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Master's and Doctoral-Level Careers in Psychology and Related Areas

This section describes a number of psychology and psychology-related career options that require graduate degrees. If you want to help people with problems (counseling) then you are not limited to the field of psychology. You should also consider careers in education, social work, and counseling psychology (all degree programs typically offered in colleges of education rather than psychology programs).

Psychology Teaching and Research

If you're interested in teaching at the undergraduate, masters, or doctoral level, you will probably need a Masters or PhD or, if teaching clinical psychology, a PsyD. Most larger institutions will also expect doctoral level psychologists to do research. If you are not interested in teaching and want to focus on research only, you can work for government agencies or private organizations that conduct research.

To work as a psychologist in academic or corporate settings, you typically will need a PhD in psychology, not in another field such as education or social work. You might be able to get a teaching job at a two-year school with a master's degree in psychology; however, PhDs are taking many of these jobs. For information about the various specialized subfields in psychology, see "Areas of Specialization in Psychology" and visit the division information page of the American Psychological Association.

Applied Work

Psychologists in selected subfields have the option not only of teaching (sharing knowledge) and research (generating knowledge) but also of working in settings in which they apply their knowledge. These subfields include clinical psychology, counseling psychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, and sport psychology. School psychology is also one of these applied areas, but I'll discuss it under the heading of Education because school psychologists are trained in departments of education, not psychology.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologists assess and treat people with psychological problems. They may act as therapists for people who are experiencing normal psychological crises (e.g., grief) or for individuals suffering from chronic psychiatric disorders.

Some clinical psychologists are generalists who work with a wide variety of populations, while others work with specific groups such as children, the elderly, or those with specific disorders (e.g., eating disorders).

Clinical psychologists are trained in universities or professional schools of psychology (for information about professional schools, see information about PsyD degrees on the page "Graduate School Options for Psychology Majors").

Clinical psychologists work in academic settings, hospitals, community health centers, or private practice. For more information about clinical psychology, visit the Division 12 information page of the American Psychological Association

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychologists do many of the same things that clinical psycholgists do. However, counseling psychologists tend to focus more on persons with adjustment problems rather than on persons suffering from severe psychological disorders. They are usually trained in education departments. Counseling psychologists are employed in academic settings, college counseling centers, community mental health centers, and private practice. For more information about counseling psychology, visit the APA Division 17 page devoted to the Society of Counseling Psychology.

Forensic Psychology

The title "forensic psychologist" can mean quite a number of things. Some forensic psychologists do clinical work in corrections settings; some work as consultants to trial lawyers; some serve as expert witnesses in jury trials; some formulate public policy on psychology and the law.

Some forensic psychologists have PhDs in clinical psychology; others have both PhDs in clinical psychology and JDs in law. There are several graduate programs in the country where you can earn the two degrees at the same time.

Health Psychology

Health psychologists are concerned with psychology's contributions to the promotion and maintenance of good health and the prevention and treatment of illness. They may design and conduct programs to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight, manage stress, and stay physically fit. They are employed in hospitals, medical schools, rehabilitation centers, public health agencies, academic settings, and private practice.

For more imformation about health psychology, visit the home page of Division 38 (Health Psychology).

Industrial/Organizational Psychology

I/O psychologists, as they are usually called, are concerned with the relationships between people and their work environments. They may develop new ways to increase workplace productivity or be involved in personnel selection. They are employed in business, government agencies, and academic settings.

For more information about i/o psychology, visit the home page of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and the Division 14 page of the American Psychological Association.

Sport Psychology

Sport psychologists are concerned with psychological factors that improve athletic performance. They also look at the effects of exercise and physical activity on psychological adjustment and health. Sport psychologists typically work in academic settings and/or as consultants for sports teams.

For more information about sports psychology, visit the home page of Division 47 (Society for Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology).

Education Degrees

The field of education offers a number of counseling-related career options at the master's and doctoral level. Most people assume careers in the field of education require working in a school setting, but that is not always the case. In particular, individuals with education degrees in agency counseling or community counseling do not usually work in schools.

