What does a psychologist do? (2023)

What is a Psychologist?

A psychologist studies mental processes and human behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and the environment.

Some psychologists work independently, doing research or working only with patients or clients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, social workers, and others to treat illness and promote overall wellness.

What does a Psychologist do?

What does a psychologist do? (1)

Psychologists seek to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. Depending on the topic of study, psychologists use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence a person’s actions.

Psychologists often gather information and evaluate behavior through controlled laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis, or psychotherapy. They also may administer personality, performance, aptitude, or intelligence tests.

They look for patterns of behavior or cause-and-effect relationships between events, and use this information when testing theories in their research or treating patients.

A psychologist will typically do the following:

  • Conduct scientific studies to study behavior and brain function (neuropsychologist)
  • Collect information through observations, interviews, surveys, tests, and other methods
  • Find patterns that will help them understand and predict behavior
  • Use their knowledge to increase understanding among individuals and groups
  • Develop programs that improve schools and workplaces by addressing psychological issues
  • Work with individuals, couples, and families to help them make desired changes to behaviors
  • Identify and diagnose mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders
  • Develop and carry out treatment plans
  • Collaborate with physicians or social workers to help treat patients

There are positive and negative aspects to any career, and a career in psychology is no different. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to qualify as a psychologist, and not every client can be helped. It’s important to weigh up all aspects of the job, positive and negative:

Negative aspects:

  • It can be emotionally draining
  • The job can sometimes be frustrating (many clients don't come back after the first visit)
  • It takes time to get established in a community for private practice
  • It can be professionally isolating if in private practice

Positive aspects:

  • Psychology is a diverse field offering many opportunities
  • It is mainly a nine-to-five work schedule
  • Getting to see the results of your work is rewarding
  • It is dependable work once established within a community

Are you suited to be a psychologist?

Psychologists have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also social, meaning they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if psychologist is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Psychologist like?

Many clinical and counseling psychologists in private practice have their own offices and can set their own schedules. Other typical workplaces include clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and community and mental health centres. Most research psychologists work in colleges and universities, government agencies, or private research organizations.

Most school psychologists work in public schools, ranging in level from nursery school through college. They also work in private schools, universities, hospitals and clinics, community treatment centres, and independent practice.

Psychologists in private practice can often set their own hours, and many work part time as independent consultants. However, they often offer evening or weekend hours to accommodate clients. Those employed in hospitals, nursing homes, or other healthcare facilities may also have evening or weekend shifts. Most psychologists working in clinics, government, industry, or schools work full-time schedules during regular business hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a social worker and a psychologist?

A social worker acts as a client advocate, educator, coordinator of care, and an adviser. He or she will work as a liaison with the family, and will look at helping with finances, admissions, discharges, housing, follow-up appointments to outside services, and is sometimes the link to the courts and any legal procedures.

A psychologist works with individuals, couples, and families by identifying and diagnosing mental behavioural and emotional disorders. He or she will then develop a treatment plan, and if necessary, collaborate with doctors or social workers to help the patient carry through with the desired changes. In a nutshell, a social worker addresses problems within our society. A psychologist addresses problems due to our society.

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Social Worker

What is the difference between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist?

Psychology is a study of the human mind - of mental behaviours and psychological functions. Psychologists attempt to understand how the mind functions, how it responds to things, if it can be improved upon, and how it can be kept in a stable state.

Psychologists study various concepts such as behaviour, emotion, relationships, human perception, cognition, personality, attention, and motivation. Many people all over the world look to psychologists when it comes to understanding mental and emotional problems.

Clinical psychologists are able to take things a step further by being interactive and helping their clients with their mental health. This is done by way of consultations, assessments, psychological testings, and treatments.

By using the scientific methods and principles of psychology, clinical psychologists are able to understand how to best treat those who are suffering from psychological issues or problems. The goal of clinical psychologists is to offer the client a corrective course of action or a specific treatment that can improve their mental well-being.

In regards to the difference in education between the two professions, a psychologist needs to complete a four year university-based psychology degree. To be a registered psychologist one needs to complete an undergraduate degree plus two years of supervised clinical experience.

A clinical psychologist, on the other hand, needs to complete an undergraduate degree in psychology, a two-year master's degree, and then another two years of supervised clinical training. Clinical psychologists also need to keep up with continuing education on an annual basis. Clinical psychologists who have completed a PhD, or a Doctorate of Clinical Psychology, can use the title of 'doctor'.

What does a psychologist do? (2)

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Clinical Psychologist

What is some good advice for psychology students?

