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What Are the Working Conditions for Psychologists?

by Elizabeth Layne, studioD

People fascinated with how others tick might pursue careers as psychologists. Psychologists observe, interview and administer various psychological tests to diagnose or evaluate mental and emotional disorders, and tailor treatments. They differ from psychiatrists in that psychiatrists can both counsel and prescribe drugs because psychiatrists are also medical doctors. Depending on which areas they work in, such as research or counseling, a psychologist might see patients one-on-one in an office or conduct large field studies.

Work Settings

Many psychologists work in more than one setting, notes the American Psychological Association. A solo practitioner might also be a college professor, for example. In a broad field, a psychologist might work privately in his own office or in a team with others, including scientists, physicians, corporate managers, lawyers, school personnel and policymakers. Psychologists may work in laboratories, hospitals, courtrooms, schools, prisons, corporate offices and other locations. There are three main types of psychologists: Research psychologists study people and behavior, counseling psychologists counsel and treat people, and applied psychologists apply psychological theories and research to real life, such as psychologists who help lawmakers understand how poverty affects children.

Working Conditions

Specialty and employer determines a psychologist's working conditions. For example, counselors might have private practices, set their own hours and might offer evening or weekend hours to suit their patients. But psychologists working in hospitals might work mandatory shifts that include evenings and weekends, and school psychologists might work 9 to 5, have an office in the school's headquarters and space in each school. Psychologists teaching in colleges and universities divide their time between teaching and research, and may also have administrative responsibilities, so they could have a classroom, office and laboratory to work in. Psychologists working for the military might be stationed in Washington in an office or they may work overseas with military personnel at a military hospital. One thing is clear: Most psychologists work indoors.

Other Working Conditions

Psychologists have a lot of interaction with others, working on intimate matters. They also work physically close to others, coming within a few feet during counseling. Psychologists must be able to handle conflict and angry or rude people, who may not want to make suggested changes. Psychologists must be thorough and exact to avoid endangering client heath and well-being. Psychologists must also meet strict deadlines. They tend to sit for long periods of time and must speak clearly and be able to focus on one source of sound and ignore others.


Becoming a psychologist requires a high school diploma or GED, a bachelor's degree and at least a master's degree in psychology. However, a doctorate is required for many positions, especially if the goal is to teach at a college or university. During the process of receiving a doctorate, students can chose to focus on area of specialization, such as school counseling. Clinical and counseling psychology students must complete an internship to become licensed. State laws vary from each other and by type of position, but most states and the District of Columbia require all psychologists to be licensed or certified.

Salary and Outlook

The median annual wage of psychologists was $68,640 in May 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $39,200, and the top 10 percent earning more than $111,810. Overall employment of psychologists is predicted to grow 22 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations, varying by specialty. Employment opportunities should be best for those holding doctorates and applied psychologists, and those specializing in school psychology. Fewer new doctorates are working in solo practices. A 2011 American Psychological Association study found that, in 2009, nearly 26 percent of new doctorates accepted jobs at universities and colleges and 25 percent took jobs at hospitals and human services such as counseling centers. Less than 6 percent established independent practices.

About the Author

Located in the mid-Atlantic United States, Elizabeth Layne has covered nonprofits and philanthropy since 1997, and has written articles on an array of topics for small businesses and career-seekers. An award-winning writer, her work has appeared in "The Chronicle of Philanthropy" newspaper and "Worth" magazine. Layne holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The George Washington University.

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