Brief Articles

Prevention Corner: Why Can’t I get a Job with a Four Year Degree in Psychology

Elaine Harpine, PhD
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

Prevention Corner

Why Can’t I Get a Job with a Four-Year Degree in Psychology?

As you have probably noticed in the Monitor on Psychology, in both the February and June 2016 issues, discussions over employment opportunities with a four-year psychology degree have intensified. In the February 2016 issue of the Monitor on Psychology, the APA Center for Workforce Studies stated that 38.2% of college students who graduate with a four-year degree in psychology take jobs that are “not related” to psychology. Career counselors often suggest that four-year psychology majors look for jobs as a business manager, in labor relations, as a library assistant, probation officer, in sales, real estate, insurance, marketing, case management, and in social services. In June, the Monitor reported that “sales” was the most common job for four-year bachelor degree graduates. As one student stated, “not exactly what I expected when I majored in psychology.”

The sad fact is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We are losing many outstanding students in psychology because financially they need to be able to qualify for a good paying career oriented job upon graduation with a four-year degree.

Just the other day, I was confronted on campus by a student who had worked at my community-based clinic for at-risk children. “I’m changing my major,” she said, “I won’t be able to work for you this year. My parents insist that I get a degree that will get me a job. I can’t go to grad school. I have to pay off student loans.” I naturally tried to persuade the student to stay in psychology, but in the end, I couldn’t argue that a four-year degree in psychology really only prepared you to go on to graduate school. Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that most four-year psychology majors do not end up working in psychology related fields. This dilemma is the background for our editorial question today.

Editorial Question Posed:

Dear Prevention Corner: 

I’m a graduate student, and I attended your symposium at the 2015 APA convention in Toronto on effective training methods. I really liked what everyone said about prevention programs. Why are schools not offering training in prevention groups? This would have been perfect for me. Is it possible to get a four-year degree in prevention? Does your university offer a program?



Dear Excited:

I’m always happy to hear from students who are excited about prevention. I’m glad you enjoyed the symposium. Unfortunately, I must report that NO, the university where I presently work does not offer a four-year degree program in prevention. I also must admit that at present I do not know of a university offering a complete 4-year degree, specialization, or 4-year training emphasis in prevention groups. This is a problem that has been discussed extensively for years. Some universities offer prevention mixed in with other subjects, but few if any offer complete training programs in group prevention. Yet the need is astronomical: medical prevention groups (cancer, diabetes, heart attack), school-based prevention, violence and anger prevention groups, bully prevention, and health prevention groups (obesity, stress). The list could go on and on. In 2013, the Report of Healthy Development reported that there is a definite need for prevention groups and a definite need for effective training programs in prevention. In 2014, an APA task force stated that prevention group training programs at present are not effective and that most of the people presently conducting prevention group programs are poorly trained or not trained at all. So, what do we do?

Many of these prevention groups, such as diabetes or heart attack prevention, do not necessarily need a licensed therapist. What they need is a trained psychologist who specializes in organizing and conducting effective prevention group programs.

Such a job would be perfect for bachelor degree graduates. Such a program would also fill the needs of many communities.

We could expand our psychology student population if we offered a four-year degree in prevention groups. We could fill a desperate need and increase psychology’s outreach into the community, schools, and medical- health related world by expanding our curriculum choices and adding a four-year specialization in prevention groups. A four-year bachelor’s degree in group prevention would allow students like yourself the option of working in psychology rather than settling for a sales job after completing your degree.

The need is widespread. At present approximately 26% of all adults experience some form of mental health disorder, but very few actually seek help because of the stigma attached to therapy (Vogel et al. 2011).   Prevention would not take away from or replace therapy. There will always be a need for therapy, but by expanding psychology’s prevention outreach, we could increase mental health services to those who refuse to seek therapy. Most prevention is conducted in groups; therefore, training in group prevention techniques is essential. Research also shows that approximately 50% of such mental disorders in adults originated or began before the age of 14 (Pirog & Good, 2013). There is a desperate need to reach people at an early age, especially since early prevention has been documented to eliminate or significantly reduce many mental health concerns (Kazak et al., 2010). Prevention groups could fill this need, especially through community and school-based settings.

