Learn About Psychology Career Specialties

While most psychology jobs require that students complete at least a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree will allow individuals to dip their toes into the field to decide if it’s a good fit for their abilities and goals. Associate degrees are designed to give students the basic knowledge in psychology needed to continue their education, and are often used to fulfill core educational requirements before completing a bachelor’s degree. At the baccalaureate level, a psychology degree can lead to some entry-level positions —such as a psychiatric technician or rehabilitation specialist—and can provide the educational basis for advanced graduate work necessary to enter clinical practice.

Students who complete graduate-level psychology degrees have far more job opportunities. A master’s degree may lead to jobs as research and clinical assistants, while a doctorate is necessary for anyone who wants to work with patients in a clinical setting or move into a research or academic position. Many degree programs allow students to focus on a specialty area, including child development, abnormal psychology, counseling, social psychology, and cognition.

Becoming a Psychologist

Students undergo years of education and training on the path to becoming licensed psychologists, which typically involves the following steps:

  • Complete an undergraduate degree in psychology (either a BA or BS) to prepare for graduate work
  • Earn a doctorate in psychology (either a PhD or PsyD degree)
  • Obtain clinical experience required to get a license
  • Complete additional state licensing requirements
  • Earn a certification to promote career advancement

For more information about the specific steps that students need to take in order to become a clinical psychologist, visit our psychology degree pages.

What Psychologists Do

Psychologists are charged with examining human behavior to determine its underlying causes, and with using such information to help patients work through their problems. It’s often a delicate balancing act, one that requires psychologists to perform a myriad of tasks that complement each other. The following list outlines some duties that clinical psychologists perform:

Conduct psychological assessments of patients in order to diagnose clinical conditions

Conduct clinical interviews with patients in order to learn their history

Create treatment plans for patients, monitor their progress and success, and adjust treatment as needed

Create behavior modification programs for patients

Teach patients coping strategies to help them overcome problems

Develop psychology education programs

Conduct psychological research and reporting on findings

Prepare technical reports and presentations

Ensure that patient records are accurate and complete

Keep abreast of current knowledge and trends by participating in continuing education courses and reading industry journals

From the Expert:
Kimber Shelton, PhD discusses her career as a psychologist

What do you enjoy most about working as a psychologist?

Clients enter therapy sharing secrets and stories that they have never shared with anyone else. It is a privilege to hear these stories, work to empower clients to let go of shame, and see them develop healthier lives. My job is not to solve my clients problems, but to be an instrument to help them produce their own changes. It is an honor to watch clients become the person they want to be and develop the relationships they desire to have.

I also enjoy that I am always learning. I learn so much from my clients, engage in my own professional development activities and regularly consult and learn from my professional peers. My days are never boring or the same; I like that I am always challenged and growing.

On a professional side, I enjoy the professional freedom associated with being a psychologist. As a psychologist, I have to option to be a therapist, professor, researcher, supervisor, consultant, advocate or policy maker. I can work for myself, a college, a business, or the government. I enjoy that on any given day I can wear many different hats and I appreciate the level of job security associated with being able work in a variety of settings.

What do you find most challenging about your job?

My years of education prepared me to effectively help people. Unfortunately, I was not prepared to be an entrepreneur. The logistics of running my own business is a challenge. To be successful I have to continuously engage in networking, market my brand, and master insurance reimbursement. None of these things have anything to do with directly helping people. These acts within themselves are not overly complicated and become easier to navigate over time, but they remain time consuming. Instead of billing, I would prefer to be prepping for my next day or just relaxing.

Diversity and social justice are foundational to my identity as a psychologist. However, working within the realms of diversity and social justice are also the most challenging parts of being a psychologist. A commitment to diversity means frequently engaging in difficult dialogues regarding culture and identity, working with and educating clients and students who express prejudicial views, advocating for discriminated groups, and confronting my own biases and assumptions. As challenging as this is, working to improve services provided to marginalized groups and ending cultural mental health stigma are also some of the most rewarding parts of my job.

