‘Psychologists, All Other’

You know that awkward time at a cocktail party? When you say you’re a psychologist, and the other person just assumes you’re a practicing clinician? And even if you are a clinical researcher, you spend the next few minutes talking about the difference between research and practice. While it’s true that we are all psychologists, making the research/practice distinction is among the most fundamental challenges we face in increasing public understanding of psychological science.

This may help: APS recently asked the federal government to make this distinction in its classification system for collecting data on jobs. The system, which is currently undergoing final review, will be used by all federal agencies, with encouragement to state and local governments to use the system as well. Among other things, this system will be used in the upcoming census.

The job classification system has a hierarchical structure consisting, at the broadest level, of 23 major occupational groups such as management, production, transportation, farming, service, and so on. Within these groups, there are 810 separate occupations that are designed to capture all of the jobs in the country.

In the latest draft, they got it partly right. Psychologists are listed as a scientific category in the “Social Scientists and Related Workers” group. But within that, the only classification options under “Psychologist” are: “Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists”, “Industrial-Organizational Psychologists” and “Psychologists, All Other.”

It’s the cocktail party problem all over again.

To rectify the situation, and to reduce the confusion about what is covered in the term “psychologist,” APS recommended the creation of a separate grouping titled “Psychological Scientists” with several subgroups to reflect the major research specialties within the field.

“Just as biologists are different from physicians, researchers in psychology are engaged in very different occupations than practitioners in psychology,” wrote APS Executive Director Alan Kraut in comments to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB). “They perform different work using different skills, and in many cases have received different education and training.

“Further distinguishing these categories is the fact that clinical, counseling, and school psychologists are subject to licensure requirements to engage in professional activities, while psychological scientists are not,” noted Kraut. “Because of these differences, it would be inaccurate to include psychologists conducting research in the same occupational category as clinical psychologists who deliver services in health care or other settings.”

The separate grouping would also reflect the fact that psychological research encompasses behavioral science as well as social science. “The majority of psychological scientists focus on behavioral and biological phenomena as well as social phenomena,” said Kraut. “For instance, it is just as likely for a psychology department to be housed in a life sciences division as in a social sciences division, and in many cases, a psychology department anchors a broader behavioral sciences division.” The OMB has yet to respond to APS’ proposed classification structure for psychological science. But if they adopt it, it could be the first step toward a new cocktail party conversation: you say you’re a psychologist, and the other person says “Oh really? What kind of research do you do?”

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