Becoming a Psychologist – A Step by Step Overview

A career as a psychologist requires a lot of specialized education and training. License and qualifying education all takes place at the graduate level. However, the journey begins a good deal earlier.

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psychology students

Undergraduate Education

Step 1:

Take a college prep curriculum in high school. Do some career exploration.

Step 2:

Complete undergraduate requirements. It is not necessary to major in psychology at the undergraduate level. However, programs typically expect to see a lot of psychology coursework on the transcript. They also expect to see high grades.

Undergraduates often have the opportunity to take survey courses in different sub-specialties. This can help with program selection.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers several online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Capella University also offers three online CACREP-accredited programs: MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS in School Counseling, and PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as a COAMFTE-accredited program, MS in Marriage and Family Therapy. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Step 3:

The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that getting some research experience at the undergraduate level can help a student make the cut at the graduate level.

Step 4:

Students have the option of joining professional organizations at the student stage. One option is a college-based psychology association. Some students join the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) as undergraduates.

If You Have a College Degree

Step 5:

Select a program. There are many types of psychology program offered at the graduate level. Healthcare related fields include clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and school psychology. There are additional sub-specialties like health psychology and pediatric or psychology.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers several online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Capella University also offers three online CACREP-accredited programs: MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS in School Counseling, and PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as a COAMFTE-accredited program, MS in Marriage and Family Therapy. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

The PsyD offers solid preparation for practitioner and generally takes a little less time to complete. It requires less research – but this has its downsides. Many PhD candidates receive funding for their work; PsyD students are more likely to graduate with educational debt.

The American Psychological Association notes that for some students, it is more realistic to apply first to a master’s program. The master’s can be a terminal degree for some specialties, for example, industrial/ organizational psychology. In many cases, though, a master’s program is a stepping stone toward a doctoral degree. (Students who do not go on for a doctoral degree typically find jobs in fields like human services and human resources, but are not actually psychologists. Some counseling psychology graduates become counselors.)

Step 6:

Complete degree requirements. Most doctoral level psychologists spend at least four years completing their graduate education. They will take practicum courses that begin to give them experience in the field — and, in some cases, references.

Some students choose to join APA divisions related to their practice area.

Step 7:

Students in healthcare-related fields do a formal internship that is one full-time year or two part-time years. They go through a matching process through the APA and/or the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers. Internships can be quite competitive. A student who has done practicum rotations is a particular specialty will have an easier time finding an internship in that field.

Step 8:

Complete training. After graduation, psychologist candidates are typically required to work for the equivalent of one full-time year under approved supervision. The most specialized clinical training takes place during this time. Often, but not always, they are under state board jurisdiction. The postdoctoral practice may or may not be done as part of a formal fellowship. States have differing requirements for total experience hours, clinical experience hours, and supervision.

Step 9:

Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. State permission is required.

Many states also require an oral examination. Criminal background checks and references are other common requirements.

Step 10:

Develop your career. The APA provides career development resources for psychologists at the beginning stages of their careers (http://www.apa.org/careers/early-career/career-development/index.aspx).

Psychologists working at approved high-needs clinics may have educational loans paid by the National Health Services Corps. Some researchers, meanwhile, receive assistance from the National Institutes of Health (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/07-08/debt.aspx).

Related Information

Associate’s Degree in Psychology: What can this degree do for you?