What does the typical workday of a psychologist look like?

The work day of a psychologist varies based on their area of practice and work environment. As an independent practitioner my typical day involves administrative practices, teaching, writing and therapy. My day starts with checking and responding to emails and calls, completing billing and working on case notes. I try to work collaboratively with my clients’ primary medical doctors and psychiatrists, so it is common that I am writing case summaries and faxing records to physicians. Additional administrative responsibilities may include networking with potential referral sources, completing assessment reports, and following up with no-shows or cancellations. I also teach several online courses; both synchronous and asynchronous platforms. So on a given day I may be teaching a class, grading papers or posting to discussion boards. Additionally, I am on a number of professional committees, write for a mental health blog, and serve as an ad hoc reviewer, which vary in terms of time commitment.

To accommodate my clients’ and also my partner’s work schedules, I see the majority of my clients in the afternoon and evening. I schedule sessions back to back and see between 3-6 clients daily. My usual composition is seeing about 50% couples and 50% individuals, and depending on the cycle, I may do one group. I do have great flexibility in that I can do many administrative duties from home and have complete freedom in how my schedule is set.

What skills do you think are most important for a psychologist to have?
1 Cultural Counseling Competence

We live in a global world and are interacting with a diversity of cultures and backgrounds. As psychologists we have a responsibility to be cultural informed and leaders within the field of cultural diversity. This means having cultural self-awareness, knowledge of other cultures, and skills in delivering culturally appropriate services and interventions. Treatment is more effective and clients are more likely to remain in therapy when clients view their psychologist as being culturally competent. The dangers of cultural incompetence include client’s prematurely terminating treatment, refraining from entering treatment and ongoing mental health disparities. Culturally competent psychologists are skilled in addressing issues of power and privilege, and providing a safe environment in which diversity is respected and valued.

2 Empathy

Clients want to feel heard and understood. In order to do this, psychologists have to be empathic. Very often clients come in having made or are making bad decisions. It likely they feel judged and ashamed about their situations. Building a rapport based on trust, respect and empathy can empower clients to be vulnerable and open to make positive changes in their life. In fact, one of the largest predictors in therapeutic success is the relationship between the client and the clinician.

3 Self-Care Skills

As psychologists we hear stories of great triumph and success, but we also hear stories of trauma and abuse. The realities of some clients can be difficult to handle and psychologists have their own lives and personal struggles to deal with, so it is imperative that psychologists engage in ongoing self-care. We can’t expect to be helpful to others if we do not prioritize our own mental wellness.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing this career?
1 Find a mentor

The road to a doctoral degree is a long and sometimes bumpy one. Find a mentor who can guide you, support you and challenge you through the process. Mentoring relationships can develop informally, but it is also a good idea to purposefully seek out a mentor as you begin your journey towards becoming a psychologist.

2 Be open to self-exploration

Psychological training, if it’s good, will push you to examine yourself in ways you never have before. A foundation to becoming a psychologist is the statement, “Counselor know thy self”. Before you can begin to help others come to know more about themselves, you must first consider who you are. This is such an important aspect of being a skilled psychologist that many graduate programs mandate or strongly encourage their students to pursue their own personal therapy.

3 Find your own path

There is no right or wrong way to become a psychologist. Some will enter a doctoral program right from undergrad, some will work for some years and return to school later, while others will undergo a complete career change. Respect your own journey and realize that wherever you come from you bring in strengths and resources that will help you through your doctoral program.

4 Be prepared to evolve with the field

Psychology and counseling are ever evolving. For example, teletherapy was once viewed as an inferior psychotherapy method, but has developed a strong presence within the mental health field. Teletherapy is advantageous with certain groups as it makes therapy more accessible to some populations who are unable to attend traditional in-person therapy. There is also a much stronger focus on integrated healthcare models, in which psychologists are a part of health professional teams. As the mental health field continues to evolve, you must be ready to evolve with it.

