Years ago, getting a psychology degree online was relatively rare. And online degrees in psychology and other disciplines were often viewed with some doubt, as though they weren’t as valuable as similar degrees earned on campus.
But things have changed and changed a lot. Today, not only do many online degrees no longer have a stigma attached to them but in many respects, students might prefer earning a degree online over a more traditional on-campus degree.
For graduates of online psychology degree programs, there are many professional options available to you. If you have a master’s degree, you might find work in community mental health, private practice, or in education. With a doctorate, you might start a private practice, work as a consultant, or go to work in a healthcare setting.
There are many educational options available, too. You can pursue a higher degree, take specialized classes to learn more skills, and you can pursue a certification that will hone your skills even further – and potentially help you get a job.
The question is, what types of certifications are available?
Below is a list of some popular options to consider as you approach your graduation from your online bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree programs in psychology.
Become Board Certified
However, gaining this type of certification can be very difficult, so only a fraction of the psychologists that attempt to get board certified actually achieve it. This is not a message that’s intended to discourage you from pursuing this type of certification – far from it.
However, it is a forewarning that board certification is not something that’s simply handed out to anyone! You must meet stringent qualification criteria to be eligible for certification. Then you must fulfill all the steps of certification, which includes an examination component. We’ll discuss these requirements a little later.
There are 15 different specialties that the American Board of Professional Psychology recognizes. According to the ABPP, they are:
- Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology is the application of behavioral and cognitive science to better understanding human behavior. A certification in this specialty will allow you to develop interventions that address a range of psychological problems in a variety of different populations.
- Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology is the study and application of psychological principles to help children and adolescents deal with behavioral, emotional, and mental health issues.
- Clinical Health Psychology explores the connections between emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral, and biological components of mental illness. A certification in this field will equip you with the skills needed to treat clients with mental illnesses, develop treatment plans for clients, and devise prevention plans as a means of minimizing the chances of mental illness occurring in vulnerable populations.
- Clinical Psychology involves assessing and treating clients for mental illnesses, emotional disturbances, and behavioral disorders. When you think of psychologists that are in private practice or who work in mental health facilities, you’re likely thinking of a clinical psychologist.
- Clinical Neuropsychology is a relatively new field that centers on the study of the relationship between the brain and behavior. A certification in this specialty will give you enhanced knowledge in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of clients that have a wide range of psychiatric, neurological, or medical conditions.
- Counseling Psychology is the practice of helping clients manage their social, emotional, and mental health problems. Often, counseling psychologists work with individuals that are overall quite mentally healthy, but working through tough times. This is in contrast with clinical psychologists who often work with severely mentally ill clients.
- Couple and Family Psychology deals with family-based issues like divorce, infidelity, parent-child issues, and sibling issues. This is often the certification people pursue if they have training in Marriage and Family Therapy.
- Forensic Psychology is the application of psychological principles to the criminal justice realm. Certification studies might focus on a wide range of issues, from training as an expert witness to criminal profiling to developing techniques for interviewing both the accused and the alleged victim.
- Geropsychology focuses on issues related to the latter stages in life. This certification equips you to work with clients that are struggling with issues related to aging, mental decline, physical decline, death, and dying.
- Group Psychology certification allows you to competently conduct group therapy. This certification will help you build skills to plan and execute plans for group therapy, interventions, assessment, diagnosis, and many other areas of psychology.
- Organizational and Business Psychology certifications explore many of the same principles as a degree program in industrial-organizational psychology. The skills you gain in this certification program will allow you to apply psychological principles to bring about positive changes in organizations, businesses, and industries.
- Police & Public Safety Psychology is a certification that gives you insight into the unique mental health challenges of being in law enforcement and public safety. In addition to having the requisite knowledge and skills of a practicing psychologist, you also need to be familiar with how police and public agencies operate, the working conditions of law enforcement and public safety workers, and the unique stressors this population faces. This certification will also explore trauma, resilience and recovery, and confidentiality issues as well.
- Psychoanalysis is a specialized set of therapeutic techniques that are used to treat a wide variety of mental illnesses. This certification option will enhance your understanding of psychoanalytic techniques as well as the foundational underpinnings of psychoanalysis as a psychological approach.
- Rehabilitation Psychology certification revolves around building skills necessary for working with people that have disabilities, chronic health disorders, mental health disorders, or addictions.
- School Psychology involves the application of psychological principles to educational environments. School psychologists might assess students, provide counseling services, develop curriculum materials for classroom learning about psychological issues, and consult with administration, teachers, and parents regarding psychological issues of children and adolescents.
