Careers in Psychology

Imagine this. You take your first psychology class in high school and you really like it so when you go to college, you take more. Eventually, you graduate from psychology with a Bachelor’s in Psychology. What path do you take next?

Careers in Psychology Careers in Psychology

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Table of contents
    • What do careers in psychology look like?
    • What are careers in clinical psychology?
    • What are careers in developmental psychology?
    • What are careers in forensic psychology?
    • What are careers in criminal psychology?
    • What are careers in social psychology?

    Careers in Psychology

    In general, you can pursue anything with a psychology degree. Receiving an education in psychology gives you a better understanding of how our brains, emotions, mental health, and social interactions work. However, if you want to remain in the field of psychology, you have a wide variety of paths to pursue.

    Careers in Clinical Psychology

    Let’s start with the careers that people probably think of first when they think of psychology careers – careers in clinical psychology! Clinical psychology is the field of psychology that focuses on diagnosing and treating people with mental health disorders. So, as you might imagine, a career in clinical psychology is centered around just that.

    There are three main careers that can stem from a focus on clinical psychology – therapist, clinical psychologist, and psychiatrist. Let’s look at each one in-depth and understand what degrees and certifications are necessary for each.

    Therapist/Mental Health Counselor

    A therapist is someone who helps people who are struggling with their mental health.

    Oftentimes, therapists hold private sessions but can also hold group sessions depending on the struggles. As a therapist, you can be qualified to conduct different types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and humanistic therapy. Different types of therapy have been shown to be effective for varying mental health disorders, so it is good for therapists to be well versed in multiple techniques.

    Careers in Psychology, Black and white photograph of people in their caps and gowns, StudySmarterMaster's or PsyD graduation.

    To become a therapist, you’re going to need more than just a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. For all therapist positions, the minimum degree required is a Master’s degree. However, your Master’s degree doesn’t have to be in one specific field. You could get a Master’s in psychology, clinical psychology, counseling, or even social work. This higher level of education will prepare you for how to work with patients, depending on what area of therapy you’re looking to get into.

    You can also get a Ph.D. to become a therapist (for example, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology). Receiving a Ph.D. would open even more doors for you to become a therapist. However, there is another option of a doctorate degree for someone looking to become a therapist. It’s called a PsyD.

    A PsyD is a specific doctorate of psychology that allows you to focus less on conducting research and more on future interactions with patients. It’s a great option for those who want to pursue a career in clinical psychology.

    Finally, a licensure exam needs to be passed in order for you to be cleared to start therapy and counseling!

    Clinical Psychologist

    Clinical psychologists and therapists have information in their job descriptions that are overlapping. Clinical psychologists can also hold therapy sessions for patients who are struggling with mental health. Clinical psychologists can diagnose someone with a mental health disorder, an important first step in getting help.

    Additionally, many clinical psychologists focus on research. The research they are conducting is crucial for furthering our understanding of the development and treatment of mental health disorders.

    As with therapists, more than a Bachelor’s degree is going to be necessary to become a clinical psychologist. Most clinical psychologists will receive a doctoral degree to begin their careers. This gives them ample knowledge and experience in conducting research and working with patients. Upon the completion of their doctorate, clinical psychologists will then have to complete a postdoctoral fellowship where they conduct therapy sessions under supervision. By the time they are finally able to practice on their own, they are more than prepared! These clinical psychologists also are knowledgeable in different forms of therapy and will use them accordingly.


    Psychiatrists do have a similar job to a clinical psychologists, however, there are slight differences. Both have the end goal of helping the patient receive treatment for their mental health disorders, but they go about them in different ways. Clinical psychologists focus on diagnosing and treating the patient through therapy. However, the main difference (and limitation of the clinical psychologist) is that psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication to help treat the disorder.

    There are some mental health disorders where studies have shown that therapy and medicine are comparable in their results, such as major depressive disorder and anxiety. However, there are others where medicine is significantly more effective, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. This is where a psychiatrist comes into play!

    It’s important to note that psychiatrists have to go to medical school, unlike therapists and clinical psychologists. While psychiatrists still fall into the field of clinical psychology, they take a different path in their careers. Medical school is necessary to fully understand the human body, medicine, and how those two interact.

    Careers in Developmental Psychology

    Developmental psychology is the subfield of psychology that focuses on the growth of children.

    As with psychology in general, if you want to pursue a career in developmental psychology, you’re going to need a degree higher than a Bachelor’s. Once you receive a higher-level degree in developmental psychology, you have a wide variety of paths to choose from.

    If you study developmental psychology, you’re well-versed in not only the development and growth of children but also all ages of life, making you qualified for a wide range of jobs. Of course, you could become a developmental psychologist, devoting your career to researching the changes and stages that we go through as we grow up and get older.

