A psychologist performs research and therapy on the mind. There are a number of specialists in this profession, ranging from clinical therapists to sports counselors, but almost all focus on practice, research, teaching, or a combination of all three. Though people often confuse the two, psychologists and psychiatrists are very different.
Areas of Focus
Psychologists have three main areas of focus: practice, research, and teaching. Most are trained in at least the first two, though they may emphasize one area more than the other in their work. Practice is the interaction with patients, and includes things like diagnosing conditions and creating treatment plans that often include counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy. Research consists of performing experiments and gathering information about why people or animals have certain behaviors and think the way they do, and generally includes things like interviews, experiments both in labs and in other settings, surveys, and studies on the physical aspects of how the brain works. In addition to these two focal areas, many people in this field also teach at the university level.
The day-to-day duties of psychologists vary largely depending on what area of specialization he or she has, and often vary even within specializations. For instance, one focused on social psychology would usually research things like consumer behavior and work with marketing companies to develop effective campaigns, while another one with the same specialty might provide conflict resolution services. Likewise, someone in this field who works with athletes would have a very different workday than one who works with children with learning disabilities, or one who performs experiments on how people's behavior changes over the course of addiction. Other areas of focus in this field include food and nutrition, childhood development, animal behavior and thought, forensics, and cognition.
The training to become a psychologist varies slightly based on specialization, but almost all have to have either a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in psychology or a related field or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). After getting the doctorate, a person usually has to complete a one to two year internship and get a few years of professional experience or residency before he or she can apply for licensure. Most people also get board certification in their area of specialization, though it's usually not required to practice. Those who work in schools or with children usually need special certification and licensure, and their training is more focused on education and childhood development.
As Compared to Psychiatrists
The main difference between psychiatrists and psychologists is their underlying focus. While psychiatrists are licensed doctors and have a medical focus, psychologists work with more non-medical means of treatment, like therapy and cognitive testing. Also, psychiatrists can prescribe medicine, while psychologists usually can't, though there are a few exceptions in certain regions. The type of training needed for each is slightly different as well: psychiatrists have to get a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree, and then complete four or five years of residency training before they can become licensed to practice.