The Working Conditions of Psychologists

Man Sits With Therapist

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If you've ever considered becoming a psychologist, then you've probably wondered a little bit about what the working conditions might be like. As with many other professions, a psychologist's specialty area and workplace are the major determinants of the working conditions.

For example, a forensic psychologist might spend their day working in courthouses, police stations, or criminal detention centers. A clinical psychologist, on the other hand, might spend their day working in a hospital or other mental health setting.

Employment Settings

Psychologists, especially clinical and counseling psychologists, often work in private practice. This means that they have their own offices and are able to establish their own work schedule. It is important to note that many psychologists who run their own businesses frequently work evening and weekend hours in order to accommodate the schedules of their clients. The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that in 2018, nearly one-third of all psychologists were self-employed.

Some psychologists work shift schedules, including those employed in hospitals, nursing homes, retirement centers, and other healthcare facilities. This often involves working night shifts and weekends.

Psychologists employed in academic settings, government, or business settings generally have a more predictable schedule that follows normal daytime hours. However, those teaching at the university level may also have to teach courses during evenings or weekends. Psychologists employed by colleges and universities often spend time teaching classes and conducting research, but they may also be required to perform administrative duties.

It is also not uncommon for psychologists to work in more than one setting. A clinical psychologist might see clients at a private practice or mental health clinic and also teach courses at a local university. An industrial-organizational psychologist may spend time observing behavior in the workplace and conducting research in an experimental lab.

Collaborations With Other Professionals

A psychologist's working conditions can also depend on whether or not the individuals work in a research-oriented career or a more applied profession. Those who conduct research may spend time interacting with study participants, but a great deal of time will also be spent designing studies, analyzing results, and preparing research reports. Those who work in more applied professions will likely spend more one-on-one time with clients.

Working conditions can be stressful at times, particularly when dealing with clients who are emotional, angry, or noncommunicative. Finding ways to deal with such stress and combat job burnout can be important for many professionals.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor, psychologists today often work in collaboration with other professionals. They may consult with other psychologists, physicians, psychiatrists, physical therapists, and other professions as part of a mental health treatment team. The handbook also states that psychologists frequently deal with work pressures including schedules, deadlines, and overtime. Difficult clients, emotionally charged situations, and other stressful situations are also common.​

3 Sources
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  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychologists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

  2. Hamp A, Stamm K, Lin L, Christidis P. 2015 APA Survey of Psychology Health Service Providers. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association; 2016.

  3. McCormack HM, MacIntyre TE, O'Shea D, Herring MP, Campbell MJ. The prevalence and cause(s) of burnout among applied psychologists: A systematic reviewFront Psychol. 2018;9:1897. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01897

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.