What Psychologists Do
Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments.
Some psychologists work independently, conducting research, consulting with clients, or working with patients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians and social workers, or in school settings, working with students, teachers, parents, and other educators. Those in private practice often work evenings and weekends to accommodate clients.
How to Become a Psychologist
Although psychologists typically need a doctoral degree in psychology, a master’s degree is sufficient for some positions. Most psychologists also need a license.
The median annual wage for psychologists was $80,370 in May 2019.
Employment of psychologists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Job prospects should be best for those who have a doctoral degree in an applied specialty.
Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and to their environments. They use their findings to help improve processes and behaviors.
Psychologists typically do the following:
- Conduct scientific studies of behavior and brain function
- Observe, interview, and survey individuals
- Identify psychological, emotional, behavioral, or organizational issues and diagnose disorders
- Research and identify behavioral or emotional patterns
- Test for patterns that will help them better understand and predict behavior
- Discuss the treatment of problems with clients
- Write articles, research papers, and reports to share findings and educate others
- Supervise interns, clinicians, and counseling professionals
Psychologists seek to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. They use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence individuals.
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 relationships between events, and they use this information when testing theories in their research or when treating patients.
The following are examples of types of psychologists:
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, clinical 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 specific populations, such as children or the elderly, or on certain specialties, such as neuropsychology.
Clinical psychologists often consult with other health professionals regarding the best treatment for patients, especially treatment that includes medication. Currently, only Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and New Mexico allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication to patients.
Counseling psychologists help patients deal with and understand problems, including issues at home, at the workplace, or in their community. Through counseling, these psychologists work with patients to identify their strengths or resources they can use to manage problems. For information on other counseling occupations, see the profiles on marriage and family therapists, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, and social workers.
Developmental psychologists study the psychological progress and development that take place throughout life. Many developmental psychologists focus on children and adolescents, but they also may study aging and problems facing older adults.
Forensic psychologists use psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological aspects of a particular case. They often testify in court as expert witnesses. They typically specialize in family, civil, or criminal casework.
Industrial–organizational psychologists apply psychology to the workplace by using psychological principles and research methods to solve problems and improve the quality of worklife. They study issues such as workplace productivity, management or employee working styles, and employee morale. They also help top executives, training and development managers, and training and development specialists with policy planning, employee screening or training, and organizational development.
Rehabilitation psychologists work with physically or developmentally disabled individuals. They help improve quality of life or help individuals adjust after a major illness or accident. They may work with physical therapists and teachers to improve health and learning outcomes.
School psychologists apply psychological principles and techniques to education disorders and developmental disorders. They may address student learning and behavioral problems; design and implement performance plans, and evaluate performances; and counsel students and families. They also may consult with other school-based professionals to suggest improvements to teaching, learning, and administrative strategies.
Some psychologists become postsecondary teachers or high school teachers.
Psychologists held about 192,300 jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up psychologists was distributed as follows:
|Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists||171,500|
|Psychologists, all other||19,800|
The largest employers of psychologists were as follows:
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private||24|
|Ambulatory healthcare services||18|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||6|
Some psychologists work alone, doing independent research, consulting with clients, or counseling patients. Others work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, social workers, and others to treat illness and promote overall wellness.
Psychologists in private practice often set their own hours, and many work part time as independent consultants. They may work evenings or weekends to accommodate clients. Those employed in hospitals or other healthcare facilities may also have evening or weekend shifts. Most psychologists in clinics, government, industry, or schools work full-time schedules during regular business hours.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of psychologists.
For more information about careers in all fields of psychology, visit
For more information about careers for school psychologists, visit
For more information about state licensing requirements, visit
Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
For more information about psychology specialty certifications, visit
For more information about industrial–organizational psychologists, visit
For more information about careers and certification in neuropsychology, visit
For career videos on psychologists, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm (visited ).