Career Paths in Psychology and Related Disciplines

Given that psychology touches every facet of life, psychologists can channel their individual interests into any number of career paths. Following are three of the primary fields in the psychology profession, along with some of the specific jobs available in each area.

Clinical and Counseling Psychologists

Clinical and counseling psychologists work with patients who have mental, behavioral and emotional problems. The focus is on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health problems; psychologists in this field generally work in private practice or hospitals.

  • Child Psychologists

    The mental and psychological development of children and adolescents, and its influence on emotional or developmental problems, is the focus of child psychologists, who may specialize in a specific age group, such as infants, toddlers, or teenagers.


    Child psychologists can earn a certification from the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (ABCCAP).

  • Geropsychologists

    Working with older clients, geropsychologists determine if patients are competent to make their own legal and medical decisions; diagnose mental disorders common to this population, such as dementia; and help seniors cope with the deaths of partners and friends.


    To meet the demands of an aging U.S. population, the National Institute on Aging predicts the need for some 5,000 geropsychologists by 2020.

  • Clinical Forensic Psychologists

    Clinical forensic psychologists use their psychological expertise in the legal arena. Their duties may include testifying in court; interviewing people who are charged with crimes to determine if they have a mental illness; and screening law enforcement applicants.


    Forensic psychology is among the fastest-growing subfields in psychology, with professionals earning a median annual salary of about $61,000, according to payscale.com.

Behavioral psychologists

Behavioral psychologists practice from the assumption that human behavior is learned—and can be modified—through environmental influences. Professionals in this subsection of the field work with patients to understand and change negative behaviors, such as addiction.

  • Behavioral Health Counselors

    Behavioral health counselors treat patients with problems such as anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, and depression.


    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 31 percent growth rate through 2022 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, much higher than for other psychology subfields.

  • Marriage and Family Therapists

    These psychologists treat individuals, couples and families who are working through relationship problems, by addressing both individual issues and the relationship as a whole.


    The 2014 median salary for marriage and family therapists was just more than $48,000, according to BLS.

  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

    Industrial-organizational psychologists apply their expertise to issues in the workplace, typically helping companies create policies, screen job candidates, or address problems in the workplace. They may also work as corporate trainers.


    Most of these psychologists work in management, scientific, and technical consulting services, or in government settings.

Academic/Research Psychologists

Academic and research psychologist help to expand the knowledge base of the field by using the scientific method to address specific psychological topics, a process that entails creating a testable hypothesis, collecting data, and analyzing and reporting findings. In addition, these kinds of psychologists work as teachers, generally at the college level.

  • Psychology Professors

    Psychology professors help train the next generation of professionals by creating and shaping course curricula, as well as by teaching and advising students directly. They may also be involved in research projects.


    Psychology teachers at the postsecondary level earn a median salary of $68,690 annually, according to BLS.

  • Research Psychologists

    These psychologists conduct studies on a wide range of psychological topics. Their duties may include conducting interviews, creating questionnaires, and presenting papers at professional conferences.


    Research psychologists are often employed by government bodies such as the CIA, the Census Bureau, and branches of the military.

  • Lab Managers

    Lab managers oversee operations in a laboratory as research is being conducted. This job entails tracking the equipment in a lab, training assistants, and ensuring that the workplace is safe.


    Lab managers are generally required to earn a bachelor’s degree to obtain employment.

Licensure for Psychologists

In most states, licensure is required for professionals who wish to use the title of “psychologist” and practice psychology with patients must be licensed.

What is it?

A license grants permission for psychologists to work with patients in a specific state. Licenses are designed to ensure that psychologists meet certain standards including specific courses taken, exams passed and hours worked under a licensed psychologist.

Why get licensed?

Psychologists who work in clinical settings are legally required to hold a license, ensuring that patients are protected from unqualified practitioners. The requirements for licensing are designed to prove the licensing candidate meets stringent requirements for education and experience before working one-on-one with patients.

Who grants licenses?

Individual states grant licenses after students take a licensing exam administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).

What does the exam involve?

