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Types of Psychology Degrees

August 11, 2021 | Staff Writers

Types of Psychology degrees
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Psychology is typically described as the study of the human brain and human behaviors. If the idea of learning how people think, feel, and behave as a means to helping them improve their mental and emotional well-being appeals to you then a career in psychology may be the right option. Psychologists must have a high-level of analytical, communication, problem-solving, observation, and interpersonal skills to succeed in their career.

Fortunately, psychology is an especially diverse field. This diversity gives you the freedom to choose between a variety of career paths. There are five levels of psychology degrees available, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. These programs will provide you with essential knowledge about human behavior, cognitive development, social interactions, and therapeutic techniques.

The average work environment for psychologists varies greatly depending on their specialty. For example, a counseling psychologist may own their own practice and spend a majority of the day counseling clients. Whereas an industrial organizational psychologist may work for a large corporation and spend much of the day in their office and attending meetings.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the broader field of psychology is expected to grow by an average of 3% over the next 10 years, which is on par with the national average. Additionally, the BLS report shows that psychologists, on average, earn $80,370 per year. As is the case with most careers, psychologists with higher degrees and more experience earn the highest salaries.

This guide will explain these various degree specialty areas and provide a take a closer look at the different degree programs available.

Psychology Degree Specialty Areas

Psychology is one of the most diverse fields available. In fact, psychologists can work in a wide range of workplace settings, including healthcare, educational, law enforcement, business, and research laboratory as well as operate their own clinical practice.

While there are dozens of specialty areas in the psychology field, below is a look at the most common options.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologists work with people struggling with mental, social, and emotional health disorders. These psychologists handle everything from evaluations and assessments to diagnoses and therapeutic treatments. A clinical psychologist must have excellent communication and listening skills as well as advanced problem-solving and analytical capabilities. Clinical psychology technician and aide jobs may be available at the associate or bachelor’s degree level, but for more advanced positions, one must have a master’s or doctorate degree. For example, diagnosis and treatment cannot be offered without at least a master’s degree, and in some cases, such as medication management, a doctorate degree is required.

Cognitive Behavior Psychology

Cognitive psychologists primarily deal with the diagnoses and treatment of behavioral disorders. They often work as child psychologists and counselors as well as in clinical labs, substance abuse treatment centers, or educational settings. These psychologists work by observing and assessing behavioral issues and then offering researched-based treatments and techniques to help individuals improve behavior outcomes. Most positions in the cognitive psychology field require either a master’s or doctorate degree. However, you may be able to find case management and behavioral coaching jobs with a bachelor’s degree. Clinical psychologists must have a high level of patience and listening capabilities as well as both written and oral communication skills.

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is one of the most common specialties available. The primary aspect of a counseling psychologist’s job is working directly with clients in a one-on-one counseling setting. They lead clients through counseling sessions and offer therapeutic techniques and treatments to help them overcome mental, emotional, and social disorders. Counseling psychology may provide counseling for grief, trauma, marriage issues, drug and alcohol abuse issues, mental health disorders, phobias, and additional disorders. Most states require counseling psychologists to have a master’s or doctorate degree, but in some states, only those with doctorate degrees can provide professional counseling services.  

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology focuses on human development over the course of one’s lifespan. Developmental psychologists study both childhood development and development in the aging community. They examine behavioral, emotional, and social issues at all stages of the lifecycle. These psychologists use this information along with research-based treatment options to help clients work through issues, including grief, morality, and major life changes, such as divorce.

Educational Psychology

Educational psychologists solely focus on mental health and behavioral issues as they relate to the school setting. They work directly with local school districts, governmental agencies, and higher education institutions to develop policies and practices that involve school-related issues, such as learning models and behavior intervention techniques. These psychologists work directly with students, families, teachers, school administrators, school board members, and governmental leaders. They work for both public and private schools as well as state and federal department of education agencies. They may also work for school-based intervention programs as well as youth-based recovery and juvenile detention programs. While you may earn a position as an educational psychologist with a master’s degree, most employers will encourage you to advance your career by obtaining their doctorate degree.

Forensic Psychology

As the name suggests forensic psychologists work within the legal field. They often work directly with law enforcement agencies or judicial courts to provide assessments, evaluations, and professional advice, as necessary. Forensic psychologists may handle everything from assessing the mental capacity of a suspected criminal to conducting child evaluations in custody cases to providing law enforcement with valuable training and techniques for dealing with potential criminals struggling with mental health disorders. A master’s or even a doctorate degree is required for most forensic psychology positions.

Health Psychology

Health psychologists primarily focus on helping clients obtain and maintain physical and mental well-being. They study the connection between cognitive development, behavioral issues, biological factors, emotional needs, and social interactions and how they relate to one’s overall health. Health psychologists work directly with clients or healthcare systems to develop treatments and preventative techniques that can improve a person’s overall health. A doctorate-level degree is typically required for health psychologist positions, but some job options may be available at the master’s degree level.

Industrial Organizational Psychology

Industrial organizational psychology involves the study of human behaviors in the workplace. Industrial organizational psychologists typically work at large corporations within the human relations department or work directly with the human relations department and upper management. They assist with the creation and management of various processes within the organization, such as recruitment, onboarding, employee development, job analysis, and worker assessments. They may also play a pivotal role in creating personnel policies and training modules within the workplace. Most organizations require industrial organizational psychologists to have at least a master’s degree and in some cases a doctorate degree is required.

Associate Degree in Psychology

An associate’s degree in psychology is an undergraduate program that typically takes two years of full-time studies to complete. While an associate degree is not a prerequisite for a bachelor’s degree program, some students use it as a way to obtain a low-level position in the psychology field or as a steppingstone towards earning a bachelor’s degree. It’s important to explore your options before deciding which degree program to enter. 

Most community colleges offer associate degree programs in psychology. You will also find many online associate degree programs that allow you to earn your degree in psychology from the comfort of your own home. At this level, no clinical psychology courses are typically required, so you should be able to complete your degree completely online.

Most educational institutions require students to have earned a high school diploma or GED in order for acceptance into an associate degree in psychology program. You also may need to take entrance exams to determine which level of math and science you need to take.

Each traditional and online associate program has its own set of required coursework needed to earn your degree. However, as an associate degree student, you can expect to take a variety of psychology courses, such as introduction to psychology, sociology, and human development as well as a   departmental elective. You will also be required to take various general education classes.

There are three distinct associate degree programs to consider, including an Associate’s of Arts in Psychology, an Associate’s of Science in Psychology, and Associate’s of Art in Applied Science. The major difference between these programs is the type of classes required to obtain a degree. For example, when completing an associate of science degree, you can expect to take more scienced-based courses, such as biology and anatomy, whereas with an associate of art degree, you will also take a variety of general education courses, including arts and humanities.

Additionally, you can earn an Associate in Arts for Transfer, or AA T degree. This degree is typically earned at the community college level but allows you to transfer directly to a four-year college and work towards earning your bachelor’s degree. The benefits of earning an AA T degree versus a standard AA degree in psychology is that most of your psychology and general education credits will successfully transfer to a participating four-year college or university. This benefit can help save you both time and money by eliminating the need to repeat classes that don’t transfer successfully.

Unfortunately, job opportunities in the psychology field are quite limited at the associate degree level. However, you may be able to find a job in a childcare setting, as an assistant in the human resource department, or even as a psychology technician or aid. According to the BLS, psychology aides and technicians earn an average annual salary of $32,020, and the demand for these positions is expected to grow by 12% over the next decade.

However, some companies still require psychology aides and technicians to have at least a bachelor’s degree. For this reason, many students continue on with a bachelor’s degree program after completing the associate degree program.

Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

A bachelor’s degree program is the starting point for many people hoping to earn a career in the psychology field. Most colleges and universities require students to have a high school diploma, GED or associate degree prior to starting a bachelor’s degree in psychology program. This undergraduate program typically takes an average of 4 years of full-time studies to complete. You can take a broader degree in psychology program or enroll in a specialized program, such as clinical psychology or counseling psychology.

There are dozens of traditional and online bachelor’s degree in psychology programs available. If you are considering earning an online psychology degree, it’s important to note that all, or nearly all, of the coursework can be completed from home. However, depending on the specific university you attend, you may be required to observe professionals in a workplace setting or complete a practicum course. It’s important to check the specific requirements for any program you are considering.

You can opt to earn a Bachelor of Art in Psychology (B.A.) or a Bachelor of Science in Psychology (B.S.) degree. These degree programs are extremely similar, however, most Bachelor of Science programs require the completion of extra science courses, whereas a Bachelor of Art degree program focuses more on extra general education electives, which may or may not relate to psychology.

It’s important to consider your career goals when deciding which bachelor’s degree program is right for you. For example, if your career goal is to become a social worker, counselor, or go into the education field, you may want to consider taking a B.A. in psychology program because it will help you improve vital skills, such as problem-solving and communication, needed in those careers. However, if you are more interested in the clinical or research side of psychology, then earning a B.S. degree in psychology may be more practical.

No matter which psychology degree program you select, you can expect to take a variety of advanced psychology courses, including abnormal psychology, counseling psychology, cognitive development, psychological science, the psychology of aging, and drug and alcohol behavior. As a psychology student, you will also take numerous general education courses in science, mathematics, arts, and humanities. Your designated advisor can help you schedule elective courses that best match your specific career goals.

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology opens the doors for several job opportunities, such as a social worker, case manager, drug and alcohol counselor, teen counselor, psychology technician, and human resource assistant. These job options offer a great way to begin a career in the psychology field. For example, the BLS reports show that the average social worker earns an annual salary of $50,470. Additionally, the demand for social workers over the next ten years is expected to grow by 13 percent.

Regulations for counselors vary from state to state. However, in many states, you must obtain a master’s degree in psychology before working as a mental health counselor. For this reason, many psychology graduates continue on to earn their master’s degree in psychology either immediately upon graduation or after working in the field for several years.

Master’s Degree in Psychology

Students wishing to further their career in the psychology field typically enter into a graduate program to earn their master’s degree in psychology. A master’s degree program takes an average of one to three years to complete depending on the specific program. Some students enter into a master’s program as soon as they complete their bachelor’s degree, while others choose to work in the psychology field for several years prior to searching for a university that offers a master’s degree course.

While general psychology master’s degree programs are available, many students select a specialty course, such as a master’s degree in counseling psychology, forensic psychology, or applied social psychology. If you have already determined your ultimate career goal, choosing a specialty program may be in your best interests and may make you eligible for more job opportunities. If, however, you want to leave your future career options open, taking a general master’s degree course is advisable.

Additionally, you can earn a Master’s of Art in Psychology degree or a Master’s of Science in Psychology degree. Just as with the associate and bachelor’s degree levels, Master of Science programs involve more science-based coursework, such as research and data analytics, whereas Master of Art degree programs focuses more on diagnosis and therapy techniques.

Many colleges and universities offer several types of master’s degree in psychology programs. Competition into these programs, however, can be very intense, so it’s recommended to apply early. You must have earned, or be enrolled in, a bachelor’s degree in psychology or any related field prior to applying for graduate schools. Some universities also require students to submit their GRE scores and letters of recommendation along with their application.

Fortunately, many of these programs are at least partially online, if not entirely online. This allows you to continue working in the psychology field while earning your master’s degree. However, most master’s programs require students to complete a practicum and/or internship program that cannot be done online but rather at a local business or organization approved by the school. It’s important to take all of these factors into consideration when selecting a graduate-level program.

These internships and practicums provide students with real-world experience within the psychology field. For example, if you are going to school for counseling psychology, you are likely to earn actual counseling experience, under the supervision of a licensed psychologist, during an intense internship program. This experience can also be used to enhance your resume upon graduation.

Additionally, some universities don’t offer stand-alone master’s degree programs in psychology. Instead, they offer programs that combine with their doctoral degree program. These programs are strictly for those students who want to pursue a doctorate degree immediately after completion of the master’s degree program. If obtaining your doctorate degree is not a current career goal of yours, be sure to look for a college that offers a stand-alone master’s degree in psychology program.

As a graduate student, you can expect to take nearly all psychology-related courses. In many cases, the types of courses required for graduation depends greatly on your program specialty. For example, if you enter a counseling psychology program, you are likely to take programs in grief counseling, group dynamics, and sexuality studies. On the other hand, if you are working towards a clinical psychology degree, you might take more analytical classes, including quantitative reasoning and data collection. Some master-level programs also require students to complete a master’s thesis project prior to graduation.

Completion of a psychology master’s degree program will open the doors for many additional job opportunities, such as an educational consultant, human resource manager, mental health counselor, research coordinator, and industrial organizational psychologist. Salaries for these careers vary greatly. For example, a human resource manager can expect an average annual salary of $116,720 whereas a mental health counselor’s average annual salary is $46,240.

Some states do allow graduates of a master’s-level program to obtain a license in counseling. In many cases, you must first pass the licensing exam and then spend several years working under the direct supervision of a licensed psychologist. Once you receive your license, you may be able to open your own practice.

While some licensed counselors can diagnose clients, they are not able to prescribe medication without a doctorate degree. To advance their career even further and provide more services to their clients or employers, some graduate students make the decision to move forward and earn their doctorate in psychology degree.

Doctoral Degree in Psychology

A doctorate degree in psychology is the highest level of training you can obtain. You must first earn a master’s degree in psychology or a related field and then complete an additional four to six years of clinical psychology studies to obtain a doctoral degree in psychology.

Since competition among doctorate for psychology programs is extremely competitive, it is recommended to start the application process early and to apply to several psychology schools to secure a spot. If you know before entering a master’s program that you want to obtain a doctorate degree, you should look for a program that combines its master’s and doctorate degree programs. This way, as long as you maintain the required grade point average and complete all the necessary work and clinical psychology studies, you will secure your place in the doctorate program.

There are two distinct paths to take when earning a doctoral degree in psychology, including a Psy.D in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Psychology. It’s important to understand the difference between these two career paths when applying to doctorate school.

A Psy.D. Degree in Psychology is specifically for psychologists that want to go into clinical psychology practice. This can include psychologists that work in private practice or in a medical facility as well as a school psychologist, industrial organizational psychologist, and health psychologist. Psy.D. psychologist are able to counsel clients of all ages and mental health conditions, handle assessments and evaluations, diagnose mental health disorders, and prescribe treatment, including medication.

It takes an average of four years to complete a Psy.D. program and requires the completion of advanced courses, such as ethics, clinical interviews, and behavioral and cognitive assessments. Doctorate students also may need to complete a practicum or internship hours, work under the direct supervision of a Psy.D. psychologist, and complete a detailed thesis project.

According to the BLS, a clinical psychologist with a doctorate degree earns an average of $100,790 per year. Of course, the exact annual salary you can expect to earn depends on your experience and specific position.  

A Ph.D. doctorate degree in psychology, on the other hand, focuses more on the research and theory aspects of psychology. These professionals hold jobs, such as research analysis, psychology consultants, school psychologists, neuroscientists, and professors. 

This career pathway is specifically designed for those students who are not looking for a clinical or counseling psychology career. Ph.D. doctorate students can expect to take advanced classes in research methodology and statistics, psychopathology, and neuroscience. It takes an average of four to six years to obtain a Ph.D. degree and typically requires students to complete an extensive clinical psychology program and an advanced thesis project. 

According to the BLS, medical professionals, such as neuroscientists can expect to earn an average annual salary of $88,790. Additionally, the job growth for these positions is expected to increase by 6% over the next 10 years. 

Whether completing a Ph.D or Psy.D. degree program, you will find online courses available. As with the master-level program, you will also be required to complete extensive clinical work at a local health facility, private practice, or organization.  However, you will be able to complete some coursework and obtain ongoing supervision online. This ability can make it easier to obtain your doctoral degree while still working in the field.

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