Psychologist Training and Education

Training to be a Psychologist

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Psychologist Training and Education

Psychology class, Autograph of Samuel W Fernberger in red pencil and…—Penn Provenance Project (Flickr.com)

The psychologist’s work is centered around the study of the mind and its bearing on human action, emotion and interaction. Most psychologists will work with patients to help them deal with mental imbalances or disorders as well as with common problems like stress or major personal crises. He accomplishes this through talking with patients, gathering data, running surveys and conducting interviews.

There are a number of specialized fields in psychology, including clinical, counseling, educational, developmental, and industrial-organizational. Many psychologists will work in counseling centers, hospitals, or other health care facilities, while others may work in research, in the business world, or even in the criminal justice system.

The Skinny on Psychologist Training

In order to practice as a psychologist, a student must complete graduate level education by either earning a master’s degree or a doctorate. Depending on their particular course of study, a student may choose to study toward a particular specialty like clinical or counseling psychology. In addition to traditional theoretical education, an aspiring psychologist will need to complete a certain amount of practical hands-on experience before they are ready to begin practicing as a professional.

An individual may be able to work in the field of psychology with no more than a bachelor’s degree; however, most employers will expect a master’s degree at minimum. All psychologists are also required to have a license to practice in their state, though specific requirements vary from state to state.

Bachelor’s Degree

By earning a bachelor of science in psychology, an aspiring psychologist can launch into the world of psychology with a solid foundation in the fundamental principles of the science. Students will be introduced to core concepts like cognitive processes, human development, social psychology, biological psychology, learning and memory development, and personality development.

Graduates of a bachelor’s degree program will not be eligible to practice as fully licensed psychologists; however, they may find work for the federal government or as psychological assistants. This degree program opens the door for many experience opportunities, including internships and research positions.

Master’s Degree

In order to become a practicing psychologist, a student must at least earn a Master of Science in Psychology or in a related field. With this degree, a graduate would be eligible to work as an industrial-organizational psychologist or as an assistant in a research capacity. A graduate may also be able to practice in other fields with a master’s degree; however, this depends on state regulations. Positions at this level of education are typically few, and the field is generally highly competitive.

A Master of Science in Psychology can be earned in two years of full-time study. Most programs will focus on general psychology concepts and principles, though students typically can choose optional concentrations, including clinical, counseling, or developmental psychology. Some master’s programs may even offer sub-specialties or specialties with a special emphasis, like clinical psychology focused on family therapy.

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Course topics in a master’s degree program may include

– Psychopathology

– Social Psychology

– Group Psychology

– Assessment of Personality

– Counseling Theories and Strategies

– Therapeutic Boundaries

Certain programs may require their students to participate in clinical experience, and many will expect completion of a thesis, project, or comprehensive exam.

Doctoral Degree

At this level, students have two possible options: a Ph.D. in Psychology, or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology). Either degree will take between five and seven years to complete and include both traditional theoretical learning and practical hands-on training. Candidates generally choose their degree based upon what field they plan on practicing in after graduation. Those who are interested in working directly with patients in a clinical practice will be best served with a Psy.D. Students who are more inclined toward a research based career will find a Ph.D. in Psychology to be the more applicable course.

Much of the curriculum will be determined by the degree program chosen. Ph.D. programs will generally have a heavier focus on experimentation and research, while Psy.D. programs will focus more on the application of psychological concepts. Many programs will present course work in the spring and fall semesters with clinical experience or research during the summer months.

Common courses may include:

– Ethical and Professional Issues

– Advanced Psychopathology

– Psychopharmacology

– Statistical Methods and Analysis

– Cognition, Emotion and Motivation

– Psychological Assessment

– Advanced Theories of Personality

In both degree programs, students are required to participate in a practicum followed by an internship. During the supervised practicum, a student will work part time under a licensed psychologist to gain experience in the field. The internship involves a year of full time work under a licensed psychologist.

Licensing & Certification

As mentioned, all psychologists must have a license in the state where they plan to practice. Particular requirements vary from one state to the next, though all will require a psychologist to provide proof of competency in their chosen specialty or field. Psychologists are only allowed to practice within their particular field of expertise where they have received the appropriate training and education.

If a student intends to work in a clinical or counseling capacity, proof of competency can usually be proved by completion of a doctorate degree, an approved internship, and a certain amount of professional experience. Aspiring school psychologists will need to provide proof of training in school psychology to meet the standards of the National Association of School Psychologists.

All states do require that applicants pass an examination administered by the state licensing board. This exam is generally a standardized test, though some states also present additional oral or essay questions. Some states do also require continuing education for license renewal.

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