Career Advancement, Professional Development

What is a Psychologist? Education Requirements and Salary Potential

by Patrick Racine Research Assistant - LAMRA at the University of Ottawa

Summary: Becoming a Psychologist

As an aspiring psychologist and a student who completed his Honour’s BA in Psychology, I conducted extensive research and interviews with psychologists to ensure that was the profession I wanted to pursue. While a psychologist remains the same throughout the country, the education and salary of a psychologist will vary between the provinces. This article will answer ‘What is a Psychologist?’ and also explain the online confusion regarding their education and salary.

What is a Psychologist?

According to the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), a psychologist is “[someone who] studies how we think, feel and behave from a scientific viewpoint and applies this knowledge to help people understand, explain and change their behaviour.” While psychologists are psychotherapists, not all psychotherapists are psychologists. Namely, counselors and psychiatrists can also get trained to conduct psychotherapies. There are two major differences to make between each of these mental health professionals in Canada: (1) to this day, only psychiatrists can prescribe medication; and (2) only the psychiatrists and psychologists can diagnose mental illnesses (not the counselors).

The CPA enumerates five broad categories of employment for psychologists: research, teaching, service provision, administration, and consulting. Many will combine multiple categories to fill their schedule, which makes the profession very flexible. Although these different categories of employment don’t change the education needed to become a psychologist, we will later see how it impacts reported salaries.

Education – How Do I Become a Psychologist?

To become a psychologist, you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology or the equivalent, which usually takes 4 years. Afterwards, depending on which province you want to become licensed in, the education required to become a psychologist can take between 2-8+ years of additional studies, for a total of 6-12+ years.

Why such a wide range? There are 3 factors that will dictate how many years of education you need: 1) your province; 2) the admission requirements for the specific doctorate program; and 3) whether you enroll in a Ph.D. or Psy.D. Below is a more in-depth breakdown of these 3 factors:

1. Province-Specific Differences

As noted, each province has different education requirements. The main differences between the provinces is that some only require a master level (typically an M.A, M.Ed., or a M.Sc.), whereas some require a doctorate level (typically a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, or a Psy.D.) To get more province-specific information, click here.

2. Doctorate Program Admission Requirements

The  admission requirements of the Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs can vary between universities. Notably, some doctorate degrees will require that you have previously graduated from a masters-level, while others may not. Although, both doctorate degrees are extremely competitive (especially the Ph.D.), in reality, most students admitted in a doctorate degree either did a master’s prior, or worked in a relevant field for a few years, regardless of the program’s requirements. As a result, there will be a variability of a few years depending on how many tries it takes you to be admitted, and whether you did a master’s (or not) before applying to the doctorate program.

3. Ph.D. vs. Psy.D.

It will depend on which type of doctorate degree you choose. There’s two main differences between the Clinical Ph.D. and the Psy.D. On one hand, the Ph.D. requires you to write a doctoral thesis (typically around 200 pages), which will involve a strong component of academic work and research. On the other hand, the Psy.D. has a smaller research component (more comparable to a master’s level of research) but a greater emphasis on the clinical aspect of a psychologist. The Psy.D. is also typically shorter (4 years on average) than the Ph.D. (6 years on average).

Salary – How Much Does a Psychologist Make?

For self-employed psychologists, this is actually quite simple, since each province has their own fee guide for each type of therapy. The table below enumerates the hourly fee suggestions for an individual therapy session of 50 minutes.

ProvincesRate for a 50 minute individual therapy session
BC$225
Alberta$200
Saskatchewan$200
Manitoba$215
Ontario$225
Quebec$180
New Brunswick$190
Nova Scotia$200
PEI$210
Newfoundland & Labrador$210

When looking at the private and public sectors, things get complicated. On one hand, there’s very limited resources on reported salaries in the private sector. On the other hand, job market data does not always provide a clear and accurate representation of salaries in the public sector. There are three main reasons why you should be careful when using sites such as indeed.com and jobbank.gc.ca:

  • Some job postings included in the samples only require a bachelor’s degree (which we now know is not enough to become a psychologist). This is perhaps due to some employers wrongfully using the term “psychologist” as an umbrella term for what kind of employee they are looking for. These job postings usually offer an hourly remuneration of $20 to $35 an hour, which is quite underpaid for a psychologist. This effectively lowers the average salary that’s reported
  • Remember when we said many psychologists are involved in multiple job sectors and may have multiple jobs? Well, part-time job positions are included in the sampling. This means that while a psychologist may have 2-3 part-time jobs earning $60,000 a year each, this will result in 3 different $60,000 salaries being shown in the data instead of 1 psychologist earning $180,000 per year. This also brings the reported average salary down.
  • Even intern positions are included in the sampling, which is aimed at enrolled graduate students in a degree leading to the profession.

If we look at the national average salary for psychologists on glassdoor.com, 80% of their sample has less than 4 years of experience in the profession. They report a mean annual salary of $118,715, with a low/high of $86,000/$163,000. Although, let’s keep in mind the previous points mentioned. Bottom line, as a psychologist, you should expect a range of $100,000 to $200,000 as your annual salary in the public sector, and potentially a higher average within the private and self-employed sectors.

Conclusion

To summarize, if you’re interested in a career in mental health, psychologists can diagnose mental illnesses, but they can’t prescribe medication. It is a career that requires more education than counselors, but it also has greater salary potential and work flexibility in the end. Ultimately, you will have to decide the career-path that’s best for your specific circumstances.

About Patrick Racine

Patrick graduated with an Honours BA in Psychology at the University of Ottawa. He is currently working as a research assistant for the Laboratory for Research on Achievement, Motivation, and the Regulation of Action (LAMRA) at the University of Ottawa. Patrick will be applying for graduate studies in 2023.

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