There are several types of psychologists who study different aspects of human behavior. Find out what they do and how to become one.
What Is a Psychologist?
What do most people imagine when they think of the term psychologist? Perhaps a doctor who jots down notes while their patients lie on the couch and gush their emotions.
In actuality, psychology is a very diverse profession, and there are many types of psychologists. Essentially, a psychologist is someone who studies psychology. What they all have in common is a deep interest in how people think and feel, and in helping others achieve mental wellness. They are very interested in how the human mind works, and the way our brains create thoughts, behaviors and memories.
Usually, a psychologist works with people to understand their behaviors, either to document it for research, to treat mental health conditions, or both. Psychologists are skilled in conducting psychological evaluations, such as personality tests, and helping people manage their mental health through psychotherapy.
The definition of psychology can be as simple as the study of the mind and behavior. Or, the definition can be expanded to include a study of the human mind and its functions, especially regarding behavior.
It is a field of knowledge and health care that focuses on the way the human mind works. In psychology, researchers conduct studies to better understand why people act in the ways that they do. In medicine, psychology involves examining patients’ mental health and treating mental health conditions with behavioral methods, when needed.
How to Become a Psychologist
Becoming a psychologist is similar to becoming an expert in other advanced careers. First, the person will need to attend graduate school and attain an advanced degree. Then, they will need to become licensed and certified according to where and how they wish to practice.
In most states, a doctorate in psychology is required to practice psychology as a mental health care provider. Most psychologists have a doctorate of philosophy (Ph.D.), in psychology or a specific type of psychology (like clinical psychology). A few psychologists have a doctorate of education (Ed.D.) in psychology.
More recently, a new type of doctorate has become available: a doctorate of psychology (Psy.D.). For some jobs, but not many, only a master’s degree in psychology is needed.
During their education, psychologists take courses in:
- Human behavior
- Psychological assessment
Once they have their degree, most psychologists complete a one- or two-year internship in clinical psychology or the psychology specialty that they have decided to pursue. Similar to a medical residency, during this internship they work with patients under the supervision of an experienced psychologist. Some states require a certain number of clinical training hours to become licensed.
To practice psychology, an individual will need to be licensed in the state they intend to practice in. If they want to practice a specific type of psychology, like school psychology or behavior analysis, they will need a license in that category too.
To become licensed, the person must also complete many training hours in the clinic and pass an exam. Some states also require that the individual have a degree that is accredited by the American Psychological Association or the Canadian Psychological Association.
Types of Psychologists
Several specializations exist for a psychologist to train and work in. Some may continue to pursue research, others focus on providing treatments to patients and some may do a combination of these applications. Their training and expertise can also vary depending on what type of setting they work in and what demographics they work with.
- Clinical Psychologist: specializes in mental illnesses and treatment methods
- Occupational Psychologist: also known as organizational or industrial psychologists, occupational psychologists study behavior in workplaces like offices or factories. They use their knowledge to help companies make decisions and tend to the mental health needs of their employees.
- School Psychologist: attends to the mental health needs of students, teachers and family members in elementary and high schools. They may help schools make decisions, teach students social and learning skills and help students dealing with stressful situations.
- Developmental Psychologist: studies the way that thoughts and behaviors change over time. They help children and adolescents develop appropriate cognitive skills and behaviors as they age.
- Forensic Psychologist: focuses on the psychology of people involved in the legal system. They may evaluate the psychology of criminals, provide counseling to victims of crime, or advise legal affairs where emotional issues are involved.
- Applied Psychologist: uses psychological methods to solve practical problems. They advise a wide range of fields, such as business management, product design and engineering.
- Research Psychologist: conducts research relating to thoughts, emotions and behaviors. They may study which therapeutic methods are effective in treating mental illnesses.
- Health Psychologist: studies how behaviors and social contexts influence health and illnesses. They help people manage stress and other mental conditions that affect our health.
- Cognitive Psychologist: specializes in cognitive processes like memory, language and perception. They may work with patients who have dementia or have trouble with one or more of their senses.
The pay that a psychologist makes varies by where they practice and what their specialty is. They also earn more as they gain more experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of psychologists, in general, is about $85,340.
Treatments a Psychologist Can Provide
Psychologists can screen for and diagnose mental health conditions. They can also administer general psychological evaluations, such as personality and IQ tests. When they work in schools or workplaces, they can assist with stress management and offer services to help students and employees monitor their overall emotional health.
For treatment, psychologists usually provide some form of psychotherapy. Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy involves a trained therapist speaking directly with their patient to identify mental and emotional issues, and to develop positive behaviors and coping mechanisms. Several types of psychotherapy can be used for different conditions.
In a few states, psychologists can prescribe a limited number of medications for psychological conditions if they have received extra training in pharmacology. However, for the most part, psychologists are unable to write prescriptions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on the thoughts that are associated with certain behaviors and emotions. During CBT, the psychologist will work with a patient to determine what kinds of thoughts they are having when they behave in unhealthy ways or feel negative emotions. They then help their patient develop healthy thought patterns, or teach them how to overcome unhealthy ways of thinking.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a specialized type of CBT. In addition to standard one-on-one counseling sessions, patients also participate in group therapy. During group sessions, psychologists help patients work with each other to learn healthy thoughts and behavior patterns.
Psychodynamic therapy works with the principles of psychoanalysis, where a psychologist talks with their patient to understand the reasons behind their thoughts and behaviors. They may seek to identify past events and emotional triggers that may be contributing to their patient’s mental health issues.
During psychodynamic therapy sessions, patients learn to analyze their own thought and behavior patterns, and to reach their own conclusions about what drives their feelings. They may learn to address repressed feelings or ingrained contradictory thoughts.
Interpersonal therapy focuses on emotions and behaviors related to relationships with other people. It can be done in an individual or group setting. During an interpersonal therapy session, a psychologist will work with their patient to identify patterns and any unhealthy behaviors in how they interact with others. Patients may learn social skills and ways to handle stress and negative emotions from social situations. Interpersonal therapy can also be a good way to help patients overcome grief.
Group therapy can involve any of these types of psychotherapy, just in a group setting. There are a few advantages to doing therapy in a group of people with similar conditions. This setting allows newer patients to see the progress others have made, which can give them hope and an idea of what to expect. Groups are also great for sharing ideas and experiences, and providing moral support for each other. It often helps to know that you are not alone in what you are going through.
How to Find Online Psychologist Jobs
Many online organizations directly hire or provide a platform for tele-psychology, including BetterHelp, Talkspace, DotCom Therapy and Smart IOP. They can also search job boards or inquire with local hospitals, clinics, rehab facilities and mental health organizations about potential telehealth job openings.
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ASPPB PsyBook. “Psychology Licensing Requirements.” (n.d.) Accessed May 19, 2019.
American Psychological Association. “Licensure & Practice.” (n.d.) Accessed May 19, 2019.
Psychology Career Center. “What is an Occupational Psychologist?” January 2, 2019. Accessed May 19, 2019.
National Association of School Psychologists. “Who Are School Psychologists?” (n.d.) Accessed May 19, 2019.
American Psychological Association. “What is forensic psychology?” Accessed May 19, 2019.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2[…]School Psychologists.” March 29, 2019. Accessed May 16, 2019.
American Psychological Association. “Psychologist Locator.” Accessed May 19, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.