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Psychology

Psychology professionals help their patients and clients understand themselves and effectively communicate that information with those around them – friends, family, and coworkers.

Psychology is a broad subject area, with degrees of all levels and programs of all types. To practice as a psychologist, however, you must have a master's or a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.). Students studying psychology at the bachelor's or even associate's level will have other favorable job opportunities: as the assistants and aides to more educationally experienced psychologists, and as behavioral experts in business fields like advertising.

Psychologists themselves work in different fields and industries. Clinical psychologists work as part of the healthcare system and assist physicians and psychiatrists with mental health and rehabilitation counseling in a clinical environment. Clinical psychologists are often highly specialized, working exclusively or largely with specific groups and illnesses: schizophrenics, bipolar disorder, etc.

Counseling psychologists work with individuals to understand and solve the everyday issues of life. They may help their clients deal with behavioral issues like alcohol abuse or eating disorders, or simply lend a sympathetic ear to a lonely professional in the throes of a midlife crisis.

School and developmental psychologists work with young men and women with issues that arise from adaptation to new environments and stressful decisions; social psychologists specialize in fostering healthy relationships in workplaces, organizations, and relationships.

The fastest-growing (and best-paying) field of psychology is industrial and organizational psychology. These psychologists use their understanding of relationship and power dynamics in the workplace to maximize the corporate efficiency and well-being of the companies that employ them. These psychologists often come from a business background, and do not necessarily need a doctorate to practice.

Psychology Career Opportunities

Associate's and bachelor's-level psychology programs can qualify for entry-level careers in psychologist aides and assistants, and some counseling positions (see Counseling). Psychologists themselves have a master's degree or doctorate in general psychology or a specialized aspect of psychology.

  • Psychologists: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 170,200 working psychologists in 2008. A growing and aging population will increase demand for psychologists, who are expected to add 19,700 new jobs over 10 years, for a 2018 total of 189,900 positions. That's a growth rate of about 12%, about the same as the average for all professions.
Job Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Real job opportunities for psychologists will be better than that estimate. According to the Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be 68,000 positions available to qualified psychologists from 2008 to 2018. That figure – three times higher than the job growth predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics – includes those 19,700 predicted new positions AND positions vacated by retirement, career change, early termination, etc.

The smallest sub-group of psychologists – industrial and organizational psychologists – will see the fastest new job growth: 26%. Industrial and organizational psychologists are also the only group that can practice with only a master's degree, though the BLS notes doctorates are increasingly expected in an ultracompetitive job market.

The largest sub-group by far, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists, will see an 11% growth rate, about the same as the average for all professions.

  • Psychiatric Aides: According to the BLS, there were 62,500 working psychiatric aides in 2008. The field is only expected to grow by 6% over 10 years; that will mean an additional 3,600 jobs for qualified psychiatric aides for a 2018 total of 66,100.
Jobs Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Real job opportunities for psychiatric aides will be better than that modest estimate. The Department of Labor's Occupational Information Network predicts that there will be 9,800 positions available to qualified psychiatric aides from 2008 to 2018. That figure includes those 3,600 predicted new positions AND positions vacated by retirement, career change, early termination, etc.

Psychology Earnings

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists (comprising 89% of the field) earned median annual wages of $64,140 in 2008. The middle 50% of the field earned between $48,700 and $82,800, while the bottom 10% earned less than $37,900 and the top 10% earned more than $106,840.

Industrial and organizational psychologists were significantly better paid: they earned a yearly median of $77,010 in 2008. The middle 50% of the field earned between $54,100 and $115,720, while the bottom 10% earned less than $38,690 and the top 10% earned more than $149,120.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Psychiatric aides made median annual wages of $26,560 in 2008, according to the BLS. The middle 50% of the field made between $20,800 and $32,520 annually, while the bottom 10% made less than $17,360 and the top 10% made more than $39,030.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Psychology Skills and Abilities

Psychologists should be excellent active listeners, able to make their clients feel that they are understood. They should also be excellent communicators, able to draw upon their experience and education to offer concise and valuable advice in their chosen field.

