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How Does a Psychology Career Compare Against Other Human Service Careers?

By Andrej Kovacevic

The role of psychologist is one of the most rewarding and lucrative out of all the possible career paths in the human services sector. However, if you’re changing careers or launching a brand new career, there are reasons you might want to choose a different path instead of choosing to be a psychologist. Let’s take a closer look at how a psychology career compares against some of the other careers in the human services sector.

Psychologist vs Counselor

There are many factors to consider when you’re deciding whether to become a psychologist or counselor. Some of these factors include differences in academic requirements, overall investment of time, and future earning potential:

Education: In the United States, it typically requires more education to become a psychologist than it does to become a counselor. You only need a bachelor’s degree to become a mental health or substance abuse counselor. In contrast, you typically need a doctoral degree to become a psychologist in the United States - although there are exceptions to this.

A psychologist’s academic requirements vary by location. In the United States, this is generally governed by state law in the state where you intend to practice. In many cases, a doctoral degree is the minimum academic requirement for obtaining a clinical psychologist’s state licensure and / or certification in the United States.

However, there may also be cases where it is possible to obtain work in this field after earning a master’s degree. For example, you can specialize as an industrial-organizational psychologist if you’ve earned a master’s degree. In some locations it is possible to do clinical research or counseling if you work as an assistant under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist.

Pay: Pay for counselors varies by specialty. Rehabilitation counselors’ earnings fall at the lower end of the pay scale, with the median annual salary being only $37,530. Substance abuse counselors and mental health counselors tend to earn more, with their median annual salary being $47,660. Career and school counselors tend to enjoy a more lucrative specialization, with their median annual salary being $58,120. However, most psychologists earn far more than counselors in any specialization do. The median salary of $82,180 per year that psychologists earn seems extremely generous in comparison.

The Verdict: If pay is your primary consideration, it would most likely be in your long-term best interests to become a psychologist rather than a counselor. However, this recommendation may not apply if you’re changing careers late in life, or if you have an urgent need to start earning income as soon as possible. Becoming a psychologist requires a considerable investment of time - and if you have a family to support, or other compelling financial obligations, then it might be worthwhile to opt for quicker employment as a counselor.

Psychologist vs Social Worker

Education: Social workers must make substantial investments in education before they’re qualified to work in their field; however, social work typically requires less of an investment than clinical practice in psychology does.

In the United States, entry-level positions are sometimes available for social workers who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a field such as social work, psychology or sociology. However, it is much more common for employers to require their candidates to have obtained a master’s degree. Clinical positions typically require a master’s degree as the minimum academic requirement.

Pay: On average, psychologists earn substantially more income than social workers do. Social workers tend to be underpaid, earning a median annual paycheck of only $51,760.

The Verdict: Clearly, if pay is your primary consideration, it’s better to become a psychologist rather than a social worker. See our article entitled "Social worker or psychologist?" for more important insights on choosing between these two rewarding career paths.

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