Psychologists use their knowledge and expertise to help people who are facing challenging times in their lives or battling mental illnesses. In order to become equipped to handle such delicate and complicated situations, these professionals must undergo rigorous training. Online psychology degree programs provide the training that is needed to treat patients with both skill and empathy.
The exact nature of psychologists' daily responsibilities depends on where they work. However, there are some tasks that psychologists are generally expected to do, which include the following:
- Perform psychological assessments to diagnose patients
- Teach patients how to adopt healthier habits and cope with depression and anxiety
- Create treatment plans for patients, monitor progress and adjust treatments as a patient's condition changes
- Obtain background information on patients by conducting interviews and surveys
- Maintain patient records
- Conduct original research on psychology topics
In most cases, those who want to become practicing psychologists must complete a doctoral degree and undergo the licensing process in their state. In addition, many employers prefer job candidates who have earned a professional certification issued by the American Board of Professional Psychology.
Although those who have completed online mental health degrees on only the undergraduate level cannot become psychologists, there are entry-level positions they can hold as they work on their graduate degrees. For example, these graduates may be able to find employment as psychiatric technicians, career counselors and laboratory assistants.
Coursework in Online Psychology and Mental Health Degree Programs
Psychology is a vast field that offers a myriad of course choices to students of online psychology degree programs. Although every department has its own unique curriculum and requirements, there are some courses that can generally be found in many psychology programs. The following is a sampling of the classes students can expect to take when they enroll in these online degree programs.
This course explores the factors that form personality from various psychological perspectives, including biological, behavioral, cognitive and psychoanalytic points of view. Students may also learn how gender and culture influences the development of personality in young children. In addition, this class may cover the different kinds of personality disorders that people suffer from and how they can be diagnosed and treated.
Human beings are social animals, and as a result, relationships are a huge part of our lives. This course teaches students how people navigate their way through the social world. Some of the topics covered in this course include group norms, persuasion, intimate relationships, altruism, prejudice and attraction. Students learn about classic, as well as contemporary, social psychology theories.
This course focuses on the psychology of the world of work. Coursework includes theories about organizational decision making, groupthink, interpersonal relationships in the workplace, leadership, motivation, employee recruitment and conflict resolution. In addition, students may learn about the legal issues associated with the workplace, including laws prohibiting sexual harassment and discrimination.
This class familiarizes students with the different kinds of abnormal human behaviors. Topics that are covered in this course include the origins of psychopathologies, how abnormal behaviors are classified and the treatment and prevention of psychopathologies.
Students learn how psychological research is conducted from start to finish and the different methodologies that can be used to research a problem or question in the field. Specific class topics may include formulating a thesis, creating a research design, collecting and interpreting data, and writing and presenting research results. Students may also learn the similarities and differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods.
Other courses that students in online psychology and mental health degree programs take may include early childhood development, cognition, perception and physiological psychology. There may also be other requirements in addition to coursework that students are expected to complete. Depending on the program, students on the undergraduate level may be required to complete an internship, while graduate students are likely expected to complete a thesis, a comprehensive examination and a clinical externship.
Interview With a Psychology Professor
In order to give students a deeper understanding of what it takes to be successful in a psychology degree program, we interviewed Michael S. Gill, the assistant dean and mental health counseling program director at Yeshiva University.
What are the skills, interests and personality traits necessary for a student to be successful in a psychology program?
"Students should have a previous commitment to the helping professions, which can be gained by volunteer work -- such as volunteering at local mental health community centers, psychology departments in hospitals, agencies with active phone hotlines to help on various mental health concerns, summer camp work and hospice care work.
"In addition, students should have an understanding of professional ethics and multicultural and diversity issues. The mental health field involves very clearly defined boundaries and students must demonstrate an understanding of the issues of helping clients in a professional way -- versus helping a best friend. Due to the nature of the work with very distinct individual differences and ethnic and cultural backgrounds, students must be keenly aware of unique issues of each client and respect the framework within the counseling session and not let one's own particular background interfere with this process. A fundamental understanding of social science research and statistics is critical in the development of a mental health professional. One must have knowledge of evidence-based treatments in order to best assist individual clients."
What is the most rewarding part of a career in psychology? Why should students pursue a career in this field?
"People in the psychology field typically report a higher than average rating of job satisfaction. It is a satisfying feeling to know the work you are doing can help improve the lives of others. Seeing clients progress is extremely rewarding work. A career in psychology provides many opportunities for flexible schedules, which are very appealing to integrating one's career, family and other obligations into a satisfying life."
What advice would you give to students who are considering earning a degree in psychology?
"There are several core areas of psychology that all programs require and students also must begin field placement training as externs and interns. This real-world experience under a supervised licensed mental health professional really goes hand in hand with their academic coursework. Building a resume with experience in the field is very important.
"It is an exciting time for the mental health professions. All indicators are that the field will continue to expand as our society places a greater emphasis on the importance of addressing mental health needs of the community, both as a direct service and as a preventive of bigger issues at a later point. The Affordable Care Act supports the inclusion of mental health services, so the job market is very bright for graduates of our programs."
Career Outlook for Professionals With Psychology and Mental Health Degrees
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the psychology field is on the rise, with an anticipated 12 percent growth rate between 2012 and 2022. As more people have access to health insurance, more patients will seek help for mental health problems like depression and anxiety, as well as help with problems they are experiencing in their work and personal relationships. In addition, BLS expects there to be an influx of positions available at schools, hospitals and mental health care centers.
As of May 2014 BLS data, the median salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $68,900. In addition, workers earning the lowest ten percent of salaries typically made $40,080, while the highest ten percent typically earned $113,640 annually.
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