We have the need. We have the ability to fill the need. We have psychology students, like yourself, interested in a four-year group prevention degree. So, why do we not have such a program?

Change is slow, but let’s dream for just a minute and outline what such a specialization could entail. We’ll highlight 13 possible classes that might be offered in a four-year specialization in prevention groups.

All students in psychology need a general overview course. Some have suggested that students looking at a four-year prevention degree might benefit the most from an introductory course on how psychology is applied to everyday life. There are already many excellent textbooks on the market and many schools even offer an introductory course in applied psychology. Developmental psychology would also be essential, especially a course that covered development across the lifespan. Social psychology, already offered by many schools, would need to emphasize interaction between individuals and within groups.

  1. Introductory course in psychology applied to everyday life
  2. Developmental psychology or life span development
  3. Social psychology and the development of perceptions

At the point where traditional psychology majors turn to research methods and statistics, four-year psychology students in prevention groups need training in applied techniques and interventions. One of the major weaknesses in group psychology, regardless whether you are working in group prevention or group therapy, is the lack of training that we offer in understanding the intricacies of group process. Many people falsely believe that working with individuals in a group setting is the same as individual single-client therapy. This is not true. To work effectively with a group, all psychologists must be trained in group process. One semester when I was teaching group psychotherapy, I took my graduate students to observe an outpatient group therapy session where the licensed group therapist proceeded to go around the circle of clients talking and working with each client individually while others merely sat and waited their turn. That is not group therapy. In prevention, we have self-proclaimed experts going out and conducting “prevention groups” where children sit on the floor in gymnasiums and merely listen to a lecture. That is not a prevention group. We desperately need effective training programs in group prevention.   The American Psychological Association (2014) avowed that existing prevention group training programs are not effective. Groups can offer a strong healing or corrective influence, but the healing power of a group is only unleashed when group process is used correctly.

Well designed and properly implemented prevention groups have been shown through evidence-based research to be effective. The key is a well-designed and effectively implemented prevention program. This is why effective training programs are essential. Research shows that how a program is used, even an evidence-based program, is the determining factor between success or failure (Pettigrew et al. 2013). Therefore, psychology majors must be taught how to conduct prevention groups effectively. Let’s look at a definition of what group prevention is and perhaps that will help to clarify the complexity of a prevention group.

Prevention groups utilize group process to the fullest extent: interaction, cohesion, group process and change. The purpose of prevention groups is to enhance members’ strengths and competencies, while providing members with knowledge and skills to avoid harmful situations or mental health problems. Prevention groups occur as a stand-alone intervention or as a key part of a comprehensive prevention program. Prevention encompasses both wellness and risk reduction. Preventive groups may focus on the reduction in the occurrence of new cases of a problem, the duration and severity of incipient problems, or they may promote strengths and optimal human functioning. Prevention groups encompass many formats. They may function within a small group format or work with a classroom of thirty or forty. Prevention may also be community-wide with multiple group settings. Prevention groups use various group approaches. Psychoeducational groups are popular and, while some prevention psychologists work within a traditional counseling group, others use a group-centered intervention approach. Two key ingredients for all prevention groups are that they be directed toward averting problems and promoting positive mental health and well-being and that they highlight and harness group processes (Conyne and Clanton Harpine 2010, p. 194).

