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Psychology Jobs > Military Psychologist


A military psychologist works in a number of different areas all related to the military. More specifically, a military psychologist helps people in the military deal with the pressures of military life as well as helping them develop strategies for dealing with hostile populations during military operations. These hostile populations could be either the enemy military or the civilian population.

A military psychologist may also be involved in the interrogation of prisoners as well as helping military personnel and their families deal with the stress and trauma of combat situations. A military psychologist can choose which branch of the armed forces to work with so a military psychologist may end up working with the army, navy, air force or the marines.

Although wars may have been around forever, military psychology is relatively new. The beginning of military psychology can be found in the work of Heber Butts who helped develop the first psychological screening of Navy recruits in 1911. However, it was the beginning of World War I which saw military psychology become an important discipline.


Charles Myers was one of the first military psychologists and advised the British army about psychological issues during World War I. He began working with soldiers who seemed unable to respond in battle situations and wrote that it was difficult to get the army command to recognize the legitimate psychological problems that some of the soldiers faced. Myers was the first person to use the term "shell shock" when describing soldiers who suddenly were no longer able to perform in combat situations.

During World War I, strides were made in military psychology within the American army. Robert Yerkes began widespread aptitude and intelligence testing in order to differentiate between literate and illiterate recruits. These tests measured a soldier's ability to recognize patterns, draw analogies and do arithmetic. These tests were designed to assess a recruit's intelligence regardless of the amount of education they had received.

Military psychology almost disappeared after World War I but World War II once again highlighted the importance of military psychology. During World War II, there was a large increase in the number of recruits joining the military. During that time, military psychologists tested over eight hundred thousand soldiers a year in an effort to organize and streamline the process of military placement.

During World War II, almost one fourth of all American psychologists were involved in the military. In addition to the screening of recruits, military psychologists were involved in the development of instrument displays, protective gear and placement of controls in aircraft.

The use of psychological warfare and methods of deceiving the enemy were also areas that required the involvement of a military psychologist. In addition to finding ways to affect the enemy, a military psychologist would have been involved in methods to increase soldier morale and deal with any stress issues that the soldiers may face.

Unlike the time after World War I, military psychology did not disappear at the end of World War II. Various veterans' hospitals began training clinical psychologists who could understand the needs of a veteran as well as diagnose and treat other problems. Over fifty percent of all veterans in VA hospitals at that time were diagnosed with a psychological problem.

military psychologist job
(image credit: freeparking)

In a further development, the American Psychological Association organized the Society of Military Psychology in 1945. This society which was also known as Division 19 was one of the original divisions organized by the American Psychological Association.

During the Korean War, clinical psychologists began working overseas with soldiers and in the Vietnam War an increase in psychological problems associated with war was seen.

Post traumatic stress disorder became one of the leading problems faced by Vietnam vets.

As military psychology became more and more accepted it slowly became involved in all aspects of military life. At this point, there is little military activity or military development that does not involve psychology.


What Does A Military Psychologist Do?

A military psychologist will deal with everything from screening, weapon development and helping soldiers deal with issues like accepting the possibility of rapid deployment, the effects of injury and will even help the family of a soldier cope with these same issues. Let's take a more in depth look at a few of these.

Clinical Intervention: One of the main areas where a military psychologist can work is with individual or group intervention designed to help soldiers deal with any issues that they may be experiencing. Some examples of issues that a military psychologist might help a soldier deal with include, dealing with injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, the possibility of deployment at any time, and the realities of being in combat situations. A military psychologist may also be needed to help a soldier readjust to civilian life after years of military service.

A military psychologist will not only work with a soldier but also with a soldier's family. The family as a whole may have issues over a family member being injured or even adjusting to military life. A soldier's family has to learn how to deal with long absences and knowing that a loved one is in harms way. In addition to these issues, a military psychologist can work with a military family or a soldier dealing with the same issues that occur in the civilian population.

Military psychologists may need to travel vast distances to work with people who are deployed overseas. At times, they may even be required to be sent fairly close to the front to meet and deal with soldiers.

