How to Become an Air Force Psychologist
Those who answer the call to serve their country via the air as opposed to land join the U.S. Air Force branch of the military. By defending the nation from the skies above, U.S. Airmen and Airwomen have a job that is unlike any other. Though rewarding and exciting, these aviators experience stress and hardships that those in civilian populations can't grasp. That's why Air Force psychologists are used in helping these individuals and their families cope with the stresses of war, both during and after their times of service.
The first step to an Air Force Psychology career is deciding which degree you will work towards. Typically higher-level degrees will provide more options, but it may be worth considering a lower-level degree depending on the type of job that you want.
- Associate's Degree – Those considering a career in Air Force psychology can begin by pursuing an associate's degree, which can be earned in two years or less. Such associate's degrees tend to be offered at career or community colleges.
- Bachelor's Degree in Air Force Psychology – In addition to completing standard bachelor's level education, taking coursework in Military Resilience would be a good place to start. Those seeking to become Air Force psychologists might consider volunteering at area veterans centers.
- Master's Degree in Air Force Psychology – Several schools offer the chance to focus on military or Air Force psychology at the master's level. Recognized programs should also include veteran's affairs internships at designated centers so students can gain experience based on the world around them. The Air Force has established internships that best ready students to work in this specific field.
- Graduate Certificate in Air Force Psychology – Recognizing the demand, many schools now offer a military behavioral health graduate certificate. These programs train current mental health professionals to provide treatment to Air Force veterans. This way, they are better equipped to handle the challenges faced by this specific population.
- Doctorate Degree in Air Force Psychology – The U.S. Military offers a few direct paths to those wishing to work as Air Force psychologists. By attending a designated Uniformed Services University such as the School of Medicine in Bethesda, MD, students can follow a delineated education and service path to earning their degree and working as an Air Force psychologist. These competitive entry programs take three to five years to complete. The military offers scholarships and programs where years of service may be exchanged for covering the costs of tuition.
Students who have earned their doctorate in Air Force psychology must follow the necessary steps to earn licensure before they can practice.
Age and ability to pass a physical fitness test are specific requirements to becoming an Air Force psychologist that may not exist for other areas of psychology.
Internship / Practicum Experience
During their doctorate program, students must complete required, military-specific internships so they can obtain field experience. The Air Force has personnel who work with those in training to set them up with designated internships. Any other internship opportunity that a student would like to complete must be approved.
- Graduates in Air Force Psychology must sit for the national Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is issued by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.
- Students must complete a minimum of one year of internship experience at a military-approved site to be considered as a candidate.
- Before obtaining employment, Air Force psychology graduates must then meet individual state mandates by passing a jurisprudence exam.
- Outside of EPPP licensing, the U.S. Armed Forces do not issue its own licensing.
- To stay current, working psychologists must renew their licenses periodically. The U.S. Armed Forces will often cover these expenses.
Upon completion of their academics, sanctioned internships, licensure, and military service, graduates are readied to advance into the Air Force Psychologist job they so diligently trained for. These psychologists can treat active duty members of the Air Force and veterans. Some may serve on base at overseas locations while others will serve at home.
What Careers Can I Pursue With an Air Force Psychology Degree?
Though Air Force psychologists treat active duty members and veteran populations, they can perform several different roles, including evaluating, diagnosing, and treating these individuals.
Pre-Service: Prior to joining the Air Force, a candidate must successfully complete a psychological exam to ensure they can cope with the challenges that come from serving in the military. By law, the Air Force cannot enlist individuals with certain pre-existing psychological conditions. An Air Force psychologist must assess the mental health and well-being of candidates seeking to join the Air Force and decide if they are able to enlist.
During Service: Members of the Air Force may experience fear, anxiety, and apprehension caused by the conflict they see and the destruction it leaves behind. Many of these hardships are unimaginable to civilians. It's no wonder some service personnel struggles to cope when they return to U.S. soil. That's why Air Force psychologists work with active duty Armed Forces members to treat them in the field. Such Air Force psychologists may be stationed at international military bases. Though this work involves some risk, these psychologists do not typically experience war themselves when situated overseas.
Post-Service: Though coming back to the U.S. is something most service members look forward to, some may struggle as they transition back to civilian life. Some veterans may suffer from severe cases of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) while others may have a hard time adjusting to the realities of the civilian world. Air Force psychologists work with these veteran populations to help them successfully transition back to the ordinary, non-military world. In 2022, there's a massive demand for Air Force psychologists to help veterans returning home from combat in the Middle East.
Where Can I Work With an Air Force Psychology Degree?
In most situations, Air Force psychologists work at government-run Veteran's Affairs offices across the country or at military bases in the U.S. and overseas. A handful of opportunities may be available at nonprofits and other government sectors.
Total earnings for an Air Force Psychologist can be difficult to pin down because the U.S. Armed Forces offer programs in which they pay for housing, healthcare, food allowances, and schooling. Such arrangements usually require students to commit to service for a period of five to seven years upon graduation. This can be a win-win for the student since these are the employment opportunities they are seeking. Salary also is dependent on military rank, post-doctoral education, and years of experience.