If you are one of those people who has always been interested in human behavior and psychology, there is a way to channel your interest into a meaningful career. Human behavior stems from both the biological temperament (nature) and the environmental conditions (nurture). A career in psychology can range from sports psychology to correctional facility psychiatry.
Let’s look at the different career paths and the requirements for pursuing those paths. I will take the example of my home state of California and you can use this as a reference for your state or your country. Please consult local resources for accurate details of your region. It’s very important to break these options down since there is a lot of information and it’s not easy to find a single source which talks about this topic comprehensively.
Counselor/Therapist: Let’s say you want a meaningful career in psychology but don’t want to to get a PhD or a medical degree. In such a scenario, becoming a Therapist or a Counselor is a good option. The Board of Behavior Sciences (BBS) of state of California still requires you to get a Masters in Counseling and get a license before you can start offering therapy. There are four tracks supported by BBS: LMFT (License in Marriage and Family Therapy), LPCC (Licensed professional clinical counselors), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and Licensed Educational Psychologist (LEP). All the four tracks require Masters degrees and you can click on the alphabet soup above to look at the exact requirements and which schools offer these programs.
The main difference between these career paths is the kind of problems you will deal with. LMFTs deal with problems which have a relationship component to it, from social anxiety to marital issues. LPCCs offer treatment and counseling to those with mental health and substance abuse issues. LCSWs work in the social work setting while LEPs work in educational settings like schools and colleges. For LEP to work in a public school, they also need a PPS credential, which is offered by Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC).
I know they are too many acronyms but the meat of the issue is that all these Masters degrees have a 60 credit requirement, which is twice that of a Masters degree in Engineering. My Masters at University of Wisconsin-Madison in Electrical and Computer Engineering (I went there nearly 15 years ago) required 30 credits. Hence, these degrees will take you more time to complete. One example of an institute which offers the MFT/LPCC track degree is WISR. Their current tuition is $700/month or $8400/year and you can complete the degree online. Let’s say you are the most efficient full-time student out there. It will probably take you a minimum of 3 years to finish the degree, a total investment of $25,200.
Psychologist: What if you are even more ambitious and are not satisfied being a Licensed Counselor/Therapist and want to be a Licensed Psychologist. Remember a Counselor/Therapist who is not a Licensed Psychologist cannot diagnose mental health issues. Becoming a Licensed Psychologist is even harder than obtaining one of the four counseling licenses mentioned in the previous section.
The Psychology license is granted by California Board of Psychology (CBP). One of the requirements is to get a PhD in Psychology (research focus), or Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD, clinical focus), or Doctorate in Educational Psychology (EdD). CBP publishes a list of approved schools here. On this list, there is EdD program of California Coast University. This is probably one of the cheapest ways of becoming a licensed psychologist. However, since it’s a EdD degree and NOT a PhD or PsyD, this kind of psychologist will be most useful in educational settings. This University charges $290/unit and you need to finish 66 units to get the EdD degree. This amounts to a total investment of $19,140. It will require a minimum of 3 years to finish this program.
Psychiatrist: Let’s say you are not satisfied with diagnosing mental illnesses or providing counseling/therapy but actually want to prescribe medication to treat the illnesses; in that case; you want to be a psychiatrist. I will only mention that becoming a psychiatrist is very similar to becoming a doctor and will leave it at that since medicine is already a well-understood path.
Miscellaneous careers in psychology: What if you don’t have the time (bare minimum 3 years to just get the Masters degree in counseling or the EdD degree and bare minimum of many years to get the medical degree) to invest in pursuing the above paths but you still want to do something in the field of psychology. In that case, you can go for a vanilla Masters (MS) in Psychology, not leading to any license or certification, A degree of this kind will take a minimum of 9 months to get at the California Cost University. The cost of this degree would be $8970 (39 credits at the rate of $230/credit). This university is accredited by DEAC (Distance Education Accrediting Commission) and the coursework is self-paced and completely online. Some private companies and universities might not recognize this degree as equivalent to a degree from say University of California, but most public institutions recognize this degree.
So what can you do with this degree? You can take up a job in HR (Human Resources) Department of a private sector, work in administrative positions in all industries or become an adjunct lecturer/professor/faculty of psychology on the side. For eg., an adjunct faculty pool job posting shows that the minimum requirements for this position are: Master’s Degree in Psychology OR Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology AND Master’s Degree in Counseling, Sociology, Statistics, Neuroscience, or Social Work or the equivalent. The starting salary range specified as follows: Salary Range Hourly Lecture: $72.76-$108.77; Hourly Lab: $62.47-$93.39 DOE (Depends on Experience).
Show me the money: The more practical of my readers would actually want to know how much can they make with these licenses and degrees. This website shows that the median compensation (including the value of all benefits) of a Psychologist PhD is $165,000 in California. The median compensation for a Psychiatrist in California is $348,000. A Mental Health Clinician (LCSW/LPCC) gets a median compensation of $102,000 in California.
Conclusion: While a career in psychology is not as high paying as Hi Tech (exception Psychiatry), it could be fulfilling for those who enjoy helping people and revel in the intricacies of the human mind. The other disadvantage of this career choice is that it requires a lot of investment of time (especially the licensed tracks of Counseling, Psychology and Psychiatry) and hence opportunity costs. Such an investment is worthwhile if you know for sure that this is what you want to do in your life. If you want to pursue this as a part time profession, I would not recommend pursuing the three main tracks and instead recommend pursuing the Miscellaneous Careers track.
I hope you enjoyed this article. It took me a lot of effort to collect all the data and present it in a digestible form and I hope it will help someone who wants to pursue a career in psychology.