What is a Psychologist?

What is a psychologist? Psychologists study human health and behavior and work to understand and improve people’s lives. They are trained to assess strengths and difficulties, apply treatments that are known to be beneficial to people, study innovative treatment approaches, ways in which problems may be prevented, and promote overall health and wellness. Psychologists’ education typically includes an undergraduate degree (~4-5 years), a graduate degree (PhD or PsyD; ~5-8 years), post-graduate supervised experience (~1-2 years), and meeting the requirements necessary to become licensed in the state in which they have a clinical practice.

Psychologists often specialize in certain areas, such as and not limited to: neuropsychology, developmental delays, health psychology, organizational psychology, school psychology, pediatrics, adults and geriatrics, pain management, rehabilitation, positive psychology, addictions, and inpatient medical and psychiatric assessment and treatment. Psychologists work in a variety of settings such as: universities, medical settings, schools, community mental health clinics and private practices, businesses, and research organizations. Psychology is a diverse, rich, and exciting field of study!

Many people see a psychologist to improve some aspect of their lives, to learn strategies to feel better, get along better with others, figure out what may be causing problems, capitalize on their strengths, and sometimes, for assistance during crisis.

People often ask, “What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?” A psychiatrist is trained as a medical doctor (you will see “MD” or “DO” after their name) and have training specific to child and/or adult psychiatry. They are trained to evaluate a patient’s medical condition, mental health concerns, prescribe medication as necessary, and conduct psychotherapy. Most psychologists do not prescribe medication, unless they are trained and licensed to do so. Psychologists and psychiatrists often work together to maximize an individual’s progress and well-being.

If you are considering seeing a psychologist for your own health, that of a loved one, or your organization, the following questions might be useful:

  • What types of problems do you evaluate and treat?
  • What age groups do you see? (Ex., infants, young children, teens, adults, seniors)
  • What kind of training and experience do you have?
  • I am concerned I [or my child] has [insert the concern you have]. Do you help individuals who have this concern?
  • Can we set up an initial meeting to see if this is a good fit?