It is important that clients are comfortable with their psychologists, so psychologists and their aides should be sympathetic and trustworthy.

For many clinical, counseling, and developmental psychologists, creative thinking can make the difference between effective and ineffective therapy when dealing with long-standing behavioral, developmental, or relationship issues.

Because they work with many different patients and clients at the same time, each with radically different issues, psychologists should have strong organizational skills. For industrial and organizational psychologists, organization is part of the job description – they must be effective organizers and efficiency experts not only in their own lives but in the hierarchy of the companies for which they work.

Psychology Educational Benefits

A formal, high-level psychology education is a prerequisite for entry-level positions as psychologists. Bachelor's degrees in psychology and behavioral science can lay an excellent framework for graduate studies, but job opportunities in psychology for those with less-than-graduate educational experience are limited, according to the BLS.

That's not to say those students with psychology and behavioral science bachelor's and even associate's degrees will have limited opportunities in the rest of the economy: their training makes them attractive candidates for advertising, media, customer service and other positions that rely on keen understanding on what drives individuals to consume specific products and services over others.

Unlike other fields where educational prerequisites have increased over time, psychologists have always been required to have substantial post-secondary and post-graduate education: because of that, the Occupational Information Network reports that essentially 100% of psychologists have a bachelor's degree or higher, with the vast majority having earned master's and doctoral degrees.

Psychology and behavioral science associate's and bachelor's degrees are not required for most psychiatric aide positions, but those with formal education will have the best job opportunities and earnings potential.

A graduate degree (generally a doctorate) is required for all psychologist positions, and admission to graduate psychology programs is generally very competitive.

According to the Occupational Information Network, the majority of psychiatric aides aged 25 to 44 – 55% – have no formal education beyond a high school diploma. 37% have some college, including associate's degrees and diplomas in psychology and behavioral science. The remaining 8% have a bachelor's degree or higher.

Source: Occupational Information Network

Psychology Programs Online

Psychology and behavioral science degrees are offered online at all levels. Master's and doctoral programs generally require supervised clinical components, usually in the form of clinical rotations. If an online psychology graduate program DOES NOT require supervised clinical work, then it is unlikely to meet your state's licensing requirements for psychologists.

The best online psychology programs provide an education as good as one pursued at a local ground school, in a more flexible and remote format that may be better suited to working students. As with all expensive and important educational decisions, do your research when choosing an online psychology degree program at any level. Is the school accredited? Do credits transfer? What are people saying about this program specifically and this school in general? The answers to many of these questions can be found on this website, but don't be afraid to ask your admissions counselor difficult questions.

Psychology Qualifications and Advancement

Completion of undergraduate behavioral science and psychology programs will qualify graduates for Psychiatric Aide positions and for human behavior-related careers in business, advertising, etc.

Doctoral degrees are required for most Psychologist positions, though Master's are adequate for some industrial and organizational psychologists. Keen competition for available jobs in that small, high-paid field has made many employers prefer doctoral degrees, however.

Additional Information

The American Psychological Association maintains a Web site geared towards prospective students at http://www.apa.org/students.

Counseling

Like psychologists, counselors work with clients and patients in varying levels of mental distress. Sometimes that distress is serious to the point of being life-threatening: substance abuse counselors work with those addicted to dangerous drugs; mental health counselors offer support to psychologically unstable individuals, some of whom may be suicidal.

For other counselors, like marriage or school counselors, the distresses are less severe. These counseling professionals listen carefully to the concerns and issues of their clients, and provide thoughtful and measured advice on the issues of married couples, families, or school students.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counseling

Also called addiction counselors and behavioral counselors, these counseling professionals lend a sympathetic ear and strong advice to those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, or other behavioral disorders.

