentally fit for battle.
Training requirements for sports psychologists vary, but according to the APA, most employers prefer to hire candidates with doctoral degrees in counseling or clinical psychology and have additional training in areas such as kinesiology, physiology, and sports medicine. Often, future professionals earn a master’s degree in one of these sports-minded disciplines before applying to a doctoral program. Students should be prepared to commit to several years of postgraduate-level study, plus an additional year or more in clinical training.
Developmental psychologists study human psychological development. This includes pediatric, adolescent, and geriatric milestones. The APA notes that as human life expectancy continues to increase—approaching 80 years on average—so does demand for developmental psychologists who specialize in aging. This is especially true for professionals who conduct research aimed at helping older people retain their independence as long as possible.
Developmental psychology is a research-intensive field, which means candidates must typically earn doctoral degrees to practice. Queens College notes that there are twice as many doctoral programs nationwide than there are master’s degree programs. Doctoral degrees typically require about three years of postgraduate work, and may include research and clinical components. Master’s candidates must typically write theses while doctoral candidates prepare more elaborate research projects and dissertations.
Forensic psychologists are experts in both human psychology and the legal system. According to the APA, judges will often call on forensic psychologists to testify in child custody cases or to evaluate defendants’ mental states to ensure they are fit to stand trial. Some forensic psychologists specialize in research. Forensic research psychologists might study jury behavior or that of testifying eyewitnesses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most forensic psychologists specialize in family, civil, or criminal court.
Psychology Today characterizes forensic psychologists as clinical psychologists with additional training in criminal or civil legal matters. That means they typically earn a doctoral degree—for instance, a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)—before investing in additional training such a professional certificate in forensic psychology. Students or practicing psychologists who want to become forensic psychologists can contact the American Academy of Forensic Psychology to learn more about certification options and requirements.
Humans are social creatures, a characteristic that impacts our beliefs and behaviors. Social psychologists study precisely how these social interactions—both positive and negative—shape who we are. According to the APA, social psychologists often seek ways to help people improve their social relationships. They might, for instance, study how people form attitudes toward others that can be harmful, such as prejudice, and find ways to change them. They can work in a variety of setting, including colleges, private businesses, and even government agencies.
According to the Social Psychology Network, a global educational society, most social psychologists earn doctoral degrees, though in some cases, a master’s degree will suffice. Master’s degree programs typically take about two years to complete beyond the baccalaureate level; doctoral programs take about four to six years on average. Those who earn a doctorate in clinical psychology must usually accrue an additional year of clinical hours through internships or residencies. Students can further specialize by earning postgraduate or professional certification in social psychology specifically.
While earning a psychology degree can be personally fulfilling and enriching, a lot of planning is required to turn your degree into a profession. In some cases, different types of psychology degrees (particularly at the graduate degree level) can steer you towards different types of careers post-graduation. Before pursuing an advanced degree in psychology, it is important to have a clear vision of the type of career you want to have after graduation. No one degree is better than the other. Instead, what matters most is your own personal goals. Knowing what your end goal is can help you make the right educational choices throughout your academic career.
At the undergraduate degree level, the biggest difference between an associate or bachelor of arts in psychology and an associate or bachelor of science in psychology is the school or department that offers the program. Colleges usually offer one or the other. For example, a psychology program offered through a college’s school of liberal arts will typically lead to an associate/bachelor of arts degree, whereas a psychology program through a college’s science department will result in an associate/bachelor of science degree. At this level, there may also be some differences in the curriculum. An arts degree tends to take a more liberal arts or interdisciplinary approach. A science degree, on the other hand, will be more research or science-driven. These degrees can prepare you for entry-level jobs as well as provide the foundation for a graduate degree in psychology.
Curriculum in an MA psychology degree program often has a broader or interdisciplinary scope and focuses more on theoretical and applied concepts.
This degree is more rooted in empirical research and analysis.
This is a post-master’s terminal degree for those interested in working as a school psychologist. Most Ed.S. program curriculum is designed to prepare students in various aspects of school psychology as well as prepare them for certification.
