General Psychology

General Psychology Degree

Just as there are many facets of the human mind, so is true of the discipline which has dedicated itself to studying it. 

There are clinical psychologists who help diagnose and treat mental illness. There are behavioral psychologists who help determine if a person’s behavior is driven by a cognitive disability or abnormality. There are even industrial occupational psychologists, who use their knowledge of the human psyche to help improve employee satisfaction and productivity in the workplace. 

If a career in psychology is being considered, prospective students should first explore the many concentrations and career options available before choosing the type of degree they wish to pursue. Each degree level affords different opportunities within the field and varying salary ranges. 

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe

What is the difference between a developmental psychologist and a sports psychologist? Do they learn the same things in school? Does each have the same level of degree? 

To answer that, let’s explore some of the various disciplines of psychology.

Behavioral Psychology – Behavioral psychology, or behaviorism, became an accepted perspective in the early 1900s. It was founded by psychologist James B. Watson, who believed that behaviors were taught and could just as easily be unlearned with the right kind of therapy. Behavioral psychologists focus on research, education, training and clinical practice, and apply their findings to a variety of problems and people. People with bad habits – such as smoking or using illegal drugs – may turn to a behavioral psychologist for help overcoming their addiction. People with anxiety disorders and phobias also may seek out the help of a trained behavioral psychologist, who will use cognitive and behavioral therapy methods to help patients modify, control and even eliminate self-destructive behaviors. Behavioral psychologists also can be used to help children and adults with cognitive disorders such as ADHD and autism, by teaching them methods to help cope with the kinds of outbursts to which they are prone. 

Clinical Psychology – Clinical psychology is one of the largest subfields or specialties of psychology. Clinical psychologists can work in hospitals, treatment centers and even academic settings such as schools; however, they are not medical doctors and as such, are unable to prescribe medications. Clinical psychology has several subsets: adolescent mental health, adult mental health, special needs/learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, alcohol/drug abuse, geriatrics and general health. Clinical psychologists focus on counseling and therapy options for treating mental health disorders, whereas other subsets of psychology and even psychiatry may focus more on medication in conjunction with therapy. 

Developmental Psychology – Developmental psychology is the study of lifetime human growth and development. It includes physical development, as well as cognitive, social, intellectual and emotional progression. When developmental psychology first was established, it mainly focused on children. Now, developmental psychologists study the development of the human brain and body from infancy through adulthood.

Forensic Psychology – Forensic psychologists have an interesting and valuable job within society. It is the primary role of a forensic psychologist to apply scientific knowledge in relation to the law. They analyze evidence and can act as expert witnesses during legal proceedings. Their knowledge and participation in the legal justice system helps to bring many criminals to justice, making it a very important component of the justice system.

Industrial Organizational Psychology (I/O) – An applied science, those trained in industrial organizational psychology use their skills and education to scientifically study employees, workplaces and organizations. I/O psychologists are credited with the ability to bolster the success of a business, organization or other workplace, while at the same time, ensuring the satisfaction of the employees of those establishments. 

Sports Psychology – Sports psychologists, like their peers in other specialties of psychology, provide therapy services to their clients. The only difference is, sports psychologists focus solely on athletes – both amateur and professional – to help them overcome problems, enhance their performances and meet goals. According to the American Psychological Association, sports psychologists can be helpful to athletes during more than just the difficult times. They are trained to help athletes deal with the pressure of competition; enhance their performance by using mental strategies and self-help techniques; provide motivational tools to continue a diet and exercise program; and recover from injuries. 

These are just a few of the concentrations within the field of psychology, and among the most popular psychology degrees being pursued today. 

Which Degree Should I Choose?

Now that we have reviewed the subsets of psychology, let’s discuss the kind of degrees needed to pursue various careers within the field. To select the best option for earning a psychology degree, one should first determine which field of psychology will be practiced. There are several levels of psychology degrees, but each level qualifies the recipient to work in only selected fields. 

  • Associate Degree: An Associate Degree in Psychology requires only two years of training from a certified college or university. Psychology degrees at this level often are found at community colleges and through online psychology degree programs. Students who earn an associate’s degree have the option to then transfer to a four-year college or university, with the intention of earning a Bachelor’s Degree, or they can seek employment. However, employment options for those with only an associate’s degree are limited, as is the earning potential for those with this type of degree. 
  • Bachelor’s Degree: Job opportunities for those with a Bachelor’s Degree are greatly expanded; however, those with a Bachelor’s Degree are still considered entry-level, and will only earn about 2.5 percent of those who have a Master or Doctorate degree. Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology generally takes four years. Most students who earn a Bachelor’s Degree do so as a means to move forward and further study their selected field. 
  • Master’s Degree: Earning this level of degree takes an additional two to three years of schooling beyond a Bachelor’s Degree. Some colleges and universities have a program at this level which prepares students to enter the workforce upon completion. Other programs offer training which prepares the student to continue on toward earning a Doctoral degree. Among the jobs those who directly enter the workforce are trained to do include working in mental health services, government agencies, social services, drug and alcohol treatment centers or behavioral counseling. 
  • Doctoral Degree (Ph.D.): Students who wish to pursue this level of psychology degree can plan on taking five to seven years of graduate-level study. They also must complete an internship with a licensed psychologist as a requirement of graduation. Those seeking a Ph.D. generally focus on research-oriented jobs within the field, which can include theoretical and applied training. Those seeking a Ph.D. will be asked to select a specialty within their field, which can include private practice, clinical psychology or counseling services. Some people who earn a Ph.D. choose to continue working in the field of research. 
  • Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.): This degree was created as an alternative to a traditional Ph.D. and tends to focus on the professional practice of psychology. Those who wish to become a licensed psychologist, who is qualified to diagnose and treat mental disorders, should seek to earn this degree. Psy.D. degrees take an additional four to seven years of graduate study to complete. Students who attempt to earn this degree will be required to intern with a licensed psychologist as part of their degree requirements.

Future Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median annual salary for a psychologist with a four-year degree is $68,640. Those who possess a graduate or doctoral degree in psychology can expect to earn upwards of $110,000 per year. Demand for trained psychologists is expected to increase over the next eight years by 22 percent. Those who have earned a doctorate degree in applied psychology, as well as those who possess a doctorate degree in school psychology, will be in the highest demand over the next decade. 

Article by Shari Berg,

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