Careers in Psychology Career and Salary Information for Clinical and Non-Clinical Jobs

This guide was written by

MoneyGeek Staff

A strong understanding of human behavior and the mind can lead to exciting career opportunities. Whether working directly with patients and family members or conducting research, psychologists use their expertise to improve relationships, mental and emotional health, and provide critical information to help others better understand diverse cultures and backgrounds. If you are interested in the intersection between the brain and behavior, keep reading to learn more about potential psychology careers and the educational requirements behind them.

Career Paths in Psychology

Psychology is a growing field, one that’s projected to swell by a hefty 19 percent during the 2014-2024 decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Certain specialty areas may see even more significant growth. Opportunities will be especially good for school psychologists and industrial-organizational psychologists who work in the business, manufacturing, and non-profit sectors.

While the profession is growing, so is the number of people interested in it, and competition will likely be stiff, even with an increased number of jobs. Those with degrees at the baccalaureate level may explore the field as assistants to licensed psychologists. There is also a number of related jobs within other industries such as marketing, sales, human resources, and business administration since psychology touches on so many aspects of human behavior. For an idea of potential opportunities, take a look at some of the career paths below:

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

Behavioral and chemical dependency counselors work with clients suffering from alcohol, drug or food addictions, or with families of the patients. Counselors must hold state licenses.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 22%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Most employers require at least a bachelor’s degree. However, some candidates seek certification or a master’s degree.

Social and Human Service Assistants

Human service assistants are the lifeblood of nonprofit, governmental, and for-profit agencies. They provide intake services to steer clients toward resources and assistance. Other responsibilities include working directly with clients under supervision, providing transportation, and coordinating care between agencies.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 11%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Employers may hire high school graduates, although many prefer an undergraduate certificate or associate degree.

Social Science Research Assistants

Research assistants work with educators and scientists to compile findings and statistics, set up laboratory procedures, and administer tests or interviews. They may work on data, prepare publications, or coordinate surveys for research projects. Outside of academia, they take positions with private or public agencies and research laboratories.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 8%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Associate degree, but a bachelor’s degree is often preferred.

Teacher Assistants

Under the supervision of a licensed classroom teacher, assistants take on student observational and supervision duties. They may assist in student assessments and interventions, and help develop lesson plans. Because they work directly with children, the role often appeals to psychology majors who plan to undertake additional studies in counseling or education.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 6%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Two years of postsecondary coursework or associate degree.

Psychiatric Technician

Psychiatric technicians work with disabled or mentally ill patients in hospitals, clinics, and residential and outpatient treatment facilities. They may assist licensed counselors and therapists, as well as provide direct patient care by facilitating group activities and assisting with meals.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 5%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    High school diploma and usually some postsecondary training. May be trained on the job.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors serve clients with developmental, physical, and emotional disabilities, helping them overcome barriers so they can live independently and obtain employment. Jobs are typically found with vocational and rehabilitation services, governmental agencies, or extended care facilities.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 9%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Rehabilitation counselors typically hold a master’s degree and state licensure.

Social Workers

Social workers serve diverse populations including adolescents, the elderly, hospice patients and veterans, developing treatment plans to address emotional and behavioral issues. They work in a variety of settings including hospitals, schools, child welfare agencies and clinics, as well as in private practice or as consultants.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 12%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or psychology is mandatory for entry-level positions. A master’s in social work (MSW) may be required for if you want to pursue an advanced specialty.

School Counselors

School counselors identify and address developmental, social, and substance abuse issues to help students build living skills in and beyond the classroom. They work in K-12 schools, school districts, and independent agencies, addressing current concerns and mapping out future paths for students.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 8%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Most state laws require practicing school counselors to complete a master’s degree in child psychology and hold a current license.

Counseling Psychologists

Counseling psychologists focus on improving interpersonal relationships, with an eye on the influences of social, educational, and health factors. They work in public or private clinics, hospitals, schools, and governmental agencies. Many are self-employed practitioners, serving clients from diverse cultural backgrounds across the lifespan.

