Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments.
What they do
Psychologists typically do the following:
- Conduct scientific studies of behavior and brain function
- Observe, interview, and survey individuals
- Identify psychological, emotional, behavioral, or organizational issues and diagnose disorders
- Research and identify behavioral or emotional patterns
- Test for patterns that will help them better understand and predict behavior
- Discuss the treatment of problems with clients
- Write articles, research papers, and reports to share findings and educate others
- Supervise interns, clinicians, and counseling professionals
Psychologists seek to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. They use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence individuals.
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 relationships between events, and they use this information when testing theories in their research or when treating patients.
The following are examples of types of psychologists:
Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists help people deal with problems ranging from short-term personal issues to severe, chronic conditions.
Clinical psychologists are trained to use a variety of approaches to help individuals. Although strategies generally differ by specialty, clinical psychologists often interview patients, give diagnostic tests, and provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy. They also design behavior modification programs and help patients implement their particular program. Some clinical psychologists focus on specific populations, such as children or the elderly, or on certain specialties, such as neuropsychology.
Clinical psychologists often consult with other health professionals regarding the best treatment for patients, especially treatment that includes medication. Currently, only Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and New Mexico allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication to patients.
Counseling psychologists help patients deal with and understand problems, including issues at home, at the workplace, or in their community. Through counseling, these psychologists work with patients to identify their strengths or resources they can use to manage problems.
Developmental psychologists study the psychological progress and development that take place throughout life. Many developmental psychologists focus on children and adolescents, but they also may study aging and problems facing older adults.
Forensic psychologists use psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological aspects of a particular case. They often testify in court as expert witnesses. They typically specialize in family, civil, or criminal casework.
Industrial–organizational psychologists apply psychology to the workplace by using psychological principles and research methods to solve problems and improve the quality of work life. They study issues such as workplace productivity, management or employee working styles, and employee morale. They also help top executives, training and development managers, and training and development specialists with policy planning, employee screening or training, and organizational development.
Rehabilitation psychologists work with physically or developmentally disabled individuals. They help improve quality of life or help individuals adjust after a major illness or accident. They may work with physical therapists and teachers to improve health and learning outcomes.
School psychologists apply psychological principles and techniques to education disorders and developmental disorders. They may address student learning and behavioral problems; design and implement performance plans, and evaluate performances; and counsel students and families. They also may consult with other school-based professionals to suggest improvements to teaching, learning, and administrative strategies.
Some psychologists become postsecondary teachers or high school teachers.
Some psychologists work alone, doing independent research, consulting with clients, or counseling patients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, social workers, and others to treat illness and promote overall wellness.
Psychologists in private practice often set their own hours, and many work part time as independent consultants. They may work evenings or weekends to accommodate clients. Those employed in hospitals or other healthcare facilities may also have evening or weekend shifts. Most psychologists in clinics, government, industry, or schools work full-time schedules during regular business hours.
How to become a Psychologist
Although psychologists typically need a doctoral degree in psychology, a master’s degree may be sufficient for school and industrial organizational positions. Psychologists in clinical practice need a license.
Most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree. Students 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 is obtained after taking a comprehensive exam and writing a dissertation based on original research. Ph.D. programs typically include courses on statistics and experimental procedures. The Psy.D. is a clinical degree often based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. In clinical, counseling, school, or health service settings, students usually complete a 1-year internship as part of the doctoral program.
School psychologists need an advanced degree and either certification or licensure to work. Common advanced degrees include education specialist degrees (Ed.S.) and doctoral degrees (Ph.D. or Psy.D.). School psychologist programs include coursework in education and psychology because their work addresses both education and mental health components of students’ development.
Industrial–organizational psychologists typically need a master’s degree, usually including courses in industrial–organizational psychology, statistics, and research design.
When working under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist, other master’s degree graduates can also work as psychological assistants in clinical, counseling, or research settings.
In most states, practicing psychology or using the title “psychologist” requires licensure. In all states and the District of Columbia, psychologists who practice independently must be licensed where they work.
Licensing laws vary by state and by type of position. Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and at least 1 to 2 years of supervised professional experience. They also must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Information on specific state requirements can be obtained from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. In many states, licensed psychologists must complete continuing education courses to keep their licenses.
The American Board of Professional Psychology awards specialty certification in 15 areas of psychology, such as clinical health psychology, couple and family psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. The American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology offers certification in neuropsychology. Board certification can demonstrate professional expertise in a specialty area. Certification is not required for most psychologists, but some hospitals and clinics do require certification. In those cases, candidates must have a doctoral degree in psychology, a state license or certification, and any additional criteria required by the specialty field.
