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How do I Become a Psychologist?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are several different pathways to become a psychologist. All of them in the US at least involve completing both an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in the study of psychology. In addition to these minimum requirements, in order to get licensure, most people must pass board examinations and have several thousand hours of supervised training in their field. Since these hours requirements can change it’s important to look at state requirements and those recommended by the American Psychological Association (APA), or the association in the country in which a person plans to study. Plan with most degrees to undergo some therapy too, since this is often a requirement of study or of practice.

There are three degrees in the US that allow people to become a psychological. The two most common are the Ph. D or Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology and the Psy.D or Doctorate of Psychology. The third degree is the Ed. D, Doctor of Education in Psychology. Each of these degrees may have a slightly different focus, though any one of them, providing a person meets all licensing requirements can qualify that person to become a psychologist.

The Ed. D may be focused more on education and on types of psychology called developmental. The Psy. D is based more on clinical work, and the Ph. D may have a more extensive focus on research. Any of these degrees can be part preparation to become a psychologist and any will allow a person with the proper license to practice therapy. There does seem to be some prejudice in certain academic fields if a person wants to teach psychology. The Ph. D may be more preferred for people in teaching fields, and in certain areas of research, though this can vary.

As mentioned, to start, most people will need an undergraduate degree, and it’s usually agreed that people should major in psychology. This can be a requirement of most graduate programs, and it’s a good place to start to make certain people really want to pursue this profession. In the US, most people will need to take the general Graduate Records Examination (GRE) prior to applying to graduate school.

It’s suggested people look for schools that focus in the areas they plan to work. For instance, if a person wants to become a psychologist to practice therapy, he should find graduate schools with focus in clinical work, and may want to pursue a Psy.D degree. It wouldn’t make sense to attend a graduate school with focus primarily on research if the goal is to become a therapist.

Graduate schools can be highly competitive, and most people will need good grades, sterling letters of recommendation and high GRE scores to get into doctorate programs. Theses programs then take an average of five years, though some can complete the work in four and others take seven to eight years to finish school. Some schools do offer an optional master’s degree along the way, and this master’s along with supervised training and examinations may license people to become therapists.

In total, school can take about 9-14 years to complete and supervised training may extend this time. Once a degree is earned, training is completed, and board examinations are passed a person has successfully become a psychologist. There are shortcuts if a person wants to be a therapist and doesn’t feel the psychology doctorate is necessary.

A person can become a licensed counselor with a master’s degree in counseling or in social work. These people are not psychologists but after meeting training hours requirements and passing board exams, they can practice therapy. They may have fewer job opportunities in academic areas than do licensed psychologists, but they usually pay less money for graduate school and spend less time there.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon74482 — On Apr 02, 2010

i am an indian engineer who wants to shift to psychology. Is it possible to gain admission to master's in clinical psychology, without majors in psychology. I have good GRE and GRE Psych Scores.

By anon29938 — On Apr 11, 2009

Where in America can one find one of the best universities which offers the study of Social Psychology?

Could you please inform us about a counseling psychologist, the kind of subjects one should study in high school and why?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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