What is a psychologist?
A psychologist is a professional specialized in the study and application of the principles of human behavior and mental processes. Unlike psychiatrists, who are medical doctors with the ability to prescribe medications, psychologists typically focus on therapy, counseling, assessment, and research.
The field of psychology is diverse, encompassing various branches such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, educational psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, and more. Professionals in this role strive to understand how people think, feel, and act, both individually and in groups.
In a therapeutic context, they help individuals, families, or communities deal with emotional, behavioral, or mental challenges. They employ evidence-based techniques to promote mental well-being, enhance performance, improve relationships, and assist in navigating life’s transitions.
In research, educational, or organizational settings, these professionals contribute valuable insights into human behavior, learning, motivation, and decision-making. Their expertise guides educational practices, informs policy, enhances workplace environments, and supports human development across the lifespan.
Their role is essential in modern society, providing support and solutions to a wide array of psychological issues. They build bridges of understanding, foster resilience, and empower individuals and groups to thrive.
Duties and responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities of a psychologist vary depending on their field of specialization and the setting in which they work. Clinical and counseling psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders. They utilize various therapeutic techniques to help clients manage anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, and other psychological challenges.
Educational psychologists work with students, teachers, and administrators to enhance learning and address educational challenges. Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological principles to workplace issues, improving productivity, employee satisfaction, and organizational effectiveness.
Across these domains, they are involved in research, developing and validating assessments, conducting interventions, providing consultation, and engaging in continuous professional development.
The work environment of a psychologist varies greatly depending on their chosen field. Many work in health and human services industries such as healthcare, government, or not-for-profit organizations. Part of their work may be based in an office, where they provide counseling services to individuals or groups. Depending on their specialty, some professionals may work in hospitals, mental health clinics, or rehabilitation facilities.
Others may work in academic institutions as professors or researchers. Corporate psychologists may operate in business settings, addressing workplace productivity and employee mental health issues. Some may conduct fieldwork, especially those in research or organizational psychology. Despite the varied environments, all psychologists need an environment that safeguards patient privacy and confidentiality.
Typical work hours
Regular full-time work hours, usually 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, are common for psychologists, especially those employed in academic, research, and corporate settings. However, these schedules can vary, particularly for those working in healthcare facilities or running their private practice. In such cases, they often adjust their hours to accommodate their clients, including evenings and weekends.
For those involved in research or fieldwork, work hours could also depend on the particular project’s needs. Similarly, clinical psychologists, especially those in critical care or rehabilitation services, may need to be available for emergencies or provide on-call support, resulting in flexible and sometimes irregular work hours.
How to become a psychologist
This career guide section outlines the steps to become a psychologist. The path involves earning a high level of academic qualifications, gaining supervised experience, and obtaining licensure.
Step 1: Complete a bachelor’s degree
As an initial step, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, typically in psychology. This foundational education offers an overview of the field and introduces basic principles and theories. In addition to psychology classes, students are advised to take science, math, and social science courses. Participation in research projects and internships can further complement coursework.
Step 2: Earn a master’s degree
Although some states may allow individuals with a bachelor’s degree to work in certain psychology roles, most professional positions require a master’s degree in psychology or a related field. Coursework often includes statistics, human development, ethical practices, and research methods. Research projects or internships offer practical experience that is beneficial during the next step of earning a doctorate.
Step 3: Obtain a doctoral degree
A Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology is required for most positions. A PsyD focuses on clinical practice and prepares students for client interaction. A Ph.D. is research-focused, preparing students to contribute scholarly articles to the body of knowledge in psychology. Admission to doctoral programs is competitive, often requiring a master’s degree, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.
Step 4: Complete an internship or supervised work experience
A crucial part of the doctorate program is an internship or supervised work experience. This real-world experience provides an opportunity to apply academic learning to practical scenarios. Internships may take place in a hospital, mental health clinic, or school setting and are typically completed under the supervision of a licensed psychologist.
Step 5: Obtain licensure
All states require psychologists to be licensed. The requirements vary by state but generally include a doctoral degree, completion of an internship, and a certain amount of professional experience. Passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is also typically required.
Step 6: Consider becoming board certified
Although not a requirement, board certification in an area of specialty may make these professionals more competitive in the job market. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers certification in thirteen areas of psychology, like clinical neuropsychology, forensic psychology, and school psychology. Certification usually involves passing an examination and demonstrating competence in the specialty area.
How much do psychologists make?
Psychologist salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Specialization in a particular field of psychology, such as child psychology, clinical psychology, or organizational psychology, can also significantly impact their earning potential.