  • PROJECTED GROWTH (2014 to 2024): 19%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Depending upon the specialty, psychologists must hold a PhD, PsyD, or EdD degree in psychology or counseling, and a state license to practice.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

Industrial-organizational psychologists work as consultants to businesses or governmental organizations to improve productivity and job satisfaction among employees. They may specialize in areas such as human resources, policy development, organizational training, recruitment, retention, and counseling. I-O psychologists may also conduct research into corporate procedures, management style, or company culture and morale.

  • PROJECTED GROWTH (2014 to 2024): 14%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Industrial-organizational psychologists typically hold a PhD in the field.

Market Research Analysts
  • PROJECTED OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 19%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree. Postgraduate business studies preferred.

Survey Researchers
  • PROJECTED OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 12%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Master’s degree

Special Education Teachers
  • PROJECTED OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 6%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree, though some schools may require a Master’s in Special Education. State licensure also required.

Human Resource Specialists
  • PROJECTED OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 5%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree and industry certifications

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
  • PROJECTED OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 4%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree, state training program

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 and Occupational Information Network

Salary Trends for Various Psychology Professionals

Salaries for psychology graduates vary by location, educational attainment, required skills, direct experience, and employer. The following graph highlights annual salaries for various psychology and counseling professionals:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015

Years of experience and skillset can also have a significant impact on psychology salaries. To illustrate, take a look at the data below:

How Experience Affects Psychologist Salaries

Median
Salary
  • Late-Career +26%
  • Experienced +17%
  • Mid-Career +5%
  • National Average $73,000
  • Entry-Level-15%

Source: PayScale.com

Am I Destined for a Career in Psychology?

Psychology majors enjoy a diversity of jobs, from counseling individuals to helping businesses iron out personnel problems to helping disabled students in elementary school. Even with so many choices, it’s wise to take stock of your goals and skills before leaping into a degree program that requires time, dedication, and money. Prospective students should ask themselves some of the following questions to determine if psychology is a good career match:

  • Are you driven to help people live a contented and productive life?Practicing counselors, social workers, and psychologists work directly with people from all walks of life, often in stressful situations. If this doesn’t sound appealing, a research setting in psychology could be a better fit.
  • Are you inquisitive about the workings of the human mind?Psychology majors and graduates are problem-solvers at heart. Success depends upon their ability to probe into and analyze the issues facing their clients, and then devise personalized strategies to help them.
  • Do you want to learn all about yourself?Many people go into psychology because they or their family members have benefited from work with a counseling professional. However, students may be uneasy at first with psychology studies because the curriculum can reveal unexpected aspects of their own personalities.
  • Can you practice with compassion and ethics in the face of emotional pain?Whether they work in a hospital, women’s shelter, or foster care facility, psychology professionals bear constant witness to some of life’s biggest challenges and struggles. They must have the ability to empathize while still maintaining a professional distance.
  • Are you flexible and committed enough to follow the career where it goes?Psychology majors tend to be lifelong students. Many go on to earn advanced degrees and certifications to further their careers. Continuing education is also often necessary for retaining state licensure.

Required and Preferred Skills

Active listening

Knowing how to listen to clients is indispensable in building trust, assessing issues, and breaking through barriers.

Critical thinking

It’s vital in psychology to stay focused, yet nimble enough to change approaches to improve client outcomes.

Research aptitude

Students should start early to develop their abilities in asking questions and collecting appropriate data through observation, interviews, and previous literature, as well as how to apply it to psychological problems faced by clients.

Ability to set boundaries

Professionals must balance the ability to empathize with clients with the ethical mandate to avoid personal relationships with them.

Psychological testing

Psychologists use assessment tools like the MMPI, Thematic Aperception Test, or Millon Behavioral Health Inventory to establish baselines and measure improvement.

Computer skills

Psychologists, counselors, and social work professionals must be familiar with basic computer applications, such as email, word processing, and spreadsheet software such as those found in MS Office, as well as office accounting programs such as QuickBooks.

Case management/documentation software

Depending on the employer, psychology grads may need to know or learn integrated client documentation systems such as Athena Software’s Penelope Case Management, Trinity Software Solutions’ BEACON, or ICANotes.

School counseling software

School counselors use a wide range of dedicated software to evaluate students. These can include tests for assessing self-concept, auditory processing, visual-motor integration, cognitive abilities, memory, and learning.

