Each year, psychology programs graduate about 5,000 new doctorates across all subfields of psychology, according to APA's Center for Workforce Studies. Yet the shifting economic landscape, the trend of psychologists' putting off retirement and uncertainty around how the new health-care law will affect the field is clouding the future for many graduates.
The good news is that the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that jobs in the field of psychology will grow about 12 percent over the next 10 years — about average for all occupations. These new jobs, however, aren't reserved for psychologists with doctoral degrees; many may go to people with master's degrees in psychology or related fields. Further, the previous Department of Labor 10-year occupation projections — issued in 1998 — estimated about the same growth rate for psychology, yet jobs grew only by about 3 percent by 2008.
"This isn't to argue that the Department of Labor data and projections are poor — they are considered by many to be quite rigorous," says William Pate, assistant director of APA's Center for Workforce Studies. "It simply illustrates how tenuous 10-year projections can be."
In the coming decade, psychologists — particularly clinical doctorates without specialties — may face stiff competition from master's degree counselors in the service delivery fields. But there is a silver lining: Several psychology subfields, particularly industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology, geropsychology and neuropsychology, are poised for major growth.
"It's pretty clear from the data that the future is bright in these areas, and that our contributions to science and applied work are continuing to increase," says Jeffrey L. Helms, PsyD, a professor of psychology at Kennesaw State University and co-author with Daniel T. Rogers, PhD, of "Majoring in Psychology: Achieving Your Educational and Career Goals" (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).
More than 2 million people in the United States sustain a brain injury each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fueling demand for neuropsychologists, who evaluate and treat victims of stroke, dementia and traumatic brain injuries. A greater appreciation for the brain basis of developmental, learning and behavior disorders has also contributed to increasing demand for neuropsychologists.
Many neuropsychologists glide between working directly with patients and getting updated information on research findings or even contributing to these efforts, says H. Gerry Taylor, PhD, president of APA's Div. 40 (Clinical Neuropsychology.) "There's so much interest in the brain these days, and the more we learn, the more we know," Taylor says.
Improvements in imaging technologies and assessment techniques have also driven demand for neuropsychology, Taylor says. fMRI images, for example, must be decoded by psychologists with an advanced understanding of brain anatomy and function. "It's not just a matter now of finding areas of disease or damage, but it's looking at the brain more holistically," Taylor says.
In the coming decade, neuropsychologists will increasingly work on teams with geneticists to examine how DNA is expressed through brain function, anatomy, and the unfolding of Alzheimer's disease and other disorders.
Learn more about neuropsychology and connect with others in the field through the Div. 40 website.
In a down economy, psychologists who can help companies make sound selection and human resource decisions, boost employee engagement and help people improve their work performance are in hot demand. So, it's no surprise that the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the field of I/O psychology will grow 26 percent by 2018. "I/O psychologists are helping businesses figure out not only how to stay afloat but also how to prosper in this type of economic environment, and do more with less," Helms says.
Psychologists are assessing job candidates, designing job training and development programs, conducting employee engagement and satisfaction surveys and providing performance feedback and coaching. They're also devising programs and policies that deal with workplace diversity and employee retention.
As a result of the growing respect and influence I/O psychologists have garnered in the global business world, psychologists now head human resource departments at major companies, including Sara Lee, Ingersoll Rand, Merck and Land O'Lakes. Many others are working abroad and providing selection, development and retention services for global companies based in Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong and China.
"Companies now understand that talent resources are as important as financial resources to achieving organizational success, and that I/O psychologists are well prepared to help organizations select and retain effective employees," says Rob Silzer, PhD, an industrial-organizational psychology professor at Baruch, City University of New York and co-editor of "Strategy-Driven Talent Management" (SIOP and Jossey Bass, 2010).
Despite the predicted boom, I/O doctoral students should still expect competition for jobs upon graduation — and not just from their master's-level colleagues. "This field has expanded so much in recent years that people from other fields, including MBAs and organizational development specialists, have also started moving into these work areas," Silzer says.
A range of job and networking opportunities, as well as additional information on the field of I/O psychology, can be found on the Div. 14 (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology) website.
