What About a Career in Professional Psychology?

  • Clinical Psychology: psychotherapy (individual, group, couples, family), psychological assessments (firmly established identity, credibility and boundaries: license usually required)
  • Organizational Psychology, consulting executive coaching (not firmly established identity, credibility or boundaries: license usually not required but entrepreneurial talents are advisable)
  • Health Psychology: an emerging field with services ranging from stress management and health life style planning to health care reform (identity and credibility are still established; licensing is still to be determined) (often an expansion of existing human service practices)

There are many different career paths one can take in the field of professional psychology. The most common path is the provision of clinical psychological services (including such professional practices as psychotherapy and psychodiagnostic assessment). Other professional psychologists pursue careers in organizational psychology (providing such services as organization development consultation, leadership training and executive coaching). There are also many opportunities for professional psychologists working in the domains of education (as educational psychologists), forensic psychology (working in legal systems) career counseling and personnel assessment. Newly emerging areas of professional psychological services include health psychology, neuropsychological assessment and personal/life coaching. Following are brief descriptions of work in three areas in which the Professional School of Psychology specialize: clinical psychology, organizational psychology and health psychology.

Should I Pursue a Career in Clinical Psychology?

Clinical students tend to be people who (a) work in the general health services field, (b) people who have imagined themselves in the role of a psychotherapist, and (c) people who are masters-level psychotherapists who would like advanced training at the doctoral level.

While most organizational psychologists (those who complete the doctoral program) do not seek formal licensure, almost every clinical student located in California does seek formal licensure. Why? Because the practice of psychotherapy is regulated by the State of California and most other states. This distinction is important because the decision by an American citizen to seek graduate education in clinical psychology is only the first step in the process to be licensed. For PSP students living in other countries the regulations regarding requirements to provide clinical services (or even be called a “psychologist” or “doctor”) vary widely. PSP endeavors to provide accurate and up-to-date information regarding licensing requirements in countries being served by the school, but strongly recommend that prospective PSP students who seek a career in clinical psychology conduct extensive research themselves about the regulations and restrictions that influence (and even determine) their own clinical practices. In some instances, it would even be appropriate to seek the assistance of a lawyer in their own country who is knowledgeable about human service regulations.

Masters-level psychotherapists work with individuals, couples and families. The licensing examinations in the State of California tend to focus on family systems theories – those psychotherapeutic methodologies that frame the presenting problem in a larger, family context. Yet, in their actual, day-to-day practice, many Marriage and Family Therapists in California work as individual-oriented therapists. It often depends on what one enjoys.

Doctoral-level psychotherapists work with individuals, couples and families as well, though they tend to focus more on individuals. With a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, one can become a licensed Psychologist in the State of California. In addition to their work as psychotherapists, a Psychologist is trained to administer psychological evaluative instruments, such as the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Millon Multiaxial Clinical Inventory, the Thematic Apperception Test, the Rorschach Inkblot Test, and others. Note that one can achieve the Psy.D. and license with the Board of Behavioral Sciences as a Marriage and Family Therapist. Many people with the Psy.D. dual license operate as a Psychologist and as a Marriage and Family Therapist.

It may be helpful to note that the managed care environment in which many of us live has led to cost containment measures which, as a practical matter, have limited the number of treatment sessions allowed by the insurance company. These limitations have added influence to and prompted the further development of brief psychotherapeutic methodologies. Notably, what is known as cognitive-behavioral therapy is of critical importance in contemporary practice. Indeed, many people would argue that cognitive-behavioral therapy is efficacious in ways that traditional psychotherapies are not.

Should I Pursue a Career in Organizational Psychology?

PSP students choosing to enroll in the organizational psychology program tend to be (a) people who want to gain skills and competencies that will allow them to advance within their current corporate environment, (b) people who are or hope to be internal consultants within their current corporate environment, and (c) people who are part of a private firm in which they function as an external consultant to business enterprises.

There are any number of business enterprises – some small, some large, some huge – which run into problems as they become successful. If they aren’t successful, they fold. If they are successful, success often has to do with the original vision of the founder(s) whose idea or product gave the organization a competitive advantage. Yet, as organizations grow, new challenges develop which often are resistant to the energy that drove the original successes. To a large extent, students who are interested in organizational psychology are people who have a heart for helping organizations move through these periods of resistance. Change is usually difficult but also inevitable. Managing change processes so that an organization (and the real human beings who rely upon the organization for a living) maintains a success oriented, competitive advantage, is typically the goal of the organizational consultant. Is this the kind of work in which you would like to be involved?

