Career Paths within the Major

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologists assess and treat mental and emotional disorders. Such problems may range from the normal psychological crises related to biological growth (e.g., rebellion in adolescence, inadequate self-esteem at midlife) to extreme conditions such as schizophrenia or depression.

Many clinical psychologists also do research. For example, they may study the characteristics of psychotherapists that are associated with improvements in the condition of patients, or they may investigate the factors that contribute to successful aging, the development of phobias, or the causes of schizophrenia.

Clinical psychologists work in both academic institutions and health care settings such as clinics, hospitals, community mental health centers, and private practice. Many clinical psychologists focus their interests on special populations such as children, minority groups, or the elderly. Others focus on treating certain types of problems such as phobias, eating disorders, or depression. Opportunities in clinical psychology are expanding relative to populations that have not been served well in the past: children, families, the elderly, inmates, inner-city residents, ethnic groups, and rural dwellers. These opportunities exist in clinics, in other human service settings, and in private practice.

People with master's and bachelor's degrees may not independently practice psychology. They may, however, work in clinical settings under the direction of a doctoral-level psychologist. In some cases this work could include testing or supervised therapy.

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Community Psychology

Community psychologists are concerned with everyday behavior in natural settings -- the home, the neighborhood, and the workplace. They seek to understand the factors that contribute to normal and abnormal behavior in these settings. They also work to promote health and prevent disorder. Whereas clinical psychologists tend to focus on individuals who show signs of disorder, most community psychologists concentrate their efforts on groups of people who are not mentally disordered (but may be at risk of becoming so) or on the population in general.  

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Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychologists foster and improve human functioning across the life span by helping people solve problems, make decisions, and cope with the stresses of everyday life. Typically, counseling psychologists work with moderately maladjusted people, individually or in groups, assessing their needs and providing a variety of therapies, ranging from behavior modification to interpersonally oriented approaches. They apply systematic, research-based approaches to help themselves and others understand problems and develop potential solutions.

Counseling psychologists often use research to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments and to search for novel approaches to assessing problems and changing behavior. Research methods may include structured tests, interviews, interest inventories, and observations. They also may be involved in a variety of activities such as helping people to stop smoking or to adjust to college, consulting on physical problems that might have psychological causes, teaching graduate-level practica in counseling, or developing techniques that students can use to reduce their anxiety about taking examinations.

Many counseling psychologists work in academic settings, but an increasing number are being employed in health care institutions, such as community mental health centers, Veterans Administration hospitals, and private clinics.

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Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychologists study human development across the life span, from newborn to aged. Developmental psychologists are interested in the description, measurement, and explanation of age-related changes in behavior; stages of emotional development; universal traits and individual differences; and abnormal changes in development.

Many doctoral-level developmental psychologists are employed in academic settings, teaching and doing research. They often consult on programs in day-care centers, preschools, and hospitals and clinics for children. They also evaluate intervention programs such as Head Start and Follow Through and provide other direct services to children and families. Other developmental psychologists focus their attention on problems of aging and work in programs targeted at older populations.

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Educational Psychology

Educational psychologists study how people learn, and they design the methods and materials used to educate people of all ages. Many educational psychologists work in universities. Some conduct basic research on topics related to the learning of reading, writing, mathematics, and science. Others develop new methods of instruction including designing computer software. Still others train teachers and they investigate factors that affect teachers' performance and morale. Educational psychologists conduct research in schools and in federal, state and local education agencies. They may be employed by governmental agencies or the corporate sector to design and implement training programs.

Traditionally, job opportunities for educational psychologists have been concentrated in academic and educational settings and have been limited to those with doctoral degrees. Recently, industry and the military are offering increased possibilities for people with doctoral degrees who can design and evaluate systems to teach complex technical skills. There are new opportunities in evaluation of social problems and policies as well.

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Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychologists are concerned with how humans affect, and are affected by, built and natural environments.  Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field that draws on urban planning, architecture, political science, and anthropology.   Topics of interest to environmental psychologists include territoriality, personal space, crowding, perceptions of the physical environment, cognitive mapping of places, wayfinding, effects of urban life on city dwellers, the restorative effects of nature, and the effects of weather, noise, lighting, and architectural design  on human behavior  and well-being.  An environmental psychologist, for example, might study how we can improve the design of a neighborhood to reduce stress and crime.  Environmental psychologists also apply their knowledge to design more habitable residential, urban, work, and learning environments. 

