From severe personality disorders to common stage-of-life dilemmas, the broad spectrum of mental health issues requires the skills of compassionate, yet focused psychologists, therapists and counselors. Those who graduate from master’s psychology schools have acquired the knowledge and training required to enter the profession with confidence. Many schools offer targeted coursework for students who prefer to specialize in a particular field of psychology. Read on if you want solid information on how to become a psychologist.
Who pursues a master’s degree in psychology?
Those who pursue psychology are as vast in their demographics as they are in their reasons for entering graduate school. Some students yearn for more knowledge of the dynamics of the human brain. Others want to be of service to humanity and the community. Many desire a job in a growing field with the possibility of earning a substantial psychologist salary.
Students who would like to earn a master’s degree in psychology must already hold a bachelor’s degree. Although many students enter master’s psychology schools without an undergraduate psychology degree, it is often helpful to major or minor in psychology, or at least take some coursework in the field.
What is Required for a Master’s Degree in Psychology?
Earning a psychology master’s degree usually requires two to three years of study. Students can pursue an master’s of arts (M.A.) degree or a master’s of science (M.S.) degree. An M.A. usually indicates stronger liberal arts coursework, while an M.S. usually signifies coursework which focuses on research and science. Some students complete a master’s degree and immediately enter the work force, while others use the degree as a springboard to a doctorate degree.
Before earning a psychology master’s degree, many students must complete a practicum, which involves working at a job-site for a specified number of hours, which is usually set by the individual school. During practicum, students often have direct contact hours with clients, as well as supervision from a seasoned therapist or psychologist.
When a student has completed all necessary coursework and the practicum, he or she is usually required to write a thesis or take an exam to complete degree requirements.
In order to graduate, most students who pursue a degree at one of the accredited psychology schools must take extensive coursework, which may include the following courses:
- Adult psychology
- Statistics in psychology
- Theories of development/lifespan development
- Principles of neuropsychology
- History and systems
Although accredited graduate schools in psychology are located around the world, the number of hybrid or exclusively offer an online psychology degree are growing to accommodate those who are juggling other commitments.
Types of psychology schools
Students who pursue degrees from master’s psychology schools can choose to specialize in a particular area of psychology, thereby taking coursework that directly applies to the speciality. Here is a look at the array of psychology schools from which students can choose:
Behavior modification through psychology
Behavioral psychologists focus on and modify what people do and how they think. By doing this, the behavioral psychologist helps clients manage their emotions. Many behavioral psychologists believe that, by modifying a client’s behavior, the client can then change the way he or she thinks and reacts. Typically, the student of behavioral psychology will learn how to do the following:
- Develop a treatment plan
- Use behavioral methods in treatment, such as conditioning, reinforcement and punishment
- Collaborate work with the patient
- Set an agenda for each psychotherapy session
Ultimately, the goal of behavioral psychology is to help build the patient’s capacities to cope with life without the continuous help of the psychologist. This method is often used in conjunction with cognitive therapy.
Clinical psychology schools
Clinical psychology students learn how to assess, diagnose, treat and prevent numerous mental disorders. Many clinical psychologists focus their specialty on working with patients who have severe mental disorders, but others focus on assisting clients with issues at home, such as feelings of loss, anxiety, or divorce.
One of the roles of a clinical psychologist is to offer a chance for clients to open up and start to deal with issues than are often worrying and confusing. These psychologists offer multiple ways of understanding and interpreting different situations and problems. Students who pursue this type of degree learn how to use different approaches to help their clients move forward in therapy.
Clinical psychologists can facilitate group, family, and individual sessions in a private office; many clinical psychologists are employed by hospitals or schools.
Cognitive psychology focuses on the way humans process information. Students who take coursework in cognitive psychology will learn how to look at how the information the brain receives leads to responses. In other words, cognitive psychologists focus on how what we think leads to behavior.
Cognitive psychologists study internal processes including the following:
Cognitive therapy is often used in conjunction with behavioral therapy. As of 2017, the average clinical psychologist salary is over $85,000 annually.
Life stages — developmental psychology
Developmental psychologists research the social, cognitive, and physiological development of all stages of life. Many of these developmental psychologists study the behavior of children and infants. Other developmental psychologists follow the changes that occur in adults as they mature and enter old age.
Students who graduate with a master’s degree in developmental psychology may work in several different places. These include the following locations:
- Individual practice
- Government agency
- Teen rehabilitation centers
- Assisted living homes
- Centers for the homeless
Developmental psychologists may also study the effects of people with developmental and learning disabilities. For example, some experts in the field focus exclusively on child developmental disabilities.
The school of educational psychology
Educational psychology is the study of the development of students as they progress from children to adult learners. More specifically, they study the following aspects of student learning:
Educational psychologists develop and apply theories of teaching, learning and human development to determine the most effective ways for educators to teach students. Students who are researching how to become a child psychologist may find educational psychology to be an interesting field.
Some educational psychologists are concerned with developing curricula to improve the quality of education. They look at various topics which may include the following:
- Instructional methods
- Individual differences in learning
- Behavioral and cognitive theories of education
Educational psychologists research ideas like the multiple intelligence theory, appropriate learning goals, and what motivates students to learn.
Experimental psychologists use scientific methods to research the mind and behavior. They study the behavior of both humans and animals. Such animals may include birds, monkeys, mice, and rats. In doing so, experimental psychologists often find work in research or university centers. Private government entities or nonprofit and business settings also provide opportunities for experimental psychologists.
Students who earn a master’s degree in experimental psychology will likely take coursework in the following areas:
- Processes of perception and senses
- long and short term affects of substance abuse
- Memory and learning
- How behavior is affected by neurological and genetic factors
Students who focus on experimental psychology may graduate and teach experimental methods to students.
Understanding crime through forensic psychology
So, what does a forensic psychologist do? Forensic psychologists play a critical role in the judicial system. They help lawyers, juries, and judges understand psychological issues in criminal and civil cases. To do this, they often use the psychological principles they learned in graduate school to assist the criminal and legal justice system.
Those who specialize in forensic psychology are typically designated by the courts as being an expert witness, and specialize in different areas of forensic psychology:
- Criminal issues
- Civil issues
- Family court
In a family court setting, forensic psychologists may investigate charges of child abuse, evaluate child custody cases, or perform psychotherapy sessions.
In a civil court setting, forensic psychologists provide therapy to victims of crime, offer professional second opinions, and assist judges in assessing competency.
In a criminal court setting, forensic psychologists assess adult and child criminal offenders, evaluate the mental competency of perpetrators and victims, and work directly with juvenile witnesses.
Industrial/organizational psychology — helping businesses grow
Industrial-organizational psychology uses a scientific approach in studying the workplace environment. I-O psychologists apply psychological methods to critical aspects of the operations of a business, including the following:
- Finding a proper balance between work and life
- Workplace performance
- Assessment of employees
- Training of employees
- Professional development
- Management of talent
In essence, I-O psychologists are concerned with helping businesses choose the best employee for the job, while assisting existing employees in thriving in their current positions.
Those who graduate with a degree in I-O psychology are usually qualified to work in business, research or academia.
Mental health counseling
Students who earn a degree in mental health counseling will provide therapy directly to clients in a private setting. In this type of setting, a problem-solving approach, combined with psychotherapy allows for the mental health professional to help their clients find the righ path to achieve resolution of problems, and equips the client to deal with issues that may arise in the future. If you are interested in a career in mental health, make sure the mental health counseling schools you research are accredited.
Clinical mental health counselors may offer the following services:
- utilization review
- Treatment planning
- substance abuse treatment
- Prevention and Psycho-educational programs
- Proper crisis management
Clinical mental health specialists may work in individual practice, community agencies or managed behavioral health care organizations, among other locations.
Studying social pyschology
From influence to romance, culture to conflict resolution, graduate students who attend social psychology schools study human thinking and interaction, usually as it relates to groups or pairs. Social psychologists work in academic, non-profit, NGO and corporate settings.
Master’s psychology schools make a difference
To become a professional in the field of psychology, it is not enough to just be interested in human behavior and social dynamics. Those who want to become experts in the industry must invest the time and intellectual energy required to understand the human mind thoroughly. That is where master’s psychology schools come into play. They provide the targeted training aspiring psychologists need to stand out in the marketplace. So, consider pursuing a master’s degree in psychology, and earn your place in this fascinating industry!