You generally need a doctoral degree to work as an independent licensed clinical or counseling psychologist. A Ph.D. qualifies you for a wide range of teaching, research, clinical, and counseling positions in universities, health care services, elementary and secondary schools, private industry, and government. A doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) degree is valuable if you plan to work in clinical positions or in private practice, but you might also sometime teach, conduct research, or carry out administrative responsibilities.
A doctoral degree requires five to seven years of graduate study, culminating in a dissertation based on original research. Courses in quantitative research methods, including the use of computerbased analysis, will be an integral part of your graduate program and are necessary to complete your dissertation. A Psy.D. may be based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. In clinical or counseling psychology, your requirements for the doctoral degree will include at least a one-year internship.
If you plan to work as a school psychologist, you will most likely need a specialist degree, although a few states still credential school psychologists with master’s degrees. A specialist (Ed.S.) degree in school psychology requires a minimum of three years of full-time graduate study (at least sixty graduate semester hours) and a one-year internship. Because your professional practice will address educational and mental health components of students’ development, your training as a school psychologist will include course work in both education and psychology.
Once you earn a master’s degree, you may work as an industrial or organizational psychologist. You could also qualify to work as a psychological assistant under the supervision of doctoral-level psychologists and may conduct research or psychological evaluations.
A master’s degree in psychology requires at least two years of full-time graduate study, which includes practical experience in an applied setting and a master’s thesis based on an original research project.
Competition for admission to graduate psychology programs is keen. Some universities require that you have an undergraduate major in psychology. Others prefer only course work in basic psychology with courses in the biological, physical, and social sciences and in statistics and mathematics.
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, you are qualified to assist psychologists and other professionals in community mental health centers, vocational rehabilitation offices, and correctional programs.You may also work as a research or administrative assistant for psychologists. In addition, you may find work in related fields, such as marketing research, or in another area, such as sales or business management.
You are qualified to work in entry-level positions for the federal government with at least twenty-four semester hours in psychology
and one course in statistics. However, you’ll most likely face stiff competition for these jobs because this is one of the few areas in which one can work as a psychologist without an advanced degree.
The American Psychological Association (APA) presently accredits doctoral training programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology, as well as institutions that provide internships for doctoral students in school, clinical, and counseling psychology. The National Association of School Psychologists, with the assistance of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, also is involved in the accreditation of advanced degree programs in school psychology. The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) accredits doctoral programs and internships in professional areas of psychology.
Psychologists in independent practice or those who offer any type of patient care—including clinical, counseling, and school psychologists—must meet certification or licensing requirements in all states, provinces, and the District of Columbia. Licensing
laws vary by locality and by type of position and require licensed or certified psychologists to limit their practice to areas in which they have developed professional competence through training and experience. Practice in clinical and counseling psychology usually requires a doctorate in psychology, the completion of an approved internship, and one to two years of professional experience. In addition, all jurisdictions require that applicants pass an examination. Most licensing boards administer a standardized test, and many supplement that with additional oral or essay questions. Some require continuing education for renewal of the license. Both the American Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association offer continuing education opportunities, such as seminars and workshops, online courses, and mentoring programs.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) awards the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) designation, which recognizes professional competency in school psychology at a national, rather than state, level. Currently, twenty-six states recognize the NCSP and allow those with the certification to transfer credentials from one state to another without taking a new exam. In those states, the requirements for certification or licensure and those for the NCSP often are the same or similar. Requirements for the NCSP certification include the completion of sixty graduate semester hours in school psychology; a twelve-hundred-hour internship, six hundred hours of
which must be completed in a school setting; and a passing score on the National School Psychology Examination.
The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) recognizes professional achievement by awarding certification in clinical psychology, clinical neuropsychology, and counseling, forensic, industrial, organizational, and school psychology. Candidates for ABPP certification need a doctorate, postdoctoral training in their specialty, five years of experience, professional endorsements, and a passing grade on an examination.
Aspiring psychologists who are interested in direct patient care must be emotionally stable, mature, and able to deal effectively with people. Sensitivity, compassion, good communication skills, and the ability to lead and inspire others are particularly important qualities for those wishing to do clinical work and counseling. Research psychologists should be able to do detailed work both independently and as part of a team. Patience and perseverance are vital qualities because achieving results in the psychological treatment of patients or in research may take a long time.