What Training Does it Take to Become a Psychologist?

If your career goal is to become a psychologist, the beginning stages can feel overwhelming. This is one field that requires a great deal of formal training, hands-on experience and education. By taking the time to understand the necessary training that is needed to pursue a career as a psychologist, you can better prepare yourself for the challenging yet rewarding years ahead.

Education and Training

The training required to become a psychologist largely depends on the specialty area you intend to pursue. In order to work as a qualified psychologist, a master’s program or doctorate program needs to be completed. In all 50 states, using the term “psychologist” means that the individual is licensed or certified.

These laws vary based on the state and the type of position such as a school psychologist or industrial-organizational psychologist. In addition to the required level of education, the United States Department of Labor reports that students pursuing the route of a psychologist will also need to complete an internship, one- to two-years of professional experience and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

Master’s Programs

In order to earn a master’s degree, students require two years of coursework at the master’s level. It’s not always easy to be accepted into a master’s program; although having a bachelor’s degree in psychology, good grades and a high score on the GRE Psychology Subject Test can heighten these chances.

Master’s programs also become more specialized depending on the career focus of the student. For example, those in training to become an industrial-organizational psychologist will spend time working with businesses while others may work in a mental health unit under direct supervision.

Even though more job opportunities open up for those with a master’s degree, jobs are still limited. Possible job opportunities at this level include an industrial-organizational psychologist, licensed counselor, school psychologist, sports psychologist and marriage and family therapist.

Doctorate Programs

If you’re planning on becoming a licensed clinical or counseling psychologist, you will need to earn your doctoral degree in psychology. This follows after both an undergraduate and master’s program and takes five to seven years to complete. There are two types of programs to choose from: a Ph.D. and a Psy.D. A Ph.D. in Psychology is the traditional route and focuses on research-based projects and studies. Students in these programs don’t just understand how to read studies, they are the ones responsible for creating them.

A Ph.D. is the best program for students who plan to work in clinical or counseling psychology and will qualify students to work at hospitals, mental health clinics, government organizations and private practices. Those that hold a Ph.D. in Psychology can also teach psychology courses at a university and conduct research projects.

Since these students generally work on projects with their professor, there is more money funded to the psychology department and therefore, more funding available for Ph.D. programs. Courses focus heavily on research design and statistics.

The Psy.D. follows a different route and utilizes a practice-based educational model. Students spend time learning various therapeutic training techniques and engage in hands-on activities that allow them to be comfortable in a counseling session. Students who participate in a Psy.D. program are able to read and understand psychology studies and apply them to their specialized approach. They are consumers of this information instead of originators. A Psy.D. is the best option for students who plan on working in a mental health setting or private practice and don’t intend to conduct research.

Final Dissertation

To complete a doctorate program, students need to complete a final dissertation. This exposition will vary based on the doctoral program. Students working toward their Ph.D. will complete a dissertation based on research while those working toward their Psy.D. will focus on clinical work and examinations. Students will also complete a one- to two-year internship or residency program that prepares them for working as a licensed or certified psychologist.

Board Certification

The American Board of Professional Psychology lists 13 areas of psychology, and psychology professionals can earn specialized certification in these areas. At this time, this certification is not required for most psychology positions, but it shows that the professional has expertise in a specific area.

If you’re planning to specialize in a particular field such as clinical health or rehabilitation, you will be a more competitive candidate with board certification. In fact, some hospitals and clinics do expect that their employees have this certification, which means all candidates will need to have a doctoral degree, a state license and board certification.

Becoming a psychologist is a highly rewarding experience and requires time, effort and dedication on behalf of the student. With each level of training and experience, more job opportunities open up, giving students the motivation they need to continue pursuing a higher education. By choosing a specialized field and participating in the proper research, training and practical work, you can find your niche within the psychology field and start building this promising career.