Most people have seen the media’s portrayal of a psychologist: a sympathetic person listens to wealthy clients cry for an hour in a well-decorated office. However, just as in the case of TV doctors and lawyers, TV psychologists aren’t exactly true to life.
In the real world, psychology is an incredibly complex and rapidly evolving field that offers several different career tracks for interested and committed individuals. If you are intrigued by the psychology you see on the screen, it’s high time you learn what psychology actually looks like.
What Psychology Is
Psychology is the study of the human mind and how it creates emotion and behavior in different situations. In a sense, people have endeavored to understand psychology since humans first began to walk the Earth, but in truth rigorous study within the field only began in the late 19th century, when Germans began conducting psychological experiments. It wasn’t long until the illustrated Sigmund Freud began publishing his theories and findings, raising widespread awareness of psychology and bringing its discoveries to the fore. As psychology has grown, it has become closely integrated into several medical and scientific fields, to include physiology, neuroscience, sociology, philosophy and more.
For most people, psychology is hardly more or less than a fascinating science, but for some, psychology helps to keep them mentally and physically healthy. This is because how the mind functions has a strong impact on how people experience life — whether they relate healthily to others, act on their emotions appropriately, interpret situations accurately or otherwise have a realistic and enjoyable experience. Psychologists work hard in a variety of career tracks to ensure that as many people as possible can benefit.
Psychology Career 1: Clinical Psychologist
Clinical psychologists, also called licensed psychologists, are the most well-known psychologists because they work with clients, talking and performing exercises to diagnose mental disorders and treat them. Psychologists can work almost anywhere, from hospitals to private practices to schools, prisons, substance abuse centers and anywhere else that people often need psychological support. Typically, clinical psychologists specialize within the field.
Psychology Career 2: IO Psychologist
Industrial-organizational psychologists work with corporations to help increase efficiency at every level. Because companies are comprised of people — from leadership to workforce to clientele — IO psychologists have all sorts of opportunities to better the organizations they work for. Typically, IO psychologists investigate recruitment, training, management, audience engagement, work-life balance and more to help a business grow bigger and stronger.
Psychology Career 3: Psychiatrist
In truth, you don’t need much experience in psychology to become a psychiatrist. That’s because psychiatrists attend medical school and are primarily trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders through biology and medicine as opposed to clinical therapy. Still, psychiatrists have an important role within mental health, especially as science makes more breakthroughs connecting physiology to mental disease.
Psychology Career 4: Researcher
Psychology researchers, or experimental psychologists, study human behavior and mental processes to broaden psychological knowledge and understanding. A large number of research psychologists work in university settings, where they also take on academic duties like teaching, but some researchers work in the private sector, their research funded by corporations. Research is ideal for you if you tend to be science- and math-minded.
Necessary Psychology Education
Psychology is a field that requires relatively extensive education. A bachelor’s degree in psychology is just the first step on what could be a lifelong academic career, depending on which path through psychology you choose. To practice clinically — meaning helping clients in therapy — you need at least a master’s degree and specialized experience in the exact field you hope to enter. Fortunately, there are several online master’s degrees in psychology that make obtaining this credential more convenient, allowing you to remain in your current career position or avoid disrupting your life while you pursue this necessary degree.
Some psychology careers do require even more academic effort. For example, academics and researchers are often PhD-holders, and psychiatrists have medical degrees, which allow them to prescribe medications. Regardless of the career track you choose, you should expect to be in higher education for over six years.
As we learn more about our minds, we gain more control over how we live, work and treat others. Psychology is an incredibly important field of study and work, and regardless of what your psychology career looks like, you’ll find it to be unendingly rewarding.