Career Options for the Master's in Psychology

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If you're a current psychology student or have a shiny new bachelor's degree in psychology in hand, you might be thinking about getting a master's degree, or perhaps you've been in the working world for a while now, looking to change career fields, and wondering if a master's degree in psychology is something to consider. Does taking the leap to a master's in psychology make sense? It largely depends on what your future professional goals are. We're here to help you through the process with a comprehensive overview of what to expect after earning a psychology degree at the master's level.

Benefits of a Master of Psychology Degree

Earning a master's degree in psychology can offer a wealth of benefits. Let's take a look at those benefits and how they can help you in the psychology field and beyond.

Why a Master's in Psychology Degree?

A psychology career can be both financially and emotionally rewarding. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a psychologist was $77,030 as of May 2017. Salary increases may grow as you build up the years of experience, move into positions that require more experience, and are thus compensated accordingly.

The emotional rewards that come from helping others can be so satisfying that they mean much more than the paycheck. Whether it's conducting research to better understand the human mind or identifying emotional, behavioral, and other mental health issues, a master's degree in psychology can help make it possible to help others in a wide variety of ways.

To become a licensed psychologist, most states will require that an individual first obtain a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) or Ph.D. in psychology. So while it's true that a doctoral level psychology degree may be more helpful than a master's when it comes to obtaining high-value clinical work or independence in the field, that doesn't necessarily mean there's no reason to get a master's degree. Some states will allow master's prepared psychology professionals to work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Additionally, some specialized psychology fields, such as industrial/organizational psychology, only require a master's degree to obtain licensure.

What Skills Are Needed for a Career as a Psychologist?

There are two types of skills that individuals learn when they go through any educational program: Hard skills, which they use on a regular basis during the course of their career, and soft skills, which aren't as quantifiable but are just as important. Here are some of the skills you can expect to gain when going through the psychology master's program.

Hard Skills for Psychologists

Ability to understand & interpret data

This is especially true for psychologists working in research, where data collection and statistical analysis are finely honed. But even in a non-research setting, psychologists must still be able to critically review and understand data presented to them in a variety of forms.

Ability to conduct research

The field of psychology is a science, which means its theories and tenants are based on research and data. Even psychologists who focus on counseling will need to have a good grasp of the research process and scientific method so they may fully understand and evaluate new studies and research that get published regularly.

Observational skills

Psychologists are highly trained professionals who are experts in social, emotional and cognitive processes. But to utilize their training, they first must make observations, such as scrutinizing subjects in a research project or noting how a patient reacts when answering a question. The conclusions a psychologist draws can only be as good as the observations made.

Excellent Communication

The conveyance of information is an important aspect of the psychology field. From treating patients to collaborating with colleagues, the ability to communicate effectively with others is absolutely essential. Then there's the added challenge of explaining complex or abstract ideas to others, especially those who may not be especially receptive to what the psychologist has to say.

Soft Skills for Psychologists

Empathy

The ability to internalize and understand what others are going through and see things from their point of view can make it much easier to be an effective psychologist. This is particularly true when treating and diagnosing patients. Feeling and understanding what's going on means a more thorough analysis can take place.

Critical thinking

Most problems, issues, and concerns that involve the human mind, emotions, and behavior don't fit neatly within a preconceived idea or belief. Therefore, psychologists have to be able to examine things from multiple perspectives and in unconventional ways.

Listening

It's easy for a highly educated and experienced professional to assume they know what someone is saying or what they mean. But this can lead to incorrect assumptions, misunderstandings, and confusion. That's why effective listening is so important. And sometimes, it's what's not said that can make all the difference.

Patience

The human mind is complex, so it's easy to see how it might take some time to figure out why someone acts or feels a certain way. Not everybody is forthcoming with personal information, and it can take time for the truth to come to the surface. Psychologists should never expect to get a quick and easy answer; this means they must be willing to take the time to make sure their conclusions are correct.

Trustworthiness

A psychologist's entire career is dependent on how much their clients and other professionals trust them. Much of what a psychologist does will be confidential. It might include the identity of test subjects or the innermost feelings of a patient. Either way, psychologists must be able to keep this information confidential to not only stay in compliance with ethical or legal rules, but to maintain the trust of others.

