Psychology is a rich and diverse field allowing individuals interested in a psychology career to specialize in a specific area. There are many different areas of psychology, including biological psychology, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, comparative psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology, industrial psychology, personality psychology, professional psychology, positive psychology, and social psychology. Education requirements for these fields will vary, as will their potential salaries.
Biological psychology focuses on the study of how biology affects behavior. This research may include studying physiological mechanisms that dictate behaviors. Someone in this field may work in a laboratory with rats, for example, trying to determine how genetic factors impact memory.
The purpose of clinical psychology is to help individuals with underlying mental illnesses that have psychological components. While most clinical psychologists engage in therapy with patients, some also work in research or teach within the field. Therapies used by a clinical psychologist are dictated by different psychological theories. As we understand more about human behavior, there has been a push to merge the major components of the many theories to achieve a more comprehensive therapeutic model.
Cognitive psychology studies the cognitive processes that beget mental activity. Areas of research in this field include trying to understand human reasoning, problem solving, and memory formation.
Comparative psychology is the study of behavior of animals other than humans. The study of animal behavior can be an important component to understanding the evolution of human behavior.
Developmental psychology focuses on how the human mind develops over the course of a lifetime. This field’s goal is to understand how individuals come to understand the world around them and how this understanding evolves with age. These researchers typically focus on times during the life cycle when rapid changes are occurring, such as infancy, puberty, and old age.
A psychology career in educational psychology would include studying how individuals learn in educational environments. The purpose of this study is to determine how effective educational interventions are. Individuals training to become teachers are often required to take classes in educational psychology. The psychology career of a school psychologist is a related field that aims to understand and treat students with developmental delays affecting learning.
Industrial and organizational psychologists (I-O psychologists) are hired by large companies looking to evaluate the performance of their employees. Ultimately, the goal is to improve worker productivity while also keeping employees happy. A related subfield, personnel psychology, uses similar principles to select employees.
Individuals interested in personality psychology will study the patterns that lie within human thought and behavior. Essentially, they study the components that make up one’s personality.
Social psychology is a psychology career focused on learning how individuals relate to each other when influenced by the urge to conform, the power of persuasion, and the impact of one’s personal beliefs.
Individuals who consider themselves to be professional psychologists are typically those who have earned doctorates in the field and provide individual psychological assessments. Typically, this psychology career also includes providing therapy to individuals or groups.
Lastly, positive psychology is focused on the study of factors that impact happiness. The ultimate goal of this field is to improve one’s mental health. This psychology career is relatively new and still under scrutiny, but it is believed to be efficacious. This may be particularly true for individuals with eating disorders.
Psychology Career Educational Requirements
For the most part, a doctorate in psychology is required to practice in any one of these areas. The most notable exception to this is the field of I-O psychology, where only a master’s degree is required to work. Training for a psychology career takes years. After completing a bachelor’s degree, some continue on to obtain master’s degrees. For individuals who are interested in pursuing a PsyD degree, obtaining this master’s degree might be a perquisite for admissions.
Doctoral degrees in psychology can take six years to complete, following which clinical internships may be required to obtain a job and gain state licensure.
This lengthy education process is balanced by a reasonably high salary in some fields. With work experience, some individuals in a psychology career will make over $100,000 per year. Even at the master’s level, an I-O psychologist can earn over $70,000 per year. Job growth in this field is thought to be better than average, and thus, job security should not be a large concern for those looking to enter the field.
Because human behavior is so diverse and distinct, the field of psychology must mirror this. Individuals interested in a psychology career have many options to practice the craft.
Areas of Psychology
Like many fields within the healthcare profession, psychology has splintered into many different areas of specialty. This allows patients to see a professional practicing in a specific niche and allows an individual with a psychology career to focus on an area of interest.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes more than fifty specialty divisions of psychology. Some of the most well known areas of psychology include education, military psychology, general psychology, behavioral psychology, and clinical psychology. These topics are discussed in some detail below.
The other APA recognized divisions are:
Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics
Personality and Social Psychology
Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI)
Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
Industrial and Organizational Psychology (I-O Psychology)
Society of Counseling Psychology
Psychologists in Public Service
Adult Development and Aging
Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology
Society for Consumer Psychology
Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology
History of Psychology
Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse
State, Provincial, and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Environmental, Population, and Conservation Psychology
Psychology of Women
Psychology of Religion
Child and Family Policy and Practice
American Psychology-Law Society
Psychologists in Independent Practice
Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues
Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues
Exercise and Sport Psychology
Peace Psychology Division
Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy
Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity
Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Advancement of Pharmacotherapy
Education psychology is the field in which individuals with an interest in research and teaching typically end up. These psychologists are tasked with teaching and training future psychologists. They may also have research laboratories at colleges or universities dedicated to improving our understanding of psychology.
Military psychologists not only provide mental health services to our armed forces but also perform research in this area. Military psychologists may also consult with Congressional committees or advise senior military personnel. This is an area that is now getting quite a bit of media attention as more individuals who have been deployed battle post-traumatic stress disorder.