Conservation psychologists work in a related area concerned specifically with the human impact on the environment.  Conservation psychologists conduct research designed to understand and solve environmental problems, such as global warming.  For example, a conservation psychologist might investigate the effectiveness of a social norms marketing campaign to reduce home energy consumption.

Environmental and conservation psychologists can be found in a wide array of academic and nonacademic settings.  Consultants and academics typically have a doctoral degree, but environmental psychologists can also be employed with a master’s degree in federal agencies, urban and regional planning agencies, and environmental design firms.

For an overview of Conservation psychology, please visit the following website:  A listing of graduate programs in Environmental Psychology can be found by visiting

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychologists (EPs) study human nature. EPs are interested in discovering and understanding the information-processing mechanisms that evolved to solve ancestral adaptive problems. They believe that knowledge of our psychology can be gained by considering how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors increased our ancestors’ reproduction. EPs use a multitude of methods to explore a broad range of topics including eating, language, gossip, long-term mating, short-term mating, parenting, kinship, cooperation, altruism, aggression, warfare, and conflict between the sexes. Evolutionary psychologists usually have Ph.D.s and work in academic settings where they teach, supervise undergraduate or graduate research, and conduct their own research.

For additional information including a list of graduate programs in the field, see

Exercise and Sport Psychology

Exercise and sport psychology can be defined as the “study of the psychological aspects of sport”; however, sport psychology is not limited to sports and may include any type of physical activity or exercise.  Thus, sport psychology services may address any aspect of athletes’ or performers’ lives, competitive or otherwise, to assist them in their performance and life endeavors. 

Sport psychologists exam topics such as the ways an athlete can use visualization techniques to improve performance, ways to manage performance anxiety, and ways sports teams can cooperate to work more effectively together.  Like other psychologists, some sport psychologists conduct research  in academic, clinical, government, and business settings.  Others engage in clinical or consulting practice, helping individuals and teams improve their athletic performance and training coaches to help them become more efficient and productive in leading athletic teams.

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Experimental Psychology

"Experimental psychologist" is a general title applied to a diverse group of psychologists who conduct research on and often teach about a variety of basic behavioral processes. These processes include: learning, sensation, perception, human performance, motivation, memory, language, thinking, and communication, and the physiological processes underlying behaviors such as eating, reading, and problem solving. Experimental psychologists study the basic processes by which humans take in, store, retrieve, express, and apply knowledge. They also study the behavior of animals, often with a view to gaining a better understanding of human behavior, but sometimes also because it is intrinsically interesting.

Most experimental psychologists work in academic settings, teaching courses and supervising students' research in addition to conducting their own research. Experimental psychologists are also employed by research institutions, business, industry, and government. A research-oriented doctoral degree is usually needed for advancement and mobility in experimental psychology.

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Family Psychology

Family psychologists are practitioners, researchers, and educators concerned with the prevention of family conflict, the treatment of marital/family problems, and the maintenance of normal family functioning. They concentrate on the family structure and the interaction between members rather than on the individual.  As service providers, they often design and conduct programs for marital enrichment, pre-marital preparation, improved parent-child relations, and parent education about children with special needs. They also provide treatment for marital conflicts and problems that affect whole families.

As researchers, they seek to identify environmental and personal factors that are associated with improved family functioning. They may study communication patterns in families with a hyperactive child or conduct research on child abuse or the effects of divorce and remarriage on family members.

Doctoral programs in family psychology are just beginning to appear. Traditionally, most family psychologists have earned their degree in clinical or counseling psychology. Family psychologists are often employed in medical schools, hospitals, private practice, family institutes and community agencies. Job opportunities also exist for university teachers, forensic family psychologists, and consultants to industry.

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Forensic Psychology

Psychology and law is a field with career opportunities at several levels of training. As an area of research, psychology and law is concerned both with looking at legal issues from a psychological perspective (e.g., how juries decide cases) and with looking at psychological questions in a legal context (e.g., how jurors assign blame or responsibility for a crime).

Forensic psychology is the term given to the applied and clinical facets of psychology and law. Forensic psychologists might help a judge decide which parent should have custody of the children or evaluate the victim of an accident to determine if he or she sustained psychological or neurological damage. In criminal cases, forensic psychologists might evaluate a defendant's mental competence to stand trial. Some forensic psychologists counsel inmates and probationers; others counsel the victims of crimes and help them prepare to testify, cope with emotional distress, and resume their normal activities.

