Psychology Degree Programs and Training

Think of the word psychologist, and you may imagine an individual listening to clients pour out their troubles while lying on a couch. While therapy can be an important aspect of this profession, it would be a mistake to believe this is all psychologists do. Tracing its roots back to 1870, psychology is a field offering varied career and professional opportunities. With the right training and education, today's psychologists can work in schools, businesses and academia to solve big picture problems as well as provide clinical services to individual clients.

Psychology education and degree programs

Psychologists are highly trained professionals who must meet rigorous licensing requirements if they want to work in a clinical setting and offer one-on-one therapy services.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), most clinical, counseling and research positions require individuals have a doctoral degree. This can be either a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. The American Psychological Association also notes its policy, as well as state licensing laws, limit the use of the title psychologist to those who have a doctoral degree.

However, the APA reports the number of students who now pursue a terminal master's degree in psychology -- meaning they have no plans for a doctoral degree -- increased sixfold from 1960 to 2008. Individuals with a master's degree may work as industrial-organizational psychologists or school counselors. They may also work under the supervision of doctoral psychologists.

At the undergraduate level, students interested in becoming a psychologist may want to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology. Although an undergraduate degree can provide a solid foundation for future studies, it is generally not sufficient for most positions in the field. In fact, the APA found only 5 percent of those with only a bachelor's degree in psychology were working in an occupation related to psychology in 2008.

Coursework for psychologist training

The curriculum for psychology degree programs will vary depending on the institution and the degree level. However, the following are examples of courses students might take as part of their graduate studies.

  • Physiological Basis of Behavior
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology of Social Behavior
  • Cognitive and Behavioral Treatment for Depression
  • Family Therapy
  • Child Psychological Assessment
  • Theories of Personality
  • Mental Health Policy
  • Traumatic Stress Reactions

In order to receive state licensing, the BLS indicates students will likely need to complete an internship as part of their education. Then, after graduation, they may be required to have 1-2 years of professional experience before they are able to sit for the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology, become fully licensed and able to work independently. Once licensed, states may require psychologists take continuing education courses.

Career outlook for psychologists

Job prospects for psychologists can vary significantly depending on their specialty.

Overall, the BLS reports job growth in the field should be 12 percent from 2012-2022, which is about as fast as the average growth expected for all jobs during that time period. However, certain psychologists may find themselves in particular demand during the coming years.

For example, industrial-organizational psychologists are expected to see 53 percent growth from 2012-2022 according to BLS estimates. As businesses look for ways to reduce costs and improve productivity, these psychologists may be called in to analyze business operations and employee behaviors and make recommendations.

According to the APA, those with recent doctorates in psychology are employed in the following settings.

  • Four year college or university: 25.9 percent
  • Hospital or other heath service provider: 25 percent
  • Government or VA facility: 16.3 percent
  • Business or non-profit entity: 10.4 percent
  • School or other educational setting: 8.1 percent
  • Medical school: 6.3 percent
  • Private practice: 5.7 percent

As of May 2013, BLS data found the mean annual income of clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $72,710. Incomes were highest for those employed in the scientific research and development services industry and those working in specialty hospitals.


Careers in Psychology, American Psychological Association, Accessed September 18, 2014, http://www.apa.org/careers/resources/guides/careers.aspx?item=1

Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University, Accessed September 18, 2014, http://psychiatry.northwestern.edu/education/clinical-psychology-program/curriculum.html#

Masters in General Psychology: Curriculum, New York University, Accessed September 18, 2014, http://www.psych.nyu.edu/programs/ma/general.html

Psychologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm

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