Types of Psychologists and How To Become One

Client meeting with female psychologist in private practice

Psychology can be a rewarding career path that allows you to serve others by helping them process and overcome challenges and trauma. If you enjoy interacting with other people, are fascinated by the intricacies of the human mind and have the determination necessary to earn a psychology degree, this field could be a great choice for you.

As you plan your career goals, you may wonder what you will need to study to earn an advanced psychology degree. With all the coursework required, you might also ask, “How long does it take to become a psychologist?” Psychology degrees can lead to many rewarding careers, including becoming a fully licensed psychologist. This career path can take some time but will lead you toward meaningful accomplishments.

What Is a Psychologist?

A psychologist is a medical professional who helps people handle mental health challenges. They may help people who are dealing with conditions such as anxiety or depression and they may also support people who are encountering challenging times in their lives. Psychologists complete many years of education and clinical training to work with clients and provide mental health services.

Psychologists can help treat cognitive, emotional and social behaviors and systems of thought. They evaluate clients’ emotions, thoughts and behaviors by identifying patterns. Based on these evaluations, psychologists can diagnose mental health challenges and determine and implement treatment plans. When determining a treatment plan, psychologists generally use both counseling and psychotherapy. They remain flexible in their methods to individualize plans to their client needs.

Psychologists may work privately with clients in their own office, or they may work in schools, hospitals, community resource centers, nursing homes or prisons. Some psychologists limit their work to client interactions, while others continue to conduct research within their specialized fields.

Psychologists have advanced degrees and, often, PhDs, though they are not medical doctors: They cannot perform medical procedures, nor can they prescribe medication. However, psychologists work with psychiatrists, who do have medical licensure, or clients’ medical doctors to get clients the help they need.

8 Types of Psychologists

Psychologists usually specialize in a particular field which is often classified based on what they do, where they work or who their clients are.

1. Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists are the psychologists with whom most people are familiar. A clinical psychologist conducts psychological testing and evaluation. These tests are administered to diagnose mental illness and create treatment plans. Some clinical psychologists work in hospitals or mental health clinics, while others run their own private practices.

2. Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists are interested specifically in helping athletes maintain healthy mental health. They may work with athletes, managers or team directors. Sports psychologists often help individuals to pursue their goals, conduct assessments and implement strategies to help patients strive for personal growth and improvement.

3. Community Psychologist

Community psychologists are very action-oriented. They conduct research on mental health issues within a community. They examine the social structure of the community and work to identify potential improvements that could address social and mental health problems. They may work for universities, the government or community organizations.

4. Health Psychologist

Health psychologists focus on the interconnection between mental health and physical health. They work with clients to examine the impact of illness on psychological states and vice versa. Health psychologists may work in places such as hospitals or community health clinics.

5. Developmental Psychologist

Developmental psychologists focus on human growth and development from birth through adolescence, adulthood, and old age. They study the ways in which humans and their thoughts, feelings, habits, personal identities and morals change over time.

6. Child Psychologist

A child psychologist focuses on treating adolescents and young children. Their clients may be experiencing a wide range of behavioral, developmental, mental or emotional challenges. They may help children with stressful events, such as coping with a high-stakes academic situation, or emotional events, such as the loss of a loved one. Child psychologists might work in schools, hospitals, adoption agencies or juvenile incarceration facilitates.

7. Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists are involved in the legal system. They specialize in the relationship between psychology and the law. They may act as consultants in legal cases, provide therapy to crime victims, or offer evaluations during criminal proceedings. A forensic psychologist may work with accused individuals to determine how likely they are to fall back into old patterns. They may also work with witnesses who have experienced trauma.

8. Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Industrial-organizational psychologists study the psychology of the workplace. They help workers increase their productivity and engagement with their jobs. They also help managers select the best individuals for various roles. Industrial-organizational psychologists create training programs for employees to maximize their efficiency.

Frequently Asked Questions for Psychology

If pursuing a career that can make a difference in someone else's life intrigues you, psychology may be the field for you to pursue. Being a psychologist can be gratifying because you help other people improve their lives. However, people choose to become psychologists for many other reasons as well.

Is Psychology a Flexible Career?

Many of the subfields allow psychologists to set their own work schedules. If they have their own practice, they can set the hours they want to work and offer client appointment times within those hours. If they spend most of their time conducting research, psychologists may be able to do that with a flexible schedule as well. Psychologists who work for other organizations, such as hospitals, clinics or schools, may not have as much flexibility in the day-to-day operations of their practice.

Are There Opportunities for Growth in the Field of Psychology?

Psychology as an overall field is expected to grow over the next 10 years. As of September 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for psychologists to increase by about 8% from 2020 to 2030, as fast as average, accounting for an estimated increase of 13,500 jobs in the field.1

What Are the Day-to-Day Responsibilities of a Psychologist?

