Anyone considering a career in psychology should learn about the working conditions in which psychologists find themselves. As a psychologist, your work environment depends a lot on your clientele. Options range from working a regular schedule in a luxurious private practice to sporadic work in field settings ranging from hospitals to prisons.
When you picture a "typical" psychologist, you may imagine someone working in a private office, community clinic or mental health center. Psychologists who work closely with a psychiatrist or other medical professionals, however, are likely to work in a clinic or hospital, while psychologists who specialize in treating clients recovering from an illness or accident may work in a rehabilitation center. Child psychologists sometimes make field visits into homes or schools to assess children's environments. Forensic psychologists may be employed by the court to do assessments in jails and rehabilitation centers, and they may have to testify in court.
Psychologists are white-collar employees who generally work in environments with excellent physical amenities. Even if you work in a prison evaluating clients on death row, you will likely be provided adequate toilet facilities, shelter, drinking water, a clean working environment and adequate lighting. Keep in mind that some workplace environments are more luxurious than others, such as a private practice compared to a community mental health center.
Psychologists have stressful jobs, regardless of the location in which they work. As a psychologist, you will see people at their worst, during times of crisis, when they may be tearful, angry or totally non-communicative. If you want to last in this field, you have to learn what pushes your personal buttons and deal with your own issues so you can concentrate on your clients. Look for a work setting that offers peer support and supervision to help you through your tough times.
The reality of working with mentally unstable patients is that some will become aggressive toward you. While psychologists can exert some amount of control over their level of risk by choosing their clientele carefully, a 2008 article in the "Los Angeles Times" quoted seasoned therapist Debra E. Pearl as saying, "Anybody who goes into this business knows there is a possibility that something could happen." Look for a secure work setting with outside supervision or a panic button to summon help when needed.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Psychologists
- College Foundation of North Carolina: Child Psychologist -- What They Do
- WorkSafe Victoria: Workplace Amenities and Work Environment
- Psychology Today: Dichotomastery -- The Hidden Talent of Good Therapists
- Los Angeles Times: Danger is in the Back of Therapists' Minds
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