Highest paying states
- California – $112,960
- New Jersey – $108,680
- Hawaii – $106,060
- Oregon – $103,870
- Alaska – $102,520
Types of psychologists
Below, we highlight the various career types and areas of specialization for psychologists. This section presents a wide-ranging overview of possible career paths, niches, and possibilities within the field of psychology.
Professionals in this role often work in healthcare settings like hospitals, mental health clinics, and private practice. Their primary goal is to reduce distress and improve the well-being of clients. They do this by studying, diagnosing, and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
These specialists cooperate closely with educators, parents, and other professionals to create a healthy, safe, and supportive learning environment for all students. They address students’ learning and behavioral problems, suggest improvements to classroom management strategies or parenting techniques, and evaluate students with disabilities and gifted and talented students to help determine the best way to educate them.
The corporate world is the main destination for these types of psychologists. They use psychological principles and research methods to solve problems in the workplace and improve the quality of life. They may examine workplace productivity, management or employee working styles, and employee morale.
This specialty involves the intersection of psychology and the justice system. They often play a pivotal role in court cases where they apply psychological principles to legal matters. This could include assessing a defendant’s mental competence to stand trial, the mental state of a criminal at the time of the offense, the credibility of witnesses, child custody in divorce cases, or informing judges about a defendant’s psychological findings.
Employed by athletes and teams, these professionals are tasked with improving motivation, performance, and mental well-being and providing psychological rehabilitation from injury. They deal with the psychological effects of team dynamics, cope with the pressure of competition, and improve motivation for practice.
They often work in the healthcare sector and aim to understand how biological, social, and psychological factors influence health and illness. They develop healthcare strategies to improve the emotional and physical health of patients. Their responsibilities can range from promoting healthier lifestyles to studying the impact of disease on individuals.
Individuals who choose this path study both the brain and behavior. They address brain injuries, neurocognitive deficits, neurodegenerative diseases, and psychiatric conditions. Their findings can be crucial in treating mental and neurological conditions and aiding in rehabilitation.
Top skills for psychologists
This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a psychologist, including personal attributes, clinical skills, and academic ability.
Empathy and compassion
It is essential to have a deep level of empathy and compassion. Understanding the client’s feelings and emotions, and responding in a sensitive and supportive manner, can facilitate effective therapy and foster client trust.
Strong communication skills
These professionals must possess excellent communication skills, both in listening to their clients and in conveying their therapeutic advice and strategies. Clear and effective communication can enrich the therapy experience for clients and yield better results.
Patience is also key in this profession. The therapy process often takes time, and psychologists must be patient and persistent in helping clients work through their problems.
Analytical skills are required to assess clients’ problems, review treatment options, and evaluate therapy outcomes. This skill is essential for developing effective treatment plans that meet the needs of individual clients.
They must also be proficient problem solvers. This involves identifying the root causes of a client’s issues, devising coping strategies, and adjusting treatments as necessary to ensure the client is moving towards their wellness goals.
Ethics and integrity
Lastly, ethics and integrity play an integral part in this role. Adhering to professional codes of conduct, respecting client confidentiality, and consistently demonstrating honesty help build trust with clients and uphold the profession’s reputation.
Career path options
As a psychologist, the prospects for career advancement are broad and varied. Ideally, individuals would have started their psychology careers in entry-level roles such as counseling, school, or clinical psychologists. The roles mentioned often provide the necessary base and professional experience for career development in various organizational settings ranging from educational institutions and private firms to healthcare facilities.
Within the field of psychology, several areas often present themselves as avenues for career progression. One such path of advancement is specializing and gaining expertise in a particular psychology field. Specializing in areas such as neuropsychology, forensic psychology, or industrial-organizational psychology often results in being recognized as an authority in these areas, leading to a larger client base and potentially higher earnings.
Working toward positions in leadership and management is another common route for career advancement. Those who aspire toward these roles typically take on increased responsibilities, such as managing a team of psychologists within a healthcare facility, leading a department in an educational institution, or even establishing a psychology practice. Holding a managerial position often implies increased income and stature within the profession.
Advancing within the field of psychology can see professionals branching out into different job roles. For instance, obtaining a specialization could lead to roles such as a neuropsychologist, where individuals assess and treat people with brain disorders, or a forensic psychologist, who apply psychological principles in the legal system.
Within management, potential job roles might include positions such as chief of psychology or director of psychological services in healthcare facilities, where professionals oversee departments and shape policy. In social service agencies, professionals might assume positions like program director or clinical director, responsible for managing services and programs.
Finally, psychologists with an entrepreneurial spirit may opt to establish their practices or consultancies, providing services to individuals, organizations, or both. These roles come with business-related responsibilities such as marketing, client relations, financial management, and psychological practice.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook
In recent years, this profession has seen numerous changes, mostly due to rising mental health awareness globally. More people are recognizing the importance of mental health, leading to a greater demand for professionals in this field. The stigma around seeking help for mental health issues is also slowly decreasing, facilitating a healthier conversation around this critical aspect of human well-being. This is transforming not only how society views mental health but also how psychologists and similar professionals work.
