What Is a Psychologist?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 08, 2023
3 min read

A psychologist is a trained mental health professional who helps people learn healthy ways to handle mental health challenges. They can help people living with specific conditions, like depression or anxiety, or those who are going through a tough time in life, like grieving the loss of a loved one. They undergo years of education and training to be able to provide a range of mental health services. 

Psychologists study and help treat people’s cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behaviors. One of their main goals is to evaluate and understand their clients’ thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. They go about this by:

  • Identifying behavioral and emotional patterns
  • Diagnosing disorders
  • Making referrals
  • Coming up with appropriate treatment plans

Psychologists may work with clients in a private practice or in other settings, such as schools, hospitals, community health centers, prisons, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centers. They may also do research and conduct studies in their field.

Psychologists treat mental health issues by providing counseling and psychotherapy, which is also known as talk therapy. However, some focus only on research or teaching and don’t work with patients. 

Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists are not medical doctors. That means that in most states, they cannot write prescriptions or perform medical procedures. 

Types of Psychologists

Although there are many different types of psychologists, most of them fit into five different categories:

1.Clinical psychologists 


3.Health psychologists

4.Counseling psychologists

5.Forensic psychologists 

Psychologists receive years of education and training in their field. After completing an undergraduate degree, people interested in this career are still looking at 4 to 6 years of full-time study. 

While in a graduate and then post-graduate program, prospective psychologists typically take part in research and teaching in addition to their coursework. Before graduation, they must complete a 1-year supervised internship. Some states require additional years of supervised practice before a student can get their license. All psychologists must also pass a national exam as well as any additional licensing tests specific to their state. 

Even after earning a doctoral degree and becoming licensed to practice, psychologists must earn several credits of continuing education each year. Additionally, in the few states where psychologists can prescribe medication, they must get more advanced training, such as a master’s degree in psychopharmacology. 

There are a number of reasons that you might want to consult with a psychologist. You should reach out if you relate to any of the following signs:

  • You have thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that seem out of control and are negatively affecting your relationships, work, or overall sense of well-being. 
  • You’re struggling to deal with life issues, such as illness, death of a loved one, divorce, or problems at work. 
  • Your use of drugs or alcohol is interfering with your health, emotions, relationships, or responsibilities. 
  • You need an unbiased and caring person to help you sort out your emotions. 
  • You feel hopeless to the extent that life no longer seems worth living. 

Different professionals have their own way of practicing and interacting with clients, but in general, you can expect a psychologist to:

Ask Questions

When you first arrive, your psychologist will likely ask you a few questions, such as: 

  • What brings you here today?
  • What is your personal history?
  • When did your problem begin?
  • What makes your problem better or worse? 
  • What is your relationship like with alcohol and drugs?

Answering these questions helps your psychologist gather information, and it may require more than one session to get the whole picture. 

Do Some Tests

Next, they may want you to take one or more psychological tests. These can help your psychologists understand the problem you’re presenting and eventually reach a diagnosis. Tests may assess your mood, personality characteristics, or memory and concentration. 

Talk About Treatment

Once your psychologist has a clear idea of what issues you might be facing, they will work with you to come up with a treatment plan that's right for you. All forms of treatments used by psychologists are research-based and proven to be effective. They include different forms of therapy, such as: