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Thinking of Joining the Military as a Psychologist?

Decide whether a job as a psychologist in the military is right for you.

Key points

  • Active-duty military psychologists number amongst the highest-qualified psychologists in the nation.
  • It is critical that the decision to pursue and accept a military commission is done in an informed manner.
  • The military will challenge your resilience, physical abilities, adaptability, and professional expertise.

The military has become a formidable employer of the nation’s top psychologists. With steadily improving pay and benefits, rigorous academic and training standards, unparalleled postdoctoral training opportunities, and a board certification rate that is at least five times the civilian rate, active-duty military psychologists number amongst the highest-qualified psychologists in the nation.

Military psychologists are valued members of the military, employed as force multipliers and risk mitigators.
Source: Pixabay/Pexels

That all sounds great, but, as with any career decision, it is important to know what you might be getting yourself into. Will you like the job? Are you a good fit for the job? Is the job a good fit for you? Is the military lifestyle right for you? When considering active-duty service, these are extremely important questions, because accepting a military commission is a serious decision.

Consequently, it may be helpful to discuss some of the potential pros and cons of military service as a psychologist, recognizing that one person’s pro may be another’s con and vice versa. Let’s start with some pros.


  • Challenging and rewarding work: As for all service members, the military will challenge your personal resilience, your physical abilities, your adaptability, and your professional expertise. Your core abilities as a psychologist are certainly a priority for the military, but equally important are your abilities as an officer, leader, and team player. You will be able to see the gamut of clinical presentations as a psychologist, and you will be assigned to lead others; your decisions will have ramifications for both individuals and the mission. The professional and personal opportunities in the military are fairly unlimited, and finding meaning in life by serving your country and your fellow service members is pretty easy.
  • Advanced professional and training opportunities: The military is the only organization I know that pays psychology trainees a full salary while they are in training. Military psychology interns enjoy the same wages and benefits as any military officer of their same rank. And once a psychologist is in the military, they are eligible to apply for an array of postdoctoral fellowships in such specialties as forensic psychology, prescribing psychology, neuropsychology, health psychology, child psychology, and operational psychology, as well as leadership development courses offered by the military. During all of these fellowships and trainings, the psychologist again makes a regular full-time salary. Additionally, commands fund participation in conferences, any other applicable training, and board certification, and encourage and support participation in professional organizations. The military recognizes that military psychologists are a vital component in significant risk decisions and provides the support to ensure they are well-qualified.
  • Competitive pay and benefits: Military compensation for psychologists has significantly improved over the last 15 years, making military psychologists some of the highest-earning psychologists in the United States. Service members in general receive good benefits, including free health care, generous annual leave, flexible sick leave, the G.I. Bill, tax benefits, a housing allowance, a pension, and loan forgiveness. Psychologists specifically may also receive an accession bonus, board certification pay, incentive pay, and a retention bonus.

There are other pros, but these are three of the most profound. Let’s turn now to some cons.


  • Lack of control: If you are looking for a 9–5, Monday–Friday job, in a geographic area where you will live long-term, the military is not for you. As with the rest of the military, military psychologists move frequently, deploy, and may be reassigned to meet the military mission. And just like the rest of the military, you will wear a uniform, be required to exercise, be required to attend recurring preventive health appointments, enjoy routine drug testing, and so on. This lifestyle is not for everyone. On the other hand, if your life circumstances allow you to be flexible, you see potential adventure in moves to unexpected places, and you are able to see opportunities in the unforeseen, then the military might be exactly right for you.
  • Stress on families: While the military has made some gains in making military life easier for families, there is likely no scenario in which it will ever be considered an optimal situation for families. The business of the military takes spouses and parents away from home on a regular basis, and this mobile lifestyle creates employment challenges for spouses, parenting challenges for both parents, and relationship challenges for couples. There are obviously pros for families, particularly comprehensive health benefits, exposure to different cultures, the opportunity to travel and live in other countries, raising flexible and informed children, etc., but this may not completely offset some of the challenges.
  • Specialty considerations: Military psychologists must be generalists, such that each one is able to meet mission requirements just about anywhere. Thus, if you have your heart set on working exclusively in one specialty area, that is unlikely. This is not to say that military psychologists do not specialize, but after training you may not be used full time in that specialty, and you may be required to step out of it for periods of time if the military mission needs you elsewhere.

The military has a lot to offer psychologists, whether they are in the early stages of their career development or even later if someone is looking for a greater challenge. However, it is critical that the decision to pursue and accept a military commission is done in an informed manner, as military service is demanding and necessarily exacting. Other resources available to assist you in your decision are the American Psychological Association Society for Military Psychology and the Center for Deployment Psychology, or, if you've already decided you want to join, here are all of the ways in.

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