Agency/Community Counseling

Graduate programs in agency or community counseling train you to do counseling in human service agencies in the local community, for example, in community mental health centers. They may also train you to administer a limited number of psychological tests (vocational interest tests, for example). The work is similar to that done by a person with a master's or doctoral degree in clinical or counseling psychology: psychotherapy and, perhaps, limited psychological testing.

Be sure you understand, however, that a degree from a program in agency counseling will not permit you to work in a public school setting, should you want to shift settings at some point. This is an example of why you should be clear about the strengths and limitations of various degrees before you choose one. If you do want to work in a school setting, consider the following career options (all of which require at least a master's degree).

Educational Psychology

Educational psychologists attempt to understand the basic aspects of human learning and to develop materials and strategies for enhancing the learning process. For example, an educational psychologist might study reading and then develop a new technique for teaching reading comprehension.

Educational psychologists are typically trained in departments of education (not departments of psychology). They are employed in colleges and universities to teach and do research. You can find additional information about Educational Psychology by visiting the Division 15 information page of the American Psychological Association.

School Counseling

School counselors work with children who are gifted or troubled, or doing routine consultations with students in neither of those categories, depending on the school. They help students select classes best suited to their career plans, or they help children function more effectively with their peers and teachers, deal with family problems, etc. They work at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

You can find more information about this area, such as salaries in the U.S., in the Occupational Employment Statistics section of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

School Psychology

The work of school psychologists in the U.S. public school system is varied. A key aspect of the school psychologist's job is testing of gifted or troubled children. School psychologists also work closely with teachers to develop effective interventions for children in academic, emotional, and behavioral problems. Too, some provide individual and group counseling.

Most school psychologists are trained in departments of education, but some are trained in psychology departments. You can obtain additional information about this specialty at the home page of Division 16 (School Psychology) of the American Psychological Association.

Note: If you plan to work in a public school setting, you must have a degree in the field of education. Unless you work for a charter school or other institution with different rules, a degree from a psychology department will not qualify you for a job as a school psychologist. Because they must be expert in standarized testing, school psychologists are often certified by state committees after graduating from school psychology programs.

Social Work

Another career option to consider if you are interested in counseling is social work. As is true with other disciplines, there are a variety of subfields in social work. Social workers who practice psychotherapy are usually called either clinical social workers or psychiatric social workers.

Clinical social workers are trained to diagnose and treat psychological problems. Note that they do not do psychological testing, so you should consider careers in psychology or education if this is of interest to you.

Psychiatric social workers provide services to individuals, families, and small groups. They work in mental health centers, counseling centers, sheltered workshops, hospitals, and schools. They may also have their own private practice—even with only a master's degree. This is because clinical social workers are eligible for licensing in all 50 states with only a master's degree. (See "What Are Licenses and Certificates?" in "Graduate School Options for Psychology Majors" for more information about this.)

To obtain more information about social work, visit the Career Center at the Web site of the National Association of Social Workers.

Art and Music Therapy

Art Therapy

As the name suggests, Art Therapists use art such as painting or sculpture for therapy. For more information about this area and a complete list of art therapy programs approved by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), visit the web site of the American Art Therapy Association.

The AATA recommends that a number of courses be taken at the undergraduate level for admission to graduate programs in art therapy. These include the following psychology courses: general, abnormal, developmental, personality, statistics, and research methods. Recommended non-psychology courses include fine art materials, processes, and procedures, cultural diversity courses, and (if available) courses in the history of art therapy and professional/ethical issues.

Music Therapy

To qualify as a "registered music therapist" by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), one needs a bachelor's degree in music therapy or a master's degree in it along with making up the required undergraduare hours. For more information about this area and a list of programs in music therapy (at the bachelor's and master's level), visit the AMTA web site.

APA-style reference for this page:

Lloyd, M.A. and Dewey, R. A. (2016, November 20). Master's- and doctoral-level careers in psychology and related areas. Retrieved from:

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