Understanding Different Careers in Psychology

Psychology is an in-demand field that offers countless job opportunities. If you’re looking for a rewarding career helping people in need, psychology could be an excellent field for you.

How to Pick the Right Psychology Career

When considering entering a field with many options, it’s important to assess your specific interests.

For instance, consider which ages and population types you’d like to work with. Psychologists are needed across all age ranges and for myriad reasons, giving you many options to pursue. You might also consider the daily tasks you’d most like to perform. Are you interested in one-on-one time with patients, or would you prefer a group or corporate setting? Do you want to work in a preventive or responsive atmosphere? By answering these types of questions and learning more about available psychology careers, you can narrow your focus and choose the path that’s best for you. Here are nine careers you can consider when pursuing your psychology degree.

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9 Top Psychology Careers to Consider

1.     Psychologist

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists work to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior through observation, assessment, and experimentation to help improve processes and behaviors.

Psychologists work in several different environments. Some work independently, conducting research, consulting with clients, or working with patients. Others work as a part of a healthcare team collaborating with physicians and social workers or in school settings working with students, teachers, and parents.

Psychologists typically make a median salary of $81,040 per year.

Most psychologists need a doctoral degree in psychology, but a master’s degree may be sufficient for certain school and industrial organizational positions. Whether you’re looking to obtain a master’s or a PhD, Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences can help put you on the path to becoming a psychologist.

2.     School Psychologist

If you love working with children, school psychology may be a great fit for you. In this field, you will apply expertise in mental health, learning, and behavior to help children succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally. You’ll also partner with families, teachers, and school administrators to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments.

School psychologists generally work in a preventative capacity by conducting evaluations and behavioral assessments, creating and implementing academic and behavioral intervention plans, teaching social and behavioral skills, and facilitating peer mediation sessions. Additionally, school psychologists may assist with crisis response and issues around substance abuse, eating disorders, and bullying.

One benefit to being a school psychologist is working with a diverse population of students, all dealing with various mental health, educational, and life experiences.

While school psychologists typically work in K-12 public schools, they can also work in private schools, universities, mental health centers, community-based day treatment centers, or juvenile justice programs.

School psychologists require specialized advanced graduate preparation, including coursework and practical experiences in psychology and education. To become a school psychologist in Massachusetts, you’ll need an undergraduate and master’s degree from an accredited program like Northeastern’s Master of Science (MS) and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) in School Psychology—a three-year, fully accredited program through the National Association of School Psychologists and the Massachusetts State Department of Education. You’ll then need to obtain your professional license and maintain your certification.

A doctoral degree isn’t required to become a school psychologist, but professionals interested in conducting research will often pursue a PhD in School Psychology.

The average annual salary for most school psychologists is around $80,000.

3.     Counseling Psychologist

Counseling psychologists focus less on diagnosable conditions and more on everyday stresses that an individual might face as part of their lives related to work, education, and family or interpersonal relationships. Their main goal is to help people with physical, emotional, and mental health issues to improve their well-being.

Counseling psychologists use the following procedures and techniques:

  • Individual, family, and group counseling and psychotherapy
  • Crisis intervention, disaster, and trauma management
  • Assessment techniques for diagnosing psychological disorders
  • Programs to educate and inform the public about mental health, school, family, workplace issues, etc.
  • Consulting with organizations
  • Program evaluation and treatment outcomes
  • Clinical supervision
  • Research methodologies for scientific investigations

Counseling psychologists make on average between $79,000 to $85,000 per year, while those with many years of experience can easily make six figures. Jobs in the field are expected to grow rapidly in the next several years.

Master’s in Counseling Psychology (MS/CAGS) prepares you for a wide range of job titles, such as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Mental Health Specialist, or Rehabilitation Psychology Therapist.

4.     Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists apply clinical psychology to the legal system. They provide professional psychological expertise within the judicial and legal systems to help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological aspects of a particular case.

For example, forensic psychologists may interview a witness to better understand their reliability. They are often employed by criminal and family courts, police stations, law firms, and prisons and can even work as consultants or expert witnesses.

Forensic psychologists’ primary duties include:

  • Observing and interviewing people in the legal system to assess problems and disorders
  • Writing reports and articles discussing criminal profiles, criminal responsibility, and mental status
  • Providing expert testimony in courtroom trials about sentencing, treatment recommendations, competency, and future risk of criminal behavior.
  • Offering counseling and treatment to crime victims

This field most often requires a PhD. Forensic psychologists make an average salary of $82,180 per year.

5.     Health Psychologist

Health psychology is a branch within the psychology field that focuses on how social, psychological, and biological factors combine to influence human health.

