Do the inner workings of the human mind intrigue you? Is it your nature to analyze even the simplest of daily decisions and functions that a person makes? Have you decided to put this natural ability to work for you in a professional capacity? Have you thought about completing the necessary educational requirements so that you could work as a mental health counselor? In this profession you would be working with groups, individuals, and family units to provide intervention and treatment for a wide variety of emotional and mental disorders. Start your degree in psychology today. In order to be qualified to work as a mental health counselor you will likely want to complete a Master of Science degree program that is concentrated in mental health counseling. Of course, before you can be admitted into a master’s level degree program in mental health counseling you must have successfully completed an undergraduate degree program in a related field. A Master of Science degree program will require you to complete between 48 and 60 credit hours over approximately a two year period. You can expect to learn about career development, group counseling techniques, the theories of counseling, ethics, and diagnostic strategies. You may also have the chance to choose an area of concentration within your curriculum, such as youth, children, or families.
You can expect to be required to complete coursework such as: family therapy, human development, research methods, counseling applications, tools for diagnostic measuring, crisis intervention, group and individual counseling, and clinical assessment. Upon completion of your course requirements you will be able to sit for the licensing exam as mandated by your state of residence. It is important to note that the requirements for licensure vary slightly from one state to another; therefore, you will want to make sure you are aware of what is required by your state. In addition, you will be required to complete continuing education hours in order to maintain your licensure. Take a few minutes and request a free information packet from any of the schools shown on our site that appeal to you and your goals. As a degree holder in an area of mental health counseling you will also be able to pursue employment in areas such as substance abuse counseling, vocational rehabilitation counseling, behavioral analysis, or clinical psychology. Of course, as a mental health counselor you could work within a hospital setting, within a school system, or you could open your own counseling practice. If you have always wanted to start your mental health counseling degree but didn’t know where to start then today is your day…start below by requesting information from any of the schools.
It’s the iconic image of psychology: a woman lays on a lounge couch unloading her deepest secrets as a bearded man contemplates her deeply and asks questions about her mother. But the field of psychology runs much deeper than that! Psychology is the study of human behavior. It seeks to answer questions like: Why do we do what we do? How can we change our mental states and accompanying behaviors? How do babies learn to make sense of their worlds? What causes a psychological disorder like schizophrenia and how do we treat it?
If these questions pique your interests, you may want to consider studying psychology in college or beyond. Psychology can be studied at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and graduate level. The degrees vary by length, specialization (or lack thereof), and career opportunities. Which degree is right for you? In this article, we’ll do an in-depth review of your degree options so that you can make an informed decision about how far you want to study psychology. First, let’s go over the basics of each degree.
Associate Degree in Psychology: An associate degree takes 2 years to complete. The curriculum consists of introductory psychology courses.
Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology: A bachelor’s degree takes 4 years to complete. In addition to introductory psychology courses, students take a rigorous Statistics for Psychology class, and higher-level elective courses such as Theories of Personality. There may be opportunities for internships or hands-on coursework.
Master’s Degree in Psychology or a Related Field: A master’s degree takes 2-3 years. Most master’s degrees are specialized to prepare students for a specific career. For example, a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling prepares students for a career in mental health counseling, while a Master’s in Forensic Psychology prepares students for a variety of psych-related jobs in law enforcement. One must have a bachelor’s degree to pursue a master’s. The bachelor’s degree does not necessarily have to be in psychology, although students with psychology backgrounds may be seen as more competitive candidates.
Ph.D. in Psychology: A Ph.D. takes 4-7 years. Students conduct original research in psychology (which culminates in a dissertation), and get supervised clinical experience. Graduates work as licensed psychologists. Some become professors and academic researchers. One must have a bachelor’s degree to pursue a Ph.D., preferably a degree in psychology since Ph.D. programs are very competitive.
Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology): Psy.D. programs are similar to Ph.D. programs but do not require a dissertation, and are thus slightly shorter (about 4-6 years). They focus on hands-on clinical training to prepare graduates to become licensed psychologists. Now that you have an overview of the degree options, let’s take a closer look at each degree’s curriculum and career opportunities.
Traditional psychology jobs require a bachelor’s degree or more, but an associate degree can be a stepping stone towards a bachelor’s degree, or it can give your resume a boost if you’re looking for a service-oriented career.