Some specialists in this field have doctoral degrees in both psychology and law. Others were trained in a traditional graduate psychology program and chose courses, research topics, and practical experiences to fit their interest in psychology and law. Jobs for people with doctoral degrees are available in psychology departments, law schools, research organizations, community mental health agencies, law enforcement agencies, courts, and correctional settings. Some forensic psychologists work in private practice.

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Researchers in the psychology of aging (geropsychology) draw on sociology, biology, and other disciplines as well as psychology to study the factors associated with adult development and aging. For example, they may investigate how the brain and the nervous system change as humans age and what effects those changes have on behavior or how a person's style of coping with problems varies with age. Clinicians in geropsychology apply their knowledge about the aging process to improve the psychological welfare of the elderly.

Many people interested in the psychology of aging are trained in a more traditional graduate program in psychology, such as experimental, clinical, developmental, or social. While they are enrolled in such a program, they become geropsychologists by focusing their research, coursework, and practical experiences on adult development and aging.

Increases in the percentage of the population that is aged 65 or over and greater social attention to the needs of older persons have contributed to a growth in the demand for geropsychologists. Geropsychologists are finding jobs in academic settings, research centers, industry, health care organizations, mental health clinics, and agencies serving the elderly. Some are engaged in private practice, either as clinical or counseling psychologists, or as consultants on such matters as the design and the evaluation of programs.

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Health Psychology

Health psychologists are researchers and practitioners concerned with psychology's contribution to the promotion and the maintenance of good health, and the prevention and the treatment of illness. As applied psychologists or clinicians, they may, for example, design and conduct programs to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight, manage stress, prevent cavities, or stay physically fit. As researchers, they seek to identify conditions and practices that are associated with health and illness. For example, they might study the effects of relocation on elderly persons' physical well-being. In public service roles, they study and work to improve government policies and systems for health care.

Doctoral programs in health psychology are just beginning to appear. Most health psychologists now earn their degree in another area of psychology, such as clinical or counseling, but concentrate their studies, research, and practical experiences in health psychology.

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Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Industrial/organizational psychologists are concerned with the relation between people and work. Their interests include organizational structure and organizational change; workers' productivity and job satisfaction; selection, placement, training, and development of personnel; and the interaction between humans and machines. Their responsibilities on the job include research, development (translating the results of research into usable products or procedures), and problem solving.

Industrial/organizational psychologists work in businesses, industries, governments, and universities. Some may be self-employed as consultants or work for management consulting firms. In a business, industry, or government setting, industrial/organizational psychologists might study the procedures on an assembly line and suggest changes to reduce the monotony and increase the responsibility of workers. Or they might advise management on how to develop programs to identify staff with management potential or administer a service for employees on career development and preparation for retirement.

Jobs for industrial/organizational psychologists are available at both the master's and the doctoral level. Opportunities for those with master's degrees tend to be concentrated in business, industry, and government settings; doctoral-level psychologists also work in academic settings and independent consulting work.

Consumer psychologists are psychologists in a related area whose interests lie in consumers' reactions to a company's products or services. They investigate consumers' preferences for a particular package design or television commercial, for example, and develop strategies for marketing products. They also try to improve the acceptability and the safety of products and to help the consumer make better decisions.

Engineering psychologists are industrial/organizational psychologists concerned with improving the interaction between humans and their working environments, including jobs and the contexts in which they are performed. Engineering psychologists help design systems that require people and machines to interact, such as video-display units; they may also develop aids for training people to use those systems.

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Neuropsychologists investigate the relation between physical systems and behavior. Topics they study include the relation of specific biochemical mechanisms in the brain to behavior, the relation of brain structure to function, and the chemical and physical changes that occur in the body when we experience different emotions.

Clinical neuropsychologists work in the neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatric, and pediatric units of hospitals, and in clinics. They also work in academic settings where they conduct research and train other neuropsychologists, clinical psychologists, and physicians. Most positions in neuropsychology and biopsychology are at the doctoral level, and many require postdoctoral training.

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Psychology of Women and Men

The psychology of women and men is the study of psychological and social factors affecting gender development and behavior. The field includes the study of stereotypes, the relation of hormones to behavior, the development of gender roles and identity, sexuality, and physical/sexual abuse.

