What does a Psychologist do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Diagnosis is part of some psychologists' work.
Diagnosis is part of some psychologists' work.

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.

Unlike a psychiatrist, a psychologist does not hold a medical degree and cannot prescribe medication.
Unlike a psychiatrist, a psychologist does not hold a medical degree and cannot prescribe medication.


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.

Psychologists may be able to determine the underlying reasons for a child who is acting out.
Psychologists may be able to determine the underlying reasons for a child who is acting out.


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.

Psychologists may work with trauma victims.
Psychologists may work with trauma victims.

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.

A psychologist might help people understand their motivations for certain lifestyle choices.
A psychologist might help people understand their motivations for certain lifestyle choices.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Those people are not morons; they're just different.


Psychologists are geniuses in handling people and their problems, but are morons in understanding themselves and their problems.


What does a food psychologist do?


Can a graduate in psychology become a psychologist?


Sorry you had such a lousy psychologist 1104078.

Also, studying the human mind and how it functions to make it perform in a healthier manner is a cure for what ails a person mentally. It may not be a branch of medicine, but it is a branch of biological study in a social context.


Is there a way to become a psychologist if you have poor communication skills? I think I already know the answer.


To anon114078: If the psychologist did not ask you questions to get you to talk about yourself, how was he or she supposed to find out about you if you didn't talk about yourself? Also, in talking, maybe you were supposed to find out something about yourself that you weren't ready to admit. Just food for thought for you.


I am very disappointed with psychologists. I thought they would have some advice, but when I saw one all he did was have me talk about myself and write up a folder on me.


You are inaccurate, anon 59014. Psychology is considered part of the health care field, i.e. mental health care.


Psychology is not a branch of medicine - that's psychiatry.

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