It would be wise to get your undergraduate major in psychology, since many graduate programs in psychology will require it. Even in your first year of university, it wouldn’t be too early to identify some graduate programs you might be interested in attending. Find out exactly what they require for admission so you don't waste time later, by going back and taking courses you didn't know you needed.

When you do apply for graduate school, it would be extremely advantageous if you had research experience under your belt. Get to know a professor in your undergrad years that conducts psychological research, and offer to work as his/her assistant. This professor could eventually become your mentor if you prove yourself to be humble, reliable, and dependable.

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What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Both psychiatrists and psychologists conduct psychotherapy and research, but there are two significant differences between the two professions.

The number one difference is in education. A psychiatrist has a medical degree and is a medical doctor, whereas a psychologist has a Master's or Doctoral Degree in Psychology. The second difference is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medication, whereas a psychologist cannot.

When considering this career, ask yourself whether you'd prefer to assess, diagnose, treat mental illness, and prescribe medication (psychiatrist), or if you would rather conduct psychotherapy, administer psychological tests, and conduct research (a psychologist).

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Should I become a Psychologist?

Many people suffer from depression, substance abuse, anxiety, phobias and mental health issues. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 25% of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and 50% will develop one during their lifetime. Psychologists play a very important part in helping people deal with these types of problems.

If you are considering becoming a psychologist, there are variety of areas in which you can practice. The focus you choose to pursue is up to you. Examples include clinical psychology, research, psychotherapy, personality testing, teaching, and forensic psychology. Regardless of which area you choose to focus on, there are pros and cons to consider before taking the plunge.

- Having the opportunity to work with people in overcoming their problems
- Getting the opportunity to meet and help people from all walks of life
- Seeing positive results can be very rewarding
- Getting to work in an office type setting
- No two days will be the same
- Typically a 9-5 work schedule, with weekends off
- Once established within a community, one can expect fairly dependable work
- Getting opportunities to collaborate and network with other professionals
- The diverse field of psychology offers many opportunities

- Being privy to distressing information can be emotionally draining
- Working with difficult clients can cause stress
- Sometimes long hours are involved
- Extensive paperwork and dealing with insurance companies can be arduous
- Private practice can be professionally isolating and can be hard to get established in
- Direct marketing and business efforts are necessary to advance in private practice
- Without tenure, university positions have no job security
- Client results are sometimes hard to see as clients often don't return after first visit

How long does it take to become a Psychologist?

The amount of time it takes to complete one's education depends on the psychology specialty area and career interests.

Most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree. Psychologists can complete a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. A Ph.D. in psychology is a research degree that culminates in a comprehensive exam and a dissertation based on original research.

In clinical, counseling, school, or health service settings, students usually complete a one-year internship as part of the doctoral program. The Psy.D. is a clinical degree and is often based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation.

All psychology students start out with a four-year bachelor's degree. After completing a bachelor's degree, the different degree options and requirements for various careers in psychology are as follows:
- Social Worker - Bachelor's Degree (4 yrs); Master's Degree recommended
- Industrial Organizational Psychologist - Master's Degree (6-7 yrs)
- Forensic Psychologist - Master's Degree (6-7 yrs); Doctoral Degree recommended
- Sports Psychologist - Master's Degree (6-7 yrs)
- Licensed Counselor - Master's Degree (6-7 yrs)
- Criminal Psychologist - Master's degree (6-7 yrs) Doctoral Degree recommended
- School Psychologist - Master's Degree, but varies by state (6-7 yrs approximately)
- Health Psychologist - Doctoral Degree (8-9 yrs)
- Clinical Psychologist - Doctoral Degree (8-11 yrs)
- Social Psychologist - Doctoral Degree (9-11 yrs)
- Child Psychologist - Doctoral degree (9-11 yrs)

Steps to becoming a Psychologist

Entry into psychology graduate programs is competitive. Most master’s degree programs do not require an undergraduate major in psychology, but do require coursework in introductory psychology, experimental psychology, and statistics. Some doctoral degree programs require applicants to have a Master’s Degree in Psychology, while others will accept applicants with a major in psychology.

In most jurisdictions, practicing psychology or using the title of “psychologist” requires licensure or certification. Psychologists typically need previous related work experience.

To become licensed, for example, psychologists must have completed one or more of the following: predoctoral or postdoctoral supervised experience, an internship, or a residency program. School psychologists also must complete a year-long supervised internship program to become licensed or certified.

Psychologists are also known as:
Doctor of Psychology

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