What Does an Associate Degree Program in Psychology Entail?
Associate degrees are 2 years. Students take introductory psychology courses such as:
- Psych 101: An introduction to psychology as a science of behavior, and the major findings in the field.
- Research in Psychology: An introduction to scientific methodology in the context of psychological research.
- Human Development: A look at human behavior and struggles throughout life stages, from newborns to the elderly.
- Abnormal Psychology: The study of unusual patterns of behavior including psychological disorders like schizophrenia.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Associate Degree Programs in Psychology
Graduates of associate degree programs can apply their new understanding of human psychology to work with struggling populations like the elderly or alcoholics. They go on to work as youth counselors, case technicians, human service assistants, home care aides, and rehabilitation assistants.
Career Spotlight: Psychiatric Technicians
Job Description: Psychiatric technicians help care for people with mental or physical disabilities. They work in hospitals or residential mental health and substance abuse facilities. Technicians observe patient behavior, lead recreational and therapeutic activities, and administer medicine.
Median Pay: $28,670 per year.
Degree Required: Technicians require some postsecondary education. Often this education is in nursing, but an associate degree in psychology can also be a good background for this position.
Training: Technicians usually undergo short on-the-job training before they can work independently with patients.
Skills Required: Compassion, interpersonal skills, observational skills, patience, physical stamina.
Career Spotlight: Home Health Aide
Job Description: Home health aides assist people with disabilities in their day-to-day lives. Many patients are elderly individuals who are still capable of living in their own homes with some assistance. Home health aides help with day-to-day tasks like bathing, dressing, and household chores that might be difficult for the patient. They also administer medication, arrange transportation to doctor’s offices and elsewhere, and help clients stay engaged in their communities and social networks.
Median Pay: $22,600 per year.
Degree Required: A high school diploma is all that’s required to become a home health aide, but an associate’s degree in psychology can prepare students for the mental health aspects of the job, and make them more competitive for a position.
Skills Required: Detail-oriented, integrity, interpersonal skills, physical stamina.
A bachelor’s degree in psychology takes four years to complete. Students are exposed to a thorough introduction of psychology. Upon graduation, they can apply their psychological knowledge to diverse fields from business, to health care, to working with children. For those considering going on to a Master’s or Ph.D. in psychology, majoring in psychology will expose you to the various sub-fields of psychology so that you can make an informed decision about what you’d like to pursue at the graduate level.
What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Psychology Entail?
In addition to basic psychology courses, bachelor’s degrees also include higher-level electives, rigorous statistical methods classes, and internship opportunities. Students build skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, trust-building, and communication. The curriculum exposes students to a number of sub-fields in psychology, and some programs allow you to concentrate in your sub-field of choice. Sub-fields covered include:
- Child / Developmental Psychology: the study of human development. How do we think and behave at each age? What does healthy development look like? This sub-field also includes the study of the psychology of sexual development.
- Biopsychology: a look at psychology from a biological or neuroscience perspective. Completing a concentration in this sub-field often involves interdisciplinary study like taking some classes in the biology or neuroscience departments.
- Mental Health / History of Psychology: examines the history of mental health. How have we classified and treated disorders in the past? How has psychology evolved through social and cultural shifts?
- Abnormal Psychology: the study of abnormal or antisocial behavior, including psychological disorders.
- Industrial / Organizational Psychology: the study of psychology in a business or organizational setting. How can we apply the tools of psychology to affect employee productivity and happiness?
- Exercise / Sports Psychology: the study of psychology as it relates to exercise and sports. How does exercise affect mental health? How does mental health affect sports performance? What are the characteristics of successful athletes? This concentration prepares students who want to go on to work with athletes.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Psychology
Student job prospects upon graduation depend on their area of focus, internship experience, and performance in relevant coursework. Some students pursue classic psychology jobs like counseling, while others choose to go into business or teach. Some common paths after a bachelor’s degree in psychology are:
- Positions in governments or non-profits: case managers, rehabilitation specialists, law enforcement and corrections.
- Positions in business: Human resources, business administration, management positions, market research.
- Positions in schools: school counselors, psychology teachers, career counselors.
