How to Join the Military for Psychology

by Brenda Scottsdale

Military psychologists work exclusively with military personnel and their families. Job tasks include evaluating clients, diagnosing and treating mental health and substance abuse disorders, and educating clients and colleagues. All four branches of the U.S. Military employ psychologists. Applicants for military psychology positions must earn their doctorate before seeking employment in the military as a psychologist. Because your salary in the military depends on your rank, joining the military early may give a psychologist an opportunity to advance in rank and enjoy a higher pay grade than those who joined after obtaining their education. Recruits are often given incentives such as sign on bonuses, free housing and tuition reimbursement, which can help offset the costs of your education (see Reference 1).

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The website, Careers in Psychology, advises students interested in becoming a military psychologist to earn their bachelor's degree in general, clinical or counseling psychology. If you have obtained your bachelor's degree in a non-psychology related field, however, you can still apply for graduate studies. Statistics courses, plus any military related experience, will help make you a better candidate for graduate school. You'll have to obtain good grades and pass an aptitude test, such as the Graduate Record Examination, to enter most graduate programs in psychology (see References 1 and 3).

Earn a Doctorate

Most military psychologists have earned either a Doctor of Psychology or a Doctor of Philosophy degree, or a doctorate in a subspecialty, such as educational psychology, school psychology or family therapy, according to a job description posted on the U.S. Army website. Earning a doctorate requires students to complete coursework, pass examinations, complete a practicum and write an original piece of research or dissertation. The dissertation is then defended in front of a committee, who votes as to whether or not they'll award you your degree (see Reference 2).

Complete an Internship

While many graduate schools require psychologists to complete an internship, some do not. You should make sure your program requires an internship because some branches of the military, such as the U.S. Army reserves, require that psychologists who join the reserve have completed a one-year clinical internship that has been approved by the American Psychological Association. Other branches, such as the active duty military, will allow you to complete your internship upon hire (see Reference 2).

Obtain Licensure

To be eligible to apply for a position as a military psychologist, you must possess a valid state license to practice psychology. This license is typically granted to persons who have earned their doctorate, completed an internship, passed a written board examination and passed an oral test, focusing on ethics and basic skills. While employed by the military, psychologists must keep their licenses current by completing continuing education units. While requirements vary by state, most states require at least 40 hours. Many military psychologists join the APA's Society for Military Psychologists to promote research and application of psychological principles to military issues (see References 2 and 3).

About the Author

Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.

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