Psychology is a popular field of study for undergraduates. In fact, nearly 120,000 graduates from the 2015-16 school year earned their degrees in psychology, according to the National Center for Education Research.
But we definitely don’t have 120,000 clinical psychologists entering the field every year.
So if psych grads aren’t all asking us how we feel about our mothers while we lie on their squeaky couches, what are they doing? I talked to several professionals with psychology degrees to see how they are using their education in their careers.
Paige Harley spends her days helping people who probably don’t like each other very much resolve their conflicts. “I specialize in high-conflict divorce, post-divorce and custody issues. But you can mediate all sorts of things,” she told me. “I think mediators with psychology backgrounds can offer a great perspective in handling conflict and helping people navigate through emotionally rough waters.”
Harley explained that psychology graduates may need additional training before qualifying for the job. “Every state has different guidelines. I am taking a weekend class for the state of Tennessee. About all you need is a computer, some paper, a pen, a cup of tea (it can get intense) and a great attitude.”
Pay for mediators can vary but is on the high end. Harley charges $200 an hour. She has colleagues who charge as high as $400 an hour.
Foster Parent Recruiter
Ian Foster earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology back in 2005 and has spent the last several years finding foster parents for the children of Alaskan tribes.
“Foster care recruiting is a great job, because you’re helping some of the nicest people on the planet help children have a safe place to be,” Foster explained. “It’s a rare social work job [in that it] is in the trenches doing things on a daily basis that make an impact, but it’s still relatively stress-free. And working with the tribes is an honor. The work with the tribes in my role specifically is helping tribal members — most of whom are family members to the kiddos — navigate the state system in an effort for them to take care of their own people.”
He admits much of the job is paperwork, but given the complexity of Alaska’s geography, Foster has found himself doing a number of unique tasks, like mailing food to families in need, flying out to the tribes to get fingerprints and fighting to improve the system by advocating for the tribes.
And the best part for psych grads willing to move up north? “There is a serious lack of people in social work jobs up here, and financially, Alaska is one of the few places a social worker can do pretty well,” he said, adding that the Office of Children’s Services is always hiring.
Not all psychologists sit in plant-filled offices muttering “Mmhmm” as you tell them about your week. In fact, Kara Fasone, who has her Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology, or I/O psychology, works in the field as an I/O psychologist.
“My career has been focused on organization development and employee behavior in corporate settings,” she explained. This includes “helping employees become aware of behaviors, building programs to help employees learn and use skills, equipping leaders with tools and identifying culture adds to organizations.”
Essentially, Fasone’s work integrates human resources, social psychology and business. According to Fasone, I/O psychologists can expect a salary of around $60,000 starting out, but top earners take home more than $120,000 a year.
CEO of a Trivia Company
Industrial organizational psychologists aren’t the only ones helping out businesses, however. David Jacobson, who graduated with a psychology degree in 1999, founded his own trivia company 10 years later. It’s called TrivWorks. The company designs and emcees trivia events for small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike.
“I rely on my psychology degree every day when producing events, as well as onstage hosting them,” Jacobson explained.
And while not every psychology major can pull off the same feat of founding a company to facilitate team building for big companies, Jacobson’s story is a reminder that you can use the skills you learn in college to identify a need in the word and craft a solution to fulfill it.
Studying psychology equips you with crucial skills in understanding how people think, interact and operate. An overwhelming number of psych majors told me they use their degrees in all areas of the business world, from sales to marketing and operations.
And because of their ability to understand people on a deeper level, psych grads are very successful in transitioning into leadership roles, from supervisor or manager to director and beyond.
Content Creator and Social Media Manager
Maddison Meijome’s psychology degree focused on marriage and family life. She knew she wanted to use her skills to make a difference in the world — and work from home if she could swing it. She managed both when she became a content creator and social media manager for Save Me From.
Save Me From is a hair care brand whose founder, April Peck, has a personal attachment to suicide prevention. Peck wanted to use the brand to raise money for suicide prevention. Meijome stepped into the role and now writes content on suicide prevention and shares the messaging on social media. Save Me From donates 10% of its net income directly to suicide prevention programs.
“I love this work, because I can see how well it will contribute to nonprofits that need grants and donations on a regular basis,” Meijome told me. “Because it’s a for-profit company with a mission, I am paid well, with the added bonus of writing about suicide prevention and awareness.”
Marriage and Family Therapist
Katie Ziskind earned her a bachelor’s degree in psychology, then specialized in marriage and family therapy during her master’s program. This experience allowed her to open her own private practice for marriage and family therapy.
But Ziskind doesn’t just sit in a room with patients and talk to them. “I see children doing play therapy, yoga, music and outdoor therapy,” she explained. “I also see parents, teenagers, young adults and even couples… With some adult clients, I even go for walks by the ocean on the Niantic Bay Boardwalk for walk-and-talk therapy sessions.”
Ziskind loves her work, because she’s her own boss and can prioritize her mission of providing compassionate, high-quality client care.
The bottom line here: Your psychology degree can take you to a lot of exciting — even unexpected — places. The only question to ask is, “How does that make you feel?”
Timothy Moore is an editor and freelance writer living in Ohio with his partner and their two dogs.