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How to Become a Psychologist

What is a common career path for psychologists?

The career paths for graduates with psychology degrees are as varied as the careers themselves.  For counseling or clinical psychologists, practice usually begins as an unlicensed therapist in a hospital, clinic, or established practice.  This provides experience without the often prohibitive expense associated with starting out independently.  Much of the initial expense in an independent practice is attributed to the cost of paying a licensed psychologist to observe the graduate in practice for the 3000 hours required for psychology licensure.  In a clinical setting, licensed psychologists are readily available to observe recent graduates until the time licensure is granted.

Starting out in an established practice also allows a therapist the opportunity to establish a client base.  Through the course of treating patients and getting word of mouth referrals, a psychologist may develop enough of a following to venture into an independent practice.

What opportunities are there for exposure to psychology in practice to see if it’s a good fit?

Because of the level of privacy that is granted to those who seek treatment form a psychologist, job shadowing in an effort to gain exposure to the work is not typically an option as it is in many other professions.

Volunteerism is the best way to gain first-hand, real-world exposure to the types of situations a clinical or counseling psychologist would be faced with.  There is no shortage of need for volunteers at battered women’s shelters or shelters for the homeless.  Suicide prevention hotlines and crisis lines set up to assist drug addicts and alcoholics often allow psychology students the opportunity to volunteer as peer councilors.

What is the importance of self work?

Pursuing a career in psychology will involve a personal journey through self evaluation and self work.  It is vital that a therapist works to isolate, evaluate, and address personal emotional and psychological issues before engaging the client.  This ensures the client remains the focus of treatment without the psychologist unwittingly bringing their own issues to bare.

Having had personal experience with psychological trauma by no means excludes a person from being able to become an effective psychologist.  In fact, among the archetypes acknowledged by the depth psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz, is that of the “wounded healer”.  Psychologists with this archetypal paradigm can be very effective therapists as they bring a natural empathy and humility through acknowledging and transcending their own psychological wounds.

Steps to becoming a psychologist:

  • Volunteer at a woman’s shelter or on a crises line for first hand exposure to what a career in psychology would involve.
  • Research the various careers and subfields of psychology to determine which would be the best fit.
  • Satisfy 3-4 years of undergraduate requirements that include: social, physical, and biological sciences; basic psychology, statistics, and math.
  • Complete an additional 4-7 years of schooling to earn a doctoral degree in psychology:  Ph.D. or Psy.D.
  • Successfully complete the EPPP exam for state-specific psychology licensure.
  • Compete 3000 hours of observed practice to earn state-specific licensure.
  • Begin your career as a counseling or clinical psychologist in a clinic or private practice, or pursue one of the many other jobs available to psychologists.

Psychology Schools