How to Become a Psychologist

Becoming a psychologist is a wonderful opportunity to help patients work through mental health issues and address challenges in their personal lives. If you’re a psychology major, or just considering a career in the mental health field, then you might be wondering what you need to do to become a psychologist. Do you have to pick a specialty before you go to grad school? Do you need to get both a master’s and a Ph.D.?

Here are the steps you need to follow when getting started on a psychology career.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related subject

Since being a psychologist requires a graduate-level degree (such as a Ph.D. or Psy.D.), you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree before you can focus on more advanced training. Although a psychology degree is recommended since it will give you great insights into the subject and prepare you for advanced study in the field, it’s not necessary to have one. In fact, any major that helps you build critical thinking and research skills will give you the tools you need to succeed in graduate school.

Pro Tip: While you don’t need to major in psychology in order to become a psychologist, most Ph.D and Psy.D. programs do require certain prerequisites so be sure to check in with your advisor and find out which ones you need to take. Once you have this information, a minor or double major can be a great way to fulfill your grad school requirements while also studying another subject you’re passionate about.

2. Select a specialty and complete a doctoral program

Once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree, it’s time to decide on a specialty and to pick a graduate program that matches your interests. This can be anything from clinical psychology to developmental psychology and often includes both a research and a clinical component. Although some universities combine a master’s and a doctoral program into a single degree program, most schools offer individual master’s and Ph.D./Psy.D programs.

Pro Tip: Since most master’s programs last between two to three years and most Ph.D and Psy.D. programs take anywhere from five to seven years, you should be prepared for a long course of study on your way to a doctorate. The key to making the most of these years is to take a broad range of classes while also continuously refining your research interests.

3. Do a psychology internship

Before you can become licensed to practice in your state, you’ll need to complete a two-year post-doctoral internship. Focused on expanding your clinical experience and ensuring that you’re qualified to treat patients in a clinical setting, this type of internship will give you the hands-on experience you need to be effective in a patient-focused role. And because these internships are almost always approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) they are geared toward helping you develop the exact skills you’ll need to be a successful psychologist.

4. Get licensed to practice

Once you’ve completed your doctorate and your post-doctoral internship, you’ll be eligible to become licensed as a psychologist. In order to do so, you’ll need to pass a national licensure exam called the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) as well as meeting any additional requirements specific to your state.

Psychology is an intriguing field with plenty of career opportunities for anyone interested in mental health. By following these steps and knowing how to set yourself up for success, you’ll be able to establish a career that will have a lasting impact in your life and the lives of your patients.

Next, learn more about this college major such as What Types of Skills Are Best for a Psychology Major? and get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 5 Tips for Getting an Entry-Level Job Unrelated to Your Major.