Screening: A military psychologist may be required to screen possible recruits to help evaluate their suitability for military life in general as well as what area of the military best fits with their abilities. Some of the criteria that a military psychologist will look for are a recruit's ability to overpower people, the ability to live with the threat of injury or death, as well as being able to follow orders from superiors without question. Recruits will also be evaluated to see how they can handle being sent overseas with little warning.

In addition to these criteria, a military psychologist may also test a possible recruit for aptitude and cognitive abilities as well as conduct personality tests. These assessments are usually carried out through the use of psychometric testing and interviews. A military psychologist may also help screen for recruits who would make good military officers.

Psychological Warfare: Psychological warfare is another area that requires a military psychologist. Some examples of psychological warfare include the use of radio stations to transmit propaganda and dropping pamphlets. Using noise, such as heavy rock music, to make the enemy anxious and even the military strategy of "shock and awe" has been developed with the help of a military psychologist.

Psychological warfare is used in an effort to demoralize the enemy so that they retreat or refuse to fight, as well as attempting to gather information from a prisoner of war during an enemy interrogation. Even minor sabotage designed to demoralize the enemy can be part of a military psychologist's job.

A military psychologist may be involved in developing a profile of the enemy's strengths and weaknesses, which can then be exploited. For example, during the Second World War, the British command used the Japanese fear of the Gurkha's use of a large curved knife to scare Japanese troops during night time raids of their camps.

Equipment Development: A military psychologist may also be involved in the development of different equipment. Equipment such as a new weapon or vehicle may need to be ergonomically designed to ensure that the new piece of equipment and the soldier interact safely and efficiently. In addition, the military psychologist may be required to ensure that any new equipment meets the needs of the soldiers who will be using it.

How Do You Become A Military Psychologist?

In order to become a military psychologist, you will typically need to obtain a doctorate degree and pass all relevant state licensing requirements. Some military schools offer doctorate degree programs where the military will pay the student's tuition and living expenses. Once a degree has been awarded, a student will need to complete an internship which usually lasts at least a year.

In addition to obtaining a doctorate degree, the prospective military psychologist will need to choose which branch of the military to join. All four of the major branches of the military, the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, employ military psychologists to deal with issues within their branch of service.

In addition to the educational requirements, a person who wants to be a military psychologist may be required to pass a variety of physical requirements and fitness tests as part of joining the military and becoming a psychologist.

Where Does A Military Psychologist Work?

A military psychologist will work within one of the four branches of the military. The military psychologist could choose to work for the navy, the army, the marines or the air force. The type of work or issues that the military psychologist could face may depend on the branch that is chosen.

Essentially, military psychologists can end up working wherever there are military personnel. Typical places where a military psychologist can find work include in veterans' hospitals helping patients deal with injuries and readjusting to civilian life or within a military research lab. The military psychologist may also end up with a combat unit or stationed overseas helping soldiers deal with the effects of combat and even helping design the mission.

The need for military psychologists is expected to increase for a number of reasons the least of which are the active wars that the U.S. military is involved in. The post traumatic stress disorder rates during the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have almost doubled and recent studies have placed the post traumatic stress disorder rates for women in the military at close to forty percent of the total women in the military.

In addition to the rising rates of post traumatic stress disorder, new advances in medicine and the nature of war itself has led to an increase of the number of soldiers returning from combat who have been severely injured. These soldiers all need long term medical and rehabilitative psychological services. The military has also recognized the increasing rates of alcohol abuse and alcoholism among war veterans.

In addition to this, the military has become aware of the usefulness of a military psychologist when it comes to developing strategies of deployment and even the development of equipment.

The rate of pay for a military psychologist depends on the military rank held by the military psychologist as well as years of experience in the military. An army captain with two years experience can make over $50,000 a year while a colonel with fourteen years of service can make over $90,000 a year. In addition to a yearly salary, a military psychologist may receive free or subsidized housing and healthcare.

Military psychology is a growing field with a lot of opportunity to work within the various branches of the military helping soldiers cope with military life and readjust to civilian life. A military psychologist can be involved in all aspects of the military from clinical care to program development to psychological warfare. The career of a military psychologist can meet the interests of anyone who is willing to join the military and serve their country.