Meanwhile, advancements in technology are also impacting this profession. Telehealth or online consultancy has gained considerable traction. This change translates to more flexibility for mental health professionals and their clients. As a result of the adoption of these technologies, professionals in this field must adapt their skills to meet the changing needs of their clients and offer help in the virtual world just as effectively as in person.
Employment projections for psychologists
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for psychologists are projected to grow 6 percent through 2031. This growth rate is as fast as the average for all occupations. Their expanding societal role is expected to provide substantial occupational and career development opportunities. Despite this, competition for jobs is expected to be intense, especially for positions in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and private practice.
Psychologist career tips
Gain specialized knowledge and experience
Psychologists play a critical role in individuals’ mental health, and gaining specialized knowledge in a specific area can make you stand out. Choose a specialty area such as clinical, educational, or organizational psychology early in your training, and gain as much practical experience in that field as possible. This allows you to develop and refine your professional skills while also understanding the specific needs of your patient population. Service delivery models may vary depending on the specialty, so it’s crucial to understand the dynamics and needs specific to your chosen area.
Stay updated with research
Current research constantly alters our understanding of mental health, therapy methods, and best practices. Staying up to date with the latest research in your field can boost the effectiveness of your practice. Establish a regular habit of reading academic journals focusing on psychology and mental health to keep your expertise current.
Build a professional network
Building a network of professional contacts can offer improved job opportunities, collaborative research efforts, and patient referrals. Many organizations offer networking opportunities such as conventions, seminars, and online platforms.
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
- Association for Psychological Science (APS)
- International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP)
Consider continuous learning
Since the field of psychology is constantly evolving, continuous learning will help to stay abreast with the latest developments and enhance your expertise. You can participate in workshops and webinars or consider more advanced degrees, such as a Ph.D. or PsyD in psychology, depending on your career objectives and specialization.
Achieve advanced certifications
Depending on your area of specialization, advanced certifications can be beneficial. They provide opportunities to specialize even further and can be an advantage in a competitive job market. APA and other organizations provide numerous certification options.
Where the jobs are
- VA Health Care System
- Kaiser Permanente
- Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
- Mount Sinai Health System
- Cleveland Clinic
- New York
- APA PsycCareers
What educational requirements are needed to become a psychologist?
One must begin by earning a bachelor’s degree, preferably in psychology or a related field. Subsequent steps include obtaining a master’s degree and a doctoral degree, although some jobs are available to master’s degree holders. All states require psychologists who provide patient care to be licensed.
What essential skills are necessary for a psychologist?
Effective psychologists typically have strong interpersonal skills, are detail-oriented, have a problem-solving mindset, and possess excellent listening and speaking skills. They also require patience and understanding to handle clients with varying needs.
What responsibilities do psychologists have?
Psychologists typically evaluate their clients’ needs, administer psychological tests, analyze data, and conduct research. They may also offer counseling services to individuals, couples, or groups and might design behavior modification or mental health treatment programs.
What is a typical day like for a psychologist?
A psychologist’s day may consist of individual consultations, report writing, reading up on the latest psychological research, and possibly some group therapy sessions. Depending on their work setup, they might also give lectures, train other staff or attend inter-disciplinary meetings.
What can be challenging about being a psychologist?
The field of psychology can be emotionally demanding, as psychologists often deal with severe mental distress. In addition, they may work with very complex cases that don’t always have clear solutions. Balancing the work caseload can also be difficult, as can maintaining patient confidentiality and trust.
What is the most rewarding part of being a psychologist?
Many psychologists find helping others to understand and overcome their personal challenges very rewarding. Seeing measurable improvements in a patient’s health or behavior, or contributing to scientific research that can benefit many, are often cited as some of the most satisfying aspects of the job.
Do psychologists typically work in teams or independently?
The work setting often impacts this. Psychologists may work as part of a larger team of healthcare practitioners in a hospital or clinical setting. In private practice, they may work largely alone but also consult with other psychologists or medical practitioners.
What types of specializations exist within the field of psychology?
There are many specializations within psychology, including clinical, developmental, cognitive, health, sport, forensic, industrial-organizational, social, and school psychology. Each field focuses on different aspects of human behavior and uses different techniques to promote mental well-being.
What typical workplace settings exist for psychologists?
Psychologists are employed in a variety of settings. These include private practices, hospitals, mental health clinics, and schools. Some work in research institutions or corporate settings supporting employees or assessing consumer behavior.