A psychologist studies normal and abnormal mental states from cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments. To become a psychologist, a person often completes a graduate university degree in psychology, but in most jurisdictions, members of other behavioral professions (such as counselors and psychiatrists) can also evaluate, diagnose, treat, and study mental processes.
Important Things to Know
Psychologists can be seen as practicing within two general categories of psychology: applied psychology which includes “practitioners” or “professionals”, and research-orientated psychology which includes “scientists”, or “scholars”. The training models endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA) require that applied psychologists be trained as both researchers and practitioners, and that they possess advanced degrees.
Psychologists typically have one of two degrees (PsyD or PhD). The PhD prepares a psychologist to conduct scientific research for a career in academia; whereas, the PsyD prepares for clinical practice (e.g. testing, psychotherapy). Both PsyD and PhD programs can prepare students to be licensed psychologists, and training in these types of programs prepares graduates to take state licensing exams.
Within the two main categories are many further types of psychologists as reflected by the 56 professional classifications recognized by the APA, including clinical, counseling, and educational psychologists. Such professionals work with persons in a variety of therapeutic contexts. People often think of the discipline as involving only such clinical or counseling psychologists. While counseling and psychotherapy are common activities for psychologists, these applied fields are just two branches in the larger domain of psychology. There are other classifications such as industrial, organizational and community psychologists, whose professionals mainly apply psychological research, theories, and techniques to “real-world” problems of business, industry, social benefit organizations, government, and academia.
Clinical and counseling psychologists
Clinical and counseling psychologists can offer a range of professional services, including:
- Providing psychological treatment (psychotherapy)
- Administering and interpreting psychological assessment and testing
- Conducting psychological research
- Developing prevention programs
- Consulting (especially with schools and businesses)
- Program administration
- Providing expert testimony (forensics)
In practice, clinical and counseling psychologists might work with individuals, couples, families, or groups in a variety of settings, including private practices, hospitals, mental health organizations, schools, businesses, and non-profit agencies.
Most clinical and counseling who engage in research and teaching do so within a college or university setting. Clinical and counseling psychologists may also choose to specialize in a particular field. Common areas of specialization, some of which can earn board certification, include:
- Specific disorders (e.g. trauma, addiction, eating and sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, depression, anxiety, or phobias)
- Neuropsychological disorders
- Child and adolescent psychology
- Family and relationship counseling
- Health psychology
- Sport psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Industrial and organizational psychology
- Educational psychology