Psychologist Salary and Career Outlook

Psychologists are mental health professionals that assess and interpret human behavior. They collect and interpret data pertaining to individuals’ social, emotional, and cognitive processes in order to improve their behaviors, attitudes, and overall quality of life.

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There are many different types of careers in psychology. As such, a psychologist’s salary and employment potential can vary depending upon a number of different factors including:

  • Level of education
  • Level of experience
  • Psychological specialty
  • Industry

That said, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data suggests that both the demand for psychologists and their median annual salary remains higher than the national average for all occupations in the United States. This makes pursuing an advanced degree in psychology an excellent option for those interested in mental health care.

Psychologist Careers

Careers in psychology are more varied that most might assume. Even within specific psychological fields, there are psychologists that opt to specialize in specific industries or with specific types of patients. Furthermore, while many psychologist careers require a doctorate-level degree, there are several positions in the field that can be obtained with only a masters degree in the field of psychology.

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Counseling, Clinical, and Research Psychologists

Becoming a clinical, counseling, or research psychologist requires either a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree as well as a state-issued license. The degrees are interchangeable for most positions, but the former tends to focus more on research while the latter is more directly focused on clinical practice.

In this industry, therapists work in environments such as:

  • Counseling psychologists work with patients to identify and develop strategies for dealing with problems related to mental, social, and emotional health. This can include things like relationship issues, stress, anxiety, workplace matters, abuse, and family matters to name a few.
  • Clinical psychologists rely on psychotherapeutic diagnostics and treatments to help identify and treat behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders. Clinical psychologists are qualified to deal with many of the same issues as counseling psychologists, but tend to focus on patients with more severe psychosis and/or mental health issues. Some states go so far as to allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication to patients.
  • Research psychologists use the scientific method to both guide explorations into existing psychological studies as well as devise new ones in order to advance the field of psychology. Their work is crucial in helping clinicians, counselors, and other mental health practitioners establish the best practices for caring for patients.
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School Psychologists

School psychologists focus on the mental, social, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral health of students in order to optimize the learning environment for success. These professionals usually serve as part of a child study team (CST) to help assess student needs and provide stakeholders with the support they need to create a safe and productive educational space for each student in their care.

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Industrial-Organizational (I/O) Psychologists

I/O psychologists are group psychology experts that are hired by institutions of all types to assess and optimize the individual and collaborative components of an organization or workplace. They solve problems pertaining to areas like recruitment, training, professional development, employee relations, workplace motivation, and customer satisfaction.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist

It is important to note that while a psychology background offers a breadth of different career opportunities, psychiatry is not one of them. Psychiatrists differ from psychologists in several important ways:

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist
  Psychologist Psychiatrist
Focus Assess, study, and interpret data regarding a patient or group’s psychological state and employ psychosocial and other psychotherapeutic methods to improve the quality of life Qualified to be the clinical authority on a patient’s mental health care including all aspects of diagnostics, treatment, and monitoring
Education Either a Master of Arts in Psychology, Master of Science (M.S.), a Ph.D. in psychology, or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) A Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree (including a 4-year residency)
Number of US jobs (2016) 166,600 27,500
Median Annual Salary approximately $79,010 approximately $208,000

 

How Much Do Psychologists Make?

According to 2018 data from the BLS, a psychologist salary ranges from $43,800 for the lowest ten percent to over $129,250 for the top ten percent. While the median annual wage for psychologists in 2018 was $79,010, that figure varies depending upon a psychologist’s specialty, where he or she works, and how much experience he or she has.

Using the May 2018 BLS data as an example, research and general psychologists (primarily positions requiring a doctorate-level education) recorded a median annual salary of $100,770; I/O psychologists earned a median annual wage of $97,260; and clinical, counseling, and school psychologists combined for a median annual salary of $76,990.

When analyzed by industry, psychologists earn their highest median salaries in government and hospital jobs; ambulatory and educational positions pay less.

Industry
Industry Salary
Government positions
$96,410
Hospital positions
$86,530
Ambulatory services
$79,180
School positions
$75,890

 

Job Outlook for Psychologists

According to the BLS data, psychologists and other psychology-related fields are all expected to experience job growth from 2016 through 2026 that is greater than the 7% average for all occupations. The projections are highest for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists; employment in these specialties is expected to increase at double the rate of the national average. On the other hand, I/O psychologists are only projected to be hired at a slightly higher rate than the estimates for all occupations.

Employment % Change
Occupation Projected change in employment, 2016-26
Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists
14%
Social scientists and related workers
11%
Industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologists
8%
Psychologists, all other
11%