The field of general psychology concerns itself with studying the mind. This includes cognition, perception, behavior and emotion. Psychology has been around since the time that people started to think about other people. As a discipline, however, it separated itself from regular medicine in the 1800s. Today, it is a recognized science, which means it has to deal with empirical facts and that it has to be logical. However, it is a difficult type of science, because psychologists effectively try to study themselves, researching the researchers. As a result, although a science, it is still experimental. There are still many different theories around that remain nothing more than theories, and many more experiments have to be completed. However, we have come a long way since we used to lobotomize anyone who exhibited some abnormal behavior.
General psychologists are professionally trained to have clinical knowledge with which they help others to cope with the various stresses of life. They provide various services, including psychotherapy and evaluations. They use a number of different techniques that are supported by research and theories, looking at the unique characteristics, values, circumstances and goals of the person they are working with.
General psychology is incredibly broad field of work, which means it also deals with a great many different types of people, who have a huge variety of problems. Some people have issues with depressions, others deal with general anxiety, others have anger problems. Other people have chronic conditions that interfere with their physical health or overall lifestyle. Patients can also have short term problems that make it difficult for them to cope with certain situations such as grief, new jobs, financial problems and so on. Basically, psychologists can work with those who are dealing with some sort of stressful situation, afflicted with a chronic illness, dealing with an addiction, or who have any other type of barrier that stops them from achieving their full potential.
General psychologists have also received training in interpreting and administering various assessments and tests. These are designed to diagnose conditions or identify certain thinking, behavioral or feeling patterns. These tests can be used in order to evaluate someone’s intellectual skills, their particular cognitive strengths and weaknesses, their personality characteristics, their vocational preferences and aptitudes and their neuropsychological functioning.
Because of all of these, general psychologists can work in a great variety of fields, sometimes with some additional specialized training. These fields include:
- Forensic psychology
- Health psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Educational psychology
- Academia, research and training
- Occupational psychology
- Counseling psychology
- Sports and exercise psychology
According to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies, some 5,000 new psychology doctorate students graduated in a variety of subfields of the discipline. However, it is not clear whether or not this will be enough. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), expected growth is 12% between 2012 and 2022, which is average growth. However, greater growth is expected for those with doctoral degrees and certain specializations within psychology. This includes geropsychology, industrial organizational psychology, school psychology and neuropsychology.
The career is hot because:
- The new Affordable Care Act has changed the landscape of health care.
- Many existing psychologists are reaching retirement age.
- The stigma on mental health is being broken, which means that it is more likely for people to seek these services.
Psychologists are, in the main, expected to have a doctorate degree. As such, they are some of the most highly educated of all health care professionals. The entire educational process can take well over 10 years to complete. At present, some 85,000 psychologists employed in the country according to the American Psychological Association (APA). These work in a huge variety of settings, using evidence based treatment, or therapy, to help people with whatever issue they are facing. The most common types of therapy, which can be delivered either individual or in groups that they offer include:
- A combination of the above
In many cases, psychologists work with people who also have other health problems. As such, they work together with physicians, psychiatrists, pediatricians and others in order to provide a combination of medicated and therapeutic treatment. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication, with the exception of those in Louisiana, New Mexico and Illinois, although they do need to receive additional training for this.
In order to become a general psychologist, a doctorate degree is almost always required. The educational pathway, however, starts with a four year bachelor’s degree, usually with a focus on psychology. The next stage is a two year master’s degree, where psychologists can choose to follow a certain specialization if they so choose. Then, the must decide between the two main doctorate degrees, being the Ph.D. and the Psy.D. (some choose to complete the Ed.Psy, which is specific to educational psychology).
The Ph.D. is a research based degree that takes around five years to complete. The Psy.D., by contrast, is a degree that focuses on clinical application and direct service and takes around three years to complete. This is the more popular option for general psychologists, who usually want to deliver therapy rather than develop new techniques.
Regardless of the program you choose, it should be accredit by the APA or another recognized institution. Do also choose a program that includes a residency or internship. Most states require their psychologists to complete a period of supervised working experience, usually two years, up to half of which can be completed during the educational program.
Once you have completed the educational pathway and the supervised working experience, you must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). This test consists of 225 multiple choice questions, and a pass rate is awarded to those who answer at least 70% of the questions correctly. The cost of this test, subject to change, is $600.
There are a number of very clear advantages to being a general psychologist. These include:
- High job security with an increased demand.
- The chance to meet truly interesting people and hear what their stories actually are.
- The ability to learn new perspectives, allowing you to conceptualize and understand things in a new light. This is also something that you can apply to your personal life, although you must be careful to not constantly analyze your own friends.
- It is very satisfying to see a meaningful difference in the lives of your patients and to help them get better thanks to your tools and techniques.
At the same time, there are some disadvantages to the career as well:
- It takes a long time, and a lot of money, to become qualified as a psychologist and most new graduates start with a large amount of student debt, unless they have been able to access a lot of scholarships and grants.
- Although demand is high, the field is competitive, particularly in private practices. This means you must be diligent and patient.
- The chance of emotional burnout is high. Many psychologists require the services of another psychologist at some point or another to ensure they can continue to deliver a good service.
- There is an element of risk as well, depending on where you work. If you choose to work with the criminally insane, or drug abusers, for instance, you may have to deal with violent and aggressive people.
- Some scientists and the general public alike still do not see psychology as a true science, which means there is sometimes a lack of respect that you will have to be able to deal with.
- Unfortunately, you cannot help everybody and some patients will simply not be receptive to anything you try.
Because the field of general psychology is so broad, you can also work in a huge variety of settings. These include:
- Private practices, which you can either run and manage alone, or as part of a team of other psychologists with certain specializations, or even other types of health care providers.
- Schools, particularly if you complete a school psychology degree, which is a master’s degree.
- Colleges and universities, lecturing the next generation of psychologists. You will require a Ph.D. for this.
- Mental health and community health clinics.
- Businesses and other private sector organizations.
- Nursing homes, long term care centers or rehabilitation clinics.
- Dissertation Research Grant in Developmental Psychology, offered to students who are members of Division 7 of the APA.
- Nicholas Hobbs Award, offered yearly to psychologists who have made exemplary contributions to child advocacy.
- Div. 16 Grant Program for School Psychology Internships, offered to students who are members of Division 16 of the APA.
- Committee on Early Career Psychologists (ECP) Initiative Award, which is offered to organizations who engage newly qualified psychologists.
- Mentor Award in Developmental Psychology, for those who have played a significant role in mentoring psychology students.
- Introduction to Psychology, offered by Open Yale Courseware.
- How to Think Like a Psychologist, offered by Stanford Continuing Studies Program on iTunes.
- Great Ideas in Psychology, offered by Dr. Todd Daniel on iTunes.
- Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
- Redirect, by Timothy Wilson
- Drive, by Daniel Pink
- The Invisible Gorilla by Chabris and Simon
- Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson
- Stumbling on Happiness, by Dan Gilbert
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini
- Brain Rules: 12 Principles For Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, by John Medina
- Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely
- Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Jeffrey A. Lieberman with Ogi Ogas
- Division 14 of the American Psychological Association
- American Psychology Association of Graduate Students
- Association for Psychological Science
- Association for Research in Personality
- Society for Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy