How to Become a Psychopharmacologist
The human brain is a strange place. It is the most complex system we’ve ever seen, and that includes rocket ships and microchips and scanning electron microscopes. The brain has 100 billion neuron and a 100 trillion synapses, for instance, whereas a computer only has up to 10 billion transistors. Despite the fact that computers can process many jobs much faster than humans, we have been consistently unable to crack the “code” of the human brain. It’s just too complex.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that things can go wrong inside it. Sometimes there exists a chemical imbalance, leading to delays or mis-firings with otherwise normal chemical processes. Other times a neural pathway is so deeply embedded that, healthy or not, it controls the entire brain’s behavior. Even in healthy brains, motivations and neural circuits are hard to parse, which makes treating the human mind one of the most confusing and difficult challenges of today.
Because pharmaceuticals can provide such a welcome relief from many mental conditions, they have taken their place alongside talk therapy and other therapeutic techniques as a time-honored approach to treating mental illness and disorder. However, given the ever-changing nature of the pharmaceutical industry and our ever-more-complex understanding of the human brain, it’s important that someone keep up with all these changes.
That’s where psychopharmacologists come in. If you’re wondering whether psychopharmacology is for you and how to enter the field, here’s the primer you’ve been looking for.
What Is a Psychopharmacologist?
According to the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacologists (ASCP), “Psychopharmacology is the study of the use of medications in treating mental disorders. The complexity of this field requires continuous study in order to keep current with new advances.” The ASCP further adds that professionals need to “tand all the clinically relevant principles of pharmacokinetics (what the body does to medication) and pharmacodynamics (what the medications do to the body).”
More specifically, psychopharmacologists need to have a deep knowledge of:
- How proteins bind in the body and how that affects availability of the medication
- How long medication stays in the body before becoming inert and passing out
- How genes affect medication’s workings and usage
- How drugs affect one another inside the body, and how this varies between people
For obvious reasons, psychopharmacologists must also understand the underlying medical disorders that require medication in the first place. There’s no two ways about it: Becoming a pscyhopharmacologist requires an extreme level of education and knowledge.
How Do You Become a Psychopharmacologist?
As with all psychology professions, the requirements for practice vary by state and jurisdiction. The educational requirements may therefore be lower in some places than in others. On balance, however, those who wish to practice in any psychology capacity usually need a doctoral degree – and in psychopharmacology, you definitely need the doctorate. That means either a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychiatry). From there, you will need to complete the program and begin work in a psychological role before you can even consider a psychopharmacology program. More specifically, that means:
- Getting a bachelor’s degree in a psych-related field. Alternatively, supplementing a non-related bachelor’s degree with postbaccalaureate courses.
- Applying to a master’s or doctoral program for psychology. In some cases, programs include both degrees in one. In other cases, you will need to proceed through one and then the other.
- Complete the program.
- Earn your practicum hours as a psychologist, which is typically around 2,000 before you take the licensure exam and another 2,000 afterwards, once you start working. (Be sure to check specific requirements with your state of practice.)
- Take the EPPP exam, required for all professionals who wish to work in psychology. (Again, note that acceptable scores vary by state and institution, so be sure to check.)
- Work for at least 2 years in a psychology role with demonstrated success.
- Apply to a psychopharmacology program.
These programs are considered “postdoctoral,” which means that they do not impart a doctorate themselves, but rather bestows an additional master’s degree. (Again, typically. The way the degree works will vary by state and program.) The program is typically about 2 years long, and involves in-depth training in physiology, medication interaction, psychology principles, neuroscience, clinical pharmacology, practice management, and neuropharmacology.
There is a large clinical component to the program, so prepare to spend time in hospitals, doctor’s offices, psychology practices or other clinical settings working directly with patients and learning about the process of administering medications to address psych issues.
What Exam Do You Take to Become a Psychopharmacologist?
This exam is so high-level that you must meet certain requirements even to take it. As the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards’ exam, and upon passing, will enable you to work as a psychopharmacologist almost anywhere in the United States and Canada. In order to sit the exam, you must “hold an active license for independent practice as a psychologist at the doctoral level with demonstrated training and experience as a health services provider as defined in the ASPPB Model Act.”
Moreover, you must “submit a self attestation that the psychologist’s licensure is in good standing with no current or pending disciplinary actions” and “present an official transcript demonstrating successful completion of all coursework of a post-doctoral psychopharmacology training program from a regionally accredited institution in the U.S. or a provincially or territorially chartered institution in Canada.” The program must be designed by the American Psychological Association.
And lastly, you “must submit a self attestation verifying that [you have] been a health service provider for a period of at least two years.” If you meet all these requirements, you can take the exam. If you pass, you can then practice.
What Is the Job Outlook for a Psychopharmacologist?
Because this is a relatively new professional designation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have a specific page for this role. However, the BLS reports that psychiatrists can expect to make a mean annual wage of $216,090. Even “entry-level” positions – those in the 25th percentile – can expect to make $143,450, which is impressive for the beginning of a career. Keep in mind, though, that psychopharmacologists have typically already practiced for several years before completing the program and exam.)
Are you interested in becoming a psychopharmacologist, or at least learning more about the profession? We invite you to get in touch with us today to ask questions or research schools. Why wait to achieve your dreams when you could get started? Reach out now!