Career Spotlight: Market Research Analysts
Job Description: Market research analysts conduct research for businesses. For example, let’s say a bank wants to gauge customer reaction to a website redesign, or a juice company wants to test new packaging before they roll it out. Market researchers conduct research on the company’s behalf to help them make a well-informed decision. A market research analyst works with a team of other researchers, assisting in creating surveys, fielding them, and analyzing the data.
Median Pay: $62,560 per year.
Degree Required: Bachelor’s in Market Research or a related field. Students of psychology are often top contenders for these positions, especially if they conducted research projects as part of their study.
Skills Required: Analytical skills, communication skills, critical-thinking skills, detail-oriented.
Career Spotlight: Social Worker
Job Description: Social workers help people respond to challenges in their lives such as illness, divorce, or unemployment. They assist clients in applying for community services, and respond to crisis situations when needed. They follow up with clients over time to ensure that their situations are improving and no new problems have arisen.
Median Pay: $46,890 per year.
Degree Required: Bachelor’s in Social Work or a related field such as psychology or sociology.
Skills Required: Communication skills, empathy, interpersonal skills, organizational skills, problem-solving skills, time management skills.
Career Spotlight: Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors
Job Description: Substance abuse counselors assist individuals with alcoholism or drug addictions. Behavioral disorder counselors work with populations with behavioral disorders such as eating disorders.
Median Pay: $41,070 per year.
Degree Required: Most positions require a bachelor’s degree. However, working in private practice requires a master’s degree and licensing.
Licensing: Licensing to work in private practice requires a master’s degree and 2-4,000 hours of supervised experience, depending on the state.
Skills Required: Communication skills, compassion, critical-thinking skills, interpersonal skills, listening skills, patience.
Master’s degrees in psychology take 2-3 years to complete. A master’s degree allows students to build on what they learned in undergrad, and specialize in their sub-field of choice. Due to the competitiveness of the field, master’s degrees are necessary for many entry-level jobs in psychology.
What Does a Master's Degree Program in Psychology Entail?
A master’s degree in psychology takes 2-3 years. Most programs offer “terminal degrees,” which are degrees that prepare students to enter the workforce without further schooling. These degrees are specialized to a specific career in psychology. For example, a Master’s in Forensic Psychology opens doors to entry-level jobs in law and law enforcement, such as counseling family members of prisoners. Some programs are less specialized, and meant to prepare students who plan to apply for Ph.D. programs. Although a master’s degree is not required to apply to a Ph.D. program, it can make someone a more competitive candidate, especially if the master’s degree requires a thesis (some programs do and some do not). Schools either offer an M.A. (Master of Arts) or M.S. (Master of Science) degree. In theory an M.A. is a liberal arts-oriented program, while an M.S. places a greater emphasis on research. But in practice each master’s program is different, and the best way to determine a program’s emphasis is to read their promotional material.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Master's Degree Programs
Since master’s degrees are specialized, the career outlook varies by specialization. For example, students who complete a Master’s in Marriage and Family therapy go on to become marriage and family therapists. Before applying to a master’s program, make sure the program aligns with your career goals, and check the program’s placement rate - are most graduates able to find work in the field after graduation?
Career Spotlight: Marriage and Family Therapist
Job Description: Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) help individuals and families address family issues. For example, an MFT might work with a couple that fights frequently or are feeling dissatisfied with their relationship. MFTs encourage healthy communication between the family members to help members process and heal from emotional pain. They also help clients develop strategies to work through future family issues together.
Median Pay: $44,170 per year.
Degree Required: Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy or a related field.
Licensing: Marriage and Family Therapists must be licensed by their state board. Requirements vary by state; in addition to a master’s degree, licensure usually requires 2,000 - 4,000 hours of supervised clinical training.
Skills Required: Compassion, interpersonal skills, listening skills, organizational skills, speaking skills.
Career Spotlight: School and Career Counselors
Job Description: School counselors help students make key decisions about their coursework and their plans for future education. They also help students deal with school-related stress such as academic struggles or social issues. Career counselors help students find a career that fits their needs and desires, and helps them take steps to enter that career. They may administer aptitude and achievement tests to help narrow in on a suitable career for the student.
Median Pay: $54,560 per year.
Degree Required: Master’s Degree in School Counseling, Career Counseling, or related fields.