Health psychologists and health counselors are often employed in healthcare settings such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and other healthcare clinics and work to promote wellness in their patients. They will also:

  • Conduct clinical interviews and behavioral assessments of patients
  • Seek to understand why certain patients do not follow medical advice and use that understanding to reduce levels of non-adherence
  • Guide patients with serious or terminal conditions through the grief and bereavement process
  • Educate patients on making healthful choices even in the face of psychological stress (i.e., avoiding stress eating, using exercise to reduce stress)
  • Participate in various interventions as necessary, such as around addiction or sedentary lifestyle

To become a licensed health psychologist, you will need to complete a doctoral program, such as Northeastern’s PhD in Counseling Psychology.

The average salary is about $80,000 annually. However, in major metros, salaries are often higher. In the Boston area, for example, average salaries are just over $90,000.

6.     Sports Psychologist

If you have a passion for sports, sports psychology may be a great option for you. This field is growing in popularity as the world pays more attention to athletes’ mental health. From collegiate athletes to elite athletes and Olympians, they all face increasing pressure from fans, organizations, and themselves to perform exceptionally.

Sports psychology jobs typically involve working with schools, athletes, and sports teams. You can help athletes with:

  • Assessing performance and determining which tools can help
  • Addressing psychological issues, such as performance anxiety, substance use, or imposter syndrome
  • Using different psychological techniques to improve performance
  • Providing personal psychological advice
  • Advise coaches on psychological aspects of athletes and team performance
  • Advise athletes on psychological health and well-being
  • Overcoming personal conflicts or issues
  • Counseling athletes on the transition once their athletic career ends

Depending on where you work, sports psychologists working in university athletic departments can earn $60,000 to $80,000 per year.

Like most psychologists, sports psychologists should have a doctoral degree, like the one offered at Northeastern. Additional training in sport psychology is recommended through classes such as kinesiology, physiology, sports medicine, business, and marketing.

7.     Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists diagnose and help people overcome common problems, like depression, anger, and anxiety, as well as chronic conditions that interfere with someone’s day-to-day life.

As a successful clinical psychologist, you will need:

  • In-depth understanding of psychopathology
  • Ability to assess patient personalities
  • Experience with diagnostic and intervention strategies
  • Knowledge of human psychology across lifespans
  • Effective communication skills with both patients and other healthcare professionals
  • Excellent research skills
  • Critical knowledge of clinical psychologist methods

It’s important to note that a clinical psychologist is not the same as a psychiatrist as they focus on mental health but are forbidden from prescribing drugs or performing medical interventions.

You’ll need to earn a master’s and PhD in Psychology, complete an internship, pass the psychology exam, and apply for licensure in your state. As a clinical psychologist, you can expect an average salary of $82,000 per year.

8.     Educational Psychologist

Working as an educational psychologist is a gratifying path for those who want to help students reach their academic potential but who aren’t interested in teaching.

Psychologists working in the education field study how people learn and retain knowledge. They apply psychological science to improve the learning process and promote educational success for students.According to the APA, these psychologists also evaluate and analyze teaching methods by testing them in various settings like schools and learning centers. This can help them pinpoint flaws that may make it difficult for some people to learn. Educational psychologists focus heavily on research and generally do not provide counseling or assessments as a school psychologist would.

PhD in School Psychology can open the door for more career opportunities, including positions at universities or within the government. Typically, educational psychologists earn approximately $90,000 per year, while those in the Boston area, where the job market is very active, earn on average $96,000 per year.

9.     Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental and emotional disorders. Different than a clinical psychologist, psychiatrists prescribe medications to their patients as a form of treatment.

Aspiring psychiatrists must earn a bachelor’s degree, finish medical school, and then complete a four-year residency program.

If you’re looking to become a psychiatrist, Boston is among the top four metropolitan areas with the highest employment level, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In this area, the average annual salary is $230,000.

Psychiatrists can work in a variety of industries, including:

  • Physicians’ offices: Roughly 30% of the industry work in doctor’s offices, per the BLS. Psychiatrists earn an average annual salary of $280,000.
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals: Psychiatrists working at substance abuse hospitals typically earn an average of $247,000 per year.
  • Outpatient care centers: These centers offer among the highest average annual salary at $299,000.
  • Other health practitioners’ officers: These psychiatrists typically earn about $198,000 per year.
  • Residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health, and substance abuse facilities: Psychiatrists in this area make an average of $247,000 annually.

Choosing a Career That’s Right for You

When choosing your career path in the psychology field, start by considering three main questions. Which patient populations do you want to work with? What are you interested in doing daily? And do you want to work in a preventive vs. responsive atmosphere? Then, consider the time and education required to work in the various psychology careers mentioned above. Armed with this information, you can begin a career aligned with your goals.

Whether you want to work with children as a school psychologist, work with athletes as a sports psychologist, or work with the judicial and legal systems as a forensic psychologist, Northeastern University can get you started with our bachelor’s and master’s psychology programs.

Ready to map your path? Navigate your psychology career here.