The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is a multiple choice test that covers several areas, including biological, social and multicultural bases of behavior; assessment and diagnosis; and growth and life-span development.

How do you get licensed?

Each state has its own criteria for granting licenses, which are outlined on our state program and licensing pages Generally, licensure candidates are expected to:

  • Complete a doctoral degree in a psychological discipline
  • Participate in a clinical internship and complete at least 2,000 hours of hands-on experience
  • Gain a few years of professional experience in the field
  • Pass the EPPP examination
  • Pay applicable licensing fees required by the state

Certification for Psychologists

What is it?

A certification is a voluntary credential that psychologists can earn to demonstrate additional and/or specialty knowledge and skills.

Why get certified?

Although certification is not mandatory, it is a good way for psychologists to demonstrate their expertise and boost their competitiveness in the job market.

Who grants certifications?

Certifications are granted by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). The organization offers credentials in thirteen subsections of the field, including clinical health, rehabilitation, couple and family, and psychoanalysis.

How do you get certified?

In order to earn ABPP certification, candidates must meet general requirements including a doctoral degree and licensure, as well as specific requirements related to the specialty. They then submit their credentials to the organization, complete an oral and written examination, and pay a $125.00 application fee.

Working in Psychology: Skills & Attributes

Dealing effectively with people can be a challenge under the best of circumstances, and psychologists are rarely working in ideal conditions. They need to develop a host of professional and personal skills—and know when to use them. Some of the most important skills psychologists should be adept at include:

  • Observation

    In order to understand what patients are really feeling and thinking, psychologists must be able to pay attention to their words and closely watch their nonverbal communication, especially during the assessment and diagnosis stages.

  • Adhering to ethical standards

    Psychologists are trusted with people’s most intimate secrets, so it’s important that they behave ethically and with discretion. They have to work to protect their patients from harm and provide treatment that is in their best interest.

  • Persuasion

    Psychologists are often charged with convincing patients that they need to change unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, but not everyone responds to the same logic or emotional reasons. Psychologists must know how to best approach and get through to their patients.

  • Research

    Psychologists need to understand how research is conducted and presented, even if they do not conduct experiments themselves. They need to keep abreast of the latest scientific discoveries and their significance in order to incorporate findings into their patient practice.

  • Patience

    Working with patients who are struggling can be frustrating, so psychologists must exhibit patience to allow the people they work with to process information and change their behaviors at their own pace.

Psychology Salary and Employment Growth Snapshot

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an expected 12 percent increase in all psychology jobs between 2012 and 2022, due in part to a growing elderly population that needs access to psychological care, as well as to legislation that provides expanded access to mental health care. The following are additional facts about psychology jobs:

Clinical, Counseling & School Psychologists   Psychologist, All Other   Industrial / Organizational Psychologist

National Annual Median Wages, 2014






Employment Growth 2012-2022






Growth Outlook

As fast as average


As fast as average


Much faster than average

Education Required

Specialist (some school psychologists) or doctorate


Master’s degree or doctorate


Master’s degree

Wages, growth, education and certification requirements and more will all depend on geographical location. For state-by-state information on counseling salaries and employment growth, check out the map tool below.

Annual Median Wage, Psychologists


Psychologists gain a number of skills that can pave the way to careers outside of the field. The following are examples of similar careers that psychology professionals can pursue.

Anthropologists and Archeologists

2014 Median salary: $59,280

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 19%

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

2014 Median salary: $41,380

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 19%


2014 Median salary: $72,810

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 15%


2014 Median salary: $79,990

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 27%

Political Scientists

2014 Median salary: $ 104,920

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 21%

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

2014 Median salary: $50,430

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 21%

Social and Human Service Assistants

2014 Median salary: $29,790

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 22%

Special Education Teachers

2014 Median salary: $54,520

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 6%

Social and Community Service Managers

2014 Median salary: $62,740

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 21%

Market Research Analysts

2014 Median salary: $61,290

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 32%


Students and working psychologists alike may access a number of resources for additional insight into the field, such as those listed here: