Psychology Training, Degree Levels, and Careers

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If you are interested in seeing a psychologist or even thinking of a career in psychology, you might find yourself wondering exactly what type of training these mental health professionals have. What kind of training do you need to be a psychologist? What sort of training do different mental health professionals possess?

The answers to these questions vary quite a bit because there are several degree options that can ultimately lead to the title of "psychologist" as well as differing requirements for various states.

This article discusses the level of education and training required for a variety of positions in psychology. It also covers some of the job options that are available with different types of psychology degrees.

The Basic Training

A master's degree or doctorate are required to become qualified as a psychologist. There are a variety of degree options to choose from, and the career options available at each level can vary.

Doctoral Degrees in Psychology

In order to become a licensed clinical or counseling psychologist, a doctorate degree is required. There are two types of doctorate degrees to choose from: the PhD and the PsyD. While the two degrees share many similarities, there are some important differences:

  • PhD in Psychology: The traditional PhD in psychology degree is a research-focused degree that usually qualifies graduates to work in the field of clinical or counseling psychology, depending upon the focus of their program. Earning a PhD also qualifies psychologists to teach at the university level, conduct research, and practice at mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, private industry, government, and private practice.
  • PsyD in Psychology: The PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology, is a more practice-based educational model. Psychologists who earn a PsyD usually work as clinicians in mental health settings and may also work in private practice.

It usually takes around five to seven years of graduate study to complete a doctoral degree in psychology. Those enrolled in PhD programs complete a final dissertation based on original research, while those enrolled in PsyD programs may complete more clinical work and examinations instead of a dissertation. Counseling and clinical psychology programs also require an internship that usually lasts one to two years.

It is important to note that with either degree option, earning a degree alone is not enough to become a licensed psychologist. Once a degree has been earned, aspiring psychologists must take required professional licensing exams in order to qualify to practice in their state.


In order to become a liscenced psychologist, professionals generally earn a doctorate degree in psychology, complete an intership, and pass state liscensing exams.

Specialist Degrees

In most states, those interested in becoming school psychologists must complete a specialist degree in school psychology. The EdS degree in school psychology usually takes a minimum of three years to complete and consists of at least 60 graduate credit hours. In addition to the course requirements, students must also complete a one-year internship.

Master's Degrees in Psychology

A master's degree in psychology requires at least two years of graduate level coursework beyond the undergraduate level.

Professionals with a master's degree sometimes work in mental health under the direct supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist. Master's programs can also prepare students to become industrial-organizational psychologists, although many choose to continue on to earn their doctorate.

The competition to get into graduate psychology programs can be tough. Although it is possible to get into psychology graduate school if you have an undergraduate degree in a non-related topic, having a bachelor's degree in psychology can boost your chances of admission. Strong grades and a good score on the GRE and GRE Psychology Subject test may also boost your chances of earning a spot in a psychology graduate program.


Earning a master's degree in psychology opens up a wider range of career options than a bachelor's degree but less than a doctoral degree. In some cases, people with a master's degree may work as therapists under the supervision of a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.

Bachelor's Degree in Psychology

Earning a bachelor's degree in psychology alone will not qualify you to possess the title of "psychologist," but it can be a great way to get into an entry-level psychology-related career or be a basis for entry into a psychology graduate program.

A bachelor's degree in psychology can serve as a stepping stone to further graduate study, or it may prepare students to work in a variety of entry-level jobs. According to the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, jobs available for those with bachelor's level education in psychology tend to be more limited than those available at the graduate level.

Despite such limitations, psychology remains one of the most popular bachelor's degrees in the U.S. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2017–2018 school year, 116,000 bachelor's degrees were awarded, making it the sixth most popular undergraduate major.

Of students who earn a bachelor's degree in psychology, around 25% go on to graduate school, 18% pursue further education in a non-psychology field, and 57% go directly to the workforce.

Those with a bachelor's degree in psychology alone may also be less likely to work in a field directly related to their area of study since options directly within the field of psychology tend to be more limited. According to a survey of college graduates conducted by the National Science Foundation, 87% of graduates with a master's in psychology reported working in a job related to their field of study.

However, bachelor's and master's degree holders also reported lower salaries, fewer opportunities for advancement, and lower overall job satisfaction than those with a doctorate degree.

Undergraduate psychology majors interested in pursuing career options should be encouraged to learn more about the field. They should discuss options with their counselors regarding what different types of psychologists do, where they work, how much they make, what type of training is needed, and what the job outlook is like for professionals in this field

A Word From Verywell

There is a wide variety of career choices for psychology degree holders. Those with a doctorate degree in psychology typically find the highest pay and most opportunity for advancement. However, there are a number of options available for people who have a bachelor's or master's degree. If you are thinking about earning a psychology degree, research your options to learn more about what type of careers are available.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Labor. PsychologistsOccupational Outlook Handbook.

  2. National Association of School Psychologists. A career in school psychology: frequently asked questions.

  3. American Psychological Association. By the numbers: How do undergraduate psychology majors fare?. Monitor on Psychology.

  4. National Center for Education Statistics. Most popular majors.

  5. Lin L, Christidis P, Stamm K. The path to becoming a psychologist. Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association.

  6. Lin L, Ghaness A, Stamm K, Christidis P, Conroy J. Do psychology degree holders work in psychology jobs?. Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association.

  7. Conroy J, Lin L, Christidis P. How satisfied are psychology-degree holders with their jobs?. Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."