How to Become a Psychologist

Have you got what it takes to become a psychologist? Find out now.

graduate who has become a psychologist

A psychologist is a non-medical doctor who specializes in psychology, the study and profession concerning behavior and the related functions and processes of both the mind and body, in human and non-human animals. The field of psychology is vast and once learn how to become a psychologist, your duties will vary depending on your specialty and credentials.

Psychologists have varying roles depending on the psychologist's specialty and level of education. Psychologists perform counseling and psychotherapy services, conduct research and personality tests, in addition to teaching courses in colleges and universities. Psychologists also testify in court and have countless other roles in many other areas. 

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist

Psychologists (PhD, PsyD, EdD) and psychiatrists (MD) are both doctoral-level clinicians, but only psychiatrists can prescribe medications. Psychiatrists spend most of their training years in medical school and the last three years learning about mental health in a psychiatry residency. If you choose to become a psychologist, you'll spend your entire graduate education learning about mental health (typically 5-to-7 years), followed by supervised internship experience.

Psychologist vs. Counselor

Both help people deal with emotional stress, but licensed clinical, counseling, or educational psychologists must have a doctorate in psychology, which requires 5-to-7 years of postgraduate work. Most licensed counselors have master's degrees, which requires 2-to-3 years of postgraduate work, however some counseling specialties require only an associate's degree.

Different Types of Therapists

  • Clinical psychologists (PhD, EdD, or PsyD): Trained in psychological theories and methods.
  • Psychiatrist (MD): Trained medical doctor with a specialty in psychiatry. Emphasis on the biological causes of mental disorders. Treats patients with medication.
     
  • Psychoanalyst (MD or PhD): Trained in psychoanalysis.
  • Licensed Social Worker (LSW- MS, MA): LSWs have supervised internship requirements similar to psychologists.
  • School Psychologist (MA, MS, EdS): Trained in psychology with an education and child development emphasis.
  • Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor (MFCC- MA, MS): Training in psychology or social work.

Work Environment

Once you've learned how to become a psychologist, you'll need to think about where you'd like to work. Psychologists work in a variety of work environments including the following:

  • Schools and universities
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Government agencies
  • Social service organizations
  • Management consulting firms
  • Marketing research firms and other businesses

Approximately two-thirds of all psychologists are self-employed and maintain a private practice.

The Education Path

  • Earn your bachelor's degree: Most psychologists have a bachelor's degree in psychology.  Prerequisite courses for graduate programs usually include general psychology, experimental psychology with a laboratory course, and statistics.
     
  • Gain experience in the field: If you're interested in experimental psychology, assist in a professor's research project. Work with handicapped children if you're interested in developmental psychology. Volunteer in a mental health clinic if you're interested in clinical or counseling psychology.
     
  • Research graduate programs: Research the various programs and find out admissions requirements.
     
  • Choose a degree and specialty: Clinical psychology or counseling psychology? Research psychology or industrial organizational psychology? PsyD or PhD?
     
  • Enter a graduate program: Most schools look for a competitive score on the GRE (at least above 1200), a GPA above 3.3, and volunteer or paid experience in the field.
     
  • Complete an internship: All clinical programs require an internship. Internships in clinical and counseling psychology also will be APA approved or not. Jobs in the mental health field sometimes require that a person had an APA approved internship.
     
  • Become licensed: In order to practice psychology you must be licensed by the state. Most states require approximately two years of supervised experience after you earn your PhD, PsyD, or EdD. You must also pass a national multiple-choice exam and, in many states, present a case study to a board of psychologists.

Differences Between PhD, PsyD and EdD

  • A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is the traditional psychology degree which places an equal emphasis on research and clinical training. PhD programs are offered by traditional universities and are highly competitive.
     
  • A PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) is a newer professional degree, offered by professional schools of psychology, and it emphasizes clinical practice with only a minimum of research training. Entrance into PsyD programs is less competitive than PhD programs.
     
  • The EdD is normally offered by an education department and usually signifies expertise in relating psychology to education or counseling.