Military Psychologist

Helping veterans deal with flashbacks and nightmares, addictions and anger, fear and social isolation, is just one of the possible roles of a military psychologist.

There is a growing demand for military psychologists as awareness surrounding the great need for their services continues to increase. One role of military psychologists is to diagnose and treat—inspire hope and help—veterans that have dealt with wartime trauma.

“You can be walking down the street on a rainy day and a smell can come into your nostrils and set you back 35 years to a place, a day and a time in your mind…and usually that day, something happened that affected you … You just survived a war, you should be happy…and then all of a sudden something goes wrong, but you don’t know what it is…And if you don’t address it, if you self medicate [with] alcohol, drugs…it blows up!” says Donald Joseph Prevost, referring to the PTSD and depression that he suffered after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. He is one of several brave veterans featured on the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs National Center for PTSD’s About Face website.

Thankfully each of these veterans has sought treatment from psychologists, counselors, and other services, and they’re now inspiring other veterans to do the same.

Career & Job Description

Military Psychologist Career At a Glance

  • Degree Level Requirements: PhD. or Psy.D
  • Certification/Licensure Requirements: Vary by state or jurisdiction.
  • Specializations: Many, from memory loss and PTSD to effective leadership and recruitment procedures.
  • Median Annual Salaries: $68,640 *
  • Job Outlook: 22% growth from 2010 to 2020 **

Helping veterans deal with flashbacks and nightmares, addictions and anger, fear and social isolation, is just one of the possible roles of a military psychologist. Others might focus on the enlistment or hiring of military personnel, helping families deal with deployment or a myriad of other areas.

“Helping veterans deal with flashbacks and nightmares, addictions and anger, fear and social isolation, is just one of the possible roles of a military psychologist.”

Military psychologists may work as either civilians or as enlisted uniformed officers. There are advantages and disadvantages to both scenarios, state Tara L. Kuther and Robert D. Morgan (in their book Careers in Psychology: Opportunities in a Changing World, 4th edition, 2013).

“Important benefits of military service include job security, opportunities for additional education, and an excellent benefits and retirement system,” say Kuther and Morgan, adding that retirement can come as early as when 20 years of service is completed. However, those who are enlisted cannot just resign whenever they choose; whereas civilian psychologists have more flexibility and they usually would not have to deal with being deployed to a new location with little notice every two to three years.

Military psychologists may work in a variety of settings, including hospitals and other medical centers, research centers, military bases and schools, in Veterans Affairs facilities, military Department of Defense headquarters and operation centers, and more. They may also work overseas (particularly those who are uniformed).

Some examples of what a military psychologist might do during the course of their career include:

  • Participate in military recruitment procedures, such as conducting psychological screenings. They may also determine which specialty areas a recruit would be best for.
  • Create and administer systems to evaluate the performance of enlisted officers.
  • Conduct research (on a specific area that enhances the performance of the military and promotes wellness among all personnel) and present relevant findings. Research areas range from how officers can maintain a particular area of health (such as sleep) to fostering team dynamics (see specializations section below).
  • Assess and diagnose individuals to determine mental and cognitive disorders or areas of concern.
  • Provide treatment to enlisted personnel, their loved ones and/or veterans. Treatment may include individual or group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, psycho-educational programs, family counseling, referral to other necessary services and more.
  • Teach and train, whether it be newly hired psychologists, interns, students in a university or college, higher ranks that supervise privates (giving them tools and guidance to recognize psychological concerns), and more.

Specializations & Concentrations

Some of the many specialties within the field of military psychology include:

  • Mental illnesses, such as PTSD or Depression
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Suicide
  • Deployment (as it affects military personnel or their loved ones)
  • Sexual Assault between military personnel
  • Unemployment after the military
  • Addictions
  • Grief after losing a loved one at war
  • Anger management
  • Leadership
  • Team dynamics and trust
  • Recruitment and position placement
  • Evaluating and enhancing performance
  • Stress management
  • Crisis intervention
  • Relationship struggles
  • Human factors (such as incorporating advanced technology)
  • Military training programs
  • Prisoners at war
  • Peace negotiations
  • Military commanders decision-making
  • Military culture
  • Military operations assessment
  • Memory loss

The Educational Journey

To become a recognized psychologist (i.e. a military psychologist) you need to complete a doctoral degree. There are also careers related to military psychology available to those with less education. You may decide you would like to gain some professional experience before pursuing your Ph.D. or Psy.D., or that you would like to foster a career that does not require a doctoral degree.

Note that there is more than one possible educational/ career path to becoming a military psychologist. For example, you may want to participate in a Navy, Air Force or Army student program which combines pursuing your studies (with the possibility of a full scholarship) while on active duty. The Department of Veterans Affairs may also offer relevant student programs.

Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor’s Degree: While a few schools may offer the option of completing a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a concentration in “Military Psychology” or “Military Resilience”, you may have to take a more general psychology degree and tailor your undergraduate experience to reflect your career goals. For example, for research projects you could choose to focus on an area within military psychology (see specializations above). You could also complete volunteer work or an internship in settings such as a Veterans hospital or clinic, a homeless shelter or a military family support centre.

Relevant Careers

Relevant careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: With a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, you may pursue jobs such as a research assistant, substance abuse counselor (with proper certification), a psychiatric technician, a rehabilitation advisor or enlist in the military with the intention of becoming a psychological operations specialist (if you meet the ASVAB qualifications).

Master’s Degree

Master’s Degree: Some schools offer Master’s degrees with a Military Psychology track. Truth be told, military psychologists come from a variety of educational backgrounds, including clinical and counseling psychology (the most common), neuropsychology, forensic psychology and more. It is best to direct your studies to reflect your career goals. For example, you may wish to complete a Master’s degree in Social Work to become a military social worker rather than a military psychologist. Or if you see yourself as working directly with enlisted personnel, their families and/or veterans, clinical and/or counseling psychology might be the best route.

Relevant Careers

Careers with a Master’s Degree: Research associate, mental health counselor, marriage or family therapist, youth counselor (for children in military families), rehabilitation counselor, readjustment counseling therapist, a supervisory vocational counsellor, and more. (Note several of these positions may require licensure/certification).

Doctoral Degree

Doctoral Degree: Examples of relevant doctoral degrees if you’re interested in becoming a military psychologist include a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology—Military Track; a Psy.D. in Military Clinical Psychology; a Ph.D. in Military Health Psychology; and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a specialization in Military Psychology.

“There is more than one possible educational and career path to becoming a military psychologist.”

Certification & Licensing Requirements

Requirements to becoming a licensed military psychologist vary by jurisdiction. Generally speaking, however, to become licensed you must have successfully completed a Ph.D. or Psy.D, complete about two years of supervised training and pass all relevant exams (i.e. the national EPPP exam and a jurisprudence exam specific to your state). You can look up the specific requirements by jurisdiction by consulting the Association of State and Licensing Boards.

Certification is generally voluntary, but pursuing such a credential can help you refine your skills and it can demonstrate your expertise—something very attractive to employers. The ABPP (American Board of Professional Psychology) has numerous certification specialty areas from rehabilitation psychology to counseling psychology. The one or more you should pursue depends on your career goals or current profession.

  • References:
  • * May 2010 (for Industrial-Organizational Psychologists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • ** May 2010 (for Industrial-Organizational Psychologists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • † Salary data from US BLS
  • ‡ Job Outlook data from US BLS