Choosing a Psychology Specialization
The reasons students choose to study psychology run the gamut. Studies show that many psychologists experienced distressing events in childhood, fostering an interest in healing psychological wounds. Others are inspired to help others by those who have helped them. And still others are simply fascinated by the intricacies of the human mind.
Choosing to major in psychology may have been an easy decision, but committing to a psychology specialization can be a tougher challenge. To narrow it down, consider these factors.
Salary: The Highest-Paying Psychology Specializations
Struggling to settle on a psychology specialization? Projected salary could be a tie-breaker. It should be noted that psychologists who specialize in any of these fields can also become professors. Psychology careers in higher education, research, and teaching can also offer high salaries. Here are some of the highest salaries for psychologists.
While clinical psychologists focus on mental illness, neuropsychologists focus on the brain’s cognitive functions. They work with people with conditions that involve the brain, such as autism, dementia, traumatic brain injuries, and Parkinson’s disease. You will need a doctoral level of education plus supervised clinical experience. According to Payscale, neuropsychologists in the U.S. can make $94,130 per year as of 2021.
Becoming an I-O psychologist means using psychological research and methods to improve workplaces. Companies hire them to improve employee morale, make effective training programs, and boost productivity. You can begin working in the field with a master’s degree, but to call yourself an I-O psychologist, you will need a doctorate. I-O psychologists in the U.S. make an average of $112,690 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Clinical psychologists provide therapy, counseling, and assessment services for people with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists can also provide community services, supervision, and consultation. In most states, clinical psychologists must gain a doctoral degree in psychology plus 1-2 years of supervised residency to practice. Clinical psychologists make about $79,820 per year, according to the BLS.
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Growth Potential: The Fastest-Growing Psychology Specializations
Experts expect demand for psychologists to outpace supply between now and 2030 — which is good news for today’s students. However, the demand for certain roles, such as the fastest-growing jobs in psychology, will exceed others.
Demand for counselors will grow faster than demand for general psychologists. The need for substance use, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will increase by 23% between now and 2030. And the market for marriage and family therapists will grow by 16% over that period.
Becoming a counselor requires only a master’s degree in most states. This allows you to enter the job market more quickly, but counselors’ salaries average lower than mental health professionals with doctorates.
As the baby boomer generation ages, the need for geropsychologists, who help people deal with the mental and physical changes of aging, will grow. By 2030, the U.S. will need 5,790 more psychologists that specialize in this area, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
In addition to being one of the top-earning specializations in psychology, neuropsychologists are also expected to be in high demand. According to the APA, a “greater appreciation for the brain basis of developmental, learning and behavior disorders” is increasing demand for neuropsychologists.
Location: Cities and States for Psychologists
According to recent data from the Health Resources and Services Administration, 122 million Americans, or 37% of the population, live in mental health professional shortage areas.
Two-thirds of shortage areas occur in rural or partially rural parts of the country. Wyoming and Utah have the largest proportion of population living in mental health shortage areas, at 96% and 83%, respectively. Mississippi and Nevada are also experiencing considerable shortages, at 80% and 78%.
However, this metric does not necessarily indicate areas with the greatest demand for mental health professionals in terms of numbers. For example, in Wyoming, only 31.5% of the need is met, which seems like a significant disparity. But it will only take 25 additional practitioners to fill the gap because Wyoming has a very small population (about 585,000 people).
Highly populated areas like California and Texas still need more mental health professionals. Even though cities have higher concentrations of mental health professionals, their large populations generate high levels of demand.
Between 2015 and 2030, experts expect demand for psychologists to increase the most in the South, in the West, and in metropolitan areas in general. You can refer to the APA’s projected supply and demand patterns for data about your state.
Your preferred working environment is another factor to consider. Would you prefer to work in a clinical setting, in a school or university, or from your own couch? Would you be adverse to working in any of these environments? These are good questions to ask yourself if you have a strong preference.
According to the APA, projected demand for psychologists in 2030 is highest for health practitioners’ offices at 41%, followed by elementary and secondary schools, and hospitals.
How to Specialize: Getting Licensed and Board Certified
Licensing laws for psychologists and counselors differ from state to state and psychology specialization to specialization.
You can visit the APA’s website for a breakdown of each state’s regulations for a psychologist license. It will tell you the name of each state’s licensing authority, minimum educational requirements, and required exams.
The American Counseling Association lists licensing requirements for various types of counselors by state and licensure type.
If you intend to specialize, there may be additional requirements to meet, mandated by the governing board in your state. You can easily find the authority in your state by searching “California state government board of psychology” on your web browser, for example. The correct authoritative source will likely appear as the first search result, but be sure to click on a .gov website.
Megan Pietrucha, Psy.D.
Megan Pietrucha, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who currently practices in the Chicago area. She holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Illinois Wesleyan University and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University. Her clinical interests include the treatment of eating and body image concerns, college student and student-athlete mental health, and mood disorders. Pietrucha has also taught undergraduate and graduate courses in psychology.
Megan Pietrucha is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
Featured Image: Westend61 / Getty Images
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