By Kacey Spencer on July 9, 2018
Many people are interested in the field of psychology and with good reason. The idea of better understanding human nature is captivating and worthy, but how do you know if it’s a good field of study for you? Moreover, is it even a good career choice?
We’re going to help you answer the most pressing questions about choosing a psychology degree. We want you know why psychology is important and if it’s the right field for you.
What Is Psychology and Why Is It Important?
Before answering whether or not psychology is a good career choice, it’s important to define what psychology is and why it’s important to study.
Definition of Psychology
In short, psychology is the study of human behavior and mental processes. Psychology covers things such as how the brain works, how memories are categorized, how children develop and how and why people interact with each other.
There are many branches of study in psychology which we will discuss further in this article, some of which include human development, social behavior, forensic or criminal, experimental, special education, clinical and many more.
History of Psychology
People have been studying human behavior for centuries, although not in its current form. As far back as early Greek history, philosophers like Plato believed the brain was a mechanism of mental processes. Avicenna, born in A.D. 980, was a famous doctor who studied and wrote about the connection between a person’s body and soul. His books “The Book of Healing” and “The Book of Deliverance” have influenced the field of psychology to this day.
The current scientific study of psychology, however, is relatively new. In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt, a German physician, identified psychology as it’s own experimental field of study. He was the first person in recorded history to set up a laboratory that exclusively produced psychological research.
In the 1890s, a few big things happened in America in the field of psychology. First, an American philosopher by the name of William James published a book called “Principles of Psychology.” The same year, the state of New York passed a law that stated that people who suffered from mental illness should not reside in poor housing but should instead receive care in a hospital setting. Lastly, in 1892, the American Psychological Association (APA) was founded by 31 members.
The BIG Questions of Psychology
For many people, one of the biggest draws of psychology is that it dares to take on the big questions about the human condition and human nature.
Psychology asks questions like, how can people do horrible things to each other like murder and how do we know horrible things are wrong? Why do people have dreams, and what do they mean? What motivates people and how can that be used for good?
Taking on those big questions helps people better understand emotions, thought processes, motivations and difficulties. And it can also help them better understand themselves.
What Psychology Isn’t
If you’re interested in the field of psychology, it’s also important to define what psychology isn’t.
Many people confuse psychology with psychiatry because they both deal with mental health and well being of people.
One of the primary differences between psychologists and psychiatrists is the way that they handle mental health. Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who spend a lot of their managing medication treatments for their patients.
Psychologists, on the other hand, are not qualified to prescribe medication. Instead, they focus their energy on psychotherapies that can help adjust behavior patterns.
For example, if a person struggles with social anxiety, a psychologist could work with him or her to learn how to regulate emotions. They could also help them develop conversational skills so they don’t feel as anxious about being around other people.
While psychiatrists and psychologists can and should work together to provide both medicinal and behavior adjustments, their functions are different parts of the same goal.
Is Psychology a Good Career Choice?
One of the greatest benefits of a psychology degree is that it opens up a range of options. It’s an extremely versatile degree and, depending on your focus, can open many different doors.
Psychology has many subsets of study that can make it more attractive if you have a particular field of interest. Next, we’ll outline the level of education required for certain jobs and some of the most prominent types of psychology to study.
Levels of Education
It’s important to note that there are multiple levels of education available for psychology, and depending on what career path you want to choose, you may need more than the standard undergraduate program.
An associate level degree can help provide the necessary foundation for you to thrive in future education. Many people acquire an associate degree in psychology first and then pursue their bachelor’s degree. For example, at Cornerstone University’s Professional & Graduate Studies division, you can transition easily from an associate degree to pursuing your bachelor’s degree. The practical course work and knowledge, skills and abilities you gain in the associate level courses will set you on the right track to following your career goals.
Most universities offer either a Bachelor of Art or a Bachelor of Science in psychology. For example, at Cornerstone University, you can earn a Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree in about 20-22 months.
There are more jobs available for those who complete their bachelor’s than for those who complete only an associate degree. However, the opportunities are more limited without a master’s or doctorate in the field. People who do not choose to continue their education in psychology are not qualified to practice as a psychologist but do have great career options with an undergraduate degree.