Skills Required: Compassion, interpersonal skills, listening skills, speaking skills.
The primary difference between a Ph.D. and Psy.D. is that a Ph.D. requires a dissertation, while a Psy.D. does not. Thus Ph.D. degrees take 4-7 years to complete, while Psy.D. degrees typically take 4-6 years. A Ph.D. is the preferred path for individuals who want to perform original research and/or go on to work in academia. What Does a Ph.D. Program in Psychology Entail? The first two years involve core coursework, including statistical and analytical techniques. This is followed by a few years of concentrated course work (coursework specific to the student’s primary area of focus). During the final years the student completes original dissertation research.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Ph.D. Degree Programs
Psychology is a growing field, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting 19% growth for psychologists (much faster than average). The employment growth will be driven by increased demand for psychologists in medical facilities, social services agencies, and schools. Job prospects are greatest for those who have a doctorate degree in an applied specialty.
There are various types of graduate-level psychologists, including the following.
- Clinical psychologists: Clinical psychologists work with patients who have mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. In addition to doing psychotherapy with their clients, they also devise and implement behavior modification programs.
- Counseling psychologists: These psychologists help their patients reflect on and understand the problems they are facing in their lives, and then help them devise solutions to these problems.
In addition to working with clients, many Ph.D. psychologists teach at the college level and conduct original research.
Career Spotlight: Psychologist
Job Description: Psychologists seek to understand why humans feel, think, and behave in the ways we do. They treat clients with cognitive, emotional, or social problems. Some conduct research on human behavior across a variety of circumstances.
Median Pay: $75,230 per year.
Degree Required: Clinical, counseling and research psychologists typically have a Ph.D. or Psy.D. (Industrial-organizational psychologists and school psychologists only need a master’s-level education.)
Licensing: Licensing varies by state but typically becoming a clinical, counseling, or research psychologist requires a graduate degree, an internship, 1-2 years of professional supervised experience, and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.
Skills Required: Compassion, interpersonal skills, listening skills, organizational skills, speaking skills.
What about a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) Degree?
A Doctor Of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree is an alternative to a Ph.D. that places greater focus on in-the-field clinical experience rather than original research. These programs tend to be shorter than Ph.D. programs, although like Ph.D. programs they can take up to 7 years. In the working world, both a Ph.D. and Psy.D. are weighed about equally, but a Ph.D. is necessary for academia.
What can I expect from the Licensing Process?
Practicing psychology is regulated by the state, and each state has different licensing requirements. Most states restrict the term “psychologist” to Ph.D. and Psy.D. holders. If you’re curious about the licensing process in your state, you can find that information on your state’s board of psychology website.
Salary By State: Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists
Based on estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (as of May 2016), there are 107,980 clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in the United States. The states with the majority of these jobs are California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Nationally the average wage is $78,690, but the highest wages are found in New Jersey, South Dakota, California, New York, and Oregon.
If you’re interested in psychology but your heart isn’t 100% set on getting a degree in it, there may be similar courses of study that align more with your interests and goals. Check out these alternatives to psychology:
- Human Services: Human services teaches students to assist individuals tackling major challenges in their lives. If you’re interested in a career as a social worker, guidance counselor, or marriage and family counselor, this can be a great choice. The major emphasizes applied training rather than scientific study or research.
- Sociology: Psychology focuses on behavior at the individual level, while sociology is the study of groups and societies. Like psychology, the study of sociology has a research component; at the undergraduate level, you will be expected to understand the research process, and at the graduate level you will conduct original research. The end results of a sociology bachelor’s degree are similar to a psychology degree - sociologists often go into service jobs, including counseling and social services. Others go into human resources or research positions.
- Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapists assist patients who are learning or re-learning basic skills. For example, an occupational therapist might work with an autistic child to help develop better social and communication skills, or with a burn victim to help them return to the community and face the psychological struggles that can accompany physical changes or impairment.
- Economics: Economics is the study of individuals, groups, and organizations from a financial perspective. You’ll learn how markets work at a local and global level. The sub-field of behavioral economics has a lot in common with psychology in that it studies economic questions but from a psychological perspective. A quantitatively-minded individual with an interest in psychology might enjoy this course of study.