By 2050, the number of Americans 65 years and older is expected to double, and among those 85 and older, the number may triple, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's why the need for geropsychologists — who specialize in helping people deal with the mental and physical changes of aging — continues to grow.
"The demand for mental health services is expected to rise as large cohorts of middle-aged individuals — who tend to be more accepting of mental health services than the current generation of older people — move into old age," says Deborah DiGilio, director of APA's Office on Aging. "Plus, there's evidence that two-thirds of older adults with a mental disorder do not receive needed services."
One indication that momentum for the field is growing: In August, APA's Council of Representatives approved a petition to establish a new specialty in professional geropsychology. This move builds upon the 2003 adoption of guidelines for psychological practice with older adults, the development of the Pikes Peak Model for Training in Professional Geropsychology in 2006 and the establishment of the Council of Professional Geropsychology Training Programs in 2007. Funding is following: This year, the Health Services Administration's Bureau of Health Professions opened up several geriatric training grants previously restricted to physicians.
Geropsychologists assess mental functioning, depression and other problems in older adults and provide psychotherapy. They also help design policies and services to enhance the quality of life of older people and their caregivers.
The field also has opportunities for researchers who study psychological development and change throughout the adult years and investigate, for example, the best ways to provide home-based care. One employer with many opportunities for geropsychologists is the Department of Veterans Affairs, where psychologists work in multiple settings including the organization's home-based, primary-care program, and in VA community living centers — previously known as VA nursing homes. (See the December Monitor article "Placing patients front and center," for more information.)
"As people age and want or need to stay within their homes, this type of care will not only defer health-care costs by reducing high hospitalization rates, but it may be a good way to tackle caregiver strain and promote intergenerational bonding," says Ashley Stripling, a University of Florida counseling psychology student at a geropsych internship.
For more information on geropychology and resources on pursuing specialized training in this area, go to the websites of APA's Office on Aging, Div. 12, Sec. II (Society of Clinical Geropsychology), Div. 20 (Adult Development and Aging), the Council of Professional Geropsychology Training Programs and Psychologists in Long Term Care.
Adaptability is key
Regardless of your subfield, psychology's future work force will increasingly be asked to work with people from different disciplines, says Tara Kuther, PhD, a psychology professor at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury and author of "Surviving Graduate School in Psychology: A Pocket Mentor" (APA, 2008).
"Psychologists are increasingly working with physicians and other professionals in a variety of different settings, and I think this type of multidisciplinary work is only going to increase," Kuther says.
Another trend to look out for: Doctoral-degree psychologists who work as therapists will face increasing competition from counselors with master's degrees — who often charge less, says Helms.
"Although there certainly appears to be an increase in the number of doctorates being given in clinical psychology, the market being able to hold those is a little more questionable," Helms says.
Fewer psychologists will find it feasible to earn a living solely through independent and traditional counseling practices, Helms predicts. Those who do will most likely work as specialists — for example, helping children with rare language disorders or providing behavioral interventions for people diagnosed with complicated medical problems, he says. More commonly, psychologists will capitalize on their research and management expertise — running clinics, developing new therapies and analyzing programs' effectiveness, for example.
That doesn't mean students should abandon their interests if they aren't in line with a specialty that's been deemed a growth area, however. "Too often, students look to develop skills that are useful in the marketplace and ultimately end up in careers they're not all that interested in," Kuther says. "It's important to become aware of your skills — both competencies and deficits — and your interests, and to seek to balance these skills in your training."
In these times of transition, she adds, flexibility and creativity will be key to long-term success. Savvy students will use the foundation in research and behavior they get in grad school to pioneer entirely new careers, ones we can't even imagine now.
"Ultimately, it's about thinking outside the box," Kuther says. "The adaptive psychologist wears the psychology hat, but also remembers to think about the skills he or she has developed and how they might best be put to use in forging careers in both traditional and especially in new settings."
Amy Novotney is a writer in Chicago.
What careers will grow the fastest?
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2008||Projected Employment, 2018||Number of new jobs||Percent growth|
|Clinical, counseling and school psychologists||152,000||168,800||16,800||11|
|Psychologists, other subfields||15,900||18,300||2,300||14|
|Physicians and surgeons||661,400||805,500||144,100||22|