Psychology Degrees: Transitioning from Classroom to Career

Both professional associations and state lawmakers establish and maintain the requirements for psychology degree programs and certificates. While some entry-level jobs may require only a high school diploma or some college education, most employers prefer to hire applicants with at least a bachelor’s degree. Those interested in careers in counseling, research, or academia will need an advanced degree such a master’s or PhD. Here’s a look at psychology degrees by level:

Associate Degree in Psychology

Associate degree programs in psychology are offered at numerous colleges across the country, but are typically used to help graduates transfer into a bachelor’s program. In a two-year program, which usually consists of about 60 credits, students get a broad overview of the field, but focus on the fundamentals of human behavior and mental processes, research approaches, and ethics. Students also complete general education coursework, allowing them to start advanced courses once accepted into a bachelor’s program. Examples of course titles at this level are:

  • General Psychology

  • Probability and Statistics

  • Human Biology

  • Child Development

  • Personality

  • Abnormal Psychology

Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

Most bachelor’s programs in psychology allow students to choose two major pathways: the Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree (although some colleges only offer one or the other). The BA degree focuses on liberal arts coursework and applied psychology concepts, which is ideal for those who wish to be practitioners. The BS degree, on the other hand, is more science-oriented, which makes this option more appropriate for students planning to go into science-based areas such as medicine or research. The program takes two years to complete for associate degree transfers or four years for incoming freshmen. Courses include:

.
  • Child and Adolescent Development

  • Mental Health

  • Social Psychology

  • Mind, Brain, and Behavior

  • Research Methods in Psychology

  • Biology I and II

Master’s Degree in Psychology

After completing a bachelor’s degree, a master’s takes an additional two to three years to complete, and helps the student gain advanced, specialized knowledge in order to prepare for licensure. Most graduate programs offer concentration areas that allow students to tailor their education to a particular area of psychology – such as mental health or marriage, family, and child counseling – and require students to complete a capstone project and/or practicum experience. For those interested in further education, the master’s degree program may also provide the research foundation for doctoral studies. Core coursework typically includes:

  • Foundations of Psychology

  • Cognitive Processes

  • Measurement and Assessment

  • Theories of Personality

  • Ethical Practice in Psychology

  • Statistics

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology/Counseling (PhD) and Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Graduate students usually take five to seven years to complete a doctorate in psychology. For psychology, there are two doctoral options: The PhD or PsyD. The PhD prepares students for scholarly research as professors or research scientists, while the PsyD is designed for professionals who wish to stay in direct, patient-oriented practice. Both degrees involve supervised year-long internships and practicums in clinical settings; the PhD also requires a dissertation and defense. The first year of a doctorate program is dedicated to core coursework, with the remainder of the program set aside for working with a committee and advisors to research and write the dissertation. Core courses typically include:

  • Statistics

  • Neuroscience

  • Mind, Culture, and Society

  • Affective Science

  • Developmental Psychology

  • Cognition

Certificate Programs

Certificate programs allow psychology students from every degree level to deepen their knowledge and expertise without having to earn an additional degree. Certificates can be used to boost credentials, enter a new subfield, or to advance in a current role.

The most common certificates include:

General Certificate in Psychology (non-degree)

General certificates are for students who wish to enter the profession without earning a psychology degree. Candidates may want to add a psychology specialization to an existing degree in another field. For example, a teacher may add a psychology certificate to qualify to teach the subject in high school. Or, a business professional may earn a general certificate in psychology to build skills in marketing, consumer behavior, or human resources.

Post-Baccalaureate Certificate

Students enroll in year-long programs to supplement their skills and knowledge beyond the bachelor’s degree. Credits may be applied toward master’s degree studies or the certificate may represent its own achievement.

Post-Master’s Certificate

Students who have completed a master’s degree can get a certificate to add to their credentials and prepare them for licensing in a specialization. The 18 credit hours can be completed in a year and can also provide a bridge to doctoral studies.

Post-Doctoral Certificate

Psychology professionals holding a doctoral degree can undertake advanced studies in their specializations to qualify for state licensing or to add a specialization to their resume. Postdoc certificates usually take three to five years to complete.

