We have come a long way in our understanding of human behavior and psychology over the last century. Unlike their early predecessors, today’s psychologists study and attempt to address all kinds of fascinating questions, such as: What are the roots of violence? Why is learning a language easier as an infant than it is as a teenager? What is the most effective way to help someone with an eating disorder like anorexia? Psychology majors study the way humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.
Psychology is a competitive field and most good career opportunities in this field require an advanced degree and/or professional training. Most career positions in psychology require that students complete a master’s or PhD degree and typically requiring 4 or 5 years of postgraduate work experience, including extensive work in research methods. Some opportunities for teaching psychology at the junior college or high school level, or for work as a psychologist in a school, business, or hospital, are available to those with a master’s degree (2 or 3 years of postgraduate work) or bachelor’s degree.
This guide is dedicated to helping students and educators alike familiarize themselves with many aspects of the field of psychology relating to education and career advancement. Here you can explore various psychology majors and view colleges and universities offering majors and degree programs in child psychology, family and marriage counseling, clinical psychology, social psychology, community psychology, school psychology as well as several other branches of psychology.
To learn more about advancing your career in psychology select a topic below.
Accreditation in Psychology
Many current and prospective students and other individuals are not familiar with what exactly accreditation within the field of psychology means, the different types of accreditation, and to what kinds of higher education institutions and programs accreditation applies. Additionally, there appears to be confusion relating to distinctions made between accreditation, licensing, certification and professional organizations. The information below is intended help clarify these matters, especially as they relate to psychology students and graduates.
Every region in the United States has an accrediting agency to which colleges, universities, and schools, both public and private, apply when they feel they have met that agency’s standards. For example, in the south, this accrediting agency is called the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools (SACS); in the West, it is called Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Accreditation by such an agency means that all programs in that institution, such as English, History, Psychology, etc. are fully accredited. If an institution is fully accredited by a recognized accrediting agency, its psychology programs are considered to be fully accredited at the regional level.
Some, although not many, states also have accrediting agencies. Newer schools or colleges will often first apply for state approval to grant degrees before they are ready to apply for regional accreditation. Sometimes in reading a directory of schools, it will state: “Approved by the State (of California), or State Accredited.”
Special Discipline and Area Accreditation
Some schools may want to format and orient their programs in special ways, such as “home study”, i.e., where the student can do much or most of his or her program by correspondence, TV, etc. Some accrediting agencies specialize in this type of program and accredit such institutions. Some disciplines within more conventional schools or colleges, such as Education, Business, and Nursing seek special accreditation for a program at the Bachelor’s, Master’s, Specialist, or Doctoral levels. The standards for such accreditation are set by agencies giving particular attention to that discipline or profession. For example, if a University’s psychology program may be fully accredited by the Consortium for Diversified Psychology Programs (CDPP). The CDPP is an association of programs in psychology committed to unique career professionals and mature learners. It is further committed to alternative processes that enhance diversity and enable access to graduate education for a wide range of students who might otherwise not be able to pursue degrees in professional psychology.
The American Psychological Association only provides accreditation for doctoral level programs and, among these, only those programs which are professional in design. General, experimental, or other types of liberal arts oriented doctoral programs are not accredited by the American Psychological Association. Clinical, Clinical-Counseling, and related professional training programs which offer a doctorate, (e.g., a Psy.D. degree or a PhD program), in these special areas may apply for APA accreditation. Master’s in psychology programs are accredited by the APA. Thus there is no APA accreditation possibility for any other Master’s level psychology program anywhere at another educational institution.
Difference Between Accreditation, Licensing and Certification
While accreditation is something any appropriate educational program or institution can apply for from an agency which typically is not run or sponsored by a state or municipality, licensing is provided by a state or local agency publicly legislated and sanctioned. Many professionals are approved and regulated by state licensing boards, e.g., plumbers, carpenters, electricians, counselors, nurses, etc. These boards set their own criteria for individuals applying and often this will include specification of some sort of professional training and educational background. These agencies establish tests for individuals applying to practice in their particular state or locale. They often have ethics boards to take up complaints in addition to the Professional Ethics Boards that are established by the professions themselves, e.g., the American Psychological Association or similar state specific association. Certification is another method by which a state controls the practice of psychology, by establishing levels of educational accomplishment. Typically a candidate seeking a certain level of certification must meet designated educational and other specific professional criteria.
What is APA?
APA is the American Psychological Association. It is the organization which represents all kinds of psychology and related areas, including academic psychology and professional psychology. Its membership consists of psychologists, or those in related areas, at all levels of membership and from all areas of the field. Only one part of APA is devoted to educational and accrediting functions. APA’s traditional and still central function is to provide support for all psychologists, e.g., those engaged in research, practice, teaching, etc.
There exist also regional and state psychology organizations such as the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA). These organizations represent psychologists and others in related areas at the local level.
Another well-known association is the American Psychological Society (APS), a recent break-off organization from the American Psychology Association. One of the reasons the APS was established was because it felt that the APA had come too much to represent only the professional practice side of the field.
All these are professional organizations where psychologists meet, exchange views and papers, and discuss common issues. Most professional organizations have special student rates available for membership.