General psychologists, as the name implies, work to combine the many disciplines of psychology into one cohesive area of psychology. While these individuals are not specialists, they are trained in many different areas and can appeal to individuals who have a variety of mental health issues.
The division of behavioral psychology, which includes comparative psychology, is tasked with the study of the biology of behavior. These psychologists are interested in the science of learning, memory, motivation, emotions, and thinking. Behavioral psychologists with a focus in neuroscience are interested in how the brain regulates these things. Comparative psychology allows us to understand the evolution of behavior by studying animals.
Clinical psychology focuses on the clinical practice of psychology. This division of the APA includes members who are not only practitioners seeing patients but also individuals whose research impacts the clinical practice of psychology.
The many areas of psychology help ensure that individuals can find practitioners trained in their areas of need as well as allowing psychologists to specialize in areas of interest.
Advantages of a Psychology Career
For those who are interested in a psychology career, there are many advantages that they can look forward to. Psychologists can experience the fulfillment of the helping others, enjoy a high earning potential, can learn about people and how they think, and may have quite a bit of variety in their work.
Some people go into psychology wanting to help people, and a psychology career is an excellent means to find that fulfillment and satisfaction. Even at an otherwise routine appointment, there is an opportunity to help a person solely by listening. For some, this simple act can make an enormous difference, especially if they believe there is no one else willing to listen to their stories. There are some specialties or divisions of psychology where the act of helping is more overt, such as is the case for clinical psychology, but all psychologists have daily opportunities to feel fulfillment from helping their patients, including those in research settings.
One of the major advantages of a psychology career is the high earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for psychologists in clinical, counseling, and school settings was $64,140 in 2008. Those earning the highest 10 percent in these divisions commanded salaries over $100,000. For individuals practicing in the I-O division, even higher salaries are available. The median income for these psychologists was $77,010 in 2008, and the highest 10 percent of earners had salaries close to $150,000.
Individuals who go into the field of psychology typically have a natural curiosity about human behavior in addition to a desire to help others. It can be very exciting to learn about different people and the things that make those people different from each other. Treating individuals with mental illnesses can be intriguing from an intellectual standpoint.
While psychologists may see the same patient multiple times, they will continuously see new and different patients as well. As some patients graduate from therapy and move on, new patients with new concerns will arrive. Additionally, new mental illnesses are still being defined and diagnosed. The potential exists for a practitioner to see new patients with new disorders on a regular basis.
There are several advantages to a psychology career, including the ability to help others, the high earning potential, the opportunity to learn about human behavior, and the variety inherent in the work. If these things seem of interest, psychology may be an appropriate career choice.
Disadvantages of a Psychology Career
Like any job, individuals in psychology careers can identify disadvantages within the work. Some psychologists have described some problems of the job as being emotionally draining, dealing with difficult patients, needing to work long hours, and having insurance and billing issues.
Listening to other people’s problems day in and day out can be an emotionally draining process. This can be especially true for psychologists who have a natural desire to want to help their patients. For the psychologist who empathizes especially well with a patient or patients, this can mean lingering thoughts about those patients even after work has officially come to an end for the day. It can be difficult to leave these concerns at the office, but thinking about them endlessly can be emotionally draining.
In addition to worrying about patients, psychologists can also be confronted with difficult patients. Difficult patients may demand the psychologist’s attention more so than is normal or necessary, calling on the psychologist after hours or requesting additional appointments. Some patients can project feelings onto a psychologist that strain the overall relationship and make treatment more challenging. The psychologist must take care to avoid falling into the trap of interacting with these patients in a nonprofessional manner and projecting feelings of their own back onto the patient. When the therapist-patient relationship becomes truly dysfunctional, the psychologist must have the foresight to suggest an alternate therapist for the patient.
While some psychologists work traditional hours, many work long hours including nights and weekends. This is especially true for individuals in private practice who cater to patients who require more flexible appointment times. Psychologists who work in facilities that operate twenty-four hours a day may also experience working nights and weekends by virtue of taking on shift work.
Like many healthcare professionals, insurance and billing issues have dominated the psychology field as well. For individuals in private practice, the paperwork created by this task can be daunting and may, ultimately, require the hiring of a specialist to handle insurance claims. Not all patients will have health insurance, some who have insurance may have policies that do not cover mental health professional fees, and some may have insurance that covers only some services for certain periods of time. Keeping track of these differences can be exhausting and can ultimately take away from the hours a psychologist has available to actually see and treat patients. This kind of paperwork is often cited as the biggest disadvantage to a career in psychology.
When considering a field like psychology, it is important to think about the advantages and disadvantages. While any job will have disadvantages, one must evaluate these and come to a decision as to whether the interest in and advantages of the field outweigh the disadvantages. For a psychology career, the main things to consider are the long hours, insurance and billing issues, difficulty of certain patients, and the fact that the work can be emotionally draining.