Where do psychologists work? Breaking down 7 different settings in which they serve
In considering whether you want to pursue a psychology career, you likely have some questions. You might be asking yourself, “Where do psychologists work?” Perhaps you instinctively conjure images of a stereotypical therapist’s office adorned with soft lighting and comfortable furniture. But the truth is, psychologists work in a number of different environments — some of which you may not expect.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychology as the study of two critical relationships: one between brain function and behavior, and the other between behavior and the environment. Since this field covers such expansive ground, it’s unsurprising that the various specialties and corresponding environments in which psychologists practice are vast.
Becoming a psychologist requires years of dedicated study, with most psychologist positions seeking candidates with a doctoral degree in psychology. But even as you contemplate the prospect of a psychology career while deciding what to major in as an undergraduate student, it can be helpful to look ahead and see what may await you in the field. Join us as we examine a handful of common psychology subfields to gain a clearer perspective of where psychologists work.
Where do psychologists work, typically?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly a quarter of psychologists work in a private practice environment. These professionals do their jobs in their own offices and are often able to set their own hours. And many psychologists who run their own businesses will accommodate client schedules by working evening and weekend hours as needed.
While some psychologists work alone, others collaborate with a larger health care team. In the latter scenario, psychologists will work in collaboration with physicians, nurses, social workers and others to treat patients. When employed in hospitals, clinics or other health care facilities, psychologists will typically work shift schedules that may also include night and weekend work.
The most predictable schedules often go to psychologists employed in academic, business or government settings. These professionals will often work shifts that align with typical business hours.
7 subfields you might work in as a psychologist
Some psychologists find their niche and stick to it for the duration of their careers. Others may spend years working in one subfield of psychology before shifting to something else that reignites their passion for the profession.
But it’s also true that many psychologists will work in more than one setting in a given phase of their psychology careers. Keep this in mind as you review these seven common psychology specialties and consider the corresponding environments.
1. Industrial and organizational psychology
Profitability is the main goal for just about any business. But industrial and organizational (I/O) psychologists know profitability is dependent on a variety of factors, including teams that communicate well and are comprised of employees who are motivated and committed to company goals.
I/O psychologists study individual, group and organizational dynamics in the workplace. The study of human behavior in the workplace enables these professionals to identify solutions to problems that may typically hinder the well-being and performance of an organization and its employees.
Some I/O psychologists do work in academia, but most work in corporate offices focusing on topics like employee productivity, training and human resources.
2. Experimental psychology
Generally speaking, experimental psychologists are interested in exploring theoretical questions by creating a hypothesis and then proving or disproving it through experimentation. Within these efforts, they study the behavior of humans and animals, including everything from sensation, perception and attention to memory, cognition and emotion.
In essence, all psychologists can be considered experimental psychologists. The distinguishing factor of experimental psychology, however, is its sole focus on research. In fact, some experimental psychologists will spend the duration of their careers attempting to answer a single, complex research question. Others will devote their careers to working across a range of psychology subfields, including school psychology, I/O psychology, rehabilitation psychology and more.
Experimental psychologists most commonly work in universities, research centers and government agencies. Some may also work for private businesses.
3. Engineering psychology
Also referred to as “human factors” psychologists, engineering psychologists focus their work on studying how people interact with machines and technology. Their expertise helps inform the design of many products, systems and devices people use every day, focusing on both performance and safety.
But the work included in engineering psychology reaches further than improving user experience for daily devices. These professionals also apply the science of psychology when analyzing “life-critical products,” such as airline computer systems and medical equipment.
Many engineering psychologists will be employed by businesses and government agencies. In these environments, they have the opportunity to work with a range of product designs. They can have a hand in everything from can openers to the equipment that allows pilots to land planes safely.
4. Health psychology
While we have physicians to help us maintain our physical wellness, it’s not always easy to consciously make the healthy choices recommended by health care providers. Health psychologists can help. They focus on the complexities that exist in each person’s path to wellness.
Simply put, these professionals explore how biological, social and psychological factors may influence the choices people make about their health. When working with clients, health psychologists consider factors in a person’s life that contribute to certain patterns of behavior and help them reframe those patterns to make better choices to positively impact their health. They may also help patients come to terms with a difficult diagnosis or stick to a treatment regimen.
Health psychologists will often work with patients in a hospital or clinical setting. But it’s also true that some professionals in this realm focus their work on conducting research or influencing health care policy.
5. School psychology
The focus of psychologists working in education is to study how people learn and retain knowledge. In today’s complex educational system, no single learning approach will work for every student. With that in mind, school psychologists focus on identifying and studying learning methods to better understand how different pupils absorb new information. They apply psychological science to improve the learning process and promote educational success across the board — from gifted students to students with disabilities.
As with child psychologist positions, the school psychologist career path requires a strong background in child development and child psychology. A school psychologist’s training, however, will include an added emphasis on education and special education.
More than 80 percent of school psychologists work in public schools, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Most school districts employ school psychologists full time, although the practitioners will often work in multiple schools within a given district. They may also find employment in community health centers or clinics.
6. Climate and environmental psychology
While climate and environmental psychologists focus some of their work on environmental protection and conservation, the bulk of their research centers on how human behavior impacts our world. They also study the influence different environments — both indoors and out — have on people.
The APA highlights the following as examples of the various questions climate and environmental psychologists will explore in their work: Why does your mood change when the sun is shining? Can the colors used to decorate an office impact employee productivity? Why are some people committed to things like recycling while others toss everything in the trash — or even litter — unthinkingly?
Demand for these psychology professionals is growing as the population grows more environmentally conscious. Climate and environmental psychologists may work with private businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.
7. Community psychology
Some psychology subfields have a hyper-specific focus. Community psychology, on the other hand, encompasses a handful of different psychology specialties, including clinical psychology, counseling psychology, social psychology and forensic psychology.
The overarching goal of community psychologists is to help enable communities, organizations and broader social systems to meet people’s needs. They achieve this by combining scientific research and practice, partnering with diverse citizens to implement community-wide changes and advance social justice. More specifically, community psychologists conduct and apply research to help people adopt healthy behaviors, prevent illness and improve the health care and criminal justice systems.
Clinical and counseling psychologists can work in a number of different environments, from hospitals to private practices. Social psychologists will typically work in educational environments that allow them to conduct research, teach classes and run psychology laboratories. They may also work for government offices or nonprofit organizations.
Since the aim of forensic psychologists is to conduct evaluations that inform and guide legal proceedings, they’ll typically find work with the government, the military, academia, the prison system and in psychiatric facilities.
Do you belong in one of these psychology work environments?
You now know that answering the question, “Where do psychologists work?” is a bit more nuanced than many would expect. Even in a specific subfield of psychology, practicing as a psychologist can include a variety of work environments.
If you can envision yourself working as a psychologist in one of the many professional environments outlined above, you may be on the right track in considering an undergraduate degree in psychology. To learn more about what you can expect when earning a psychology degree, visit University of Massachusetts Global’s Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program page.
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