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What Psychologists Do About this section

Psychologists
Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological research and methods to workplace issues.

Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and to their environments. They use their findings to help improve processes and behaviors.

Duties

Psychologists typically do the following:

  • Conduct scientific studies of behavior and brain function
  • Observe, interview, and survey individuals
  • Identify psychological, emotional, behavioral, or organizational issues and diagnose disorders
  • Research and identify behavioral or emotional patterns
  • Test for patterns that will help them better understand and predict behavior
  • Discuss the treatment of problems with clients
  • Write articles, research papers, and reports to share findings and educate others
  • Supervise interns, clinicians, and counseling professionals

Psychologists seek to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. They use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence individuals.

Psychologists often gather information and evaluate behavior through controlled laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis, or psychotherapy. They also may administer personality, performance, aptitude, or intelligence tests. They look for patterns of behavior or relationships between events, and they use this information when testing theories in their research or when treating patients.

The following are examples of types of psychologists:

Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists help people deal with problems ranging from short-term personal issues to severe, chronic conditions.

Clinical psychologists are trained to use a variety of approaches to help individuals. Although strategies generally differ by specialty, clinical psychologists often interview patients, give diagnostic tests, and provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy. They also design behavior modification programs and help patients implement their particular program. Some clinical psychologists focus on specific populations, such as children or the elderly, or on certain specialties, such as neuropsychology.

Clinical psychologists often consult with other health professionals regarding the best treatment for patients, especially treatment that includes medication. Currently, only Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and New Mexico allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication to patients.

Counseling psychologists help patients deal with and understand problems, including issues at home, at the workplace, or in their community. Through counseling, these psychologists work with patients to identify their strengths or resources they can use to manage problems. For information on other counseling occupations, see the profiles on marriage and family therapists, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, and social workers.

Developmental psychologists study the psychological progress and development that take place throughout life. Many developmental psychologists focus on children and adolescents, but they also may study aging and problems facing older adults.

Forensic psychologists use psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological aspects of a particular case. They often testify in court as expert witnesses. They typically specialize in family, civil, or criminal casework.

Industrial–organizational psychologists apply psychology to the workplace by using psychological principles and research methods to solve problems and improve the quality of worklife. They study issues such as workplace productivity, management or employee working styles, and employee morale. They also help top executives, training and development managers, and training and development specialists with policy planning, employee screening or training, and organizational development.

Rehabilitation psychologists work with physically or developmentally disabled individuals. They help improve quality of life or help individuals adjust after a major illness or accident. They may work with physical therapists and teachers to improve health and learning outcomes.

School psychologists apply psychological principles and techniques to education disorders and developmental disorders. They may address student learning and behavioral problems; design and implement performance plans, and evaluate performances; and counsel students and families. They also may consult with other school-based professionals to suggest improvements to teaching, learning, and administrative strategies.

Some psychologists become postsecondary teachers or high school teachers.

Work Environment About this section

Psychologists
Counseling psychologists often have their own practices.

Psychologists held about 178,900 jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up psychologists was distributed as follows:

Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists 118,800
Psychologists, all other 55,200
Industrial-organizational psychologists 4,900

The largest employers of psychologists were as follows:

Self-employed workers 27%
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 25
Ambulatory healthcare services 20
Government 10
Hospitals; state, local, and private 6

Some psychologists work alone, doing independent research, consulting with clients, or counseling patients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, social workers, and others to treat illness and promote overall wellness.

Work Schedules

Psychologists in private practice often set their own hours, and many work part time as independent consultants. They may work evenings or weekends to accommodate clients. Those employed in hospitals or other healthcare facilities may also have evening or weekend shifts. Most psychologists in clinics, government, industry, or schools work full-time schedules during regular business hours.

How to Become a Psychologist About this section

Psychologists
In most states, practicing psychology or using the title of “psychologist” requires licensure.

Although psychologists typically need a doctoral degree in psychology, a master’s degree may be sufficient for school and industrial organizational positions. Psychologists in clinical practice need a license.

Education

Most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree. Students can complete a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. A Ph.D. in psychology is a research degree that is obtained after taking a comprehensive exam and writing a dissertation based on original research. Ph.D. programs typically include courses on statistics and experimental procedures. The Psy.D. is a clinical degree often based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. In clinical, counseling, school, or health service settings, students usually complete a 1-year internship as part of the doctoral program.

School psychologists need an advanced degree and either certification or licensure to work. Common advanced degrees include education specialist degrees (Ed.S.) and doctoral degrees (Ph.D. or Psy.D.). School psychologist programs include coursework in education and psychology because their work addresses both education and mental health components of students’ development.

