What Psychologists Do
The field of mental health is always developing, with new information and strategies being incorporated into practice nearly every day. There are many types of different mental health specialists, and they help people with a wide array of personal issues. On the lower end of the spectrum, there are counselors or therapists, who tend to have less education, but traditionally have at least a bachelor’s degree in regions that require licensure or protect the title. These individuals help people with everyday problems, such as coping with depression or anxiety, and helping people navigate life’s challenges. A step up from this might be a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Both help people with the same things a counselor might, but they tend to have a master’s degree and have a strong background in more intensive disorders.
For example, they may focus on treating people with an eating disorder, such as bulimia, or they may help addicts, individuals with personality disorders, and those who are suicidal. While a psychiatrist is a doctor who has honed in his studies on mental healthcare, a psychologist has followed an educational path of behavioral health. Although he or she cannot prescribe medications for this reason, the psychologist listens closely to the patient’s issues, provides feedback on how the person can improve his or her life, and may provide tools or create a treatment plan with various activities to help the individual learn to cope better.
When in clinical practice, psychologists may work alongside psychiatrists, counselors, and therapists, or alone. They work in individual practices, hospitals, clinics, schools, and a variety of other settings. In hospitals, positions such as neuropsychologists exist, in which the psychologist works alongside physicians to treat and manage patient care. Outside of clinical practice, psychologists sometimes work on research projects related to human behavior or behavioral health. Although they may have less one-on-one contact with patients in this respect, their research helps pave the way for new treatments and creates a better understanding of mental health in general. Psychologists may also teach at a university level. There are forensic psychologists as well. These individuals are often called upon to explain someone’s behavior in a courtroom, to determine what level of risk a person poses the general public, or to develop a profile of an unidentified suspect.
Who would enjoy a career in Psychology?
Naturally, the field is best for people who have compassion for others, but it also requires a strong desire to uncover the motivations and the causes behind a person’s actions, behaviors, and thoughts, as well as an open mind when exploring treatment options. Those who enter into the career must also have a commitment to lifelong learning, as continuing education and monitoring for developments is paramount in providing patients with the best treatment possible.
Who mightn't like the career?
Being a psychologist can be emotionally draining. It’s common for mental health professionals to seek out counseling of their own, to help them cope with and process the emotional demands of being in the field. It can also be a lonely profession, particularly when a psychologist runs a practice and has no peers to confide in. On top of this, becoming established and keeping patients coming back is notoriously difficult, so perseverance is necessary to get into the field and stay in it. Even a well-qualified practitioner will likely struggle at some point.
Becoming a psychologist is a lengthy process. Although sometimes a bachelor’s degree is enough, a master’s degree is generally the minimum requirement. It’s common for schools and licensing bodies to require a one or two-year internship in the field as well. Those hoping to get into research or teaching at a university level must generally obtain a doctorate degree.
Prepared candidates begin applying for internships somewhere between six months to one year in advance of completing coursework. This is because competition for top slots is fierce, and only the best or most-qualified individuals advance through the interview process.
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Moving into Psychology from another career
Because of the time, educational, and financial investments involved in transitioning into a career in psychology, it’s not a simple transition for anyone. However, those who have primary careers in mental healthcare or behavioral health may have an easier time with obtaining licensure or may already have some of the required coursework completed or degrees in hand. For further reading see the forum discussion “Major Career Change at 39: How to Become a Psychologist” and “Grad School: Managing a Career Change to I/O Psychology.”
Role: Unlike other careers, the field of psychology does not usually offer a linear career ladder to follow. However, those involved in research or teaching may be subject to a typical university career path. Professors and lecturers spend their days educating people about mental health, mental disorders, and human behavior, whereas researchers may come up with their own theories to test and run trials or may be involved in testing the concepts set forth by other psychologists.
Once a psychologist is properly licensed, he or she is qualified to work in either of these positions, as a general clinical psychologist, or in a variety of specialty areas. Most psychologists opt to work as clinical psychologists, and spend their days working one-on-one with patients. During this time, they diagnose and treat mental disorders of all types and may provide general counseling services as well.
Most psychologists don’t travel unless they work in research or forensic psychology. However, in these cases, travel may be extensive and can include tours throughout the country or even internationally.
Average: Data from PayScale indicates that pay is greatly influenced by experience level, location, and areas of specialty or additional knowledge. Base salaries average USD $75,000 in the United States, £31,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$77,000 in Canada, and AU$72,000 in Australia.
Entry Level: USD$65,450, £27,950, CAD$74,700, and AU$67,640.
Mid-Career: USD$80,850, £38,750, CAD$83,830, and AU$80,560.
Experienced: USD$89,320, £43,090, CAD$99,600, and AU$92,720.
Late Career: USD$97,790, £50,220, CAD$122,840, and AU$94,240.
Profit sharing, commission, and bonuses are not a part of every psychologist’s pay. However, in certain work settings, they can add tens of thousands of dollars onto a psychologist’s base pay.
Why Psychologists move on
The skills and education a psychologist has can be beneficial in virtually any career that deals with the general public. However, the emotional drain of being a psychologist nudges some people away from careers that deal much with people.
In his personal narrative, “On Quitting The Practice of Psychotherapy,” Michael Sussman writes about life after the field: “Meanwhile, I’m writing fiction. I’ve spoken to several former colleagues who are also in recovery. One runs her own bakery, another owns a bookstore, and a third raises llamas.”