How to Become a Psychologist

Jessica White

Written by Jessica White

Community Mental Health Worker & Case Manager

Updated & Fact Checked: 1/12/2023

A psychologist is an expert with extensive training in the field of psychology. The career of a psychologist is multi-faceted in some ways, as they study the mind and behavior and use new findings to educate others. They also use their clinical skills and knowledge of mental disorders to provide therapy to clients to treat their emotional, mental, and behavioral disorders. Some psychologists may choose to work directly with clients, while others may focus more on research. This may depend on the organization for which they are employed, and what they were hired to do. Psychologist’s training in mental health research is important both clinically and academically.

What Does a Psychologist Do?

Because psychologists have gone through rigorous clinical training to understand behavior and the mind, they are qualified to use a variety of treatment methods such as psychotherapy to help people with their symptoms. Psychotherapy is an umbrella term for a variety of treatment options that can help individuals who are seeking to understand their behaviors and emotions. A psychologist might also use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a form of therapy used to help people struggling with negative thoughts that can help them break those thought patterns and instead develop coping mechanisms that will assist them with struggles in the long term. Psychologists may also use psychodynamic therapy with clients, which helps individuals understand how past and present life events affect their choices and feelings. Other types of therapy that a psychologist can use may include:

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy
  • Psychoanalytical and Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Humanistic Therapy
  • Eclectic Therapy

In addition to being qualified to help clients by performing the above types of therapy, psychologists perform scientific studies of brain function by observing, interviewing, and surveying people. They also conduct research to identify patterns of behavior to better understand that behavior. Within the scope of research, they frequently write articles or research papers to share their observations, which helps educate others and improves the field of psychology and mental health as a whole. Because of their advanced degree, qualifications, knowledge, and experience, they are able to take on roles in organizations such as supervising clinicians or other mental health professionals.

In their daily work, psychologists may consult with other healthcare professionals on the best treatments for their mutual patients. This is because psychologists are allowed to prescribe medication to patients in only a few states. Psychologists also administer a variety of tests to clients, such as personality or aptitude tests.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are many different types of psychologists. Several examples of the types of psychologists are outlined below:

Clinical Psychologist: This type of psychologist can diagnose and treat mental health and behavioral health disorders that range in severity. A clinical psychologist may approach this by giving diagnostic tests and providing psychotherapy. They can also design and implement behavior modification programs to help their clients with specific issues that may be more of a challenge.

Forensic Psychologist: This type of psychologist works in the criminal justice system by assisting attorneys, judges, and others involved in the legal system to understand the psychology surrounding certain cases. The psychologist may testify in court, and they usually specialize in family or civil casework.

School Psychologist: This type of psychologist works within the educational system performing a variety of important functions such as working with students and families to address behavioral problems, implement plans to address school performance, and evaluate that performance. The school psychologist may also work to consult with the other professionals within the school to suggest improvements that need to be made within administration or teaching.

Why Are Psychologists Important?

Psychologists have an impact on the educational field of psychology, both what is taught and the quality of the content. This information then translates into other parts of education, such as the information taught to future mental health professionals, such as clinical social workers or marriage and family therapists. Another reason that psychology is so important is because it helps explain why people act the way that they do. Knowing this can help individuals and entire communities improve, as distressing patterns can be identified and improved upon. Additionally, with professional help and awareness, some negative cycles can be broken. All of these positives help people connect with each other based on their similarities or even challenges. Psychology is at the root of much of human communication.