The majority of psychology programs award a doctor of philosophy. A Ph.D. in psychology prepares psychologists to be researchers. Curriculum is more focused on research design and statistics. This type of doctoral degree usually results in careers in academia.
A Psy.D. is only awarded to graduates in the so-called professional areas of clinical and counseling psychology. It is an applied or practical degree, which means it is designed to prepare students for work in a professional practice or clinical setting.
This doctoral degree focuses on skills and theories that can be applied to educational practice and is usually offered through a college’s education department. It is ideal for those interested in working within education in some capacity, for example, as a school psychologist or in a leadership, administrative, or faculty role at a college or university.
|SCHOOL NAME||CITY, STATE||STUDENT POPULATION||SCHOOL TYPE||TUITION||PROGRAM TYPE||PROGRAMS|
|University of Phoenix-Online Campus||Phoenix, AZ||307,871||Private, 4-above||$9,216||Both||View Programs|
Master’s - ONLINE
Doctorate - ONLINE
|Ashford University||Clinton, IA||74,596||Private, 4-year||$9,648||Campus||View Programs|
|Arizona State University||Tempe, AZ||72,254||Public, 4-year||$9,208||Campus||View Programs|
|Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA||64,096||Private, 4-above||$18,562||Both||View Programs|
Associate - ONLINE
Bachelor’s - ONLINE
|Miami Dade College||Miami, FL||63,736||Public, 4-year||$2,483||Campus||View Programs|
|Houston Community College||Houston, TX||63,015||Public, 2-year||$744||Campus||View Programs|
|University of Central Florida||Orlando, FL||58,465||Public, 4-year||$4,426||Campus||View Programs|
|Ohio State University-Main Campus||Columbus, OH||56,867||Public, 4-year||$9,168||Campus||View Programs|
For many people, their first experience with psychology is through an introductory course as a general education requirement. Many students, and the general public, don’t know much about psychology and, therefore, tend to rely on overheard misconceptions. Below are some of the most common misconceptions about psychology degree programs:Psychology is an easy major.
Because psychology studies things like human emotion and behavior, it is often categorized as a “soft science”. As a result, many think that psychology is the opposite of so-called hard sciences like organic chemistry and computer science and, therefore, must be easy. Any subject can be challenging, however, and the degree of difficulty is really dependent on the individual student. English, for example, isn’t an easy subject just because you know how to speak English. For some, learning about emotional issues and exploring mental health problems can be scary and difficult. Additionally, psychology students are required to build a solid foundation in math and science since the field requires a lot of research and analysis. Most psychology programs require students to take biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, statistics, and calculus, which are all often categorized as hard sciences.Psychology is common sense.
Sure, some human behavior is predictable. For instance, some would argue: If a person loses a loved one, he/she will be sad. You don’t need a degree to come to that conclusion.
Psychology goes far beyond the outward projection of feelings, however. It looks at behavior, motivation, and attitudes with respect to a number of combined influential factors, from brain functions to social environments to societal norms.
Additionally, many of the most well-known psychology experiments, such as Stanley Milgram’s controversial obedience to authority experiment, show that some of the most basic human behaviors and attitudes are actually a lot more complex—and unexpected—than we think.You’ll be able to predict people’s actions and thoughts.
Psychology attempts to answer why people do, think, and act they way they do, but it doesn’t give you psychic powers. Earning a degree in psychology will indeed give you more insight into the human brain and behavior, but you won’t be able to predict other people’s actions and thoughts any more than you were before.Psychology classes are just about schizophrenia and other mental disorders.
While mood/mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder will be a part of the curriculum in a psychology program, it isn’t the only topic that will be studied. Classes and subjects will vary depending on the school, but in general, as a psychology student you’ll also study a wide range of topics like group dynamics, cultural and social influences, child and human development, scientific research methods, memory, personality development, and perception.You can only work in health/health-related fields after graduating.
