Psychology as a Profession

Psychologists differ in their training and in their work settings. Listed below are brief descriptions of some of the professions within our discipline; links in the left column provide additional information about careers in psychology, resources about volunteer work, and more.

Clinical psychology is oriented toward clinical research and the diagnosis and treatment of various forms of psychopathology. Clinical psychologists have an extensive research background as well as training in the assessment and diagnosis of mild to severe forms of psychiatric disorders. They are also trained in various forms of psychotherapy. This training requires approximately 5 years of academic work beyond a bachelor's degree and a year or more of pre-doctoral internship training.

  • A clinical psychologist may practice psychotherapy on an independent practice level in a variety of settings including medical centers, clinics, psychiatric hospitals, and private practice offices.
  • Specializations within this field of study include areas such as clinical neuropsychology (the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of neurologically based behavioral issues), child-clinical psychology (psychopathology in children and families), and pediatric psychology (the interplay of clinical psychology and pediatrics).
  • Individuals with a master's or bachelor's degree may be able to work in this general area, usually as technicians involved in the administration and scoring of psychological tests, or as supervised treatment team members.

Counseling psychology is similar to clinical psychology in that it also deals with individuals and their problems. But the counseling psychologist is trained to work more with people who need help in making difficult decisions, such as the choice of vocation or school, rather than with people who are severely emotionally disturbed.

  • Training is focused on counseling skills and tests of personality, aptitudes, and special interests. Counseling psychologists usually have a master's degree or doctorate. They most often work within academic settings, but some work in mental health and rehabilitation centers, including governmental agencies, or in private practice.

School psychologists are concerned with increasing the effectiveness of schools by improving the intellectual, social, and emotional development of children. School psychologists serve as consultants in education for physically handicapped, mentally disturbed, or mentally disabled individuals; they also assist in developing special programs in adult education.

  • They assist in implementing and evaluating special education projects and serve as leaders of in-service training programs for teachers or as consultants to teachers regarding specific teaching or classroom-behavior problems.
  • They treat children's psychological and educational problems that influence behavior in school. School psychologists also have responsibility for administering and interpreting standardized tests.  A master's degree and state certification are required.

Educational psychologists are concerned with development and evaluation of materials and procedures for training and education. Such positions exist primarily in large public school systems, the military services, and private research and development companies.

  • This kind of psychologist deals with analyzing education and training needs, with developing materials for instruction in various media, with designing the best conditions for instruction, and with evaluating the effectiveness of instructional programs.  Typically, he or she has acquired skills associated with educational systems development, materials and media development, and educational evaluations.

Experimental psychology describes the large area of psychology concerned with such processes as perception, motivation, development, learning, language, social behavior, and cognition.

  • Experimental psychologists are most often employed at the Ph.D. level to teach and do research in colleges and universities, although there are some experimental psychology programs sponsored by industrial laboratories and the federal government. Some individuals are hired at the master's and bachelor's level to collect and analyze data in experimental laboratories or for funded research projects.

Industrial/Organizational psychologists study people in relation to their work, and are employed in industry, government, and universities. Areas of concern include counseling, training, performance evaluation, management, labor relations, productivity enhancement, and job satisfaction.

  • Industrial/Organizational psychologists may be hired at the master's level but generally a Ph.D. is needed. They may work for one company or serve as consultants to several companies.
  • Personnel psychologists are involved in the development and validation of assessment tools for selection and placement of employees. Counseling, psychometric and statistical skills are particularly important for psychologists in these areas.

Engineering or human factors psychologists design work areas, equipment, and machines to improve the interaction between individuals and their environment. 

  • Engineering or human factors psychologists are typically trained in cognitive science, perceptual-motor skills, work physiology, and computer applications and are expected to have strong research skills. 
  • They work in a variety of settings such as aerospace industry, communications, transportation, military, industrial, and commercial settings.

Health psychologists explore the role of psychological factors in the prevention of physical illness, maintenance of health, and adjustment to and recovery from illness.

  • They are employed at master's and doctoral levels, and work in medical schools, hospitals, primary care facilities, health care organizations, universities, and schools of public health.
  • Health psychologists sometimes receive training in both clinical and experimental psychology.