Health and Medicine Question #122

Hannah, a 19 year old female from the Internet asks on January 21, 2000,

I am very interested in getting into the field of Psychology and would appreciate basic and scientific information.

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The answer

Jody Culham answered on January 21, 2000

This is a difficult question, especially for psychology, which is perhaps the biggest discipline around. Psychology careers can be roughly divided into two types:

  1. Clinical Psychology, what most people think is psychology, as in "sit on my couch and tell me about your mother"
  2. Behavioral Research, which includes the scientific study of anything related to human behavior from neurotransmitters and hormone molecules to creativity and love. There are lots of applied branches of psych such as industrial/organizational psychology, educational psychology, neuropsychology...

Psychology is a challenging field to make a career in because it's so interesting that a lot of people go into it. Psychology is usually one of the biggest departments at universities. Jobs with a Bachelor's are limited, especially good jobs. Research can be a good career if someone is highly motivated and really enjoys it. But it's only worth doing if you get satisfaction from the work -- otherwise, the money and sacrifices are not worth it. Clinical psychology is even tougher and it's really, really hard to get accepted to a PhD program in that field and few people make it.

In order to find out what you like before you devote 5-10 years of your life, I would recommend talking to as many people as you can about a career in Psychology, and doing volunteer work to give you a taste of what it's really like.

To give an idea of the kinds of jobs psychologists do, here is a follow-up study done on a group of people who graduated between 1986-1990 in Canada:

  1. After a Bachelor's in psych, 2/3 had continued their education, including professional degrees, additional undergraduate work, and graduate studies.
  2. Of those working, jobs included: clinical psychology (3.5%), education and human services (36%), business, professions & trades (61%)

  3. Income Levels:
    • $50,000+ - 4%
    • $35-50,000 - 23%
    • $20-35,000 - 63%
    • under $20,000 -10%

    (1992 values for recent grads -- I hope it gets better later)

  4. Of these people, 92% said their psych education had been useful, 47% said they would take psychology again, and 10% were uncertain. Of those who would not take psych again, many wished for a more marketable discipline.

So how would I summarize it? Psychology is a fun and interesting subject to study, but is not that employable, though it is a good stepping stone to other professions. My main advice would be to try as many different 'hands-on' experiences as possible early on to see what's right for you.

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