Potential Career Opportunities for Psychologists

December 13, 2019
Are you interested in psychology but you're not sure what kind of career opportunities are in the field? If that's the case, this article is for you. We'll talk about the main career paths for psychologists and how to access them.

Psychology is a relatively new science, so many people, even some students studying psychology, aren’t yet familiar with the available career opportunities for psychologists. When someone mentions that they’re studying psychology, often the first thing that comes to mind is a therapist in an office doing psychotherapy. This, however, is only one of many career opportunities out there in the field.

In general, an undergraduate degree in psychology covers general material that relates to almost all potential career opportunities. Nevertheless, it doesn’t cover the content and skills in depth that you need to practice professionally with confidence. But there are many potential career paths you can take with a psychology degree.

We’ve written this article so you can have a better idea of what kind of jobs you could pursue after you finish your degree. We’ll also talk about the steps you have to take to get there. If you’re thinking about studying psychology, you’re already studying it, or you’re about to graduate with a degree in psychology and you feel lost, this article is for you.

What do you need to know before you start a degree in psychology?

First of all, it’s important to note that a psychology degree in Spain is very well-rounded. Psychology students study everything from anatomy to statistics. A good portion of your time will be spent on behavioral biology, neuroscience, physiological systems, the endocrine system, development, and anatomy, to name a few.

Thus, before thinking about potential career opportunities for psychologists, you should understand that you’ll be learning a lot about medicine and biology. The first couple of years will provide you with foundational knowledge about how the human body works so that, later on, you’ll understand how psychopathologies can affect function. In terms of psychopathology, keep in mind that 99.9% of your training is from a cognitive-behavioral approach.

A head with a puzzle piece taken out of it.

Why is it important to know all of this? Well, because having this kind of generalist, scientific training opens the door to a myriad of career paths, including a career in pharmaceuticals. For example, you could specialize in doing clinical trials to test the effectiveness of a new medication.

With a degree in psychology, you could be a therapist, work in human resources, education, teaching, research, social psychology, etc. Let’s take a look at each of these career paths.

The most common career opportunities for psychologists

1. Clinical psychology and psychotherapy: what most future psychologists want to do

The first career path that comes to mind when you think of psychology is a therapist with a patient on the couch, right? This stereotypical image of what psychologists do is outdated and doesn’t reflect all the advances of recent decades. While clinical psychology and psychotherapy are the most common career choices for psychology grads, they certainly aren’t the only ones.

When we mention clinical psychology and psychotherapy, we’re talking about psychologists who see patients in their office. Most people are familiar with this field and understand what kinds of things this profession entails.

If you want to practice clinical psychology, there are two paths. In other words, to work as a therapist, you have to get your degree, preferably with a concentration or focus on clinical psychology. While your degree alone doesn’t give you the legal right to practice, focusing on working in the clinical environment will help a lot.

Working in the public vs. private sector

Once you’ve finished your degree, the only way to work in the public sector in Spain is to go through the resident psychology intern program (PIR in Spain – psicólogo interno residente). The positive side of this program is that you get four years of paid education and, once you’re done, you’re eligible to work in public and private health.

The downside is that there are only 134-137 resident psychology intern spots every year for the entire country. If you want to get a spot, you have to pass a rigorous exam. On average, about 31 psychologists compete for each available spot.

Things are different if you’re only interested in working in the private sector. To work in private healthcare or to have your own practice, you need a Masters in General Psychology. This degree prepares you to work in the private sector and provides psychotherapy training.

This has its upsides, obviously, but it’s important to know that most psychologists with a private practice work freelance. In the private sector, nearly all psychologists are independent professionals who hold several jobs and supplement their clinical work with something else.

A woman talking to her therapist.

2. Psychology in human resources: an unpopular field, but one with high demand

The career path involves working in businesses and organizations. If you’re interested in working in human resources, it’s better to have a specialization (masters or postgrad). Legally, however, you’re eligible to work in the field right out of college.

If you like administrative tasks and a business environment, look for a psychology department that offers classes in work and organizational psychology. That’s the first step to eventually getting a job as a hiring specialist, for example.

The last ten years have seen a sharp increase in demand for professionals with the Labor Risk Prevention (PRL in Spain – Prevención de Riesgos Laborales) certification. Becoming a PRL specialist is another great career opportunity for psychologists. However, it requires specific training and accreditation after you finish your undergraduate degree.

“In the private sector, nearly all psychologists are independent professionals who hold several jobs and supplement their clinical work with something else.”

3. Psychologists in education

Psychologists in the educational sector are in charge of preventing, diagnosing, and treating pathologies, learning disabilities, and the educational needs of the student body. Educational psychologists are also professional and vocational advisors.

If working as an educational psychologist interests you, you can start once you have your undergraduate degree. It’s best to have been on the educational psychology and special needs track, but it’s not required. The biggest challenge of starting your career in educational psychology is that these jobs are mostly available through a competitive examination process.

In other words, because education is part of the state government, you’ll have to go through the same process as other people who wish to work in civil service. There’s also an educational advisor position that has become a promising career in recent years.

Psychologists and educational psychologists work in the position of educational advisor. They’re responsible for informing the educational community of the student body’s special needs, writing reports for each case, ensuring educational continuity, reducing the dropout rate, and providing career advice to students.

Educational advisor is one of the career opportunities for psychologists.

4. Social intervention psychology

Working as a psychologist in the community and social sector looks different depending on where you are. In general, it involves helping at-risk populations find work, stability, and autonomy. Some examples of at-risk populations are people with mental health issues, victims of abuse, individuals with long-term unemployment, etc.

Another potential responsibility for psychologists in the nonprofit sector is the design and implementation of community intervention programs. These could be programs that create a solidarity-based network of social support, for example. The goal is to address the specific needs of each community.

An undergraduate degree is all you need to get into this field. However, as we mentioned above, the general training you get as an undergraduate isn’t usually enough preparation to do your job well. It’s best to do a specialization or post-graduate degree program.

5. Teaching and research

The last of the primary career opportunities for psychologists are in teaching and research. This path isn’t as well known, but it can be rewarding. You can work as a professor and/or a researcher. We say and/or because these two jobs tend to go hand-in-hand, especially if you work at a university. One of the ways to become a professor is to complete your doctorate in psychology. That involves carrying out a research study and defending a doctoral thesis.

A university isn’t the only option for research, however. There are countless other projects that you could work in. Some research requires special certification, such as clinical trials, for example. Psychological, social, and epidemiological research usually doesn’t require any special title or training. Research specialists generally have more job mobility than the other positions we’ve talked about in this article.

A psychology researcher.

In conclusion, remember that working as a private therapist means being a freelancer, which comes with some pros and cons you must consider. Also, of all the career paths we’ve talked about here, the only one that’s regulated and requires post-graduate training is clinical psychology.

Most psychology students don’t get enough information about potential future careers. That’s why psychology programs organize annual career fairs and informational sessions. Take advantage of these opportunities to see what kinds of jobs are available in your area. Whatever you decide, doing a master’s or postgraduate degree in your area of interest is highly recommended if you want to be a competitive candidate.