Psychology, the study of the human mind and behavior, is a rapidly growing scientific field. People who choose to become psychologists are often considered helping professionals, even if they don’t always work directly with people.
Some psychologists may spend more time on research and clinical trials, while others offer counseling and related services at schools and other organizations or to individual people seeking therapy. Many psychologists combine research experience and extensive study of psychology with clinical training to provide more specialized help to their clients.
If you’re interested in becoming a psychologist, know you have many career options. Your particular area of interest may help you choose the right specialization.
Types of Psychologists
As a clinical psychologist, you’ll likely provide therapy services to people seeking help. You might work in private practice, a clinic, or a hospital, but some clinical psychologists also offer services through health care and public organizations.
Many clinical psychologists choose an area to specialize in while pursuing their doctorate. You might choose to specialize in treating eating disorders or working with LGBTQ+ teens, for example. As part of obtaining your doctoral degree, which usually takes between 5 and 7 years, you’ll most likely conduct research in your area of specialty. A year-long internship is also required if you’re planning to work directly with clients.
Forensic or public service psychologist
Many people are first exposed to forensic psychology through crime television, but in reality, the career of a forensic psychologist tends to be somewhat less dramatic. As a forensic psychologist, you’ll use your psychology education and training to support professionals within the government or legal system. Public service psychology expands on this role to help strengthen and rebuild communities.
Forensic psychology and public service psychology is a specific track in the study of clinical psychology, so you’ll need to take certain classes as part of your doctoral studies. As a forensic psychologist, you might work directly with people who have committed crimes or people affected by crimes, but you could also spend more time on research. Public service psychologists typically focus on policy and public needs relating to mental health. This field is still somewhat new, but it’s expanding quickly.
Education remains important throughout life. Even when people finish school and begin their careers, they still need to absorb and apply new information. As an educational psychologist, you’ll use developmental theories to better understand how people learn at different stages in life. You might work with students, teachers, or individuals to help create new, effective approaches to learning.
If you specialize in education and want to work with children, you might choose to work as a school psychologist in a primary or secondary school, but there are many other career options available. You could specialize in research on learning difficulties or behavioral issues that affect education and learning or work with the government to identify barriers to learning in different parts of the country and explore ways to overcome them. You might also choose to become an educator yourself and use your research to support college students entering the field of education.
Some careers may be open to you with a master’s degree in education psychology, but to become a psychologist, you’ll most likely need a doctorate in school or educational psychology.
Health or rehabilitation psychologist
The field of health psychology explores the connections between illness, other health issues, and human behavior. As a health psychologist, you might work to research and understand the factors contributing to choices people make about their health. For example, you might conduct research on sleep deficiency, with a goal of understanding why people don’t get enough sleep and how they might improve the amount and quality of the sleep they get.
Rehabilitation psychologists also work in health care fields, but they specialize in helping people with chronic health issues learn to manage and cope with the resulting difficulties those health issues can have on everyday life. These health conditions could relate to emotional health, physical health, or both. Your role as a rehabilitation psychologist might involve developing treatment programs for specific disabilities in hospitals and other treatment centers. You might also choose to work closely with people living with disabilities and their loved ones. These are only a few of many potential careers in health psychology.
To become a health or rehabilitation psychologist, you’ll need a doctorate in psychology as well as training in health care settings. Some specialist or research careers in health psychology may be open to people with a master’s degree in health psychology.
Climate or environmental psychologist
Psychology can also relate to the environment. Environmental and climate psychologists specialize in understanding the impact of humans on the environment as well as the effects environment can have on individuals.
As an environmental or climate psychologist, you might research how weather can affect mood or the impact of various types of living circumstances. For example, you might look at mental health in remote rural populations vs. mental health in busy urban areas. Or you could choose to focus on climate research and specialize in helping people understand how their behavior affects the environment. You might work to develop methods or programs intended to help people learn more about sustainability and conservation of natural resources and make more conscious, environmentally-friendly choices.
University programs in this field may be difficult to find, but you can pursue a doctorate in psychology and focus your thesis on your particular area of study. Getting a master’s degree in your area of focus can also help you prepare for an environmental psychology career.
Sports or performance psychologist
If you’re interested in how athletes develop the mental dedication and physical discipline required for competitive sports, or how pressures of competition can impact long-term mental and emotional wellness, a career in sports and performance psychology may be ideal for you.
Performance psychology also seeks to explore the effects of pressure in other psychologically demanding fields. You might conduct research on the most helpful approach to counseling for service members with posttraumatic stress (PTSD), explore effective methods to help entertainers and performers regain confidence after a career plateau, or help medical professionals cope with the effects of making a mistake that proved fatal for their patient.
Along with a graduate degree in counseling or sports psychology, you’ll also need specialized training in sports medicine, business, and health psychology. It will also be important to focus graduate research in your area of interest.
Why Become a Psychologist?
The choices people make, and the emotions and thoughts behind these decisions, can affect all aspects of life. Psychologists use their interest in what drives human behavior to explore possible methods of informing people about choices more likely to have a positive impact on their lives.
As researchers begin to understand more about the connection between the mind, the body, and behavior, the field of psychology will continue to develop. This research may provide more insight into the skills that help people make choices to achieve an ideal quality of life.
- A career in climate and environmental psychology. (2014). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/action/science/environment/education-training
- Careers in psychology. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/action/careers/index
- Health psychology promotes wellness. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/action/science/health
- Mischel, W. (2019, March 8). Psychology. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/psychology
- Nordqvist, C. (2018, February 1). What is psychology and what does it involve? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154874.php
- A career in clinical or counseling psychology. (2014). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/action/science/clinical/education-training
- A career in teaching and learning psychology. (2014). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/action/science/teaching-learning/education-training
- Sport and performance psychology delivers peak performance. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/action/science/performance
- What do practicing psychologists do? (2014). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/about-psychologists