What is a Psychologist?
Also known as: Doctor of Psychology.
Table of Contents
- What is a Psychologist?
- What does a Psychologist do?
- How to become a Psychologist
- What is the workplace of a Psychologist like?
- What is the difference between a social worker and a psychologist?
- What is the difference between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist?
- What is some good advice for psychology students?
- What is it like being a psychologist?
- What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?
- Further Reading
- Similar Careers
A psychologist is someone who studies mental processes and human behaviour by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and the environment. Some psychologists work independently, doing research or working only with patients or clients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, social workers, and others to treat illness and promote overall wellness.
How to Become a Psychologist
What does a Psychologist do?
A psychologist will typically do the following:
- Conduct scientific studies to study behaviour and brain function (neuropsychologist)
- Collect information through observations, interviews, surveys, tests, and other methods
- Find patterns that will help them understand and predict behaviour
- Use their knowledge to increase understanding among individuals and groups
- Develop programs that improve schools and workplaces by addressing psychological issues
- Work with individuals, couples, and families to help them make desired changes to behaviours
- Identify and diagnose mental, behavioural, or emotional disorders
- Develop and carry out treatment plans
- Collaborate with physicians or social workers to help treat patients
Psychologists seek to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behaviour. Depending on the topic of study, psychologists use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence a person’s actions.
Psychologists often gather information and evaluate behaviour through controlled laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis, or psychotherapy. They also may administer personality, performance, aptitude, or intelligence tests. They look for patterns of behaviour or cause-and-effect relationships between events, and use this information when testing theories in their research or treating patients.
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How to become a Psychologist
Most clinical, counselling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree. Psychologists 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 culminates in a comprehensive exam and a dissertation based on original research. In clinical, counselling, school, or health service settings, students usually complete a one-year internship as part of the doctoral program. The Psy.D. is a clinical degree and is often based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation.
School psychologists need a master’s, specialist (Ed. S. degree, which requires a minimum of 60 graduate semester hours), or doctoral degree in school psychology. Because their work addresses education and mental health components of students’ development, school psychologists’ training includes coursework in both education and psychology.
Industrial organizational psychologists contribute to an organization's success by improving the performance and well-being of its people. They research and identify how behaviours and attitudes can be improved through hiring practices, training programs, and feedback systems. They also help organizations transition among periods of change and development.
When working under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist, master’s graduates also can work as psychological assistants in clinical, counselling, or research settings. Master’s degree programs typically include courses in industrial-organizational psychology, statistics, and research design.
Entry into psychology graduate programs is competitive. Most master’s degree programs do not require an undergraduate major in psychology, but do require coursework in introductory psychology, experimental psychology, and statistics. Some doctoral degree programs require applicants to have a master’s degree in psychology, while others will accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree and a major in psychology.
In most jurisdictions, practicing psychology or using the title of “psychologist” requires licensure or certification. Psychologists typically need previous related work experience. To become licensed, for example, psychologists must have completed one or more of the following: predoctoral or postdoctoral supervised experience, an internship, or a residency program. School psychologists also must complete a year-long supervised internship program to become licensed or certified.
What is the workplace of a Psychologist like?
Some psychologists work alone, which may include independent research or individually counselling patients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, social workers, and others to treat illness and promote overall wellness. Many clinical and counseling psychologists in private practice have their own offices and can set their own schedules. Other typical workplaces include clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and community and mental health centres. Most research psychologists work in colleges and universities, government agencies, or private research organizations.
Most school psychologists work in public schools, ranging in level from nursery school through college. They also work in private schools, universities, hospitals and clinics, community treatment centres, and independent practice.
Psychologists in private practice can often set their own hours, and many work part time as independent consultants. However, they often offer evening or weekend hours to accommodate clients. Those employed in hospitals, nursing homes, or other healthcare facilities may also have evening or weekend shifts. Most psychologists working in clinics, government, industry, or schools work full-time schedules during regular business hours.
A social worker acts as a client advocate, educator, coordinator of care, and an adviser. He or she will work as a liaison with the family, and will look at helping with finances, admissions, discharges, housing, follow-up appointments to outside services, and is sometimes the link to the courts and any legal procedures.
A psychologist works with individuals, couples, and families by identifying and diagnosing mental behavioural and emotional disorders. He or she will then develop a treatment plan, and if necessary, collaborate with doctors or social workers to help the patient carry through with the desired changes. In a nutshell, a social worker addresses problems within our society. A psychologist addresses problems due to our society.
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A psychologist refers to someone who has completed a four year university-based psychology degree. To be a registered psychologist you need to have completed university plus two years of supervised clinical experience.
A clinical psychologist is someone who has completed four years of university, a two year master's degree, and then another two years of supervised clinical training. Clinical psychologists also have continuing education on an annual basis. There are also clinical psychologists who have completed a PhD, or a doctorate of clinical psychology, and these highly qualified clinicians can use the title of 'doctor'.
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It would be wise to get your undergraduate major in psychology, since many graduate programs in psychology will require it. Even in your first year of university, it wouldn’t be too early to identify some graduate programs you might be interested in attending. Find out exactly what they require for admission so you don't waste time later, by going back and taking courses you didn't know you needed.
When you do apply for graduate school, it would be extremely advantageous if you had research experience under your belt. Get to know a professor in your undergrad years that conducts psychological research, and offer to work as his/her assistant. This professor could eventually become your mentor if you prove yourself to be humble, reliable, and dependable.
There are positive and negative aspects to any career, and a career in psychology is no different.
Some negative aspects:
- it can be emotionally draining
- the job can sometimes be frustrating (many clients don't come back after the first visit)
- it takes time to get established in a community for private practice
- it can be professionally isolating if in private practice
Some positive aspects:
- psychology is a diverse field offering many opportunities
- it is mainly a nine to five work schedule
- getting to see the results of your work is rewarding
- it is dependable work once established within a community
Both psychiatrists and psychologists conduct psychotherapy and research, but there are significant differences between the two professions.
The first difference is in education: a psychiatrist has a degree in medicine, and is a medical doctor, whereas the psychologist has a degree (a masters or a doctorate) in psychology. The second difference is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medication, whereas a psychologist cannot.
If you are trying to choose between the two careers, you will need to determine if you would prefer to assess, diagnose, treat and prevent mental illness and be able to prescribe medications to your patients (psychiatrist), or if you would prefer to conduct psychotherapy, administer psychological tests, and conduct research (a psychologist).
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