You’ve researched a lot about psychologists, and you know a lot about the job, but how do you get there from where you are? Practicing psychology can be very rewarding, but it takes a lot of work, too. You’ll have to get at least a master’s degree, get experience in the field, and acquire a license before you start practicing.
The first thing you have to worry about is education. You need quite a bit of schooling to become a psychologist – even if you major in psychology as an undergraduate, you probably won’t be able to get your dream job until you’ve earned a master’s or doctorate’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals with bachelor’s degrees typically find work in unrelated fields, people with master’s degrees can usually find work in the industrial-organizational industry, and only those with doctorate’s degrees in psychology get to work in schools, counseling centers, and health care sites.
If you want to focus your education on research and get a Ph.D., expect to have to write a dissertation. On the other hand, if your goal is to get out in the field as much as possible while you are still a student, a Doctor of Psychology degree might be better for you – you’ll be evaluated on practical skills instead of research.
It’s never too early to get experience. As an undergraduate, you want to get experience working with people. While it’s difficult to get a professional internship early on, you can still volunteer at mental health facilities or in the public school system. Once you start working towards a higher degree, you should look for opportunities to shadow professionals in the workplace and internships in the field of study you’re most interested in. While everyone wants a paid internship, you may have take an unpaid position to gain experience at first.
Depending on what area of work you’re interested in, you may be required to have a minimum number of internship hours. It’s also possible that you’ll need to complete a residency program. Minimum requirements vary by college and niche, but it’s smart to get as much experience as you can while you’re in school. Opportunities close to your chosen field are better, but anything will help.
Like many careers in the health care field, you’ll need to become licensed before you become a psychologist. Each state has their own requirements, so you can go to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards to look up the right information. Once you’re licensed to practice psychology, you can choose to work for an agency or open up your own practice.
While getting a general license is required, you might want to take the extra initiative to get a certificate in a specialty from the American Board of Professional Psychology. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it will help you in your job search, and some employers won’t hire a person without additional certification.
Once you’re licensed and start your career, you’ll have to keep your knowledge and skills up-to-date by participating in continuing education courses. You can find out about the many different ways you can keep current in your field by visiting the American Psychological Association.
The path to becoming a psychologist depends on what kind of psychologist you want to be and where you plan on living once you start your career; however, no matter what your situation is, you’ll need to obtain an advanced degree, get experience in the field, and meet the licensing requirements for your state.