Exploring Psychology Career Paths

by Ken Dickson, AU Counsellor


Students and prospective students interested in psychology are often interested in exploring the process of becoming a licensed psychologist in order to have maximum career flexibility in terms of their counselling aspirations. Since a professional license in psychology typically requires a university graduate degree, and university graduate schools typically require a four-year undergraduate degree, the first step here would involve completing a four-year undergraduate degree in psychology. The following is the general link to our Bachelor of Arts (BA) programs and their requirements.

For more specific information on the four-year BA program in Psychology, as well as details regarding each specific course syllabus, click here.

To assist you in planning your program, Athabasca University's Student Advisors have prepared program-specific planners. Here is the link to the program planner for the 4-year BA in Psychology.

The next step would be to enter into a Graduate program in counselling, psychology, or educational psychology. Athabasca University, in partnership with the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge, offers the Campus Alberta Graduate Program in Counselling. The Master of Counselling and Post Graduate Certificate programs are delivered via a combination of formats, where most courses are available online and a number of mandatory attendance requirements are met within Alberta. The unique Master of Counselling program is designed to meet the graduate academic requirements for career paths of professional counsellor or counselling psychologist. More information on this program is available from the Athabasca University Graduate Calendar.

Before embarking on this long path, it would be prudent for you to get a sense of what licensing requirements are necessary in order to become a chartered psychologist. (It may be possible for you to do counselling without actually becoming a chartered psychologist, although there might be limitations on where you can work, what kind of work you can do, and whether third-party payers will fund your services.) This link provides information on becoming a Chartered Psychologist in Alberta.

Additional useful links are the College of Alberta Psychologists' responses to Frequently Asked Questions and the general link to the College of Alberta Psychologists' web site.

The above information relates specifically to psychology in Alberta. Other provinces, states, and countries have their own particular licensing requirements for psychologists. If you wish to pursue a career path as a licensed psychologist, you should consult with the licensing regulatory body in your location. A useful resource is the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards and their web page on licensure requirements to become a Psychologist.

Apart from psychology in Alberta, two useful sites for exploring psychology at the national level in Canada and the United States respectively, in terms of general interest and career relevance to you, are the Canadian Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association.

Here is the link to the American Psychological Association's student page.

The Career Decision Tree for Psychology Majors may assist you in designing the most appropriate academic path for you.

The Alberta Government's Occupational Profile on Psychologist may assist you with employment as a psychologist after graduating.

For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor's section on career's in Psychology.

General Web Sites with Information on Careers in Psychology

Appleby's Careers in Psychology

Marky Lloyd's Careers in Psychology Page

Monitor on Psychology-Good News for Bachelor Grads

NIU: Major web sites (PDF - 1.88 MB)

Psychology: What Can I Do With This Degree?

Also see: What Can I Do With a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology?

SUNY Oswego-Careers in Psychology

Your Guide to Psychology

Is it possible to become a counsellor without becoming a psychologist?

In order to obtain your certification as a counsellor with the Canadian Counselling Association (CCA), you must have certain educational prerequisites. Consequently, your educational program must contain certain courses according to CCA's certification standards. If you are considering becoming a certified counsellor, you should contact CCA and determine if the choice of courses in your program acceptably meets their certification standards. For other information visit the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

Counselling Resources

The American Psychological Association provides a description of counselling psychology and this is the link to the APA division 17 (counselling psychology) home page. In addition, the American Counseling Association provides other resources to counsellors and people wanting to become counsellors.

Counselling often focuses on marriage, relationships, and family. One can get credentials from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) as a certified marriage and family therapist without necessarily becoming a licensed psychologist. Visit the AAMFT for more specific information on becoming a professional marriage and family therapist.

Career counselling is another important area in the counselling profession. The need for career counsellors is increasing because of the rapid changes in the workplace, the expanding career aspirations of people accessing more flexible educational opportunities such as provided by Athabasca University, and a growing involvement in life-long learning. AU offers a University Certificate in Career Development for people interested in this surprisingly broad field.

For an introduction to the field of sports psychology, see this site. The AU department of Psychology has an extensive listing of sport psychology sites.

Forensic psychology is another area of interest for many prospective students. The following articles can help you get a sense of what is involved in this fascinating branch of psychology.

AU department of Psychology articles on forensic psychology

The Forensic Psychologist

The following web site is not endorsed by Athabasca University but gives a sense of the activities performed by a professional forensic psychologist: Donald J. Franklin - forensic psychologist

Counselling Related Programs at AU

Master of Counselling

Post-Graduate Certificate in Counselling

Post-Master's Certificate in Counselling

Bachelor of Arts Majoring in Psychology (4-year/120 credits)

Bachelor of Arts concentrating in Psychology (3-year/90 credits)

Bachelor of Professional Arts in Human Services (4-year/120 credits)

Bachelor of Arts in Women's Studies in either of two formats:

University Certificate in Counselling Women (1-year/30 credits):

Career Resources

Sometimes prospective AU students do not wish to pursue full certification as a licensed psychologist, but want to know what job possibilities are available for a student graduating with a BA in Psychology. Here are some links that focus specifically on this topic: 'Entry Level Jobs for Psychology Majors' and 'Life Beyond the Bachelor's Degree:  A Primer for Psychology Majors'.

As well, a question sometimes arises as to the value of a liberal arts undergraduate degree. This link will take you to a variety of articles that highlight the employment value of the qualities and skills developed through an undergraduate education.

This is a list of well-reviewed books on the topic of careers in psychology, including careers relevant to an undergraduate level of university education.

By exploring the web sites of these various helping professions, you will likely develop greater clarity and certainty as to the appropriateness of the helping professions for your personal career path.

Next Steps

1. Contact an AU Counsellor.

A counsellor can provide you with more information on this particular career path and make sure the program you choose meets your goals. You can contact a counsellor by e-mail at counselling@athabascau.ca, book a telephone appointment by calling 1-800-788-9041 ext. 6723 or use the online appointment form

2. Contact the post secondary institutions you plan to attend for graduate studies.

Athabasca University - Graduate Counselling Programs

3. Contact an AU student advisor.

An advisor can help you select courses and develop a program plan for studies at Athabasca University. (For courses or programs at another institution, you must contact that institution directly for further assistance.) You can e-mail an advisor at advising@athabascau.ca , call 1-800-788-9041 or visit their web site.

4. Become an AU Student

If you are ready to enrol, you can Become an AU Student here. If you have further questions regarding this career path and wish to book a telephone appointment to speak with a counsellor, please contact us.