Despite the wide variation in the types of certifications that the ABPP offers, the process to become certified is similar for each specialty.
The first step is simply to apply. In applying for certification, the ABPP is able to determine your eligibility for candidacy. You will provide all the required documentation to show your academic and professional training, supervised experiences, and professional standing.
The second step is to submit a practice sample. This practice sample is your opportunity to show that you have the knowledge and skills to practice competently in the area of specialty in which you’re seeking certification.
The practice sample also serves as your chance to explain who you are as a psychologist. This goes beyond ticking the boxes of what’s required and allows you to share your personal psychology style.
Lastly, you will participate in an oral examination. After the practice samples you’ve submitted are approved, you will register and pay for the exam. The time and place for each speciality’s exam differ. However, it is once again an opportunity for you to demonstrate your expertise in your chosen specialty.
There are a variety of reasons why a board certification in one of the ABPP’s 15 specialities is a good idea for online psychology graduates.
For starters, these certifications show that you have a higher level of expertise than most psychologists in your field. Likewise, having a board certification helps you stand out among other applicants for jobs.
Furthermore, board certification can give your clients peace of mind that you have taken the necessary steps to further your education and deliver services to them that are in line with current best practices and training principles.
Pursue a Professional Certification Specialty
Where board certification is typically reserved for practicing psychologists that already have a master’s or doctoral degree, professional certification is usually attainable for graduate students that do not yet have any professional experience.
Just like board certification can be obtained in a wide range of specialties, there are many options for professional certification as well. This includes:
- Substance Abuse Counseling
- Pastoral Counseling
- Guidance Counseling
- Behavioral Health and Counseling Psychology
- Child Psychology
- Marriage and Family Therapy
These certifications are often provided by educational institutions. This means that the admissions requirements will vary from one program to the next. Likewise, the requirements you have to fulfill to complete the certificate will also vary.
For example, a substance abuse counseling certification program might require you to have a bachelor’s degree, a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, and two letters of recommendation in order to be admitted to the program. But a child psychology certification program might require that you have a master’s degree and two years of work experience with children in order to be admitted.
Along the same lines, some of these certification programs might be relatively short – perhaps just one academic year. Others, though, might require two or more years of commitment to finish the certification requirements.
Become a Licensed Counselor
After finishing your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to complete a master’s degree program in counseling, psychology, or a closely related field. As part of this experience, you will have practicum and internship opportunities that allow you to gain real-world experience in the areas that interest you, like counseling psychology or school counseling.
Once you graduate with a master’s degree, you will likely need to complete at least one year of supervised work, though this requirement is often two or three years in length, if not more. The specific number of hours of supervision depends on the state in which you wish to work.
What is fairly common from one state to the next, though, is that you have at least a master’s degree from an accredited institution along with the above-mentioned supervised work experience. Additionally, you will likely have to take a licensure exam, like the National Counselor Exam (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Certification Exam (NCMHCE). Individual states might have their own licensure exams as well.
In getting certified and licensed as a counselor, you have the professional credentials to work as a practicing psychologist. This enables you to work in settings like schools, mental health facilities, and private practice, to name a few.
Get an Online Psychology Certificate
You already earned your degree online, so why not get a couple of online psychology certifications too?
Since you’ve already studied psychology and have basic and advanced principles down pat, you can specialize in almost anything that you can think of. For instance, you can find online certification programs for:
- Certified Alzheimer’s Care Giver
- Mental Health First Aid
- Forensic Psychology
- Industrial/Organizational Psychology
- Certified Co-Occurring Disorders Specialist
Getting an online certificate is a great way to further your education, advance your understanding of a specific topic, and gain skills that will help you be a more effective psychologist.
Because there are so many different certification options for graduates, you really have to decide what your goals are before you dive into a certification program. Use this guide as a springboard for doing more research and discover which specialties might be of interest to you.
By doing more research up front, asking questions, and comparing your options, you will be able to make a more informed decision and get a certification that aligns with your specific career goals.
Begin Your Journey to Professional Success
Regardless of the type of certification you pursue, you will be positioned well to advance your career with a certification in your pocket.
Getting a certification doesn’t necessarily have to happen immediately upon your graduation. Instead, you can work for a few years in the psychology field, learn which areas you enjoy, and then pursue a certification in one of those areas.
Just be prepared to put in the work. Whether it’s an educational certification or a professional certification, there will be many requirements for you to earn your certificate. Balancing the necessary studies with work, social obligations, and family life can be difficult. However, with proper planning and dedication, you can build upon your existing credentials and do so without negatively impacting your social, family, and work lives.
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Updated April 2021