Trends in growth areas reflect social, cultural conditions

By Phyllis Hanlon
August 21st, 2010

In 2008, the American Psychological Association (APA) identified six growth areas for the profession: public health, seniors, veterans, government service, the workplace and courtrooms. Today, some of those areas, along with new ones, hold potential for climbing the career ladder.

Jessica L. Kohout, Ph.D., director of the Center for Workforce Studies, Science Directorate at the APA, says, “We don’t have any crystal balls, but we can suggest some [growth] areas. Public health, as in primary health care settings and clinics, geropsych, veterans and federal facilities remain strong. These career paths are obviously driven by new health care initiatives, the aging population, ongoing conflicts and difficulty finding psychologists willing to work in federal prisons.”

Kohout foresees a growing trend toward community health care centers that offer “complete care,” addressing both physical and psychological problems, many of which she says are behavioral based. “Individuals who smoke and drink to excess, take drugs and have bad eating habits can be helped by psychologists. Together, psychologists and physicians are using research and knowledge of human behavior to help people live healthier lives.”

As the baby boom generation ages, the need for psychologists who specialize in geriatric-related issues will increase. Kohout cites declining cognitive function, medication non-compliance and poor eating habits as contributing factors to decreased mental capacity and psychological confusion in seniors. “It’s important for the aging to have access to psychologists. They can work with people to keep them involved,” she says, adding that depression is also “a big issue.”

Mounting concerns about global warming and imbalance in our ecological system is paving the way for psychologists who focus their attention on the environment. “Again, we are looking at behavior, not just for the individual but organizational and corporate behavior. We need to teach how to change ideals and cultural biases to affect a positive outcome,” Kohout says. Advances in technology have simplified global collaboration on environmental matters, she adds. “Knowing technology and computers and how to use them appropriately can help you understand people from all areas. It’s interdisciplinary.”

Schools that offer doctoral programs in psychology are in a prime position to assess professional trends. Stanley Berman, Ph.D., Dean, Programs of Advanced Graduate Study at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP), reports that MSPP launched its Yellow Ribbon Campaign, a program designed to meet the mental health needs of soldiers by providing additional training in posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and bereavement care. To achieve this end, the school has partnered with James Kelly, director of Veteran Affairs in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to train veterans with combat experience to become psychologists, says Berman.

The “Train a Vet to Treat a Vet” initiative seeks to match experienced military personnel with those returning from combat facing psychological challenges. “We are interested in training qualified and interested vets,” says Berman. “Combat experience offers a highly useful perspective, but we do not require combat experience.”

MSPP has also identified cultural competence, particularly with the Hispanic demographic, as another growth area. “Four years ago, we created the Lucero Latino Mental Health Training Program,” says Berman. “Only two percent of mental health professionals are language and culturally competent. With huge growth of this demographic, it’s important to develop language competence to provide services to Hispanics.”

Students in the Lucero initiative take classroom work in Spanish and work in situations where they will use the language. “They also spend three summers in Central and South America,” says Berman. “Intermediate speakers go to language school and native speakers work in healthcare settings.”

Berman agrees with Kohout that treating the aging population requires special attention, but poses some challenges. “Geropsychology suggests a quandary,” Berman says. “The demographics show the need will only increase in the next 20 years. But this is a harder area to get young graduate students engaged in.” In spite of having renowned national speaker and workshop leader Erlene Rosowsky, Psy.D. on MSPP’s staff, students tend to look at treating adolescents rather than the aging. “It’s harder for them to see the richness of working with elders,” says Berman.

While psychologists for seniors are critical, Berman notes that child practitioners are also lacking. He says MSPP is addressing the issue of bullying in light of the recent state law. “We’ve trained more than 900 superintendents and principals,” he says.

Douglas W. Nangle, Ph.D., director of clinical training in the department of psychology at the University of Maine, Orono, says that his institution focuses on science and research so alumni tend to enter a variety of non-traditional fields. “A recent student became coordinator for an international pharmaceutical company and flies all over the world setting up trials,” he says.

Two other students joined publishing firms where they review educational materials that will be used for testing and evaluation. “They coordinate different field trials for measures of quality,” says Nangle.

Nangle also cites healthcare, the military and elders as significant growth areas, but from a scientific perspective. “Health maintenance organizations largely get involved in digesting what the science says about treatment and making policies. Psychologists are guiding the science. It’s the basis that guides mental health decisions,” he says.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are prompting calls from veteran’s hospitals, notes Nangle. He has coordinated meetings with Air Force and Navy representatives who consistently show interest in UMaine’s psychology students. “They are looking for better services on the spot, psychologists on the front line who can help veterans process things as they are occurring,” he says.

Forensic psychologists are also in demand at correctional facilities and in the courtroom, according to Nangle. “We are becoming increasingly sensitive to mental health needs of prison populations,” he says.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-11 Edition, issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical psychology, which includes health, neuro-, gero- and child psychology, can expect an 11 percent growth in the coming years; statistics for counseling and school psychology also predict an 11 percent growth. Additionally, the handbook reported that industrial-organizational psychology will grow by 26 percent and other niche areas will expand by 14 percent.

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