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Psychologists | What Do They Do?

Psychologists typically do the following:

  • Conduct scientific studies to study behavior and brain function
  • Collect information through observations, interviews, surveys, tests, and other methods
  • Find patterns that will help them understand and predict behavior
  • Use their knowledge to increase understanding among individuals and groups
  • Develop programs that improve schools and workplaces by addressing psychological issues
  • Work with individuals, couples, and families to help them make desired changes to behaviors
  • Identify and diagnose mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders
  • Develop and carry out treatment plans
  • Collaborate with physicians or social workers to help treat patients

Psychology seeks to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. Depending on the topic of study, psychologists use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence a personís actions.



Psychologists often gather information and evaluate behavior through controlled laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis, or psychotherapy. They also may administer personality, performance, aptitude, or intelligence tests. They look for patterns of behavior or cause-and-effect relationships between events, and use this information when testing theories in their research or treating patients.

The following are common occupational specialties:

Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists help people deal with problems ranging from short-term personal issues to severe, chronic conditions.

Clinical psychologists are trained to use a variety of approaches to help individuals. Although strategies generally differ by specialty, psychologists often interview patients, give diagnostic tests, and provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy. They also design behavior modification programs and help patients implement their particular program.

Some clinical psychologists focus on certain populations, such as children or the elderly, or certain specialties, such as the following:

  • Health psychologists study how psychological factors affect health and illness. They educate both patients and medical staff about psychological issues, and promote healthy-living strategies. They also investigate health issues, such as substance abuse or teenage pregnancy, and develop programs to address the problems.
  • Neuropsychologists study the relation between the brain and behavior. They typically work with patients who have sustained a brain injury.

Clinical psychologists often consult with other medical personnel regarding the best treatment for patients, especially treatment that includes medication. Two states, Louisiana and New Mexico, currently allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication to patients. In most states, however, only psychiatrists and medical doctors may prescribe medication for treatment. For more information, see the profile on physicians and surgeons.

Counseling psychologists advise people on how to deal with their problems. They help patients understand their problems, including issues in the home, workplace, or community. Through counseling, they work with patients to identify the strengths or resources they can use to manage problems.

Developmental psychologists study the psychological progress and development that takes place throughout life. Many focus on children and adolescents. Development psychologists also increasingly study aging and problems faced by the elderly.

Forensic psychologists use psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological findings of a particular case. They often appear in court as expert witnesses. They typically specialize in family court, civil court, or criminal court.

Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychology to the workplace by using psychological principles and research methods to solve problems and improve the quality of work life. They study issues such as workplace productivity, management or employee working styles, and morale. They also work with management on matters such as policy planning, employee screening or training, and organizational development.

School psychologists apply psychological principles and techniques to education-related issues. For example, they may address studentsí learning and behavioral problems, evaluate studentsí performances, and counsel students and families. They also may consult with other school-based professionals to suggest improvements to teaching, learning, and administrative strategies. 

Social psychologists study how peopleís mindsets and behavior are shaped by social interactions. They examine both individual and group interactions and may investigate ways to improve negative interactions.

Some psychologists become professors or combine research with teaching.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition


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