Is it possible to get a job as a prevention psychologist?

The author attempts to answer questions about pursuing a career in prevention psychology

By Elaine Clanton Harpine

Our question today comes in response to a three part series that we did on prevention training. We started the series with a student request for schools which offer course work in group prevention. Part II of our series offered suggestions from several professors explaining how prevention was being taught at their university. Part III dealt with a question from a reader interested in organizing a group prevention course. The conclusion drawn from our investigation of prevention training at he university level was dismal. We need to increase prevention training at the undergraduate and graduate level. We need specific courses in group prevention, and we need to direct graduates toward prevention related jobs. We also need to emphasize work being done in prevention so that students can see the variety and complexity of work available in prevention. Our question today stems directly from this need to highlight work being done in group prevention.

Editorial Question Posed

Dear Prevention Corner:

I'm very interested in this talk about prevention psychology.Is it possible to actually get a job as a prevention psychologist?


Just Wondering


Dear Just Wondering,

Yes, it is definitely possible to get a job in prevention, but the field of prevention is very broad. Therefore, first ask yourself: What type of prevention work would you like to pursue? Do you want to work with children? Are you interested in working in a medical related field? Would you like to work in the school? Do you want to work with adults? Would you prefer to work in a workplace setting? Do you see yourself working with families or teenagers? There aremany options in prevention work.

Your question brings forth a multitude of possible answers. Over the next several issues, we will be introducing responses from several different aspects of group prevention work. I hope that one of these responses will generate a pos- sible career direction for you.

I will begin by presenting one possible avenue of employment for a group psychologist working in the field of prevention – afterschool prevention programming. The federal government spends over one billion dollars a year on afterschool programming, but unfortunately, most of this programming has been reported through research- based evaluation to be unsuccessful. The emphasis to date for most afterschool programs is on recreation and homework help, but research shows that help with homework does not translate back to successin the classroom. This leaves approximately 8 million children desperately in need of ef- fective prevention programming. More and more researchers are calling for prevention programs with an academic focus. Preven- tion programs which focus on academics can help reduce academic failure, addictive (drug) behaviors, unruly classroom behavior, and can even help lower the drop-out rate.

We know that prevention programming works. Now, we need people trained in prevention to go out and develop and direct group prevention afterschool programs. There is an ever-increasing need for trained group prevention programmers. This is definitely a job direction for today and tomorrow.

If you're interested in this type of employment, you need training in group theory and process, group counseling, group prevention pro- gram design, and developmental psychology. Also, take advantage of any volunteer opportunities that are available for working with children and/or teens. Learning to work with children and teens in a group is essential. For more information of the present state of afterschool programming, see the June, 2010 special issue of the American Journal of Community Psychology, where researchers call for change in afterschool programming and stress the need to improve program quality.

In our next column, we will discuss working with adults in a work- place setting and in prevention medicine. This is your column; so take a minute to share your ideas. You may send comments and suggestions.

I look forward to hearing from you.