With the mental health crisis continually escalating, psychologists are an integral part of the fight to improve mental health in all facets of life – whether in the workforce or at home and school. With salaries to rival even those of financial services or other health professionals, a career in psychology is an appealing choice. But, what do psychologists actually make, and what do they do?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for psychologists as of 2018 rests around $79,000, with an average range of up to $100,000 per year. According to estimates, psychologists in the top 10% have an average salary of around $129,000 per year.
Top Psychologist Salary by State
Coming in at the highest mean wage per year, psychologists in California make around $114,860 as of 2018 reports by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Following are psychologists in Maryland, who make an average annual wage of around $112,230, while Kansas-based psychologists make a mean wage of around $102,910 per year.
National Average Psychologist Salary and Statistics
With a respectable job outlook of a 14% increase by 2026, psychologists have a faster than average increasing job market. And, with careers spanning several different sectors and salary ranges, psychology is a versatile and lucrative field to be in.
- National average mid-range salaries: Range between $77,000 and $101,000 per year in 2018.
- Top 10% salaries: $127,510 per year in 2018.
- Advanced-range salaries: $113,440 per year in 2018.
- Entry-level salaries: Around $64,000 per year as of 2018.
- Highest-paying sectors: Local government, hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services.
- Number of jobs (2016): 166,600, with a job outlook of a 14% increase by 2026.
What Does a Psychologist Do?
According to the American Psychological Association, practicing psychologists engage with and help a wide range of people and problems including depression, anxiety and anger, as well as chronic conditions, emotional trauma and more. Psychologists also diagnose or evaluate mental conditions and administer tests that “may evaluate intellectual skills, cognitive strengths and weaknesses, vocational aptitude and preference, personality characteristics and neuropsychological functioning,” according to the APA website.
In general, psychologists address health problems using several common types of therapy including cognitive, behavioral, humanistic, interpersonal, psychodynamic, or some combination of these, according to the APA website.
However, there are many different kinds of psychologists with fairly different job descriptions and varying training requirements.
Psychologist Job Expectations and Tasks
The job expectations and tasks of psychologists vary depending on the kind of psychologist. For example, a forensic psychologist would be required to offer expert testimony in legal cases, whereas a clinical psychologist would focus more on diagnosing and treating mental illness, while still others (in certain states) would be required to take additional training in order to prescribe medication.
Some psychologists can prescribe medication in addition to counseling for many cases, according to the APA. As of the writing of this article, only three states – New Mexico, Louisiana and Illinois – allow psychologists to work with pediatricians, physicians and psychiatrists to prescribe certain medications.
Clinical Psychologists, Forensic Psychologists and More
While many psychologist positions have similar underlying duties associated with them, the application of these core tasks can be very different.
According to Division 41 of the APA, or the Executive Council for the American Psychology-Law society, forensic psychology is defined as a practice “within the areas of [different kinds of] psychology … where they are engaged regularly as experts … in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system.”
To this degree, forensic psychologists perform duties including creating psychological profiles of criminals, presenting expert opinion to a court of law, dealing with child custody, and more.
On the other hand, clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, and other types deal primarily with treating mental illness and using psychotherapy. Additionally, clinical psychologists often work in medical fields in hospitals, clinics, or private practice to treat patients dealing with mental illness.
As of 2018 reports, psychologists in the local government sector make the highest annual mean wage, hitting the $116,940 mark per year. However, health practitioner offices are close behind, with psychologists in the field making a mean wage of $116,670 per year. Following both sectors, educational support services boast the third highest-paying sector for psychologists, with annual mean salaries coming in at around $109,270 per year.
Still, the industries with the highest concentration of employment for all psychologists are the federal executive branch, with 8,010 jobs, or 0.4% of the market. Offices of health practitioners and educational support services come in second and third, with around 0.17% and 0.1% employment, respectively.
For entry-level jobs, psychologists can expect to make between $50,000 and $80,000 per year, depending on sector or education level.
Some fields like clinical psychology require a doctorate degree. However, for many, a master’s is sufficient to work in the fields, just check out employment sites like Indeed.com. Still, according to the APA, most positions in psychology require doctoral study for independent practice.
Clinical psychologists study ethics, statistics, biology and more, as well as complete year-long internships, according to the APA. Additionally, aspiring psychologists must pass a national examination, which is specific to each state. Some states permit psychologists to prescribe medication, in which case they must undergo further training.
There are many opportunities for careers and good starting salaries in the field of psychology, which is wide and diverse, ranging from the well-known clinical or counseling areas of psychology to lesser-known areas such as industrial or environmental psychology. In fact, the American Psychological Association describes 19 subcategories of psychologist. As of 2010, there were more than 174,000 psychologists working in the U.S., with the expected addition of 37,700 between 2010 and 2020.
The job market for psychologists is expected to remain strong as of 2011 and to continue to grow, showing an average rate of 22 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average rate for all other occupations, with more jobs anticipated for those with advanced degrees in psychology, particularly for those holding doctorates, reports the BLS. As more members of the population reach retirement age throughout the decade, there will be openings in most fields of psychology, whether clinical, academic, industrial, or environmental. Also, the previous decade of war has contributed to the growing need for psychologists to counsel returning veterans. And, as the field of education relies more heavily on standardized testing, there will be an increased demand for academic psychologists.