    Careers in Psychology, Image of a counselor talking with a student, StudySmarterYou could be a school counselor with a background in developmental psychology!

    Other options for careers in developmental psychology are:

    • School counselor

    • Caseworker

    • Behavior specialist

    • Early childhood education specialist

    • Social worker

    • Education consultant

    Careers in Forensic Psychology

    As always, to start, if you’re thinking of pursuing a career in forensic psychology, prepare to go to school after completing your Bachelor’s degree. The majority of forensic psychologists will go to an undergraduate institution, then receive a Master’s, and eventually a doctoral degree, totaling ten years of education to achieve their desired career. In addition to education, forensic psychologists need hours of training after their degree to become qualified (not to mention getting licensed as well)!

    So what does a career in forensic psychology look like? Well, it could look like a whole bunch of different things! When you hear the phrase “forensic psychologist,” you might first think of television shows. Criminal Minds, CSI, and Bones all highlight the roles of forensic psychologists. In these shows (and in real life), forensic psychologists aid in the investigation of criminals, conduct interviews, develop profiles of criminals, and can be key figures in trials.

    People with a background in forensic psychology can also become:

    • Detectives

    • Forensic evaluators (the person in charge of conducting a complete psychological interview and review of documents of the necessary people)

    • Criminologists (someone who studies crime, crime rates, criminals, and demographics of the criminals to try to reduce crime)

    Forensic psychology is an extremely interesting career field, but just remember how many years of schooling are required!

    Careers in Psychology, Black and white image of a detective, StudySmarterDetectives can have a forensic psychology background.

    Careers in Criminal Psychology

    Careers in criminal psychology look similar to careers in forensic psychology, aas a degree in criminal psychology studies similar academia to forensic psychology. However, with the word criminal in the title, your guess is right that criminal psychologists focus more on the perpetrator and less on the crime scene.

    People with a criminal psychology degree spend their time focusing on learning about and understanding the criminal, their history, and their motives. People in this field help police and law enforcement understand the psyche of the criminal and the type of people to commit crimes. Through this, they become integral parts of trials.

    However, if you want a career in criminal psychology, you don't have to be a criminal psychologist. Having this degree opens doors for many other potential careers, such as:

    • Jury consultant (assess the backgrounds of potential jurors)

    • Behavior analyst

    • Case manager

    • Criminal profiler

    • Law enforcement advocate

    Careers in Social Psychology

    And finally, what if you want a career in social psychology? Just like everything else, you’ll need a higher degree in psychology (or more specifically social psychology) to pursue this career. Also like everything else, if you have a Bachelor's or Master’s in social psychology, you will be able to work in the social psychology field, but will also have great skills for any future work.

    As a social psychologist, you’ll conduct research and create experiments on social psychology topics – human behavior, attitudes, and interactions. While you’ll spend time in a lab, you’ll be interacting with the participants and your coworkers, so it won’t feel like a lab you’re used to.

    If you want a career in social psychology, your options are broad, but potential jobs include:

    • Human resource specialist (since you’re so educated in human behavior, this is perfect for someone with a social psychology background)

    • Social services representative (work with families to help them get adequate resources to grow and thrive)

    • Consultant

    • Strategist

    Careers in Psychology - Key takeaways

    • A career in clinical psychology can lead you to be a therapist or mental health counselor, a clinical psychologist, or a psychiatrist
    • A career in developmental psychology can lead you to be a developmental psychologist, school counselor, case worker, behavior specialist, or early childhood education specialist
    • A career in forensic psychology can lead you to be a detective, forensic evaluator, or criminologist
    • A career in criminal psychology can lead you to be a criminal profiler, behavior analyst, jury consultant, or law enforcement advocate
    • A career in social psychology can lead you to be a social psychologist, human resource specialist, consultant, or social services representative
    Frequently Asked Questions about Careers in Psychology

    What jobs are for forensic psychology?

    Jobs for forensic psychology are detective, forensic evaluator, or criminologist. 

    What do criminal psychologists do?

    Criminal psychologists focus on creating profiles of the criminals to better understand their behavior. 

    What is a career in clinical psychology?

    A career in clinical psychology could lead someone to be a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist. 

    What can a developmental psychologist do?

    A developmental psychologist creates studies to examine the growth and development of humans. 

    Is social psychology in demand?

    Social psychology is in demand as a career, with many potential job options. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or False? Psychology is a good degree to have regardless of what job you do. 

    Can you only have a Bachelor's degree and become a therapist? 

    True or false? All careers out of clinical psychology require someone to get a Master's and Doctorate. 


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