Some available jobs include:
- Career counselors.
- Childcare workers.
- Psychiatric technicians.
- Case managers.
Even if a person doesn’t work directly in the field of psychology, an undergraduate degree in psychology can open the doors to many career options including advertising, market research, childcare, probation officers, management positions, labor relations and real estate.
Master’s degrees usually add two to three years of education after a standard bachelor’s degree. Again, you can choose between a Master of Arts or a Master of Science. For example, at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, you can earn your Master of Arts in Counseling to equip you for licensing as a professional counselor.
At a master’s level, there are many more jobs available that are directly related to the field of psychology. These careers include:
- Mental health services.
- Human resource manager.
- Child protection worker.
- Forensic psychology.
- Academic advising.
- Behavior counseling.
- Industrial-organizational psychology.
The trajectory of your career at this point will largely be determined by the type of master’s degree that you acquire. For instance, if you’re looking to work in psychotherapy, you’ll want to get a master’s in clinical psychology. If you’re interested in working in forensics, you’ll need to get a master’s in the applied psychology of forensics.
Ph.D. in Psychology
The Ph.D. program can take as long as five to seven years to complete on average. As with a master’s degree, there are many focused areas of study to choose from.
People who complete their Ph.D. in a specialized field in psychology can look forward to jobs in:
- Engineering psychology.
- Clinical psychology.
- Counseling psychology.
- Forensic psychology.
- Industrial-organizational psychology.
- Education at the college or university level.
- Market research analyst.
- Open a private practice.
While some of the same jobs are available at the master’s level, the likelihood of obtaining a job and getting paid a higher wage go up with having a Ph.D.
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D)
Those who obtain a doctor of psychology focus on the professional practice of psychology. It usually takes four to seven years of training in diagnosing mental illness and psychological assessment.
Because of the specific focus of study, those who complete this study will tend to go into fields that allow them to diagnose and treat mental disorders. Some of the jobs people with a Psy.D seek out include:
- Clinical psychologist.
- Private practice psychologist.
- School therapist.
Types of Careers in Psychology
In addition to levels of education, it’s important to recognize that there are many subsets and fields of study available in psychology. Below is a brief description of some of the most popular.
- Clinical Psychology: Clinical psychologists use science and theory to help alleviate some of the burdens people suffer from with mental health issues. Clinical psychologists use psychological assessment and psychotherapy to help people overcome maladaptive behaviors.
- Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive psychologists focus on the internal thoughts of people and research the ways people problem solve, learn language, store memories, communicate and learn. Individuals in this field might help others improve their memory or might develop programs to help students retain information better.
- Developmental Psychology: Those who have studied developmental psychology research how people change over time and how people develop across all ages—not just as children.
- Evolutionary Psychology: Evolutionary psychologists look at the way humans have developed as a result of evolution. People in this field of study believe that people’s psychological traits are adaptive.
- Forensic Psychology: Forensic psychology is the study of psychology as it relates to criminal investigations. People in this field may be able to help determine psychological factors in a case like motivation or determine the mental health of a defendant.
- Health Psychology: People in this field research the close relationship between biological, social and psychological factors and a person’s overall health. They’re interested in helping people develop healthy behaviors that will promote a healthy body and mind.
- Neuropsychology: Neuropsychologists analyze a person’s brain in relation to behaviors. For instance, a neuropsychologist would become involved if a person has lesions on their brain or if a person has experienced a brain injury.
- Occupational Psychology: Occupational psychologists work with people in relation to work settings. People in this field can work with industries to help develop work programs that encourage people to work at their optimum level with high levels of personal job satisfaction.
Whether or not psychology is a good degree for you is largely determined by your own personal factors. If you’re interested in the study of human behaviors, psychology is a very diverse field that opens doors to many different career paths. Understanding human behavior, motivation and thought processes are beneficial in many applications and can help you get a job in almost any field of work.
Get started on your journey in studying psychology by checking out how a B.S. in psychology degree from Cornerstone University can equip you for your goals in the field.