Specializations

Specialized study is the focus of a graduate education in psychology, with various concentrations allowing students to determine the areas of interest that will serve as foundations of their careers. The American Psychological Association (APA) has designated 54 divisions representing specialized areas in psychology. In addition, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers specialty board certifications in 15 areas as a means of recognizing individuals with advanced theoretical training and skills. Common specializations include:

Clinical psychology

Clinical psychologists work with individuals and families to increase awareness of problems and their causes, provide relief from emotional distress, and support effective belief and behavioral changes.

Counseling psychology

These psychologists help people recognize and deal with everyday problems and/or severe adversity. By focusing on behavior and environmental factors, counseling psychologists help people deal with career and work problems, relationship conflict, grief, and similar internal issues.

Developmental psychology

Developmental psychologists are experts in understanding the emotional challenges and changes that occur over a lifetime. They work with diverse populations, from children and adolescents to the elderly.

Health psychology

Health psychologists work with clients and their families to assist patients with emotional problems related to medical issues. Counseling can involve assistance with stress management, self-care, exercise, sleep, or overcoming grief.

Other major specializations include:

  • Addiction Psychology
  • Behavioral Psychology
  • Biopsychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Comparative Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Environmental Psychology
  • Experimental Psychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Industrial-Occupational Psychology
  • Pediatric Psychology
  • Quantitative and Measurement Psychology
  • Rehabilitation Psychology
  • Social Psychology

Other Requirements for Psychologists

Most states require licenses for practicing psychologists, such as clinical or school psychologists, as well as for related professionals such as social workers. Employees of federal agencies, researchers, and university educators may receive licensing exemptions. Industrial-organizational psychologists are also not typically required to hold licenses.

Depending on the state, there may also be additional educational requirements pertinent to licensing, such as a specified number of clinical hours. State boards regulate specific requirements and administer licensing examinations. To maintain their licenses, psychologists are required to complete continuing education for credit.

Where Psychology Professionals Work

Psychologists work across the spectrum of client services, in a variety of business, healthcare, and educational settings. Roles vary by the specialization, level of education, and type of organization. Psychology graduates may also choose to put their skills and knowledge towards non-clinical roles, such as teaching, sales, marketing, advertising, law enforcement, and communications.

The American Psychological Association found the following top employment settings for those who hold doctorates in psychology:

  • Government or Veterans Administration Medical Centers
  • Universities
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Independent practices
  • Schools
  • Business/Nonprofits

It’s also common to work in more than one setting; for example, as a psychology professional, you may divide your time between seeing patients in a clinical capacity and conducting research at a university.

Lastly, independence is a hallmark of the profession: in 2014, government statistics showed about one-third of licensed psychologists were self-employed.

Job Search Resources

Well-traveled professional job sites like LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, and Career Builder have sections dedicated to careers in psychology. However, there are additional niche resources devoted to more specific psychology jobs that are worth exploring. Whether you plan to work in the public sector, private business, or academia, the following resources can help in your job search:

  • American Psychological Association Online Career Center

    APA’s job search center lists openings for more than 500 jobs across the professions, from early career positions to advanced research or management roles. Visitors can post a profile and set up job alerts.

  • Association for Psychological Science Employment Network

    The APS job search tool lets users search for openings based either on general criteria or by 50 listed psychology specializations. It’s also possible to search by academic institution (including postdoc openings).

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)

    The NIH categorizes openings for scientific, administrative, and executive careers as well as those for recent graduates. Find tips for maximizing your job search or learn about targeted recruitment for veterans, disabled applicants and college students.

  • National Latina/o Psychological Association

    The organization’s job board focuses on opportunities for positions in both public and private academic settings, in teaching, administration, services, and research. Job listings are linked to individual personnel offices at recruiting institutions.

  • Psychologyjobs.com

    Targeted specifically to the psychology field, this site offers search-by-state employment listings, career advice, and job search tips. Visitors can further narrow their search by specializations and career focus.

  • SocialService.com

    Job seekers can search for psychology jobs according to location, full- or part-time employment, or educational requirements. Internship opportunities are also listed. Free registration entitles visitors to post resumes and set up search agents.

