August 24th, 2012

Job forecast: shifting niche areas present opportunities

As the economy wends its way back from the brink, the job outlook for psychologists presents as a mixed bag. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, the profession is expected to grow by 22 percent between 2010 and 2020. The growth rate for all occupations is 14 percent. While this eight-percentage point difference appears encouraging, the total number of new jobs will only be 800. With approximately 5,000 doctoral students graduating annually from psychology programs as reported by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Workforce Studies, finding a job could be challenging.

Edward De Vos, Ed.D., associate vice president for research at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP), recently conducted a survey of clinical Psy.D. graduates from 2002 to 2011 that provides a look at the current job situation. Out of 290 graduates, 65 percent responded. Findings reveal 87 percent of respondents obtained their first job in six months or less following graduation; 95 percent are working either full or part-time as psychologists and 71 percent are satisfied with their current work schedule; 59 percent work in one setting, while 33 percent are employed in two venues.

De Vos reports that 56 percent of respondents operate an independent practice and work an average 23.5 hours per week. Thirty-three percent of graduates work an average of 25 hours each week at community or mental health centers. Another 13 percent work a 40-hour week at a university counseling center, while 10 percent have full-time jobs in private psychiatric hospitals. Nine percent are employed in a school district/system part-time (20 hours/week) and eight percent hold adjunct professor posts.

Five percent or fewer of the survey respondents are employed in medical centers, correctional facilities, private general hospitals, state/county hospitals, VA medical centers or have non-teaching positions in an academic setting.

The University of Rhode Island (URI), like many other academic institutions, has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of applicants to its psychology programs. Patrick J. Lenahan, MCDP, GCDF, staff career advisor in career services, reports that in 2003, 150 individuals applied, and last year, 236 applied. Out of this applicant pool, only 10 students are accepted. “URI keeps the numbers at a certain level, based on faculty,” he says.

URI emphasizes research in its three programs: clinical; school psychology; and behavioral science. Lenahan explains that students are well trained in research and practice when they graduate and virtually all obtain employment once they receive their degree. “Since they’ve been working in a specialty area for four, five, six years, it’s unusual not to make connections to employers,” he says. “Early on, students establish professional networks and pursue opportunities through these professional associations.”

A public, teaching psychiatric hospital, while facing fiscal challenges, offers a variety of professional opportunities including a chance to do clinical work, research and teach at an affiliated academic institution. For instance, New Hampshire Hospital (NHH), hires psychologists skilled in brief intervention plans, with knowledge of psychopathology, experience working with children and adults and familiarity treating individuals with substance abuse issues, according to Paul Shagoury, Ph.D., NHH’s chief psychologist.

Shagoury notes that NHH, whose clinicians may serve as adjunct faculty at Dartmouth Medical School, offers good benefits, including step and cost-of-living raises. “In five years, salaries begin to be competitive,” he says. Circumscribed hours and daily face-to-face interaction with colleagues without the added burden of administrative duties of private practice appeals to some psychologists, he adds. “Teaching hospitals will continue to need psychologists with backgrounds in research and academia and who have clinical abilities.”

Marianne Barton, Ph.D., associate clinical professor and director of clinical training at the University of Connecticut, says that changing times require a shift in thinking. “Some of the traditional positions graduate students normally think of are not as effective today. There are fewer opportunities to do therapy. More innovative areas like health-related behavior are taking over,” she says. “Clinical psychologists are reinventing themselves. We need to have flexibility in the way we use our skills. We need to focus on empirically validated therapies.”

Health psychology, which encompasses a vast number of fields, tops the list of emerging specialty areas. “Psychologists can help people make lifestyle changes. There are also a lot of interest and job opportunities in developmental disabilities and autism,” she says. “To some extent there is a need for clinical child psychologists.” Graduates from UConn have gone on to work at the Yale Child Study Center as well as at children’s hospitals in Philadelphia, Texas and California.

Cultural competence, trauma response and neuropsychology have become other important niche areas, says Barton. “We are being trained to work with different cultural backgrounds and helping to respond to trauma has also become a big area of growth. We can help anticipate the sequelae of an emergency like Hurricane Katrina,” she says. As the prevalence of PTSD increases, due in most part to returning war veterans, the field of neuropsychology is thriving. “There is an interest in understanding the interaction between the brain and behavior,” Barton says.

To address this need, the Veterans Health Administration announced a national recruitment program in June that aims to add 1,600 mental health clinicians to its existing workforce.

Rick Barnett, Psy.D., LADC, private practitioner in Stowe, Vermont, anticipates a change in the medical landscape when more aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are implemented. “Jobs in agencies, hospitals, group practices tie in with reform efforts. That’s the direction everything is going with medical home models.”

In addition to hiring trends in health psychology, behavioral health, research and integrated care, Barnett says that geriatric psychologists will be in demand to care for the aging population in the community, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. “School counseling will also continue to grow,” says Barnett. “As psychology marches along, it is becoming more viable for students. There is less stigma and [students] are more comfortable with seeking counseling services.” He points out that while demand for psychological services of all types will increase, access still remains an issue, which may bode well for the profession.

Roger L. Peterson, Ph.D., ABPP, professor and distinguished senior scholar in the department of clinical psychology at Antioch University New England, emphasizes psychologists are not the only professionals facing challenges when it comes to finding meaningful and financially rewarding employment. “It’s important to keep in mind that this is also what’s happening to other professions,” he says. “Sometimes we imagine that the state we were in two years ago will be the same state we’re in two years from now. But the history of psychologists has changed dramatically.” He says that when tragic events occurred 25 years ago, psychologists were almost never involved. Today, the first person on the scene of a disaster is oftentimes a psychologist. “It’s taken time, but psychologists have increased their ability to be involved in the measure of clinical decisions,” Peterson says.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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