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Careers for Psychologists With Advanced Degrees

Most careers as a professional psychologist require an advanced degree. The Master's degree usually requires about two years of full time study beyond the Bachelor's degree. Doctoral degrees usually require about four years of full time study beyond the Bachelor's degree.

Students who attain a Master's degree in psychology usually work in specialized fields. Many collect and analyze research in universities, government or private companies. Others work in health, industry, or education, often in the role of counselors. Some work in community mental health centers, and some are independent practitioners.

The most prestigious jobs are available to those who earn a doctoral degree, usually a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) degree. Some graduate schools offer a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree designed especially for clinical psychologists who plan to limit their activities to practice only. Even with a doctoral degree, students must be flexible, innovative, and realistic about their career choices. Full-time faculty positions and traditional private practice psychotherapy are becoming less common, while opportunities in business settings and managed care are increasing.

Among new doctoral level psychologists who are fully employed, about 28% are employed in higher education, while about 38% work in managed care settings, hospitals, and other human service settings. Fewer than 6% of graduates go directly into independent practice. The remaining graduates work in businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations, schools, and criminal justice.

These are some careers open to people with advanced degrees in psychology:

Clinical Psychologists assess emotional, behavioral and mental disorders. Some treat specific problems such as phobias, children with behavioral and emotional problems, depression, or schizophrenia. Others focus on specific populations such as people from specific ethnic groups, age groups, sexual orientations, occupations, etc. Some specialize in short-term treatment, some in chronic problems. To be a licensed psychologist in California you need a Ph.D. or Psy.D. The Ph.D. may be in Counseling.

Cognitive Psychologists study thinking and other "mental" processes. For example, the study of memory includes: how we learn, how we can retain rather than forget information and skills, and how memory can become distorted. Application of research in memory occurs in classroom and "real life" learning, in understanding the limitations of memory involved in legal testimony, and in coping with the effects of age and disease on memory. Decision making, attention, perception, muscular control, and artificial intelligence are other examples of topics studied by cognitive psychologists. Cognitive psychologists often work at university or research labs.

Counseling Psychologists help people deal with life issues. For example, they provide career guidance; support people dealing with the death of a loved one; counsel people with substance abuse problems, and people in bad relationships; advise students having difficulty adjusting to college life; and help people having problems adjusting to marriage or parenthood. To be a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) in California you need a Master's degree, which is usually in counseling psychology.

Developmental Psychologists study the life span development of humans. Some focus on infancy or childhood, others on the middle adult years, and some on the process of aging. Developmental psychology relates to all areas of psychology. That is, it is concerned with the social, personal, cognitive, and biological contexts of development, and with the development of the unique qualities that make for differences among people. Increasing opportunities are available for developmental psychologists who can help older people adjust to the changes in their lives.

Educational Psychologists study how effective teaching and learning occur. They deal with abilities, motivation, learning styles, instructional strategies and cultural diversity. They usually work at universities.

Ergonomics and Human Factors Psychologists study how people work best with machines, and how to improve work environments and procedures. For example, they study how to design computers to prevent repetitive movement injuries, eye strain, back problems, fatigue and headaches, and enhance accuracy; and what is an appropriate workload or the optimal configuration for a workspace. They are becoming increasingly involved with software design as well. They often work in R & D centers of large businesses.

Forensic Psychologists apply psychological principles to legal issues. Their expertise is often essential in court. They can, for example, help a judge decide which parent should have custody of a child or evaluate a defendant's mental competence to stand trial. Forensic psychologists are often trained in both psychology and the law.

Health Psychologists study factors affecting human health and illness. For example, how do patients handle illness? Why don't some people follow medical advice? What are effective ways to control pain or to change poor health habits? What approaches to stress, problems, or traumas ensure healthy recovery or adaptation to new circumstances? Most health problems are due to people's habits of living. Thus they fall within the realm of health psychology. Pills and surgery are painful and expensive ways to attack health problems. Better to prevent ill health! Health psychologists often team up with medical personnel to provide patients with complete health care. Health psychologists may specialize in research or intervention on teen pregnancy, substance abuse, smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet, and unsafe sexual behavior.

Industrial/Organizational Psychologists work to improve the productivity and quality of life in the workplace. They serve as human resources specialists, help organizations with staffing, training and employee development; they assist with strategic planning, quality management and coping with organizational change. Industrial psychologists use their research and measurement skills to assess the needs of work organizations, to develop training and intervention programs, and to measure training effectiveness. As new workplace issues arise (e.g., violence in the workplace, sexual harassment, preparing employees for assignments in other cultures and countries, telecommuting, effective communication with an ethnically diverse staff or clientele), industrial psychologists research these issues and devise effective training or intervention programs.

Neurophysiological Psychologists explore the relationship between the nervous system and behavior. They study how the nervous system functions to produce perception, learning, memory, emotion, motivation and awareness. Technological advances make it possible to expand our understanding of brain function, and to improve our ability to assess and treat brain injury. These include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and event-related brain potentials (ERP). Such advances increase our understanding of how the nervous system functions, provide new insights into the effects of brain injury, and lead to new treatments for people living with stroke, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and other neurological conditions. They often work at Schools of Medicine.

Quantitative and Measurement Psychologists explore methods and techniques for acquiring and analyzing data. Some specialize in research contexts where social sensitivity and social setting make it difficult to obtain valid measures. Some develop research strategies for measuring the effectiveness of social, medical, or educational programs and psychological interventions. Others are concerned with measuring and improving the fairness and quality of psychological tests. Psychology students who plan to work in applied settings where they will design and evaluate programs typically take a double major in psychology and statistics, or minor in statistics.

School Psychologists and School Counselors work in schools. Public schools employ people with two types of master's degrees. School psychologists primarily do assessments for placements, teaching consultations regarding children's learning and behavior problems and brief crisis intervention. School counselors focus primarily on providing therapy and career counseling for students. In today's market there is high demand for school psychologists, and less demand for school counselors.

Social Psychologists study how interaction with others shapes people's behavior and mental life. Social psychology overlaps with other areas of psychology including developmental, personality, industrial, and health psychology. Practitioners study attitudes, group dynamics, gender identity and gender relations, stress and coping, communication, self esteem, prejudice, conformity, moral development, the social context of optimal psychological development, and how organizations work. They usually work at universities.

Sports Psychologists study sports and fitness. They help athletes improve their competitiveness by focusing on appropriate goals, motivation and the anxiety and fear of failure that sometimes accompany competition. They help athletes channel their energies constructively, e.g., on the improvement of personal skills rather than the defeat of a competitor, and on sportsmanship rather than hostility. As sports attract younger children, the role of sports in the development of personality is a topic of increasing interest. There are few full-time sports psychologists, but many clinical and counseling psychologists include some sports psychology in their areas of expertise.

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