What does a Psychologist do?

A psychologist studies and treats mental illnesses. There are many different types of specialists in this field, from clinical therapists to sports counselors, but almost all of them focus on practice, research, or teaching, or a combination of the three. Psychiatrists and psychologists are not the same thing, despite popular belief.

Focused Areas

Practice, research, and teaching are the three main areas of focus for psychologists. Most people have received training in at least the first two, though they may prefer to focus on one over the other in their work. The interaction with patients is referred to as practice, and it includes tasks such as diagnosing conditions and developing treatment plans, which frequently include counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy. Interviews, lab and field experiments, surveys, and studies on the physical aspects of how the brain works are all examples of research. Many people in this field teach at the university level in addition to these two areas of focus.

Areas of expertise

The day-to-day responsibilities of psychologists vary greatly depending on their area of specialization, and even within specializations. For example, a firm specializing in social psychology would typically conduct research into consumer behavior and collaborate with marketing firms to develop effective campaigns, whereas another firm specializing in the same field might offer conflict resolution services. Similarly, someone in this field who works with athletes has a very different workday than someone who works with children with learning disabilities or conducts research on how people’s behavior changes over time. Food and nutrition, childhood development, animal behavior and thought, forensics, and cognition are some of the other areas of study in this field.


The education required to become a psychologist varies slightly depending on specialization, but almost all require either a Ph.D. in psychology or a related field or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Before applying for licensure, a doctoral candidate must usually complete a one to two year internship and gain a few years of professional experience or residency. The majority of people also pursue board certification in their field of expertise, though it isn’t always required to practice. Those who work in schools or with children typically require special certification and licensure, as well as training that is more focused on education and child development.

Psychiatrists are more expensive than psychologists.

Psychiatrists and psychologists differ primarily in their underlying focus. Psychiatrists are licensed doctors who specialize in medicine, whereas psychologists specialize in non-medical treatments such as therapy and cognitive testing. Psychiatrists can also prescribe medication, whereas psychologists can’t in most cases, though there are a few exceptions in some areas. Psychiatrists must first earn an MD and then complete four or five years of residency training before becoming licensed to practice.