In a sense, every career is a psychology career. Whether someone is a salesperson, a schoolteacher, or a sports coach, to be effective—and especially to advance in their line of work—they often need a fine-tuned understanding of what motivates people.
Psychology offers a wide range of career opportunities depending on experience and educational background. Education and training in psychology equip a person to employ the scientific method, conduct research, provide therapy, consult with organizations, and teach. These skills can be beneficial in many different jobs—not just research or clinical work.
While those who study psychology can go on to follow a multitude of different career paths—both inside and outside the world of psychologists. Even people who make it the focus of their careers can take on a variety of roles.
Research psychologists, who typically have earned or are pursuing doctoral degrees, develop and test hypotheses about human behavior and the mind. Therapists, who span a range of education and certification levels, focus on working with people to address personal problems and help produce improvements in their lives. Psychologists can work with technology, both influencing the design of it and studying the effects it has on the human brain. Industrial-organizational psychologists are in high demand; they may study how humans interact with computers, increase productivity in the workplace, or design training programs for employees.
Pain psychology is another growing area with opportunities to help people overcome opioid addictions and learn healthier ways to cope with pain. Psychologists may choose to work with law enforcement, either evaluating criminals or providing mental health care to first-line responders. There are even traffic psychologists who use their knowledge of the human brain to influence drivers to prioritize safety on the road.
Psychology majors have a number of career options available to them with a Bachelor’s degree (4 years of study), most notably occupational therapy assistant, human resources specialist, and rehabilitation specialist. They may work in such areas as rehabilitation, marketing, law enforcement, or education. Popular jobs include counseling job-seekers about career paths, work in school administrations, recruiting clients for businesses, assisting in academic or market research, and working in administration, sales, or marketing. Individuals with an undergraduate degree tend to earn between $23,500 to $100,500 per year.
After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, psychology students may choose to study for another 2 to 4 years to earn a Master’s degree. This opens up new fields, including addiction, mental health counseling, social services, work with children and veterans, sports psychology, education, executive coaching, and business intelligence. Popular jobs include counselor, mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist, school counselor, and social worker. A Master’s degree can qualify someone to diagnose and treat psychological disturbances, provide therapy and counseling to groups, families, and/or couples, assist clients with obtaining federal or state benefits; identify and intervene in child abuse; and procure foster family and adoption services. The annual salary for someone with a Master’s degree typically ranges from $77,774 to $101,083.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, someone may continue on to study for an additional 4 to 6 years to earn a doctorate degree (Psy.D., Ph.D., Ed.D.). With an advanced degree, a person can command a higher salary (median annual salary is $79,010). Psychology career fields that may be pursued with a doctorate degree include child, clinical, cognitive, community, consumer, counseling, developmental, educational, engineering, environmental, evolutionary, family, forensic, gerontology, health, industrial/organizational, media, military, neuropsychology, psychometry, rehabilitation, and sports. People with doctoral degrees learn how to conduct research, administer psychometric testing, teach, counsel, and consult and/or treat clients (either individually or in groups).
Psychology majors with a bachelor’s degree may decide to pursue a medical degree (M.D.), which typically requires an additional 7 to 8 years of study. A medical degree qualifies an individual to become a professor of psychology or a psychiatrist (researcher or clinician). It opens up such specialty psychology fields as addiction, adult, child/pediatric, geriatric, forensic, neuropsychiatry, and psychopharmacology. People with an M.D. in psychology can assess, diagnose, and treat brain and behavioral disturbances, conduct research, and prescribe medication. The average annual salary for someone with an M.D. is $220,380.
If a student is interested in psychology, the first step is to get an education. They will want to apply for graduate programs that support their areas of interest. While completing their degree, they will want to build up internship hours. Clinical psychology doctoral programs generally last five years. Graduation is often followed closely by postdoctoral residencies intended to give psychologists supervised, on-the-job training while they are working towards their professional license.
Within each domain of psychology, there are a wide array of subdisciplines and specializations. Someone with a bachelor’s degree may pursue openings in residential counseling, rehabilitation assistance, admissions counseling, or youth advocacy programs. Alternatively, they may enter the corporate sector, applying their skills to business administration, public relations, market research, or similar areas. With a master’s degree, an individual can become a counselor at a school or community center or start a private practice (if their state allows it—some require a doctoral degree).
What's more, formal training in psychology can be useful in many fields. An in-depth understanding of human motivation, for example, can be especially valuable for those seeking careers related to marketing or advertising. In addition, training in psychology can provide information that is particularly helpful for those in or seeking leadership positions in any field.
Psychology is a popular major in college and for good reason: College students who major in psychology tend to have a better understanding of human behavior and how to ethically address problems that might crop up based on individual personalities. These skills make a psychology major a valuable asset in many different career areas, including business, education, advertising and marketing, social work, law, medicine, communication, human services, project management, public affairs, and more.
The essential qualities of effective therapists include high empathy, the ability to tolerate strong emotions in others, and low defensiveness. Good therapists patiently teach people new coping skills and gently confront problematic attitudes and behavior. They can build a positive rapport and maintain healthy interpersonal boundaries.
The psychology careers with the highest salaries are frequently those that require the most experience, along with a doctoral degree. Top examples include psychiatrists, industrial-organizational psychologists, neuropsychologists, clinical psychologists, engineering psychologists, and marketing managers.
Psychology can be a hard subject to study because everyone possesses some basic knowledge about human behavior that they have developed simply by being alive. People are constantly checking new information they learn about psychology against what they already know; this can be problematic, especially when what they think they know is wrong or missing data. When studying psychology, it’s crucial to remember that there’s no one generic type of person—it may be more helpful to think of people as many different subtypes that can be further shaped by individual experiences. In addition, individual psychologists frequently lack a common framework and find it difficult to build on each other’s work as a result.