What is a Psychologist?

Also known as: Doctor of Psychology.

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.

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What does a Psychologist do?

A psychologist will typically do the following:

  • Conduct scientific studies to study behaviour and brain function
  • 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.

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.

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Further Reading

  • Top 10 Qualities Of A Great Psychologist

    Psychology is a rapidly-growing profession, and specialties abound in the field. To be successful in the psychology field, one must have certain qualities.

  • Subfields Of Psychology

    The study and practice of psychology encompasses a vast range of topics and a large number of subfields and specialty areas have developed as a result. Because human behavior is so varied, the number of subfields in psychology is constantly growing and evolving.

  • Psychology Vs. Psychiatry: Which Is Better?

    Confused by the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? WebMD explains who does what and how that affects treatment.

  • What Do Practicing Psychologists Do?

    Psychologists with doctoral degrees (either a PhD, PsyD or EdD) receive one of the highest levels of education of all health care professionals, spending an average of seven years in education and training after they receive their undergraduate degrees. The American Psychological Association estimates that there are about 85,000 licensed psychologists in the United States.

  • What Is A Psychologist?

    A psychologist studies how we think, feel and behave from a scientific viewpoint and applies this knowledge to help people understand, explain and change their behaviour.

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