Types of Psychology Degrees
If you’re serious about earning a degree in psychology then there are a number of different undergraduate and graduate level programs to choose from. However, before you can decided which degree to earn you must first understand the education requirements for the career you intend to pursue. For some career paths, a bachelor’s degree may be all that you need. For others, however, you may need to consider earning a graduate degree. Below we’ll explore with you the different psychology degree options and which one will be best suited for you. Certificate Programs Colleges and universities offer a variety of certificate programs in psychology designed to serve a variety of purposes. There are certificate programs for students at the undergraduate level as well as certificates for students at the graduate level. There are also certificates designed specifically for working psychologists who are looking to specialize or who simply want keep their skill-set up to date.
At the undergraduate level, students have the option of earning a psychology certificate in addition to their bachelor’s degree. This certificate program is designed for students pursuing an unrelated bachelor’s degree who also want to study psychology, but not as their primary focus. Some schools offer psychology concentrations (sort of like a minor) that allow students to receive more in-depth training in areas such as experimental psychology, cognitive psychology and bio psychology. These programs typically take 1 to 2 years to complete, when taken in conjunction with a bachelor’s degree program.
Graduate level certificate programs in psychology are intended for students pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology. These certificate programs are designed to allow the student to add an additional level of specialization to their education. A student completing a graduate level certificate will generally choose one psychology specialty, such as clinical, organizational, industrial or social psychology, as the main focus of the certificate program. Individuals who earn certificates will often have a competitive edge when it comes to finding a job, or when pursuing teaching and research positions. Graduate level certificate program requirements and duration will vary by school.
In addition to undergraduate and graduate certificates, there are also post-doctoral certificates in psychology. Post-doctoral certificates are generally reserved for psychologists who want to transition into clinical practice or expand their expertise in a specific discipline. These programs typically involve advanced training and clinical supervision. Candidates for post-doctoral certificate programs must have a doctoral degree in psychology and go through an application process.
The associate degree in psychology is an undergraduate degree that typically requires students to complete two years of college level coursework. This degree is most commonly offered by community colleges, and students who earn this degree typically go on to complete a bachelor’s degree at a state university.
Most entry-level careers in psychology require at minimum a bachelor’s degree, so don’t expect to qualify for a highly competitive position with only an associate degree. An associate degree in psychology, more often than not, is used as a preparatory degree for earning a bachelor’s degree or pursuing more advanced studies in psychology.
Earning your associates degree in psychology will however qualify you for limited entry-level psychology jobs. These include but are not limited to psychiatric technician in a state mental hospital, rehabilitation worker and related positions.
Like the associate degree, the bachelor’s degree in psychology is an undergraduate-level degree. However, unlike the associate degree the bachelor degree in psychology takes four years to complete and can prepare students for entry-level career opportunities in psychology. At most accredited colleges and universities, students are provided the option of earning a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in psychology. The B.A. degree in psychology typically requires more liberal arts general education courses, while B.S. degree requires more science related general education courses.
While a bachelor’s degree in psychology will qualify students for entry-level career positions, there is usually a much broader range of career opportunities for those who have a master’s or doctorate degree.
Unlike either the associate or bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in psychology is a graduate-level degree that requires two to three years of advanced study, in addition to the four years required to complete the bachelor’s degree. As with a bachelor’s degree, master’s students usually have the option of choosing between a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in psychology.
Career opportunities for students who earn a master’s degree in psychology are far more plentiful than for students possessing only a bachelor’s degree. Some psychology master’s programs offer a terminal degree (or end-level degree) designed to prepare students for their career, while others offer master’s degrees designed specifically to prepare students to progress toward earning a doctorate of PhD in psychology.
Master’s graduates are able to find jobs in a large variety of relevant fields including mental health services, counseling, medical service, social work, business, and more. There are also opportunities for graduates to teach at colleges or universities, although these types of positions tend be very competitive.
A PhD in Psychology, also known as Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology, is a doctoral-level degree that usually takes five to seven years to complete. This degree is typically theory based and research oriented, but also includes applied training.
PhD degree programs usually offer a broad array of specialty areas that students can focus on. What you choose to specialize in during your program will be determined in large part by what you plan on doing after you graduate. For example, if you’re particularly interested in research and teaching you may opt for a PhD program that focuses on developmental, social or experimental psychology. Alternatively, if you’re set on going into psychotherapy or private practice you may want to consider a program that focuses on counseling or clinical psychology.
The Psy.D., or Doctor of Psychology, is a doctoral-level professional degree. This graduate-level degree was created as an alternative to the traditional PhD in Psychology, or Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology, which is primarily a research oriented degree. Unlike the PhD, the Psy.D. degree tends be more focused on the professional practice of psychology. Individuals who earn a PsyD in counseling or clinical psychology and then pass all state required licensing exams are qualified to conduct psychological testing, administer psychotherapy and treat a variety of mental disorders.
It usually takes about four to seven years to to complete a PsyD degree program. As is the case with a PhD degree, PsyD students must complete a mandatory supervised practicum and internship in an approved clinical setting. The practicum involves working under the supervision of a license psychologist, while the internship must be a full-time position that lasts a minimum of one year. Students cannot take state or national licensing exams until required coursework, practicum and internship have been completed.
Brems, C., & Johnson, M. E. (1997). Comparison of recent graduates of clinical versus counseling psychology programs. Journal of Psychology, 131, 91-99.
Mayne, T. J., Norcross, J. C., & Sayette, M. A. (2000). Insider’s guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology (2000-2001 ed). New York: Guilford.
Society of Counseling Psychologists. (n.d.). About counseling psychologists. Found online at http://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/doctoral.html
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook
American Psychological Association (APA) Website