Working out of public and private treatment facilities, or with private clients, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors can make a real difference in lives that have spun out of control. Overcoming harmful addictions and behaviors is an intensely personal struggle, but it is made easier by intelligent and sympathetic advice and information.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008:

  • 22% of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors worked for outpatient care centers
  • 20% worked in residential mental health and substance abuse facilities
  • 15% worked for individual and family service organizations
  • 8% worked in hospitals
  • 8% worked for local government organizations
Where to work Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counseling Career Opportunities

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 86,100 substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in 2008. Job outlook is expected to be strong, as behavioral counseling has proven effective for drug abusers, alcoholics and those with other self-destructive conditions like eating disorders. Prison overcrowding and changing laws have made public and private drug treatment programs an attractive alternative to some minor drug and alcohol-related jail sentences. The field of substance abuse and behavioral counseling is expected to add 18,100 new jobs over a decade, for a 2018 total of 104,200 positions. That's a healthy 21% growth rate, much higher than the 9.2% predicted expansion of the entire civilian workforce.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Real job opportunities for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors will be better than that estimate. According to the Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be 35,500 positions available to qualified substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors from 2008 to 2018. That figure includes those 18,100 predicted new positions AND positions vacated by retirement, career change, early termination, etc.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counseling Earnings

According to the BLS, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors made an annual median of $37,030 in 2008. The middle 50% of the field made between $29,410 and $47,290, while the bottom 10% earned less than $24,240 and the top 10% earned more than $59,460 a year.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earnings for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors vary by the candidate's education and work history, and by the employer's industry. Addiction and behavior counselors who worked in hospitals earned the most, with median annual wages of $44,210. Counselors that worked in residential mental health and substance abuse facilities earned the least of any large group: an annual median of $33,240.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counseling Educational Benefits

Bachelor's and master's degrees in substance abuse counseling or behavioral counseling are generally required for entry-level positions. Licensed counselors generally have graduate degrees. Associate's degrees in substance abuse counseling do exist, and can qualify the graduate for counselor aide and assistant positions.

Most states license substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. Licensing requirements generally include a counseling, psychology or behavioral science master's degree and a varying level of supervised clinical experience.

According to the Occupational Information Network , the vast majority – 73% – of professional counselors have a bachelor's degree or higher. Only 9% have no formal education beyond a high school diploma, and the remaining 18% have completed some college, including counseling associate's degree programs.

Educational Achievement Source: Occupational Information Network

Substance abuse and behavioral counseling programs generally include coursework in areas like psychology, sociology, human development, social and cultural sensitivity and diversity, counseling techniques, and science classes tailored to address the physiological effects of substance abuse and other physically destructive disorders.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counseling Programs Online

Online substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling programs are offered at the associate's, bachelor's and master's level. Remember that your state may include a supervised clinical experience requirement and make sure that your online program facilitates the necessary rotations.

The best online substance abuse and behavioral disorder programs provide an education as good as one pursued at a local ground school, in a more flexible and remote format that may be better suited to working students. As with all expensive and important educational decisions, do your research when choosing an online counseling degree program at any level. Is the school accredited? Do credits transfer? What are people saying about this program specifically and this school in general? The answers to many of these questions can be found on this Web site, but don't be afraid to ask your admissions counselor difficult questions.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counseling Skills and Abilities

Counselors of all kinds are professional listeners and communicators. They should be skilled at drawing people out of their shells though active listening, mutual respect, and intelligent questions. Counselors cultivate an attentive, sympathetic personality so they can gather information that may be useful in creating a personalized counseling plan.

Because counselors may work with large groups, organizational and time management skills are important, along with strong leadership that commands respect and attention.

Addiction and behavior counselors work with hard cases, and their work can be unpleasant and stressful. In service-based careers like these, attitude is everything. Counselors must come to work for the right reasons, or the intensity of their responsibilities will wear them down.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors often work as part of a counseling team in rehabilitation and treatment programs. Their relationships with their coworkers are often subject to the same stresses as with their patients and clients; counselors who are cooperative and personable can add to the team's cohesion and effectiveness.

Substance Abuse and Behavior Counselor Qualification and Advancement

Completion of associate's and bachelor's degrees in substance abuse and behavioral counseling qualifies the graduate for positions as Substance Abuse and Behavior Counselor Aides and Assistants, and other behavioral correction support personnel.

Completion of a master's degree in the field and other state licensing requirements can qualify graduates as Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors.

Additional Information

The American Counseling Association maintains a Web site at http://www.counseling.org.