One question the prospective student should consider is — are you by nature entrepreneurial? The program offerings at PSP will provide you with core competencies to guide and manage organizational change, but will not teach you how to land your first client. While you may develop networking-oriented relationships with other students, many of our students are mature learners and are already involved in corporate environments, or already have substantial contact bases, which they hope to leverage with the advanced degree they will receive at PSP.

We have had students who come to the organizational doctoral program with masters degrees in clinical psychology – they have, perhaps, become involved in the administration and maintenance of the ‘corporate culture’ of an agency that provides clinical services as the ‘product,’ but is managed by people who have no education in the best practices of organizational management. On the other hand, we have had students who have a post-bachelor degree in organizational development, who want to move to the next higher level of capability.

Should I Pursue a Career in Health Psychology?

The field of health psychology is quickly emerging as a major arena for the provision of professional psychological services – especially in societies where traditional clinical psychological practices are not favorably perceived. Furthermore, there are many dimensions to health psychology that enable a professional psychologist to make use of their existing expertise as a clinician, consultant, coach, teacher, advocate or leader of a human service agency. Most importantly, health psychology seems to be on the move, with many career opportunities emerging.

Traditionally, the treatment of psychological dimensions of health were addressed in one of three independent and often isolated domains: (1) mental health, (2) substance abuse, and (3) primary care health delivery. In many countries, the health and mental health systems are in major transition with regard to management of these increasingly complex and stressed systems, funding sources for these systems, and shifting patient needs and expectations. The culture(s) of health care throughout the world is (are) changing dramatically and levels of anxiety in health care systems is increasing (who is wounding and healing the healers?)  The psychological impact of “intrusive life events” (such as heart attacks, strokes, death in the family and warfare) are often overlooked, as are the more general recurrent and debilitating effects of stress.

New approaches to the use of computers linked to devices that measure activity in the brain hold great potential with regard to treatment of trauma, obsessive-compulsive disorders and diffuse anxiety. These approaches are not understood by most mental health practitioners, and are not being effectively used by those practitioners who are knowledgeable about neuro-psychology and neuro-feedback. There is also a strong need (especially outside the United States and Canada) for full appreciation regarding the use (and abuse) of psychopharmacological substances. There is a strong need for neuropsychological assessment (especially outside North America and Europe in many areas: (1) brain damage, (2) neurotoxins, (3) lingering effects of substance abuse (individual abuser, in utero).

As we conceive opportunities in the area of health psychology (and as we have constructed the curriculum for a doctoral focus in health psychology), we turn to a metaphor offered by Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones of the American Public Health Organization. Her provocative metaphor that sets the stage for what we believe is the future of a career in health psychology. Camara Jones describes the situation where a cluster of people stand on the edge of a cliff. Some of the people fall off the cliff; fortunately, there are ambulances waiting at the bottom of the cliff to pick up the hurt people and take them to a hospital for treatment. This is model one (treatment). Alternatively, nets and trampolines are placed half way down the cliff which will catch the people as they fall off the cliff. This is model two (amelioration). A third alternative is for a fence to be built at the top of the cliff which prevents people from falling off the cliff. This third model (first order prevention) leads to fewer casualties. Jones suggests that there is a fourth model: people can be encouraged to move away from the edge of cliff. This second order prevention strategy eliminates the need for a fence, net or ambulance.

Practitioners of health psychology can engage in one or more of these four models. A health psychologist can provide treatment strategies, as well as strategies that reduce the impact of injury or illness. A health psychologist can also engage prevention strategies that discourage or block behaviors leading to illness or injury. Finally, a knowledgeable health psychologist can advocate and lead a shift in public attitudes moving people to health-oriented values, priorities and perspectives regarding their own life and the life of other people in their family, community and society.

As in the case of a career in organizational psychology, these health psychology strategies probably require an entrepreneurial spirit. If you choose to work in this area, you will be a pioneer and a visionary. The work will undoubtedly be challenging – yet the financial rewards and sense of personal satisfaction in being of valuable assistance to other people are clearly available.