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How to become a psychologist after the Au Pair stay

by JuliaReading time: 7 min.
How to become a psychologist - tasks, salary & career options
Talking to people, helping them in their worst life dramas, simply being there - more and more people are eager to become a psychologist. In this article we will shed a light on what a psychologist actually is and does. Learn how you can become a psychologist, what you can earn in this job and why being an Au Pair can help you tremendously to prepare for it!

What is a psychologist?

The meaning of the term psychologist is different in every country. In Germany for example, you can call yourself a psychologist only when you’ve finished a master degree. A psychotherapist is someone who finished a postgraduate training afterwards which takes at least 3 years. And a psychiatrist is someone who has studied medicine and obtained a training in the field of psychiatry. 
However, in the US for example, you are a psychologist even if you only finished a Bachelor’s degree. A therapist is more like an umbrella term for different kinds of counsellors such as psychotherapists, marriage counselors and so on. You see that the definition of a psychologist really depends on the country you’re living in. 
Moreover, there are special psychologists for children and teenagers which is of course a very appealing field for people who flirt with the idea of becoming an Au Pair. In this article, we will focus mainly on the profession of a psychotherapist because that’s what most people refer to when they speak about psychologists. 
Psychology is the study of describing, explaining and changing human behavior. It is often said that psychologists would manipulate people. This is true, but in a good way: they try to make people avoid certain behaviour (such as drug abuse), increase good behaviour (peaceful communication) and prevent dangerous behaviour (for example suicide or other self-harm). 
Whether Bachelor degree or Ph.D., people who are working in the broad field of psychology deal with understanding a person’s psyche and mental concerns. They also treat the emotional and behavioral problems a person can deal with. Their patients range from a very young age to people who are on the edge of death. Psychologists help people to cope with personal issues such as emotional, mental or behavioral disorders. Some of them also conduct and publish scientific studies to make progress in research. Others work in business, for example as a work psychologist or market researchers. 

Tasks of a psychologist

The overall task of a psychologist is to investigate human behaviour and to understand how people react in certain situations. Most of the patients suffer from a certain behaviour, for example panic attacks, depression or phobia. Therefore, psychologists need to make sure that they truly understand the underlying foundation of a person’s issue. They often use specific methods under the scheme of a certain theory. In behavioral therapy for example, therapists confront people with their fears and try to make them learn a new behavior. In psychoanalysis, you can imagine the scenario like a typical Freud cartoon: very often, the patient would lay on a sofa while the therapist will listen, write down notes and analyse the patient’s dream for example. In general, the tasks are:
  • understanding the patient’s situation and ask questions
  • diagnosing the disorder
  • scheduling a therapy plan which includes a progress expectation
  • using specific method which are taught during the training (discussion techniques)
  • handling the paperwork (in some countries people need to pay privately, in others the health care insurances needs proof that the therapy session was held)
  • making patients aware of inner conflicts
  • doing marketing for their practice
  • obtaining supervision by another therapists to cope with the patient’s situations
  • supervise other therapists

Working conditions

The working conditions of a psychologist differ depending on the setting s/he’s working in. Psychologist can be found in 
  • hospitals
  • mental and rehab clinics
  • private practise
  • in NGOs working abroad
  • companies
  • schools
  • health departments
  • prisons
  • universities
The potential working opportunities of psychologists are endless, especially if you consider business related fields. When you work in a mental clinic as a psychologist you often have quite the same routine with a lot of different patients. In the beginning, the clinical team talks about new cases and development of patients. Being in a hospital, practitioners often deal with severe cases, for example people who suffer from an eating disorder, substance abuse or suicidal thoughts. It’s often quite hard to deal with such topics but the staff is trained to cope with it and support each other.
There are also people working in schools helping children to solve conflicts with other kids or observing the children’s development. They can interfere when they notice issues like ADHD, autism or difficulties in learning. 
Forensic psychologists who work in prisons deal with inmates who have committed a crime. Their routine often involves delivering an expert’s report about the reintegration chances of an individual or to conduct therapy with people to reflect their behaviour and the causes which were responsible for it. 
There are also psychologists working abroad for example in war zones. Since this extremely challenging situation causes trauma, psychologists try to help those people to prevent long-term effects.