Industrial–organizational psychologists typically need a master’s degree, usually including courses in industrial–organizational psychology, statistics, and research design.

When working under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist, other master’s degree graduates can also work as psychological assistants in clinical, counseling, or research settings.

At the bachelor's degree level, common fields of degree include psychology, education, and social science

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In most states, practicing psychology or using the title “psychologist” requires licensure. In all states and the District of Columbia, psychologists who practice independently must be licensed where they work.

Licensing laws vary by state and by type of position. Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and at least 1 to 2 years of supervised professional experience. They also must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Information on specific state requirements can be obtained from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. In many states, licensed psychologists must complete continuing education courses to keep their licenses.

The American Board of Professional Psychology awards specialty certification in 15 areas of psychology, such as clinical health psychology, couple and family psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. The American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology offers certification in neuropsychology. Board certification can demonstrate professional expertise in a specialty area. Certification is not required for most psychologists, but some hospitals and clinics do require certification. In those cases, candidates must have a doctoral degree in psychology, a state license or certification, and any additional criteria required by the specialty field.

Training

Most prospective psychologists must have pre- or postdoctoral supervised experience, including an internship. Internships allow students to gain experience in an applied setting. Candidates must complete an internship before they can qualify for state licensure. The required number of hours of the internship varies by state.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Psychologists must examine the information they collect and draw logical conclusions.

Communication skills. Psychologists must have strong communication skills because they spend much of their time listening to and speaking with patients or describing their research.

Integrity. Psychologists must keep patients’ problems in confidence, and patients must be able to trust psychologists’ expertise in treating sensitive problems.

Interpersonal skills. Psychologists study and help individuals, so they must be able to work well with clients, patients, and other professionals.

Observational skills. Psychologists study attitude and behavior. They must understand the possible meanings of facial expressions, body positions, actions, and interactions.

Patience. Psychologists must demonstrate patience, because conducting research or treating patients may take a long time.

Problem-solving skills. Psychologists need problem-solving skills to collect information, design research, evaluate programs, and find treatments or solutions to mental and behavioral problems.

Pay About this section

Psychologists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Psychologists

$81,040

Social scientists and related workers

$80,890

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for psychologists was $81,040 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $47,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $133,890.

Median annual wages for psychologists in May 2021 were as follows:

Industrial-organizational psychologists $105,310
Psychologists, all other 102,900
Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists 79,510

In May 2021, the median annual wages for psychologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $103,850
Hospitals; state, local, and private 99,330
Ambulatory healthcare services 83,770
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 78,830

Psychologists in private practice often set their own hours, and many work part time as independent consultants. They may work evenings or weekends to accommodate clients. Those employed in hospitals or other healthcare facilities also may have evening or weekend shifts. Most psychologists in clinics, government, industry, or schools work full-time schedules during regular business hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Psychologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Total, all occupations

8%

Psychologists

8%

Social scientists and related workers

7%

 

Overall employment of psychologists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 13,400 openings for psychologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Employment of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is projected to grow due to demand for psychological services in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and social service agencies. Psychologists experienced an increase in demand due to the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on many individuals’ mental health.  

Demand for clinical and counseling psychologists will increase as more people turn to psychologists for help with their problems.

Employment of school psychologists will continue to grow because of an increased awareness of the connection between mental health and learning. These workers also will be needed to help students whose educational, behavioral, or developmental issues impact their ability to learn.  

Organizations will continue to use industrial–organizational psychologists to help select and retain employees, implement trainings, increase organizational productivity and efficiency, handle employee conflicts, and improve office morale.

Employment projections data for psychologists, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Psychologists

19-3030 178,900 192,400 8 13,500 Get data

Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists

19-3031 118,800 131,100 10 12,300 Get data

Industrial-organizational psychologists

19-3032 4,900 5,000 2 100 Get data

Psychologists, all other

19-3039 55,200 56,300 2 1,100 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about careers in all fields of psychology, visit

American Psychological Association

For more information about careers for school psychologists, visit

National Association of School Psychologists

For more information about state licensing requirements, visit

Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards

For more information about psychology specialty certifications, visit

American Board of Professional Psychology

For more information about industrial–organizational psychologists, visit

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology

For more information about careers and certification in neuropsychology, visit

American Board of Professional Neuropsychology

CareerOneStop

For career videos on psychologists, visit

Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

O*NET

Clinical Neuropsychologists

Clinical and Counseling Psychologists

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

Neuropsychologists

Psychologists, All Other

School Psychologists

Video