Applied Psychology

What you need to know if you want to start a career in psychology

Sep 14, 2017
Career Advice

Find out where your psych degree can take you – and where to begin

Key takeaways

  • Psychology is such a diverse field of study that it can be difficult to know where to start
  • Launch your professional path by first reflecting on your long-term aims and ambitions
  • Then, ask yourself five key questions to kick start your psych career

Most of us first become acquainted with the field of psychology informally, though our everyday experiences. Turn on the television to see a psychologist on Oprah explaining how parents can help their troubled teens. Change the channel and Frasier Cane, the lead character in the sitcom Frasier, is depicted as a psychologist dispensing advice on his radio show. Open a magazine and you’ll inevitably find an article written by a psychologist about how to love your body.

In every sense, psychology has ingrained itself into modern-day pop culture. But the truth of the matter is that psychology extends way beyond therapy, self-help books and parenting advice. In fact, it is a field rich with opportunities, all of which you’re keen to tap. But where to begin?

Here, the five crucial questions to ask yourself in order to kick-start your career in psychology

Question 1: What kind of psychologist do I want to be?

Does helping others improve their lives motivate you? Or are you more interested in researching how people think and behave? Are you comfortable in a group environment? Or do you prefer interacting one-on-one?

Start by thoroughly examining all the various roles psychologists perform and identify those that most appeal to you. Then overlay these with your own specific career goals in order to find the sweet spot best suited to both your ambitions and your personality. Undertaking this exercise will help clarify where you potentially fit in the very wide world of psychology.

Question 2. What should I specialise in?

Psychology is not only one of the most interesting areas of study but also one of the most diverse: Few fields offer a greater number and variety of career opportunities. Areas of professional specialty include everything from clinical, educational and industrial psychology to neuropsychology and forensic psychology.

To narrow your choices, start by establishing whether your interests lie in research, data and academe, or whether you see yourself in a more practical role, applying psychological theories in a real-world environment. Then, make it your business to learn as much as you can about the different career paths available in the field in order to establish where you’ll find your perfect fit.

Question 3: What do I want to earn?

While most psychologists earn well above the median salary in South Africa, few earn stratospheric salaries – generally highly successful psychologists in private practice, industrial psychologists and writers of textbooks or books for the popular press earn in the higher-income bracket.

Realistically, chances are you will neither go broke nor live in a palatial mansion if you choose a career as a psychologist. What you will do is help people improve their lives, help students learn to understand themselves and others, and perhaps advance the state of the field’s knowledge – and have a great time while you’re at it.

Question 4: How long will it take me?

Just how long it takes to become a psychologist depends on a number of factors, including your area of specialty and your study pathway. As a benchmark, though, if you sign up for a Bachelor of Psychology degree you’ll be looking at four years of fulltime study until you are eligible for admission into a Master’s degree in psychology, the social sciences or related fields, both locally and internationally. This postgraduate qualification can be achieved in two years (some universities have introduced a third year), after which you will need to complete a period of supervised training – usually another year – for registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

Question 5: What does my future hold?

When considering a career path, it’s always a good idea to understand the possible job outlook before you commit. While it’s anticipated that the demand for psychologists will grow by nearly 20 percent in the next 10 years, a rate that is much faster than the average for many other professions, it should be noted that growth will vary depending upon specialty area. Specialty areas including clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, and industrial psychologists are expected to be in highest demand over the coming years.

Ready to launch your career in psychology? Sign up with SACAP. The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a range of psychology courses, a professional Bachelor of Psychology degree that will not only allow you to be eligible for certification as a registered counsellor but also for admission into a Master’s degree in psychology, the social sciences or related fields. To find out more, enquire now.

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