How to become a psychologist

Of course, the way of becoming a psychologist is different in every country. In this section we will show you the general steps you need to take on your way:
  • Get a Bachelor’s degree: No matter in what country you live in, you need to at least have a Bachelor’s degree. Make sure that your grades are good enough in highschool and that you pass the potential test that the college may conduct. 
  • Add a Master’s degree: In most countries, it’s necessary to add a Master’s degree to your educational CV. In this case, the same rules apply as for the Bachelor: make sure that you have good grades and study frequently to pass the university’s test. This step is quite competitive in most regions. There are more applicants than free spots which means that you need to stand out, be it with excellent grades or publishing papers in scientific magazines. 
  • Pursue a Ph.D.: This point is optional depending on the country. There are countries where only people who have obtained a Ph.D. can treat patients. In other countries, this is not necessary. In the US, there is also a special degree which is called Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). Like the Ph.D., it’s a doctoral degree but with a more practical focus and perfect for everyone who doesn’t wish to work at a university.
  • Get licensed: Being a psychologist requires a special training which results in a license. This license allows you to treat patients and displays your qualification in the field. However, to get a license is not easy: it needs practical experience in a hospital and a lot of theoretical background. 
Every individual who wants to become a psychologist needs to have passion and devotion since it’s a very long way to go. Completing all steps, it will take you 8-10 years to be licensed and see your first patient. Moreover, most of the departments are highly selective and waiting for a free spot can even slow down the whole process. You need to make sure that you’re persistent enough to endure those years of low to none income and the uncertainty of not knowing if the next step will work or not. 

What does a psychologist earn?

We already covered that becoming a psychologist takes many years and putting a lot of effort into your studies. But this effort pays off: a psychologist earns more than the average worker in nearly all countries. To make things clearer we have gathered salary information in the most popular countries:
  • Ireland: In Ireland an average person earns around € 34,000 annually. The salary of a psychologist however ranges from € 48,000-80,000 depending on the field, position and responsibility. 
  • US: Most college students in the US can hope for an annual income of around $ 55,000. But with a degree in psychology you can start with a salary of $ 100,000 and can even increase it during your lifetime up to $ 150,000. This is also due to the fact that being in therapy is often paid privately. So the income span for private practitioners is nearly unlimited. 
  • Germany: As a certified psychotherapist, your entry-level salary is around € 50,000. It increases up to € 70,000 when you work in public service for more than 15 years. Nonetheless, you can earn more by having your own practice. In this case, your annual income will range from € 72,000-150,000.
  • Italy: As in any other country, the salary depends on the position you hold. With a top position in psychology it’s possible to earn up to € 42,000 per year in Italy.
  • France: The average paycheck for a psychologist in France is € 52,000 however the range is between € 37,000 and € 65,000.
  • Canada: The range is even wider for Canada: an entry-level salary is around $ 33,000 whereas a practitioner with a lot of experience can earn more than $ 100,000. 
  • Australia: With a bit of experience you can make AUS$ 70,000 per year as a psychologist in Australia

Should I become a psychologist? - Skills and qualifications

The question if you really should become a psychologist greatly depends on two factors: your emotional skills and your persistence. Working as a psychologist is emotionally stressing. You will see a lot of suffering and sadness which might affect you as well. You will deal with people who are at the lowest point in their lives. Think wisely if you want to choose this path and don’t forget to get practice during internships or volunteering. 
On the other hand, this career is time consuming and can cost a lot of money. If you need to earn money because of your life situation, this path will be difficult to follow. Instead of earning money you will need to invest money in your academic education. Moreover, when your friends already build houses and found families you will still think about the next exam. This lifestyle is only for people who have the endurance to strive for their goal. 
You should become a psychologist if you possess these abilities:
  • curiosity for the human nature 
  • empathy and compassion
  • organized working style
  • listening skills
  • passion for the profession
  • patience
  • protecting one’s own well-being
  • good coping strategies
  • being able to distance oneself from the patient’s story
  • excellent communication style
  • good memory
  • being a lifelong learner
  • dedication

Why you should be an Au Pair before becoming a psychologist

If you want to become a psychologist you need to study. A lot. Eventhough practical experience plays an important role and prepares you for the future, it’s not really a part of the curriculum. If you need to do an internship it’s very often only for a few weeks and you won’t be able to experience contact to patients. What could be better than testing your emotional and social skills before even starting the whole process?
By becoming an Au Pair you will gain valuable qualifications which we mentioned in the list above. You will need to work in a structured manner, especially if you take care of more than one child. Furthermore, you will need to listen to the children’s worries, thoughts and everyday life experiences. Living with the people who you are working for is also perfect to train to keep distance. All in all, taking a gap year and spending time with people from another culture is an invaluable advantage for those who really want to work with people afterwards. If you need more information about becoming an Au Pair you can find our 7-step guide here.
Now that you know everything about psychologists, you want to learn more about other jobs? Then our job series is just right for you! 
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