Starting Salaries/Expected Earnings
Starting salaries for psychologists are varied and depend upon the branch of psychology practiced, level of advanced education, and geographical location. As of 2010, the lowest 10 percent of psychologist salaries were below $39,200, the category that includes new hires. The median salary as reported by the BLS for 2010 was $68,640. At the upper range of the salary scale are those with the highest level of education who practice industrial/organizational psychology and earn an annual median salary of $87,330. Clinical psychologists earned a median income of $66,810 in 2010; however, clinical psychologists have the autonomy to set their own schedules and take on as many clients as they choose to see, thus largely controlling their earnings.
A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is necessary for practicing in most of the branches of psychology; however, master’s degrees and Ph.Ds are more common among psychologists, especially among those with more responsibility for counseling or clinical care of patients. Over 600 colleges in the United States offer graduate programs in psychology and often help their graduates with job placement upon finishing their degrees.
Primary Job Responsibilities
Depending on areas of specialization, psychologists may perform a range of duties, including conducting studies, surveys, observations, interviews and tests to identify, understand, predict and correct behaviors. Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat behavioral and emotional disorders, while counseling psychologists provide advice on resolving such issues. Other specialties include developmental psychologists, who study the processes of personality development, especially among children, and forensic psychologists, who assist the criminal justice system by evaluating psychological findings.
2018 Salary Information for Psychologists
Psychologists earned a median annual salary of $79,010 in May 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, psychologists earned a 10th percentile salary of $56,390, meaning 90 percent earned more than this amount. The 90th percentile salary is $97,780, meaning 10 percent earn more. In 2018, 181,700 people were employed in the U.S. as psychologists.
Psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior. While explorations of these two subjects date back thousands of years, the formal science of psychology is actually quite young. During the late 1800s, Wilhelm Wundt formed the first experimental laboratory devoted to the study psychology, officially marking the beginning of psychology as a discipline separate from philosophy and physiology.
If you are new to the study of psychology, then you probably have quite a few questions. Among these:
- What exactly is psychology?
- What do psychologists do and where do they work?
- What can a person do with a psychology degree?
Let’s tackle some of these all-important questions in this quick introduction to the subject of psychology. Get a brief overview of the topic that will help guide further study of this fascinating subject.
Why Should People Study Psychology?
There are lots of great reasons to study psychology! For many people, their first real experience learning about psychology happens when they take an introductory class in college to fulfill a general education requirement. Some young students are fortunate to have the opportunity to take AP Psychology classes in high school, which can be a great way to become more familiar with the subject.
Some people then choose to study psychology in much greater depth and opt to either major or minor in the subject in college. So why should you study psychology if you do not plan on entering some sort of social science field after you graduate? Even if you don’t plan to become a psychology major, you can still benefit a great deal from learning more about this topic.
Great reasons to study psychology:
- Psychology is rich and fascinating and touches on every single aspect of who we are. By studying psychology, you can learn more about who you are as an individual including your own development, personality, thoughts, and behaviors.
- Psychology can also provide a basis for better understanding of other people. By knowing what makes people tick and what motivates them, you will be able to gain greater insight into what makes people do the things they do.
- Psychology can make you a better communicator, a better leader, and even a better friend. What you do with your knowledge is really up to you!
What Are Some of the Different Topics Studied by Psychologists?
Psychology delves into virtually every aspect of how people think and behave. Have you ever wondered why some people are outspoken while others are quiet? Ever want to know why people seem to behave differently in large groups than they do when they are alone? Do you ever marvel at the amazing way young children seem to develop new skills and abilities so quickly? These are just a few of the questions that psychologists explore.
It might also surprise you to learn that there are many, many different types of psychologists. There are three main types that most can be categorized as:
- Applied psychologists who work on applying psychological knowledge to solving real-life problems
- Mental health psychologists who utilize their knowledge to diagnose, treat, and prevent mental illnesses and psychological distress
- Research psychologists who perform experiments to learn more about the mind and behavior
There are also many different branches of psychology and each branch is devoted to the study of a specific topic within psychology. Developmental psychology, for example, centers on the study of how people develop throughout the lifespan. Some of the other main branches of psychology include social psychology, cognitive psychology, personality psychology, health psychology, and forensic psychology.
What Are Some of the Things a Person Can Do With a Psychology Degree?
Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology is a popular option, and there are a number of different entry-level careers you might want to consider. For example, those with an undergraduate degree can hold positions as caseworkers or psychiatric technicians, while others choose to use their knowledge of the mind and behavior in other fields including sales, marketing, or human resources.
Key Facts About Psychology Degrees
- You cannot become a licensed psychologist with an undergraduate degree.
- The term psychologist is a protected term, meaning that you cannot legally call yourself a psychologist unless you meet specific educational and training requirements.
- Earning a master’s or doctorate degree opens up a wide range of career options and can pave the way to a higher salary.
What Exactly Do Psychologists Do?
There is an enormous variety in the work that psychologists perform. Some work in the field of mental health where they assess, diagnose and treat psychological conditions. Others devote their time to researching psychological topics in order to add to our existing understanding of how people think and act. Still, other professionals investigate specific real-world problems and come up with solutions to resolve these issues.
The day-to-day realities of what psychologists do have to do with a number of different factors include:
- Where they work. Some professionals work in private practice while others may be employed in hospitals, clinics, and business settings.
- How much training they have. Psychologists who are licensed have more opportunities and are able to work more independently. People with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in the subject may be employed in the field of mental health but they likely need to work under the supervision of a licensed professional.
A Word From Verywell
Psychology can be fun, interesting, and exciting! Even if you do not plan on becoming a psychology major, learning about topics such as personality, social behavior, love, and development can help you better understand yourself as well as the other people in your life.