Psychologists’ day-to-day work is challenging and unique. Clients have different needs and problems, and each appointment may uncover new information. Psychologists work with a diverse group of people and may work in a variety of environments. Someone looking to avoid the more mundane aspects of office work may enjoy pursuing a psychology degree.

How To Become a Psychologist

If you are still in high school, you can begin furthering your career ambitions. Once in college, you should plan to earn an undergraduate and graduate psychology degree. You will put in long hours of diligent study and work, but passionate students will find the investment well worth the effort.

Typical Psychology Career Path

  • Decide on a path – Figure out which emphasis you want to pursue. Creating a plan can help give you better questions to ask instructors to achieve your goals.
  • Earn a degree in Psychology – Depending on what field of psychology you want to go into, you may need a higher level degree.
  • Get your psychology license – Each state has different standards for getting a practice license. Do some research in your state to figure out how many hours of experience you need to get approved. These hours may include internships, supervised learning or postdoctoral work

What to Do in High School

One important step to take while you are still in high school is to meet with your guidance counselor. Discuss your career aspirations and ask how you can adjust your course load to meet your goals. Some high schools offer psychology courses. Some even offer AP psychology courses, which enable students to earn college credits while still in high school.

Even if your high school does not offer a psychology class, you can still prepare to excel in college. Aspiring psychologists benefit from a strong science and mathematics background, so taking advanced courses in these subjects can be helpful. Psychologists require a strong understanding of human behavior and diverse cultures, so try taking courses in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Statistics
  • Physiology
  • Comparative religions
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology
  • History

Lastly, consider meeting with your language arts teachers for feedback on your writing skills to prepare for you to take reading and writing-intensive courses in college.

Earning an Undergraduate Psychology Degree

When the time comes to apply for admission to universities, look for a school that offers multiple psychology degree options. If you haven’t yet decided on the specialization that most interests you, a general psychology program can prepare you for your graduate degree or help you choose a program into which you can transfer later. 

Although it is important to allot a significant portion of your time to studying and completing your assignments, it is also a good idea to join clubs, sports teams and other activities on campus. These fun activities can introduce you to diverse groups, refine your communication skills and help you start networking.

You should also seek internship opportunities. While local mental health facilities may have internships available, you can look for opportunities at hospitals, cultural centers, juvenile intervention programs, and research labs as well. Completing an internship serves three main purposes:

  • Exploring various aspects of your career field, which can help you narrow the focus of your studies.
  • Improving your curriculum vitae (CV).
  • Building your professional network, which may allow you to land a job more easily after graduation. It typically takes about four to five years to complete an undergraduate program.2

Advance Your Psychology Career With a Master's Degree

To work with mental health clients, you must earn a master’s or doctoral degree. Before applying to a graduate program, you should carefully research the licensure and certification requirements for the state in which you plan to practice. Your state may require you to earn a doctoral degree and obtain licensing to qualify as a clinical psychologist. However, all states allow practitioners with a master’s degree and credentialing to practice independently, if they use a title such as therapist, counselor or social worker rather than psychologist. It is important to understand potential licensure and certification requirements for these titles too.

The average time to complete a graduate degree is two to four years.3 Master’s degree programs that require a thesis may take longer to complete.

Become a Specialized Psychologist With a Doctoral Degree

If you decide to earn a doctoral degree in the field of psychology, you can expect several years of study and research. Doctoral students complete an independent research project that makes an original contribution to the field. This research project culminates in a dissertation. Choose a topic area about which you are passionate and one that is aligned with the psychology specialization or patient population you wish to pursue. The average time to doctoral degree completion is four to seven years.4

In total, your journey to earn a master’s degree and the licensure you need to practice as a psychologist may take from six to nine years. This estimate could also increase depending on a variety of factors while you earn your degrees, such as if you need to take less classes per semester due to a busy work schedule.

Once you begin working with clients and making a difference in their lives, however, you are likely to find all of this time and effort worthwhile.

Your path to becoming a fully qualified psychologist begins at Grand Canyon University. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers multiple degree options for aspiring psychologists. Begin by enrolling in the Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree program, or choose from one of our specialization options. Upon graduation, apply to earn your graduate degree at GCU. In addition to the Master of Science in Psychology with an Emphasis in General Psychology, our other specialization options include forensic psychology, geropsychology and health psychology. 


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1 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists.

2 The Urban Institute, Time to Degree in September 2021 

3 Psychology.org, Master’s Degrees in Psychology in September 2021

4 Psycholog.org, Psychology Doctoral Degrees in September 2021.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.