Most prospective psychologists must have pre- or postdoctoral supervised experience, including an internship. Internships allow students to gain experience in an applied setting. Candidates must complete an internship before they can qualify for state licensure. The required number of hours of the internship varies by state.
The median annual wage for psychologists was $80,370 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,380, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $132,070.
Overall employment of psychologists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by occupation.
Employment of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is projected to grow because of greater demand for psychological services in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and social service agencies. Demand for clinical and counseling psychologists will increase as people continue to turn to psychologists for help with their problems. Psychologists also will be needed to provide services to an aging population, helping people deal with the mental and physical changes that happen as they grow older. Psychological services will also be needed for veterans suffering from war trauma, for survivors of other trauma, and for people with developmental disorders, such as autism.
Employment of school psychologists will continue to grow because of the increased awareness of the connection between mental health and learning and because of the need for mental health services in schools. School psychologists will be needed to work with students, particularly those with special needs, learning disabilities, and behavioral issues. Schools rely on school psychologists to assess and counsel students. In addition, school psychologists will be needed to study how factors both in school and outside of school affect learning. Once aware of those factors, teachers and administrators can use them to improve education. Job opportunities may be limited, however, because employment of school psychologists in public schools and universities is contingent on state and local budgets.
Organizations will continue to use industrial–organizational psychologists to help select and retain employees, increase organizational productivity and efficiency, and improve office morale.
Similar Job Titles
Child Psychologist, Clinical Director, Clinical Psychologist, Clinical Therapist, Forensic Psychologist, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Psychologist Manager, Pediatric Psychologist, Psychologist
Autism Consultant, Bilingual School Psychologist, Challenging Behavior Consultant, Consulting Psychologist, Early Intervention School Psychologist, Educational Diagnostician, Learning Consultant, Psychologist, School Psychologist, School Psychometrist
Assessment Services Manager, Consultant, Consulting Psychologist, Industrial Psychologist, Industrial/Organizational Psychologist (I/O Psychologist), Management Consultant, Organizational Consultant, Organizational Development Consultant (OD Consultant), Organizational Psychologist, Research Scientist
Applied Behavior Science Specialist (ABSS), Chemical Dependency Therapist, Counseling Psychologist, Counseling Services Director, Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Senior Staff Psychologist, Staff Psychologist
Employment Advisor, Employment Services Case Manager, Employment Specialist, Human Services Care Specialist, Job Coach, Rehabilitation Counselor, Rehabilitation Specialist, Vocational Case Manager, Vocational Placement Specialist, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC)
Counseling Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist, Mental Health Counselor, Healthcare Social Worker, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker
Counseling Psychologist, Educational/Guidance/School/Vocational Counselor, Mental Health Counselor, Healthcare Social Worker, Education Teacher-Postsecondary
Human Resources Manager, Education Administrator-Postsecondary, Survey Researcher, Business Teacher-Postsecondary, Communications Teacher-Postsecondary
School Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist, Mental Health Counselor, Healthcare Social Worker, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor, Child/Family/School Social Worker, Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist, Recreational Therapist, Recreation Worker
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Board of Professional Psychology
- American Correctional Association
- American Psychological Association
- American Society of Clinical Hypnosis
- Association for Behavior Analysis International
- Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
- Association of Black Psychologists
- International Neuropsychological Society
- National Academy of Neuropsychology
- National Association of Social Workers
- American School Counselor Association
- Council for Exceptional Children
- National Association of School Psychologists
- National Education Association
Magazines and Publications
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Helping people succeed in school and personal life is the work of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists. Clinical psychologists help people resolve short-term personal issues or cope with severe, chronic mental illness. They start by assessing and diagnosing a person’s condition, then choose the most effective treatment to offer— whether it’s individual, family, or group psychotherapy, or a behavior modification program. Clinical psychologists may specialize in working with a certain age group, or in treating certain types of disorders. Counseling psychologists help their clients deal with issues at home, in their career, at school, or in their communities. After interviewing clients and gathering their history, a counseling psychologist works to help them understand the underlying dynamics of problems in their lives, identify coping strategies, set goals, and create an action plan to meet them. They work with families, groups, and individuals. School psychologists help students succeed in their personal development and at school. They may diagnose learning or behavior issues, and design performance plans to help students thrive. School psychologists counsel students and families, and also work with teachers and school staff to improve teaching, learning, and administrative methods. School psychologists need an advanced degree, usually the education specialist degree, and certification or licensure. Some school psychologists have a master’s or doctoral degree in school psychology. Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and a period of supervised professional experience. They must also pass a national exam.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org