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Program ResourcesWhat Does a Psychologist Do

Psychologists have the demanding yet rewarding job of studying cognitive, emotional and social processes and behaviors in people. They conduct their studies through talk therapy and observation, and they report their findings and make diagnoses by interpreting and recording how their patients relate to their surroundings and to people in their lives. A key goal for psychologists is to understand and articulate the thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviors of their clients.

Day-to-Day Duties

A normal day for a psychologist may include collecting information (through surveys, interviews, etc.), conducting studies of clients’ brain function and behavior, researching, identifying behavioral and emotional patterns in clients, diagnosing disorders, setting treatment plans, making referrals and writing. Psychologists who focus on research may find themselves writing articles and research papers to share the conclusions of their studies. Educating others is a main goal of psychologists who focus their careers in research.

Psychologists may evaluate patient behavior through experiments, psychoanalysis or psychotherapy. It may be necessary for them to give personality, performance, aptitude or intelligence tests, and it’s up to them to determine when those tests are needed.

Types of Psychologists

There are many different types of psychologists in practice today. Here are five of the most common ones.

  • Clinical psychologists help clients manage problems from situational, personal issues to long-term conditions like depression. They interview patients, give diagnostic tests and provide psychotherapy. They refer clients to psychiatrists when necessary. It’s common for clinical psychologists to focus on a particular client demographic such as children, adolescents or the elderly.
  • Neuropsychologists are concerned with the effects of brain injuries, brain diseases, developmental disorders and mental illnesses on behavior and thinking patterns in patients. Neuropsychologists run tests to find how these disorders and issues impact clients’ thinking.
  • Health psychologists focus on how behavior and physical illness coincide. Their primary function is to educate both clients and health care providers on how psychological issues can affect an otherwise healthy person. Health psychologists often develop programs and plans to help clients quit smoking or lose weight.
  • Counseling psychologists use talk therapy to help clients understand and deal with problems in their lives such as relationship struggles, work problems, depression and anxiety. Counselors bolster clients’ confidence by helping them identify strengths they can use to manage and solve their problems.
  • Forensic psychologists work in the legal and criminal justice systems. They help judges and lawyers comprehend the psychological aspects of a given case. They sometimes must testify in court.

Education Required and Salary Potential

Education and licensure requirements vary by state, but it is common for clinical and counseling psychologists to need a doctoral degree. Forensic psychologists, neuropsychologists and health psychologists may obtain entry-level jobs with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology, but continuing education is almost always required. Most states require licensure to practice as a psychologist. The median annual wage for psychologists is $72,580, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.