Steps to Become a Psychologist

If you would like to look further into pursuing a psychology career and contributing to the field on a scientific level as well as helping others better their lives, then you may be wondering what might be needed to get started. There are several steps that you must complete in order to become a psychologist and earn a license to begin practicing. These steps are:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. This is an important first step to lay down the foundation of your education. Earning a bachelor’s degree takes about four years. While the bachelor’s degree can be in any subject, you will benefit in your graduate degree program from earning a BA degree in relevant subjects such as psychology, sociology, or social work. Attending an accredited school is a good choice when making your decision about where to attend, as accreditation ensures quality of education.
  2. Earn a master’s and/or PhD or doctorate in psychology. Some states, depending on your concentration, may allow you to earn a psychology license with a master’s degree. You must check with your state to see if this is the case. However, it is often required that you must earn a doctoral degree. If this is the case, your choices are between a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology), a PhD—which is research-intensive, a Doctor of Education, or an education specialist (EdS). Whichever you choose will be determined by what your career goals are.
  3. Complete your post-degree internship or program. Once you have earned your degree, you then must complete a postdoctoral program or internship. This allows you the chance to gain hands-on training alongside licensed psychologists so that you have real-world experience before you are officially licensed yourself. The training you receive will take between 1,500-2,000 hours depending on the state, and you will also go through one to two years of professional experience under the supervision of a licensed psychologist.
  4. Test for, and obtain, your psychology license. Once you have completed your post degree internship or postdoctoral program, you will want to confirm with your state psychology board that you have met all requirements needed to take the exam. Once you have done so, you can take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. This exam is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. After you have passed this exam you will be officially licensed and can then begin practicing in the state where the license is issued. You are now officially a licensed psychologist.

How to Get Your Psychology License

When you are looking to become licensed as a psychologist, you should be sure to check out the specific state requirements of where you plan to apply for licensure. You will also want to research if you are able to get a psychology license with only a master’s degree, or if you will need to earn a PhD. While some states may allow you to receive a license with a master’s degree, certain organizations or agencies may prefer to hire those with a PhD.

The first step towards licensure is earning your bachelor’s degree in something that will be helpful to you and set you up for success in your master’s or PhD degree program. You will want to maintain a good standing and complete all the required units. If possible, you may also want to look into completing the prerequisites for the graduate degree program you will apply for so that you won’t need to delay the application after finishing your bachelor’s degree. Then, you will apply for the psychology graduate degree program. It is beneficial if you choose to attend degree programs that are accredited by the American Psychological Association.

Once completing the program, you will complete an internship under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Finally, once you have proven that you have completed the above requirements, you will take the psychology exam, which is administered by the ASPPB. Once you have passed the exam, you will receive your license.

Psychologist Pay and Career Outlook

According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) the median annual wage for all psychology careers in 2021 was $81,040. The highest 10 percent of workers earned more than $133,890, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $47,850. Of individual psychology careers, industrial-organizational psychologists had the highest median earnings of $105,310. Psychologists under the category of “all other” earned the second highest median earnings of $102,900.

The job outlook for psychologists is as fast as average for all occupations according to the BLS as about 6 percent with about 14,100 job openings projected each year over the next decade.

Careers That Are Similar to Psychologists

Psychologists fulfill a lot of roles, from research to mental health care. As a result, there are a few careers that seem quite similar, but have a few notable differences. Some examples of these careers are outlined below.

  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC): A LPC, like a psychologist, can provide mental health care through the use of certain counseling techniques. Specifically, a counselor typically supports a client through the process of them coming up with their own solutions to the struggles they are experiencing by empowering them and helping them navigate the emotions that may arise. These issues may be related to mental illness, relationship issues, and more. A psychologist, on the other hand, is more focused on client evaluation and providing interventions through a variety of relevant tests, as well as conducting research.
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): While a LCSW and Psychologist both provide mental health care, they each play a different role. An LCSW is trained to help clients identify challenges in their lives that affect their mental health, and teach them coping mechanisms. LCSWs learn a variety of techniques to address the unique and complex issues that their clients may be facing, as well as the possible causes of those issues. Once they have identified the cause of the issues, the LCSW can help the client work through their issues from a strengths-based perspective. LCSWs may also provide lots of case management services.
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT): LMFTs and Psychologists both work with clients who may be experiencing mental illness ranging from mild to severe. However, an LMFT is specifically trained to work with families and couples, as serious mental illnesses sometimes stem from family issues or affect entire families. LMFTs are also likely to work with families who are struggling with divorce or grief due to death in the family. Meanwhile, a psychologist may deal with very severe mental illness that needs a higher level of intervention.