So, as you can see organizing a prevention group involves more than just gathering a group of people together. You cannot learn to be an effective prevention group leader in a one-hour workshop. If prevention is to be effective, the group organizer must understand the intricacies of group process, interaction, and group cohesion. These intricacies must be taught. Community psychology offers courses to students working in the community and organizing community-based programs. This is why a four-year bachelor degree program would be perfect. Most community psychology programs stress prevention, but few if any, community psychology programs teach group process, how to initiate interaction in a group, or how to achieve group cohesion. You may be able to find psychology courses that talk about groups or discuss using groups, but we have very few courses which actually teach group process. Yet, understanding group process is essential for anyone working with groups.

Therefore, our next selection of courses for a four-year specialization in prevention groups would include courses in group process and prevention. Prevention group workers also need to touch on neuropsychology or the knowledge of how the brain works. A four-year student would not need the depth or research knowledge that a student going on to graduate school would, but prevention group specialists do need background knowledge in neuropsychology.

  1. Group process
  2. Group problems and how to handle difficult group situations
  3. Group prevention techniques
  4. Neuropsychology or knowledge of the brain and how it works

At this point, some readers may be saying: We have workshops, training programs, and evidence-based programs. What else do we need? A single workshop or training program is not enough. We need more in-depth training.

There are three approaches being used presently in group prevention: psychoeducational groups, traditional counseling groups, and group-centered prevention groups. A prevention group specialization would need to teach each of these approaches to group prevention. Again, textbooks are already available.

Research has shown that therapy is more effective when learning or an educational component is incorporated alongside therapy interventions (Baskin et al., 2010). The same is true with prevention groups. From a 20-year longitudinal study, Jones, Greenberg, and Crowley (2015) provide support for this concept of combining learning and counseling. They call it “combining cognitive and non-cognitive skills-training. The cognitive skills are the educational component. The non-cognitive skills include social emotional skills, behavior, personal control, self-regulation, persistence with a task, interpersonal skills or ability to relate to others, and group interaction skills. If you refer back to our definition of a prevention group, each of these skills must be incorporated in a prevention group training program. This level of understanding and training cannot be successfully taught in a single workshop or training session.

Group leaders cannot learn how to work with others effectively in a group setting without professional training (Erchul, 2013). Prevention groups need to offer skills training, especially interpersonal and group skills. Prevention group programs must also offer both a combination of knowledge and skills if such a program is to be effective (Long & Maynard, 2014). Knowledge incorporates the subject or what is being taught (diabetes or heart attack prevention), skills training involves application or how to use such knowledge in everyday life. Before group leaders can teach others, they too must receive skill-based training. One of the primary causes of prevention group failure is poor implementation and the way in which skills and knowledge were taught by the group leader (Coles et al., 2015).

Evidence-based programs sound fantastic, but in practice, they have not always been successful (McHugh & Barlow, 2010). Research has shown that many evidence-based programs result in ineffective practice because the program was not implemented as designed or was used incorrectly (Erchul, 2013). What many group leaders do not understand is that any time you change or only use bits and pieces of an evidence-based program; you have changed the program and thereby changed or reduced the effectiveness of the program (Rotheram-Borus et. al, 2012). Therefore, we need to provide training for group leaders using evidence-based prevention group programs.   Knowing how to implement or use a prevention group program, regardless whether it is an evidence-based program or not, is essential if we are ever to have effective prevention programs and must be included in any four-year degree program.

Students must also be taught how to identify an effective prevention group program as well as learn how to design and develop effective prevention group programs. Evaluation techniques must be taught.

  1. The principles of an effective prevention group
  2. Program evaluation

We also need to teach students how to design effective prevention group programs. Robert Conyne offers an excellent book for psychoeducational style programs (Conyne, 2010, 2013). I offer three books for group-centered prevention programs (Clanton Harpine 2008, 2011, 2013a). Textbooks are available. All that is missing is a 4-year undergraduate course of study in prevention groups.

  1. Designing and conducting an effective group prevention program
  2. Introduction to group counseling
  3. Group-centered prevention: Combining counseling and learning in one prevention group program
  4. Supervised internships working with actual prevention groups

Research states that courses incorporating service-learning result in higher test scores and more knowledgeable application of textbook and course content (Postlethwait 2012). Some universities are now even requiring service-learning courses or as much as 30-hours of service learning during a semester. Supervised internships working with some prevention groups should be a very vital component of any four-year degree.

We have organizations, hospitals, community groups, and schools crying out for trained personnel to organize and conduct prevention group programs. We have students seeking a four-year degree in psychology that will enable them to qualify for employment upon graduation. So, why do we refuse to offer college-level training programs in group prevention?

Students, like yourself, need to step forward and demand a four-year degree program in prevention groups. Faculty need to step forward and make it happen.

If you would like to join this discussion, let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at


American Psychological Association. (2014). Guidelines for prevention in psychology. American Psychologist, 69, 285-296.   doi: 10.1037/a0034569

Baskin, T. W., Slaten, C. D., Sorenson, C., Glover-Russell, J., & Merson, D. N. (2010). Does youth psychotherapy improve academically related outcomes?: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 57, 290-296. doi: 10.1037/a0019652

Clanton Harpine, E. (2008). Group interventions in schools: Promoting mental health for at-risk children and youth. New York: Springer.

Clanton Harpine, E. (2011). Group-Centered Prevention Programs for At-Risk Students. New York: Springer.

Clanton Harpine, E. (2013). After-school prevention programs for at-risk students: Promoting engagement and academic success. New York: Springer.

Clanton Harpine, E. (2015). Group-Centered Prevention in Mental Health: Theory, Training, and Practice. New York: Springer.

Coles, E. K., Owens, J. S., Serrano, V. J., Slavec, J., & Evans, S. W. (2015). From consultation to student outcomes: The role of teacher knowledge, skills, and beliefs in increasing integrity and classroom management strategies. School Mental Health, 7, 34-48.   doi: 10.1007/s12310-015-9143-2

Conyne, R. K. (2010). Prevention program development and evaluation: An incident reduction, culturally relevant approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Conyne, R. K., & Clanton Harpine, E. (2010). Prevention groups: The shape of things to come. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 14, 193-198. doi:10.1037/a0020446

Erchul, W. P. (2013). Treatment integrity enhancement via performance feedback conceptualization as an exercise social influence. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 23, 300-306.

Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence in future wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105, 2283-2290. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630

Kazak, A. E. (2008). Evidence-based treatment and practice: New opportunities to bridge clinical research and practice, enhance the knowledge base, and improve patient care. American Psychologist, 63, 146-159. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.3.146

Long, A. C. J., & Maynard, B. R. (2014). Treatment integrity as an adult behavior change: A review of models. In L. M. H. Sanetti and T. R. Kratochwill (Eds.), Treatment integrity: A foundation for evidence-based practice and applied psychology (pp. 57-78). Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

Pettigrew, J., Miller-Day, M., Shin, Y. J., Hecht, M. L., Krieger, J. L., & Graham, J. W. (2013). Describing teacher-student interactions: a qualitative assessment of teacher implementation of the 7th grade keepin’ it REAL substance use intervention. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51, 43-56.   doi: 10.1007/s10464-012-9539-1

McHugh, R. K., & Barlow, D. H. (2010). The dissemination and implementation of evidence-based psychological treatments: A review of current efforts. American Psychologist, 65, 73-84. doi: 10.1037/a0018121

Pirog, M. A. & Good, E. M. (2013). Public policy and mental health: Avenues for Prevention. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Postlethwait, A. (2012). Service learning in an undergraduate social work research course. Journal of Teaching Social Work, 32, 243-256.   doi: 10.1080108841233.2012.687343

Vogel, D. L., Heimerdinger-Edwards, S. R., Hammer, J. H., & Hubbard, A. (2011). “Boys don’t cry”: Examination of the links between enforcement of masculine norms, self-stigma, and help-seeking attitudes for men from diverse backgrounds. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58, 368-382. doi: 10.1037/a0023688