Career Development

What Does a Psychologist Do?

Find out what a psychologist does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a psychologist.

Psychologists are scientists, not fortune tellers. They study human behavior and mental processes in an effort to understand why we think and act the way we do. Psychologists use this knowledge to help people with a wide range of issues, from depression and anxiety to addiction and personality disorders.

Psychologists may work directly with patients or they may focus on research instead. Either way, their goal is to improve the lives of those around them by applying their knowledge of psychology to real-world situations.

Psychologist Job Duties

Psychologists have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Conduct research on topics such as memory, learning, or emotion in order to develop new methods of treatment
  • Conduct psychological assessments to determine an individual’s mental health status or to diagnose psychological problems
  • Provide therapy to patients with psychological problems by conducting interviews and administering tests to determine the cause of the problem
  • Recommend specific treatments such as medication, talk therapy, or other methods to treat patients’ mental health issues
  • Teach individuals how to manage their emotions, improve their relationships, and cope with stressors in their lives
  • Conduct research on topics such as memory, learning, or emotion in order to develop new methods of treatment
  • Diagnose disorders such as depression or anxiety disorders and other conditions that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, or behavior
  • Refer patients to other health care professionals who can provide treatment for their condition such as psychiatrists or psychologists who specialize in different areas
  • Conduct psychological assessments to determine an individual’s mental health status or to diagnose psychological problems

Psychologist Salary & Outlook

Psychologists’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of work they do. Psychologists who work in private practice typically earn more than those who work for an organization or a government agency.

  • Median Annual Salary: $112,550 ($54.11/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $375,000 ($180.29/hour)

The employment of psychologists is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

Demand for psychological services is expected to continue to increase as more people seek help for mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression, and as more healthcare providers employ psychologists in their practices. However, demand may be tempered by cost concerns and insurance coverage limitations for psychological services.

Related: In-Depth Psychologist Salary Guide

Psychologist Job Requirements

A psychologist typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Psychologists need a minimum of a master’s degree to practice. A master’s degree in psychology takes about two years to complete and includes coursework and supervised clinical experience.

Psychology master’s programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). These programs include coursework in psychology, research methods, statistics, counseling, ethics, mental health, and psychotherapy.

Training & Experience: Psychologists must complete a clinical residency, which is a period of supervised practice in a clinical setting. This period is usually three years long and includes 2,000 hours of supervised practice. Psychologists can also complete a fellowship, which is a period of specialized training in a particular area of psychology. Fellowships can last from one to three years.

Certifications & Licenses: To practice psychology in a clinical setting in the U.S., a psychologist must become licensed in their state. Every state has a unique process for becoming licensed, though they typically involve having graduated from an accredited psychology doctoral program, earning a certain number of clinical practice hours and passing tests to validate a psychologist’s knowledge of a state’s particular medical regulations and medication laws.

Psychologist Skills

Psychologists need the following skills in order to be successful:

Active listening: Active listening is the ability to focus on what someone is saying and respond appropriately. Psychologists use active listening to help their patients feel heard and understood. This can help them feel more comfortable and confident in the treatment process.

Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective and feelings. This can help a psychologist understand their client’s challenges and provide them with the best treatment. For example, if a client is describing a traumatic experience, a psychologist with empathy may be able to relate to their feelings and provide them with the support they need.

Critical thinking: Critical thinking is the ability to analyze a situation and make a decision based on the information you have. Psychologists use critical thinking to help their clients make informed decisions about their lives. For example, a psychologist may help a client decide whether to take a job offer or continue their education. The psychologist may use critical thinking to evaluate the client’s current situation, the potential outcomes of each decision and the client’s personal goals.

Problem-solving: Psychologists use their problem-solving skills to help their patients overcome challenges and make positive changes in their lives. They may use this skill to help patients overcome mental health issues, improve their relationships or find new career paths.

Communication: Psychologists use communication skills to interact with patients, colleagues and supervisors. They use these skills to explain treatment plans, answer questions and provide feedback. They also use communication skills to interpret body language and other nonverbal cues to understand their patients’ emotions and mental states.

Psychologist Work Environment

Psychologists work in a variety of settings, including private practices, hospitals, clinics, schools, businesses, and government agencies. They typically work full time and may have to work evenings or weekends to meet with clients or patients. Psychologists who have their own practices may set their own hours, but they may also work more than 40 hours per week to meet the demands of their clients. Psychologists who work in hospitals or other health care settings may have to work nights or weekends to meet the needs of their patients. School psychologists usually work during school hours, but they may also work evenings and weekends to attend meetings or to complete paperwork.

Psychologist Trends

Here are three trends influencing how psychologists work. Psychologists will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Growth of Telehealth

The growth of telehealth is a trend that is quickly changing the way that psychologists work. With the rise of online therapy services, psychologists can now provide treatment to patients from anywhere in the world.

This trend has led to an increased demand for psychologists who are comfortable working with patients online. Psychologists who are able to utilize telehealth services will be better equipped to meet the needs of patients who are unable to travel to see them in person.

More Focus on Preventative Care

As health care costs continue to rise, more and more emphasis is being placed on preventive care. This means that psychologists will need to focus on helping patients prevent future problems rather than just treating current ones.

By developing skills in prevention, psychologists can help their patients live healthier and happier lives. They can also help hospitals and other health care providers save money by reducing the number of unnecessary tests and treatments.

Greater Emphasis on Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion have become increasingly important in recent years as businesses have realized the value of having a workforce that reflects the diversity of their customers.

Psychologists can play a key role in this area by providing training and consulting services to help businesses create more inclusive environments. They can also help employees understand the importance of diversity and how to communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds.

How to Become a Psychologist

A psychologist career can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s important to consider all the factors that will influence your success. One of the most important things is to find a specialty that matches your interests and skills. Do you prefer working with children or adults? Are you more interested in clinical work or research?

It’s also important to think about where you want to work. Some psychologists choose to work in private practice, while others work for hospitals or schools. No matter which path you choose, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest research and trends in psychology. This can help you provide the best possible care to your patients.

Related: How to Write a Psychologist Resume

Advancement Prospects

Psychologists with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. can advance to top positions in their field. Some become independent consultants. Others work in private practice, either alone or in partnership with other psychologists. Some become executives in industry, government, or other organizations. Many teach in colleges and universities. Some psychologists conduct research in universities, government agencies, or private companies. Some become clinical directors or other administrators in mental health centers, hospitals, or clinics.

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