Degrees & Licensing

What Are the Degree and Licensure Requirements to Work in the Field of Psychology?

Different levels of study are available to match your interests and career goals.

Psychology is a great field for many people, and if it fits your personality, there’s nothing better. Many psychologists, counselors, therapists and social workers across the country will tell you that there’s nothing more satisfying than helping people in need and seeing them grow.

But the discipline of psychology is so varied that it’s impossible to find a one-size-fits-all degree to cover every career path and licensure requirement. Some jobs require only a bachelor’s degree, but for others a master’s or doctorate is the required degree. Which degree level is right for you?

Because the different fields are licensed at the state level, every state has its own requirements. We’ve compiled the information you need to make an informed decision.


First, Know Your State’s Licensing Requirements

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Psychology Degrees and Licensure

Of course you’ll need a college degree to enter the field of psychology, but which specific degree level will help you achieve your career goals?

Is a bachelor’s enough? Generally a bachelor’s degree is just the first step in starting a psychology career. Will you need a master’s? If you’ve decided that going into research or entering the field of academia as a teacher or clinical administrator is for you, is a PhD or PsyD the right advanced degree?

  • To become a psychologist, you’ll need doctoral degree in psychology.
  • A PhD (doctor of philosophy) is for people who want to do research in the field of psychology. A PhD prepares students to work as researchers, teachers and practitioners.
  • A PsyD (doctor of psychology) is for people who want to specialize in clinical psychology. PsyD graduates diagnose and treat mental illness, and cognitive and emotional impairments. Students may specialize in counseling psychology, business psychology, organizational development or school psychology.
  • For both the PhD and PsyD, you’ll need to write a doctoral dissertation and do supervised professional work experience approved by the American Psychological Association, generally totaling about 3,000 hours (depending on your state).

Click on your state for more psychology licensing details.

Counseling and Therapy Degrees and Licensure

Counselors and therapists have different but overlapping roles.
Generally, counselors use talk therapy to focus on a client’s specific problems and will discuss what steps a client needs to take to overcome them.

Therapists use psychotherapy to explore patterns and recurring feelings, and find ways to improve their clients’ mental health. Therapy often requires a willingness to explore the past and its effect on the present because therapists want to resolve past issues so their clients can have more satisfying lives.

There are many different sub-fields in counseling and therapy. Below are the two of the most common ones.

Mental Health Counselor

  • To become a mental health counselor, you’ll generally need a master’s degree in counseling.
  • You’ll also need to complete supervised work experience.

Marriage and Family Therapist

  • To become a marriage and family therapist, you’ll need a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.
  • You’ll also need a minimum number of supervised post-degree contact hours with clients, depending on the state you live and practice in.

Click on your state counselor and therapist licensing details.

Social Work Degrees and Licensure

Social workers perform many of the same tasks as psychologists, counselors and therapists, but their focus is different. Social workers tend to help people with more basic needs than counselors. They are trained in case management, and help individuals and groups (like families) overcome social disadvantages such as poverty, mental and physical illness or disability, and social injustice.

There are three different licenses for social workers: baccalaureate social worker (LBSW), master social worker (LMSW) and clinical social worker (LCSW). Depending on the level of licensure you want, you’ll need the following degrees and work experience:

  • A bachelor’s degree (for LBSW) or master’s degree (for LMSW or LCSW) in social work.
  • Supervised work experience that includes approximately 3,000 hours of clinical social work (depending on state requirements), half of which must involve direct client contact (for LCSW).

Click on your state social work licensing details.

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