Aside from the assumption that psychology is an easy major, this one is probably one of the biggest misconceptions about the field. It is true that most psychology students who pursue a master’s or doctoral degree will end up in a health or health-related profession, but that’s not the only path. Psychology is a broad field, which allows for many different career opportunities post-graduation. In fact, an APA and National Science Foundation survey reported that only about 15 percent of psychology graduates go on to positions in health or health-related fields. Many ended up working in education, business, and administrative roles.
Distance learning is increasingly becoming an accessible and convenient way to complete courses or earn a full degree. A growing number of colleges and universities, from for-profit schools to prestigious institutions, are expanding their online education offerings to accommodate busy students who need a little more flexibility or those who simply prefer to learn independently. As a result, psychology courses and degree programs are increasingly available online.
Specific requirements and curriculum vary depending on the school and program, but in general, an online psychology degree program allows students to move through coursework at their own pace. Much like traditional campus-based students, online psychology students are required to complete readings, discussions, assignments, and exams. Students and professors can communicate as often as needed via email, video chat, or discussion boards. Students pursuing doctoral psychology degrees online are typically required to fulfill a residency, internship, or practicum before graduating.
What types of psychology credentials can I earn online?
Students can earn a wide breadth of psychology credentials online, including professional certifications, undergraduate degrees, and graduate degrees. Programs can and do vary tremendously from one school to the next, however, so it pays to do your research.
Can I complete all my coursework online?
Many schools offer 100 percent online psychology programs; others require some classroom work. In some cases, students who do not live near a primary campus can complete any clinical or hands-on coursework locally through partnerships with other area schools and teaching hospitals, or through internships with psychology practitioners.
How long will it take to complete an online course or degree program?
How long it will take you to complete a psychology program depends on a number of factors, like the credential earned or your average course load. In most cases, students can earn a bachelor’s degree in about four years and a master’s degree in two. Doctoral degrees vary, but typically require two to four years of study. Students who are able to take on more courses—a common benefit of online learning—can expedite the process. Some schools also offer accelerated programs, which streamline courses so that students can earn their credentials faster.
How will I take exams?
Every school has its own test-taking policy for online students. Many schools use keystroke verification software, webcams, and other security measures that allow students to take exams from home. Schools that require proctored exams—supervised exams taken on-site—usually let students take them at the same type of local testing facilities used for other popular standardized tests, like the SAT or GRE.
Will I get an opportunity to work with patients when enrolled in an online program?
Many online psychology programs give students a chance to accrue clinical hours with patients under the direction of a local practitioner or hospital. Students may also be able to complete internships or externships locally, even on a voluntary basis.
Are online programs easier than campus-based programs?
Online classes can certainly be more convenient than classroom-based courses, but that does not necessarily make them easier. Many instructors use the same textbooks and assignments for both online and classroom-based students. Also keep in mind that online learning requires a great deal of organization and self-discipline, especially in non-synchronous programs that use downloadable video lectures rather than live feeds.
Are online degrees as credible as traditional degrees?
The Sloan Consortium reports that more students than ever before are enrolled in online courses—and more schools than ever before offer them. As the prevalence of online learning grows, so does its credibility, especially with respect to accredited programs. These days, many employers do not care how you earned your degree, just that you’ve earned one from an accredited institution.
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The APA is the largest scientific and professional organization for the field of psychology in the U.S. Its mission is to promote and help advance the creation, communication, and application of psychological knowledge. You can find tons of valuable information, news articles, publications, and numerous resources on its website.APA’s Divisions
These interest groups have been organized by APA members and represent the many subdisciplines of psychology such as developmental, school, educational, and social.Psych Central
First launched in January 1995 and run by mental health professionals, this is the largest and oldest independent mental health social network. The site provides mental health information as well as guides and access to resources on modern mental health, psychology, social work, and psychiatry. It is home to dozens of relevant blogs and online forums.Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers
APPIC provides information and resources to help doctoral and postdoctoral psychologists find high quality training and internship opportunities.Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
Formed in 1961, the ASPPB is an alliance that is responsible for the licensure and certification of psychologists in the U.S. and Canada. ASPPN created and maintains the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is used by licensing boards to assess and provide licensure and certification to candidates. The site provides in-depth information on training, careers, and licensure for aspiring psychologists.