5 Ways the Master's Degree in Psychology Can Help in the Job Market

After earning a master's degree in psychology, graduates may find the following advantages as they began to search for jobs and embark on a psychology career:

    • Specialization: Graduate studies provide the opportunity to focus on a specific subfield. A bachelor's degree in psychology provides a foundation of knowledge while the master's degree allows students to concentrate on a particular area of interest.

    • Professional advancement: A bachelor's degree in psychology may only provide access to entry level positions in the psychology field. Psychology is a graduate degree driven field where a doctorate is ideal, so anything less than a master's may significantly restrict your career path.

    • Licensing: Becoming a licensed psychologist usually requires a psychology degree at the doctoral level. However, there are still a number of licensing opportunities, such as a psychologist associate, that are available to those who only have a master's degree.

    • Progress toward a doctorate: A master's degree can serve as an opportunity to gain additional opportunities and experience in the field without having to fully commit to getting a doctorate in psychology. Yet if someone with a master's degree decides to get a doctorate, they will often have fewer educational requirements than someone getting a doctorate with only a bachelor's degree.

    • Skill development: In addition to providing the opportunity to specialize, psychology programs at the master's level also provide extensive practical training for those wishing to have a career in psychology. These skills include research, diagnosing, conducting interventions, professional development, and cultural awareness.

Learn More About Master's Degrees in Psychology

Master of Psychology Career Paths & Salary Potential

The psychology field is broad, with several different types of careers that allow for engaging in a variety of work-related tasks. Therefore, two licensed psychologists may have the same education and formal training, yet work in completely different settings and contexts, as well as earn divergent incomes. Let's take a look at some of the possibilities, with most recent salary data available (May 2017) provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Payscale (January 2019).

10 Ways to Prepare for Your Career in Psychology

There are many opportunities for students to jumpstart their psychology career before graduation. Here's a sampling of what's available. Keep in mind no one method is perfect, so engage in as many as possible to maximize the benefits.

  1. Volunteer: Volunteering creates goodwill while providing valuable experience and familiarity in certain lines of work.

  2. Join organizations: Many schools will have psychology clubs and chapters for honor societies that allow psychology students to mingle with those who share similar interests. This can establish lifelong professional relationships that can pay dividends years in the future.

  3. Internships: Short of getting the job, internships allow for unparalleled opportunities to gain real-world experience. It can also help get a foot in the door at a future employer.

  4. Job shadowing: Less formal than an internship, job shadowing provides a great opportunity to learn more about a particular job without the full commitment of getting hired or starting an internship.

  5. MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses are classes available online, usually of high quality and completely free. These provide an opportunity to learn more about a subject in a very detailed manner without having to enroll in a formal academic program or pay for tuition.

  6. Attend conventions and seminars: Attending events allows candidates to create relationships with colleagues as well as learn about current and trending topics within the profession.

  7. Certifications: Certifications show an individual is serious about a specific specialty. It reflects commitment and a genuine interest in a particular area. It may also be a requirement for a specific job.

  8. Network: Many suggestions in this list have inherent networking opportunities, but that doesn't mean that they are the only times an individual can establish professional and academic connections. Whether it's on a subway, waiting in line at a store or sitting next to someone at a bar, there's always a chance to create a valuable professional connection.

  9. Research: Whether it's leading a research project with the intention of getting published or helping a professor complete important research, gaining experience in research design and implementation is extremely valuable.

  10. Get published: Getting published is one of the best ways to improve a psychology candidate's career prospects. It not only provides an excellent learning experience, but it gives an opportunity to become known in the profession.

Expert Q&A

Interview with Nancy Ryan

Nancy Ryan

Nancy Ryan joined the Career Vision team in 1999. Over the years she has used her career assessment and consulting experience to assist hundreds of clients with aptitude-based career exploration, decision-making, and planning. Nancy holds both a Ph.D. in counseling psychology with a minor in applied psychological measurement and an MA in community counseling from Loyola University Chicago. Her BA is in psychology from Benedictine University. Nancy is also a licensed professional counselor.

Here, Nancy provides an insider's view of the world of psychology careers.

Students acquire many skills during their time in a psychology program. Which skills do you feel are most important for students to hone before they begin work with clients, and why?

Beyond building essential counseling skills to work effectively with a diverse range of clientele and presenting issues, it is very helpful while still a student to begin to cultivate skills related to self-awareness and self-reflection. These "soft skills" are built over the course of a lifetime and a career, but are worth attending to early because they allow us to approach our work with clients in an objective, yet empathic manner and to build strong therapeutic relationships.

