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Psychologists study human behavior and mental processes to understand and explain people's actions. Some research psychologists investigate the physical, emotional, or social aspects of human behavior. Other psychologists in applied fields counsel and conduct training programs; do market research; or provide health services in hospitals or clinics.

Like other social scientists, psychologists collect and test the validity of data and formulate hypotheses. Research methods depend on the topic under study. Psychologists may gather information through controlled laboratory experiments; performance, aptitude, and intelligence tests; observation, interviews, and questionnaires; clinical studies; or surveys. Computers are widely used to record and analyze this information.

Psychologists usually specialize. Experimental psychologists study behavior processes and work with human beings and lower animals such as rats, monkeys, and pigeons; prominent areas of experimental research include motivation, learning and retention, sensory and perceptual processes, and genetic and neurological factors in behavior. Developmental psychologists study the patterns and causes of behavioral change as people progress through life; some concern themselves with behavior during infancy and childhood, while others study changes that take place during maturity and old age. Personality psychologists study human nature, individual differences, and the ways in which those differences develop. Social psychologists examine people's interactions with others and with the social environment; prominent areas of study include group behavior, leadership, attitudes, and interpersonal perception. Comparative psychologists study the behavior of humans and lower animals. Physiological psychologists study the relationship of behavior to the biological functions of the body. Psychologists in the field of psychometrics develop and apply procedures for measuring psychological variables such as intelligence and personality.

Clinical psychologists generally work in hospitals or clinics, or maintain their own practices. They help the mentally or emotionally disturbed adjust to life. They interview patients; give diagnostic tests; provide individual, family, and group psychotherapy; and design and carry through behavior modification programs. Clinical psychologists may collaborate with physicians and other specialists in developing treatment programs. Some clinical psychologists work in universities where they train graduate students in the delivery of mental health services. Others administer community mental health programs. Counseling psychologists use several techniques, including interviewing and testing, to advise people on how to deal with problems of everyday living--personal, social, educational, or vocational. Educational psychologists design, develop, and evaluate educational programs. School psychologists work with teachers and parents to evaluate and resolve students' learning and behavior problems. Industrial and organizational psychologists apply psychological techniques to personnel administration, management, and marketing problems. They are involved in policy planning, training and development, psychological test research, counseling, and organizational development and analysis, among other activities. For example, an industrial psychologist may work with management to develop better training programs and to reorganize the work setting to improve worker productivity. Engineering psychologists, often employed in factories and plants, develop and improve human/machine systems, military equipment, and industrial products. Community psychologists apply psychological knowledge to problems of urban and rural life. Consumer psychologists study the psychological factors that determine an individual's behavior as a consumer of goods and services. Health psychologists counsel the public in health maintenance to help people avoid serious emotional or physical illness. Other areas of specialization include environmental psychology, population psychology, psychology and the arts, history of psychology, psychopharmacology, and military and rehabilitation psychology.

Working Conditions

A psychologist's specialty and place of employment determine his or her working conditions. For example, clinical and counseling psychologists in private practice have pleasant, comfortable offices and set their own hours. However, they often have evening hours to accommodate their clients. Some employed in hospitals, nursing homes, and other health facilities often work evenings and weekends, while others in schools and clinics work regular hours. Psychologists employed by academic institutions divide their time among teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities. Some maintain part-time clinical practices as well. In contrast to the many psychologists who have flexible work schedules, some in government and private industry have more structured schedules. Reading and writing research reports, they often work alone behind a desk. Many experience the pressures of deadlines, tight schedules, heavy workloads, and overtime work. Their routine may be interrupted frequently. Travel may be required to attend conferences or conduct research.


Psychologists held about 106,000 jobs in 1990. Educational institutions--primarily elementary and secondary schools--employed about one-third of all salaried psychologists in positions involving counseling, testing, special education, research, and administration. Hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and other health facilities employed more one-third of all psychologists; government agencies at the Federal, State, and local levels employed one-fifth. The Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Public Health Service employ more psychologists than other Federal agencies. They also are employed by social service organizations, research organizations, management consulting firms, market research firms, and other careeres.

After several years of experience, some psychologists enter private practice or set up their own research or consulting firms. More than one-fourth of all psychologists are self-employed.

Besides the job described above, an estimated 19,000 persons held psychology faculty positions at colleges and universities.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

A doctoral degree is often required for employment as a psychologist, particularly in the academic world. Understandably, entrants to this occupations are older, on average, than entrants to other professional occupations. People with doctorates in psychology (Ph.D or Psy.D.--Doctor of Psychology) qualify for a wide range of responsible research, clinical, and counseling positions in universities, private industry, and government.

People with a master's degree in psychology can administer and interpret tests as psychological assistants. Under the supervision of psychologists, they can conduct research in laboratories, counsel patients, or perform administrative duties. They may teach in 2-year colleges, or work as school psychologists or counselors.

People with a bachelor's degree in psychology are qualified to assist psychologists and other professionals in community mental health centers, vocational rehabilitation offices, and correctional programs; to work as research or administrative assistants; and to take jobs as trainees in government or career. However, without additional academic training, their advancement opportunities are limited. In the Federal Government, candidates, having at least 24 semester hours in psychology and one course in statistics qualify for entry level positions. Competition for these jobs is keen, however. Clinical psychologists generally must have completed the Ph.D. or Psy.D. requirements and have served an internship; vocational and guidance counselors usually need 2 years of graduate study in counseling and 1 year of counseling experience.

