What Is a Cognitive Psychologist?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 10, 2022 | Published July 21, 2021

Updated February 10, 2022

Published July 21, 2021

Cognitive psychologists study how humans think, form memories, solve problems and recall information. Cognitive psychology is a growing field that offers a wide range of opportunities for career advancement.

In this article, we explain what cognitive psychologists do and how to become one, and provide the salary, skills and outlook for the job.

What is a cognitive psychologist?

A cognitive psychologist is a medical professional who studies internal processes of the mind, such as how people learn and acquire language capabilities. Cognitive psychologists study the brain to understand how it works in order to develop treatment strategies for individuals with psychological disorders. For example, cognitive psychologists can use their knowledge of the brain to treat individuals with learning disorders.

Cognitive psychologists can work in many environments, which can depend on their preferences. Some may choose to work in colleges and universities where they conduct research and teach students, whereas others may work for companies, research organizations or educational policy bodies where they treat patients.

Related: Learn About Being a Psychologist

What does a cognitive psychologist do?

The duties and responsibilities of a cognitive psychologist include:

  • Conducting research and publishing findings in professional journals and publications

  • Organizing lectures, tests and assignments for students

  • Assisting educational policymakers in structuring learning systems to facilitate easier learning for students

  • Helping individuals recover from brain injuries

  • Diagnosing and treating memory problems in patients

  • Studying mental illnesses and developing effective management options

  • Aiding patients in developing healthier behaviors through cognitive behavior therapy

  • Providing therapy for patients with significant mental and emotional illnesses

How to become a cognitive psychologist

Consider following these steps to become a cognitive psychologist:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step in becoming a cognitive psychologist is getting a bachelor's degree in a field such as cognitive psychology, psychology or another relevant field. Students take courses on human learning, problem-solving, motor control and psycholinguistics. They also learn about perception, sensory encoding, development psychology and abnormal psychology.

2. Select a specialization

Cognitive psychology has different branches, so you may want to specialize in a certain area in order to pursue a specific job. Examples of cognitive psychology specializations include:

  • Psycholinguistics

  • Developmental science

  • Neuropsychology

  • Cognitive modeling

  • Psychology of reasoning

  • Behavioral neuroscience

Choosing a specialization early can help improve your chances of advancing quickly in your career as a cognitive psychologist. It can help you focus on an area that offers more opportunities and cultivate the specific skills needed for the role.

Related: All About Psychology Jobs and Common Careers

3. Complete a postgraduate program

To practice cognitive psychology, you need a postgraduate degree. A master's degree can qualify you for some teaching and research roles, but you need a doctorate to treat patients. Most postgraduate programs consist of a mix of classroom and clinical training, and you can typically choose to receive instruction in your chosen specialization.

4. Acquire field experience

To become a licensed cognitive psychologist, most states require candidates to earn a number of supervised clinical hours. You typically complete most or all of your experience during your postgraduate education. You could also pursue internships or volunteer opportunities in your specialization to gain more experience and become a more competitive candidate.

Related: How To Become a Psychologist

5. Obtain a license and certification

To treat patients, you need to earn a state license, which typically involves passing a state-administered exam. You also likely need to submit proof of graduating from a doctoral program and completing clinical hours with a licensed psychologist. You may also need to renew your license periodically to ensure you remain up to date on the latest cognitive psychological practices.

Certifications are also available for cognitive psychologists. A common certification that interested psychologists can pursue is the Certified Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist credential offered by The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists. To earn this certification, you need to meet the following requirements:

  • Have a master's or doctoral degree in psychology or a closely related field

  • Have six years of cognitive behavioral experience approved by a supervisor

  • Provide three letters of recommendation

  • Complete an introductory certification program

6. Send applications

Once you have a license, you can start applying for jobs. Some of the popular options for cognitive psychologists include:

  • Academic institutions

  • Military organizations

  • Corporations

  • Mental health facilities

  • School boards

  • Hospitals

  • Policy analysis organizations

  • Human resource departments

You can also research other organizations that need the services of a trained cognitive psychologist. Use job search sites to find jobs and add filters to further refine your search based on factors such as location or experience level.

Related: 21 Jobs You Can Do With a Cognitive Science Degree

Cognitive psychologist skills

To succeed in cognitive psychology, you can benefit from the following set of skills:

  • Analytical skills: Many duties involve gathering data and using it to identify the source of patient issues, which requires excellent analytical skills.

  • Active listening: Having exceptional communication skills, especially active-listening skills, can be very beneficial in the field. Active listening can help you pay attention to a patient's concerns while also taking note of body language to develop a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

  • Attention to detail: Attention to detail can help you make meaningful observations about patients and their history, which can enhance patients' health and help you better assist their overall well-being.

  • Research skills: Cognitive psychologists not only participate in studies and experiments but also publish findings and deliver lectures to discuss their scholarly contributions.

  • Organization: Highly successful cognitive psychologists have excellent organizational skills. These skills help them solve problems, organize research and perform their daily activities effectively.

  • Problem-solving: To be a successful cognitive psychologist, it's important to have problem-solving skills. Whether you treat patients, perform clinical trials or create policies, most of your work requires identifying challenges and solving them.

Cognitive psychologist salary and outlook

Psychologists, including cognitive psychologists, $94,400 per year. Factors such as qualifications, experience, employer, industry, location and specific job duties can affect pay. For example, a cognitive psychologist with a private practice may earn more than someone working in a clinic or healthcare facility because they can set their own rates.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for cognitive psychologists will grow by 3% from 2019 to 2029. This growth is about as fast as all occupations.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned are affiliated with Indeed.

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