Psychologists focusing on the psychology of women and men are found in academic settings and a variety of clinical settings. Current research topics include reactions to rape, factors that promote managerial success, factors that discourage talented girls from obtaining advanced mathematics training, and the causes of eating disorders such as anorexia. Clinicians whose area of concentration is the psychology of women may practice feminist therapy with women and girls. Clinicians whose area of concentration is the psychology of men focus on psychotherapy with men.

Most psychologists whose concern is gender studies have received their training in clinical, developmental, or social psychology, pursuing their special interest within these broader areas. Teaching positions for doctoral-level psychologists are available in psychology and women's studies departments. Researchers who focus on health issues have been hired as faculty members in nursing, public health, social work, or psychiatry departments of universities. Clinicians work in mental health centers and in private practice.

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Psychometrics and Quantitative Psychology

Psychometric and quantitative psychologists are concerned with the methods used in acquiring and applying psychological knowledge. A psychometrician may revise old intelligence, personality, and aptitude tests or devise new ones. These tests might be used in clinical, counseling and school settings, and in business and industry. Other quantitative psychologists might assist a researcher in psychology or in another field design to interpret the results of an experiment. To accomplish these tasks, they may design new techniques of analyzing information.

Psychometricians and quantitative psychologists typically are well trained in mathematics, statistics, and computer programming and technology. Doctoral-level psychometricians and quantitative psychologists are employed mainly by universities and colleges, testing companies, private research firms, and government agencies. Those with master's degrees often work for testing companies and private research firms.

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School Psychology

School psychologists help educators and others promote the intellectual, social, and emotional development of children. They are also involved in creating environments that facilitate learning and mental health. They may evaluate and plan programs for children with special needs or deal with less severe problems such as disruptive behavior in the classroom. They sometimes engage in program development and staff consultation to prevent problems. They sometimes provide on-the-job training for teachers in classroom management, consult with parents and teachers on ways to support a child's efforts in school, and consult with school administrators on a variety of psychological and educational issues.

To be employed in the public schools of a given state, school psychologists must have completed a state-approved training program (or the equivalent) and be certified by the state. Certification as a school psychologist can usually be obtained after 60 hours of graduate work and a one-year supervised internship. Many persons now practicing school psychology in the United States have been trained at the certificate level. APA's policy regarding use of the title "school psychologist" sets higher standards than do many state school psychology certification requirements. The APA standards require that individuals using the title "school psychologist" have a doctoral degree from a regionally accredited university providing a school psychology program in a department of psychology or a school of education (APA, 1981).

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Social Psychology

Social psychologists study how people interact with each other and how they are affected by their social environments. They study individuals as well as groups, observable behaviors, and private thoughts. Topics of interest to social psychologists include personality theories, the formation of attitudes and attitude change, attractions between people such as friendship and love, prejudice, group dynamics, and violence and aggression. Social psychologists might, for example, study how attitudes toward the elderly influence the elderly person's self-concept, or they might investigate how unwritten rules of behavior develop in groups and how those rules regulate the conduct of group members.

Social psychologists can be found in a wide variety of academic settings, and, increasingly, in many nonacademic settings. For example, more social psychologists than before now work in advertising agencies, corporations, and architectural and engineering firms as researchers, consultants, and personnel managers.

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A Word About Salary Expectations

Psychologists earn a wide range of salaries, depending more on the nature of their job than on their particular subspecialty. For example, a person with a B.S. in psychology working as a Mental Health Technician might make $15,000 a year, while an academic psychologist at a university might make $35,000-$90,000. Similarly, a physiological psychologist working in research at a drug company will make more than one who is a university professor. A doctoral-level clinical psychologist in full-time independent practice would average $80,000-$100,000 a year.

High-paying jobs in psychology are rare, if not impossible, to get without a graduate degree. In general, people with graduate degrees earn more if they are employed by industry, the federal government, or in private practice. Jobs in public agencies and universities (with the exception of administrative positions) typically have lower, although still quite adequate, pay scales. 

2009 Median Salaries by Type of Position and Degree Level

Type of Position

Doctoral level 

Master's level

Faculty Position – Full Professor



Faculty Position – Assistant Professor



Educational Administration



Direct Clinical Services 



Research Positions



Administration of Research 



Direct School Services 



Administration of Human Services



I/O Psychology



Administration of Applied Psychology 



Source: Salaries in Psychology: 2009, American Psychological Association.

*These salaries are on a 9 or 10 month basis; all other salaries are on an 11 or 12 month basis.