At least 1 year of full-time graduate study is needed to earn a master's degree in psychology. Requirements usually include practical experience in an applied setting or a master's thesis based on a research project. For example, a master's degree in school psychology requires 2 years of course work and a 1-year internship.

Three to five years of graduate work usually are required for a doctoral degree. The Ph.D. degree culminates in a dissertation based on original research. Courses in quantitative research methods, which include the use of computers, are an integral part of graduate study and usually necessary to complete the dissertation. The Psy.D. based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation, prepares students for clinical and other applied positions. In clinical or counseling psychology, the requirements for the doctoral degree generally include an additional year or more of internship or supervised experience.

Competition for admission into graduate programs is keen. Some universities require an undergraduate major in psychology. Others prefer only basic psychology with courses in the biological, physical, and social sciences, statistics, and mathematics.

Over 1,500 colleges and universities offer a bachelor's degree program in psychology; about 400, a master's; about 300, a Ph.D. In addition, about 30 professional schools of psychology--some affiliated with colleges or universities--offer the Psy.D. The American Psychological Association (APA) presently accredits Ph.D. training programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology, as well as Psy.D. programs. In 1990, 123 colleges and universities offered fully approved programs in clinical psychology (including 7 Psy.D. programs); 32 in counseling psychology; and 22 in school psychology (including 1 Psy.D. program). APA also has accredited about 275 institutions that provide internships for doctoral students in clinical and counseling psychology. Although financial aid is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, some universities award fellowships, or scholarships, or arrange for part-time employment. The Veterans Administration (VA) offers predoctorial traineeships to interns in VA hospitals, clinics, and related training agencies. The National Science Foundation, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Armed Forces, and many other organizations also provide financial aid.

Psychologists who want to enter independent practice must meet certification or licensing requirements. In 1990, all States and the District of Columbia had such requirements. Licensing laws vary by State, but generally require a doctorate in psychology and 2 years of professional experience. In addition, most States require that applicants pass an examination. Most State boards administer a standardized test. Some States Certify those with master's level training as psychological assistants or associates. Some States require continuing education for relicensure.

Most States require that licensed or certified psychologists limit their practice to those areas in which they have developed professional competence through training and experience.

The American Board of Professional Psychology recognizes professional achievement by awarding diplomas primarily in clinical, counseling, forensic, industrial and organizational, and school psychology. Candidates need a doctorate in psychology, 5 years of experience, and professional endorsements; they also must pass an examination.

People pursuing a career in psychology must be emotionally stable, mature, and able to deal effectively with people. Sensitivity, compassion, and the ability to lead and inspire others are particularly important for clinical work and counseling. Research psychologists should be able to do detailed work independently and as part of a team. Verbal and writing skills are necessary to communicate research findings. Patience and perseverance are vital qualities because results from psychological treatment of patients or research often are long in coming.

Job Outlook

Employment of psychologists is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Largely because of the substantial investment in training required to enter this specialized field, psychologists have a strong attachment to their occupation--only a relatively small proportion leave the profession each year. Nevertheless, most job openings are expected to result from replacement needs. Several factors may help maintain the demand for psychologists: Increased emphasis on health maintenance rather than treatment of illness; public concern for the development of human resources, including the growing elderly population and increased testing and counseling of children. Government funding of these services could affect the demand for psychologists.

Some openings are likely to occur as psychologists study the effectiveness of health, education, military, law enforcement, and consumer protection programs. Psychologists also are increasingly studying the effects on people of technological advances in areas such as agriculture, energy, the environment, and the conservation, and use of natural resources.

Persons holding doctorates from leading universities in applied areas such as clinical, counseling, health, and engineering psychology should have particularly good prospects. Psychologists with extensive training in quantitative research methods and computer science will have a competitive edge over applicants without this background.

Persons with only a master's degree in psychology will probably continue to encounter severe competition for the limited number of jobs for which they qualify. Nevertheless, some may find jobs as counselors in schools or as psychological assistants in community mental health centers.

Bachelor's degree holders can expect very few opportunities in this field. Some may find jobs as assistants in rehabilitation centers. Those who meet State certification requirements may become high school psychology teachers.


According to a 1990 survey by the National Research Council, the median annual salary of psychologists with a doctoral degree was about $46,600. In educational institutions, the median was about $44,600; in the State and local government, about $42,400; in hospitals and clinics, about $41,300; in other nonprofit organizations, about $36,600; and in career and industry, about $63,700. Ph.D. or Psy.D. psychologists in private practice and in applied specialties generally have higher earnings than other psychologists.

Psychologists receive a variety of fringe benefits including paid vacations, sick leave, health insurance, and pensions. In addition, many employers also offer tuition reimbursement. Related Occupations

Psychologists are trained to evaluate, counsel, and advise individuals and groups. Others who do this kind of work are psychiatrists, social workers, clergy, special education teachers, and counselors.

Sources of Additional Information

For information on careers, educational requirements, licensing, and financial assistance, contact:

American Psychological Association, Educational Affairs Office, 1200 17th St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20036.

For information about a career as a school psychologist, contact:

National Association of School Psychologists, 10 Overland Dr., Stratford, Conn. 06497.

Information about State licensing requirements is available from:

The American Association of State Psychology Boards, P.O. Box 4389, Montgomery, Ala. 36103.

Information on traineeships and fellowships also is available from colleges and universities that have graduate departments of psychology.


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