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What is Cognitive Psychology?

Did you ever wonder why you remember specific details with little effort, while other important information cannot be easily recalled? This is one example of the kind of questions that a cognitive psychologist will attempt to answer. The cognitive psychology studies the internal mental processes of our brains, with the idea to gain critical insights to cope with memory disorders, decision making, and learning disorders.

If you are thinking of a career in psychology, the overall job demand in the field is on the rise, and cognitive psychology is one of the most popular subfields. Below is more information about cognitive psychology, how to become one, job demand, additional resources, and more.

Cognitive Psychology Overview

Cognitive psychology is the study of everything that goes on in the brain, including thinking, perception, memory, attention, language, learning, and problem-solving. There are many useful applications for cognitive psychology research, such as finding ways to help people recover from brain injuries, improving learning disorders, and designing educational curricula to make learning easier for students. (Verywellmind.com)

Learning about how people think and process information helps researchers to gain a better understanding of how the brain works. It also allows psychologists to come up with new ways to help people manage their psychological challenges. For instance, by understanding that attention is a limited, selective resource, psychologists can devise solutions that make it easier for people with attention disorders to boost concentration and focus.

Cognitive psychology findings also can help us understand how people store, form, and recall memories. By understanding better how these processes work, psychologists can think of new ways to help people enhance their memories and fight memory problems that come with aging.

For instance, cognitive psychologists in this field have found that short term memory is short-lasting just 20 to 30 seconds and can hold five to nine items – practice can boost the odds that information will go into your long term memory, which is much more durable and stable. This type of work can be used to enhance the daily lives of patients by increasing their ability to remember vital facts and figures over the long term.

How Does a Cognitive Psychologist Help the Patient?

One of the most common techniques used by these psychologists to help patients is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It is a popular form of talk therapy that helps the patient become aware of negative and inaccurate thinking so you can look at a challenging situation more clearly and respond to them more effectively. (Mayoclinic.org).

CBT is a helpful tool that cognitive psychologists often use to treat mental health problems, such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder. But not everyone who can benefit from this technique has a mental health problem. CBT can be effective to help people learn how to manage stress in their lives.

Some of the stresses and emotional challenges a cognitive psychologist can help with using CBT are:

  • Manage the symptoms of a mental illness
  • Prevent relapse of mental health symptoms
  • Treat mental illness when drugs are not the best option
  • Learn techniques to deal with stressful situations
  • Pinpoint ways to manage your emotions
  • Resolve relationship problems and learn how to communicate better
  • Deal with loss and grief
  • Cope with medical problems
  • Manage chronic physical issues

Some of the mental health problems that can be improved with CBT are sleep disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and sexual disorders.

How Can You Become a Cognitive Psychologist?

As with other areas of psychology, obtaining your bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field is the first step. Students in a bachelor’s program will often take courses such as abnormal and developmental psychology, as well as courses on research strategies and statistics.

Once you earn your bachelor’s you are required to earn your master’s degree in cognitive psychology, which is the minimum degree required to become a licensed psychologist. However, many in the field eventually earn their doctorate of psychology because there are more psychology job options and higher pay. You must have several thousand hours of research and clinical experience in the field before you can get your master’s and doctoral degrees.

Some of the courses you may take in a master’s in cognitive psychology program are: (Psychology.UA.edu)

  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • Advanced Statistics I and II
  • Multivariate Methods of Analysis
  • Contemporary Issues in Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Development
  • Memory
  • Cognitive Aging
  • Visual Cognition

What Do You Need to Apply to the Program?

Every admissions office has different standards for its applicants, but most will require most of the following to apply for a master’s in cognitive psychology:

  • College transcripts: Official transcripts from all previous college work, such as bachelor’s and other master’s degrees.
  • Standardized test scores: Some master’s in cognitive psychology programs will require you to submit GRE or GMAT scores. Others may not require them, or offer waivers to students with a high GPA and/or significant related work experience.
  • Letters of recommendation: Cognitive psychology programs are competitive and you need to have excellent recommendations. Some require recommendations from both professors and employers.
  • Prerequisites: If you have a bachelor’s in psychology or a related field, you probably will have the prerequisites you need to be admitted to a master’s program in cognitive psychology
  • Personal essay: How well you write is an important factor that will be considered during the admission process.
  • Application: Most cognitive psychology applications are completed online. Be sure you provide all information requested and apply by the deadline.

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

It is required to have a license to practice as a cognitive psychologist in the United States. While requirements vary by state, the typical requirements are a master’s degree in cognitive psychology and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical practice. After these items are completed, you need to pass your state examination to practice as a psychologist.

Is The Job Outlook for Cognitive Psychologists Good?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports jobs for all psychologists will rise by 14% by 2028, much faster than average. Employment of clinical, counseling and other psychologists will rise as there is a higher demand for psychological services in hospitals, schools, mental health centers, and social service agencies.

Demand will rise as people are turning more often to psychologists for help with their mental health problems. More psychologists will be needed to offer services to the aging US population, and we can expect more cognitive psychologists will be needed to understand and treat major psychological disorders such as depression, memory loss, PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.

Further Resources for Candidates in Cognitive Psychology

Are you interested in becoming a cognitive psychologist? Below are resources where you can learn more:

Now you know much more about what cognitive psychology is, job demand, how to become one, and resources available to learn more. The next step is to determine which master’s program to attend and go from there!

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