How to Become a Cognitive Psychologist
| Kimberly Drake Modified on April 6, 2022
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The human mind is a fascinating network of thoughts, memories, and perceptions. Cognitive psychologists study how these mental processes might affect behavior.
Cognitive psychology careers offer opportunities to learn how the mind works. They also offer the chance to develop new treatments for mental health conditions. This guide explains how to become a cognitive psychologist, including the education, experience, and skills you need.
What Is Cognitive Psychology?
Cognitive psychology is the study of mental processes, including memory, attention, perception, and language processing, and how they impact human behavior.
Cognitive psychologists develop strategies to help people who are experiencing difficulties with one or more of these processes. They work with individuals with Alzheimer's disease, brain trauma, learning disabilities, and developmental disorders such as autism.
Cognitive psychology jobs exist at research facilities, universities, and medical and mental health treatment clinics.
Cognitive Psychology Salaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for psychologists in May 2020 was $82,180. However, this number includes all psychologists and does not describe cognitive psychology salaries specifically.
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How Do I Become a Cognitive Psychologist?
The steps toward becoming a cognitive psychologist include earning a bachelor's degree in psychology or related field, a master's degree in psychology, and an optional doctorate with supervised experience.
Graduates may then pursue state licensure or certification, followed by board certification if desired. The entire process may take up to 10 years.
Education for Cognitive Psychologists
Prospective cognitive psychologists must complete a four-year undergraduate degree in psychology or a related field before earning a master's in psychology. Some people decide to stop there, while others choose to earn a doctorate.
Although career opportunities for master's degree-holders exist, most states require a doctorate to apply for licensure and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). It is a good idea to check your state's education and licensing requirements first to ensure you are on the correct educational path.
Application requirements for doctoral programs in psychology may include a certain grade point average or Graduate Record Examinations scores, recommendation letters, and university transcripts.
Doctoral candidates complete internships or practicums to gain hands-on experience, and students may need to develop a thesis to graduate.
Licensure for Cognitive Psychologists
Many states require licensed cognitive psychologists to get their degree from an American Psychological Association (APA) accredited program. They must also complete supervised hours, a practicum, or an internship.
Candidates must also take the EPPP exam and sometimes the Professional Standards Exam.
However, state regulations often differ. You must consult your state's licensing and certification requirements. For example, licensing requirements in Illinois include a doctorate in clinical, school, or counseling psychology and passing the EPPP exam.
It is also helpful to research your license's reciprocity status if you might be moving to another state.
Board Certification for Cognitive Psychologists
The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) uses board certification to ensure that a psychologist is competent in their specialty. Candidates must hold state licensure before applying for board certification.
Steps for applying include:
- Reviewing ABPP and specialty-specific requirements
- Completing the application
- Uploading the necessary documents
- Paying the application fee
Once the board reviews all materials, you may become eligible to sit for the written exam, followed by an oral exam.
Board certification is not mandatory, but some medical institutions may require it for employment. Additionally, board certification can lead to a higher salary in certain practice settings.
If you decide to move, your board certification may have reciprocity in other states. However, you might need to provide some documentation to meet your new state's requirements.
PreProfessional Experience for Cognitive Psychologists
Postgraduate students begin or complete the supervised clinical experience required for licensure by participating in internships or practical experiences like practicums. Interns often perform more independent duties, while a practicum typically entails working closely with a psychologist.
Skills and experience you may need before beginning preprofessional training include:
- An understanding of professional values such as honesty and responsibility
- Professional conduct
- Accountability and reliability
- The need to protect the welfare of others
During a practicum or internship, you may work with people at mental health clinics, community mental health centers, private practices, or university counseling centers. You might also participate in diverse clinical experiences and witness a variety of mental health conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become a cognitive psychologist?
In general, it takes 6-10 years to become a licensed cognitive psychologist.
How do I choose the right cognitive psychology program?
Look for schools that offer APA-accredited programs. Attending institutions that do psychology research may increase employment opportunities.
Can I earn a cognitive psychology degree online?
Due to most doctoral programs' hands-on approach, it is difficult to earn a cognitive psychology doctorate entirely online. However, some colleges offer hybrid bachelor's or master's programs.
What Does a Cognitive Psychologist Do?
Cognitive psychologists' day-to-day experiences vary depending on their work setting. Many work in research. Others consult for the judicial system, become professors or lecturers, or open private practices. Emerging roles in the industrial and organizational psychology arena offer exciting new opportunities.
As a cognitive psychologist, you may assist in developing new theories through research studies. You can discover and carry out new mental health assessments and therapies or directly help people with mental health conditions. You might also research new treatments for people with brain trauma and neurodegenerative disorders.
You may work closely with scientists, school staff, patients, law enforcement, business owners, and teams at large companies. Daily duties depend on your role and may include conducting studies in a research lab, talking with patients and their families, or lecturing at conferences.
Cognitive psychologists are at the forefront of investigating the inner workings of the human mind and the processes that may cause people to behave in specific ways.
Skills and Competencies
The skills needed to become a cognitive psychologist are similar to general psychologists. However, this field often involves more research and investigation, and certain characteristics can help with success.
- A genuine interest in how the brain works, including memory, attention, problem-solving, and reasoning
- Critical thinking and analysis skills
- The ability to actively listen to colleagues and people experiencing mental processing difficulties
- Excellent research skills and attention to detail
- Strong problem-solving skills
- Superior organizational and time management skills
- Flexibility and a knack for multitasking
- The ability to focus and sit at a desk in an office setting for long periods of time
Cognitive Psychology Resources and Professional Organizations
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