  • The Chronicle of Higher Education

    Psychology grads looking to establish or grow careers in research, education or professional services can pinpoint openings both in education and outside academia. Users can sign up for the site’s free dossier service as well as receive job alerts.

Undergraduate and Postdoctoral Internships

Almost all psychology careers that require certifications or licenses depend on internship programs that provide practical, supervised student experiences. Many internships take place during the summer, but some are scheduled during the semester. Certain internships may be paid and/or offer housing. The following selection of internships offers a glimpse of available opportunities:

Allegheny General Hospital

Location: Pittsburgh, Pa.

Three-month rotations are offered in child psychology, adult psychology or neuropsychology, in both outpatient clinic and group therapy settings. Other experiences are offered in child trauma and behavioral medicine.

American Addiction Centers

Location: West Palm Beach, Fla.

Doctoral students are exposed to a range of experiences in chemical dependency and dual-diagnosis treatments serving adults and adolescents. Interns perform interviews, assessments and interventions.

Genesee Community Services

Location: Oconomowoc, Wis.

Students serve children and adolescents in these year-round internships, focusing on mental health disorders, learning disabilities and neurological disorders. Services are provided in students’ homes after school.

NIH Clinical Center Summer Internships

Location: Bethesda, Md.

Open to students from the high school level to those seeking professional degrees, the NIH summer program runs 40 hours per week for eight weeks. Students work with clinical mentors and research professionals at the NIH.

NYU Center for Behavioral Statistics and the Study of Motivated Perception

Location: New York, N.Y.

This eight-week summer internship exposes undergraduates to hands-on research design and the creation of a scholarly presentation through behavioral observation and analysis. Interns live on the NYU campus.

Psychological Research Experience Program, University of Wisconsin

Location: Madison, Wis.

Available to undergraduate students from underrepresented populations, this program offers mentored summer internships focusing on career development, scientific research, and professional networking.

Summer Program on Mind and Brain

Location: Fort Collins, Colo.

The department of psychology at Colorado State University and the National Science Foundation accept 10 undergraduate interns per year to participate in mentored research comparable to a graduate-level seminar. Focus is on research tools and methodologies.

Professional Psychology Associations

Membership to professional psychology associations can give you access to a wealth of resources as well as career and industry information. Associations often sponsor online job boards, seminars, and national and local meetings, and offer members access to mentoring, career-building assistance, and the opportunity to forge professional contacts. Here are some organizations of interest in the field of psychology:

Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

Founded in 1969, the AAPB represents professionals from psychology, nursing, education, and social work disciplines. It advocates for incorporating biofeedback into educational and clinical practices. Members have access to a resource library.

Cognitive Science Society

The CSS is an international society and gathering place for researchers in fields including anthropology, artificial intelligence, education, linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience. Members receive a newsletter and other publications, and have access to resources, job listings, and internship opportunities.

Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society

MNS represents educators and researchers interested in the relationship between the brain and behavior. It provides talks through a speakers’ bureau, and advocates for healthcare parity and reform.

National Academy of Neuropsychology

NAN advocates for the advancement of research and practices in neuropsychology. The academy provides webinars, information on scholarships, clinical research grants, and fellowships.

National Alliance on Mental Illness

This grassroots mental health organization provides educational and professional resources on mental illness for consumers, families, students, researchers, and psychology professionals. Resources are available online and through state and community chapters.

Psi Chi

Students and faculty members from more than 1,000 chapters make up this international society, which provides grants, publications and networking resources in psychology. It awards more than $400,000 in grants and scholarships for undergraduates, graduates and member faculty advisers.

The Society of Experimental Social Psychology (SESP)

Most members of SESP hold PhDs in social psychology and related disciplines, and are employed in academic or other research settings. Members may participate in an annual conference and receive online access to society journals and research publications.

The Society for General Psychology

The society promotes active interdisciplinary research and scholarship among psychology’s many disciplines. Students and professionals are offered free one-year trial memberships, granting access to publications and participation in regional and national conferences.

The Society for Research in Psychopathology (SRP)

Serving professional psychologists and scientists, the SRP has more than 125 of the world’s key researchers in the psychopathology professions. It sponsors publications and conducts conferences for established professionals and their graduate students.

Updated: June 14, 2017