Additionally, I would say that skills related to time management and self-care are essential to develop as a student, in part because they reduce the likelihood of excessive stress and emotional burnout both during school and into the future.

Along these lines, social and professional support are absolutely key to thriving as a practitioner. Students should develop the habit & mindset of reaching out and consulting with colleagues and supervisors as needed (while preserving client confidentiality), as doing so provides an invaluable opportunity to learn and grow.

Finally, it's important to keep up-to-date with professional development training, and to take the time to read the recent professional publications and journal articles within the field.

Lets say a student isnt interested in working in a clinical setting. What are some out-of-the-box careers for psychology grads? What makes those careers great options?

A student graduating with a master's in counseling can, depending on the focus of his/her training, gravitate into a wide array of clinical roles and specialties, including Professional Counseling, School Counseling, Career Counseling, Marriage and Family Counseling, and Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counseling, and Rehabilitation Counseling.

That said, a host of exciting out-of-the-box career options for psychology grads exist and should be fully explored. These include: Market Research, Data Analysis, Test Administration & Interpretation, Training & Development, Consulting, Business & Industry (Sales, Public Relations, Marketing), Recruiting, Human Resources, Teaching, College Student Affairs, work in the Non-profit sector.

Informational interviews and job shadows in these fields can go a long way to learning more about the essential duties, pay, and training. So can online resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook and My Next Move.

What can students right now, while they are in school, to help prepare themselves for their eventual career in psychology?

I would advise that grad students take steps now to actively build their professional network and to seek student affiliate status membership within national professional psychology associations (e.g., American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association). Relatedly, making a point of attending national & local professional conventions, conferences, and networking events is a fantastic way to meet other students (and possible mentors) and to learn about the goings-on in the field.

Additionally, I would recommend that students ask their psychology graduate professors for career input & advice early and often. Professors have seen a lot of students come and go through their psychology graduate programs and have a good sense of where alumni have landed, and can in fact be a bridge to an informational interview with an alumni of the program.

I would encourage students to not feel pressured to commit to one specialty or client area too soon – take a wide array of assistantships and practicum placements to get a feel for different types of work within the field.

Finally, I think it's a great idea to join a research team to learn first-hand the meaning of the scientist-practitioner model embraced by so many psychology training programs, and to develop the skills to read and understand research papers that are published within the field.

Anything else youd like to add about psychology careers? Wed love to hear your take on something that matters to you on the subject!

Psychology is a very rewarding field that offers a multitude of career possibilities. With recent research projecting that 1/3 of the jobs in the US economy will be overtaken by automation within the next decade or two, a psychology grad looking to move into clinical work or therapy can feel confident that he/she is headed into a high job growth field with the least projected likelihood of automation, as fields involving high degrees of emotional intelligence and people skills are likely to be most insulated from such concerns.

Moreover, speaking as a career consultant, I'd encourage students to take a few classes in the area of career counseling, vocational psychology, and tests & measurement. Life is too short to spend undue amounts of time in career pathways that are not a good fit. Given that full-time workers spend over half of their waking hours working / getting to & from work, it is very rewarding to help people understand how to make informed career choices and take charge of their career development.

Resources for Psych Majors

Ready to learn more about the field of psychology and get help when making a school or career decision? Check out the following list of resources.

  • American Psychological Association (APA): The APA is the preeminent professional organization for psychology professionals and students. The APA promotes psychology-based knowledge to help its members and society as a whole.

  • CareerOneStop: In partnership with the AmericanJobCenter network, CareerOneStop is an online resource for anyone looking to learn more about a career.

  • Idealist: An online database of not just jobs, but of volunteer opportunities and internships as well.

  • O*NET OnLine: This site offers background information about numerous careers and data to help users quantify characteristics of any given job.

  • Psi Chi: An international honor society for students studying psychology. It offers members an opportunity to share information, obtain grants and network with like-minded students and professionals.

  • Psychology Today: Offers a wide range of resources, including how to get help, finding a therapist and articles about current events that have a connection to psychological principles.

  • SimplyPsychology: Ideal for anyone interested in psychology who wants to learn more about classic theories, concepts and studies from the profession.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): In addition to information and resources for those seeking assistance with mental health issues, SAMHSA also has numerous publications and research findings about a wide range of mental health topics.

  • VolunteerMatch: Provides a searchable database that allows prospective volunteers and organizations to find each other quickly and easily.