What Is Psychology? A Complete Guide to Psychology Jobs, Salaries, and Degrees

Therapist listening to patient

What Is Psychology Exactly?

Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Psychologists learn to interpret the relationship between the brain and human behavior, diagnose mental health conditions, provide treatments, and conduct research.

Within psychology, there are many areas you can focus your study and career. Aspiring psychologists can tailor their education to subfields like child development, forensic psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, clinical psychology, and behavioral psychology.

Most careers as a psychologist require a doctoral degree and license. Psychologists often work in clinical settings, academia, and healthcare facilities.

10 Types of Psychology Can You Study

Most psychologists specialize in a type of psychology. The subfield you choose may dictate the type of clients you work with, where you work, and what you study.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the most popular psychology concentration for undergraduates is general psychology. Most psych students start broad and then specialize later for their graduate degrees.

About 92% of psychology students earned a degree in general psychology in 2019.

1. General Psychology

A general psychology undergraduate degree allows you to explore multiple specialties and move to a more focused concentration in graduate school.

In a general psychology program, you’ll learn about a broad array of topics, like animal behavior, clinical psychology, child development, neurobiology, personality assessment, research and lab techniques, social psychology, and biopsychology.

2. Behavioral Psychology

If you choose to specialize in behavioral psychology, you’ll learn about behavior pathology and the biology behind behavior. You’ll also learn to analyze behavior, develop research, and treat behavioral patterns.

You can pursue a career in clinical settings, market research, forensic investigation, and even social work with a behavioral psychology degree.

3. Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologists study, diagnose, and treat individuals with mental health and behavioral conditions and disorders. To become one, you’ll need an advanced degree and license.

Examples of common courses for this program include abnormal psychology, the history of psychology, human behavior, group psychotherapy, and research methods.

4. Educational Psychology

An educational psychology program examines the learning process and its influences on learning. You’ll study how people learn, how to develop curricula, how to effectively teach, and how to assess learning behaviors.

Common courses in educational psychology include educational technology, instructional design, learning and behavior, assessment methods, and child and adolescent development.

5. School Psychology

A school psychology concentration focuses on students and their mental well-being. You’ll learn to consult with students, provide prevention and intervention services, and navigate ethical standards.

Graduates often pursue careers as school counselors, school administrators, educational consultants, program developers, and researchers.

6. Child and Adolescent Psychology

Child and adolescent psychology focuses on the behavior, mind, and development of babies to teenagers. Psychologists in this specialty examine development and how school, social pressures, and family can impact behavior.

Common courses include abnormal psychology, development disorders, research design, social development, experiential learning, and counseling techniques.

7. Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology students study human development throughout various stages of life. You’ll examine the physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, and emotional changes that occur in people.

Most developmental psychologists work either in research and education or clinically in healthcare facilities and hospitals. They also diagnose and treat individuals with developmental disabilities.

8. Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology programs prepare students for jobs like school counselor, grief counselor, addiction counselor, domestic violence counselor, career counselor, and mental health counselor.

You may take courses like group counseling, crisis intervention, ethical issues in counseling, personality assessment, marriage and family counseling, and psychopharmacology.

9. Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Industrial-organizational psychology applies psychological principles to the workplace. In this program, you’ll learn tools to motivate employees and advise on company culture, develop effective leadership styles, study how to predict job growth, and master team-building.

While you don’t need a doctoral degree to become an industrial-organizational psychologist, the degree can help advance your career and increase your salary potential in the long run.

10. Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology applies psychological study to the justice system. In a forensic psychology program, you’ll study criminal behavior, police psychology, forensic psychology research, and the impact of crime.

Graduates can pursue careers as forensic psychologists, criminologists, FBI agents, forensic computer analysts, and criminal investigators.

Why Accreditation Matters for a Psychology Degree

When a college is accredited, it means a recognized accrediting agency has determined that the school upholds certain educational standards and quality.

Attending an accredited college is required to receive federal financial aid and qualify for state licensure. Most graduate programs also require you to have attended an accredited college or university for your undergraduate studies.

Legitimate accreditors will be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and/or the U.S. Department of Education. Entire schools can receive institutional accreditation, while specific programs can receive programmatic accreditation.

Here are some psychology programmatic accreditors to look for:

Psychology Jobs and Salary Outlook

Most careers in psychology have a high salary outlook and projected job growth. Psychologists earned a median annual salary of $81,040 in May 2021, according to the BLS.

Industrial-organizational psychologists earned the highest median annual salary in 2021 at $105,310, whereas clinical psychologists earned a lower median salary of $82,510.

Projected job growth is the highest for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. Jobs for these professionals are projected to grow 22% between 2021 and 2031.

Popular Psychology Careers
Job Median Annual Salary (May 2021) Job Growth Rate (2021-2031) Minimum Education Required
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $105,310 4% Master’s
Clinical and Counseling Psychologists $82,510 10% Doctorate
School Psychologists $78,780 6% Doctorate
Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary $77,860 Unavailable Doctorate
School and Career Counselors and Advisors $60,510 10% Master’s
Marriage and Family Therapists $49,880 14% Master’s
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $48,520 22% Bachelor’s
Rehabilitation Counselors $38,560 11% Master’s

Source: BLS

Frequently Asked Questions About Psychology Programs and Jobs

What kinds of jobs can you get with a degree in psychology?

Psychology students can qualify for many careers beyond counseling. With a degree in psychology, you can get a job in human resources, education, law, research, social work, law enforcement, real estate, government, sales, and writing.

Do psychology degrees pay well?

Psychology degrees generally help graduates earn high salaries. According to Payscale, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in psychology earn an average base salary of $69,000 per year. An experienced psychologist can earn upward of $97,000 per year.

What is the easiest psychologist to become?

Some jobs in psychology only require a bachelor’s degree, making it easier and quicker to begin a career. For instance, you can become a career counselor, case manager, probation officer, or assistant school counselor with just a bachelor’s in psychology.

What type of psychology is most in demand?

According to the BLS, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are the most in-demand psychology-related jobs. Jobs in this field are projected to grow 22% from 2021 to 2031.

Other in-demand psychology careers include marriage and family therapists, rehabilitation counselors, and clinical psychologists.

Is a degree in psychology worth it?

A psychology degree can qualify you for many high-paying careers, which can help offset the cost of your degree. Clinical psychologists, for example, earned a median annual salary of $82,510 in May 2021.

Many students find a psychology degree worth it for the satisfaction of helping others alone.