how to become a psychologist

What does a Psychologist do?

Psychologists are professionals that study cognitive, emotional, and social behaviors by treating, observing, interpreting, and documenting relationships and environmental factors that may affect an individual. They take into consideration a person’s thoughts, emotions, reactions, and behaviors to try to understand patterns that alter a person’s ability to function. Psychologists specialize in diagnosing and treating but are not able to prescribe medications instead they use talk therapy to help their patients.

Watch a video to learn what a psychologist does.

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How to Become a Psychologist

how to become a psychologist

A psychologist must earn a doctorate degree. This includes either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. A Psy.D is a clinical degree and combines practical work and examinations. Those on the Psy.D track complete a minimum of 1 year in a clinical setting such as a health service, counseling, or school setting. Whereas a Ph.D. in psychology is more researched based that includes a comprehensive exam and a dissertation based on original research. These are typically more classroom-oriented than practical.

Depending on the area of specialty more specified degrees and requirements may exist. Some specialties areas include school psychologists, industrial-organizational psychologists, or educational psychologists. A license or certification is required in order to practice for all types of psychologists.

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Job Description of a Psychologist

Besides just treating clients, a psychologist uses a variety of methods to gather information on the study of human interactions with one another and their environments. They study and observe the outcomes of emotional and human behavior, social processes, and cognitive behavior. They strive to understand a patient’s behavior, emotions, and feelings and attempt to explain them. Psychologists use different techniques and scientific studies to develop theories on what may influence a person’s feelings and behavior. They conduct interviews, brain function assessments, intelligence tests, or use other various methods.

A psychologist’s tests and follows possible patterns in a patient or group of people to help predict a certain behavior. He or she might gather data or information through controlled laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis, or psychotherapy. Some psychologists specialize in a certain area of psychology for instance clinical, health, neuropsychologist, counseling, or forensic psychology to name a few. A psychologist can be found working in a variety of places such as businesses, schools, or other facilities. Some may have their own practice, work with a healthcare team, or work on independent research.

Psychologist Career Video Transcript

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 careers, 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.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists.

National Center for O*NET Development. 19-3031.02. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.