Last updated on November 24th, 2023.
Psychology jobs appear similar to medical jobs with a mental aspect. While there are some similarities, psychology is a vastly different field from those in the medical profession. Those differences define the tasks a psychologist must do every day.
On the surface, a psychologist studies the mind and how it affects behavior. However, each branch of psychology does this differently. Because of this, some spend their day helping people cope with mental issues while others research the inner workings of the mind.
By reading further, you will learn the differences between the fields, and how they can affect the career of a phycologist. You will also learn how to identify which branch is right for you.
The Daily Duties of a Psychologist
Psychologists are investigative people. They love studying how behaviors change based on mental factors. Through these investigations, they learn how the mind works and how it affects who we are. Their results enhance the human experience by letting us understand how our brains work, how we learn, and the actions of nations.
However, psychology is not a singular field of study, but one with several subfields and categories. Most psychologists specialize their efforts in only one of these subfields. As such, their daily tasks can vary widely from one to the next.
For instance, many clinical and counseling psychologists work from their own offices and schedules. Others will work for hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, schools, or your local community and mental health centers. In either case, they spend their days helping their patients deal with their mental health issues.
In contrast, research psychologists spend their day researching and testing new developments in mental health and understanding. These individuals conduct this research at various government agencies, colleges, and universities, or at providing research companies. Some of them may even take time out of their day to teach psychology to others.
What is a psychologist?
These variations arise from the nature of psychology. All psychologists seek to help others deal with their mental health. Sometimes, that requires counseling individuals with anxiety. Other times, it means helping organizations develop better teams and social structures. In all cases, the mind becomes the central focus of inquiry.
The mind is an incredibly complex machine that defines our thoughts, emotions, dreams, memories, behaviors, and perceptions. Most of these effects have no direct physical signs, and those that do often have a complicated mess of symptoms that obscure their true causes. Therefore, a psychologist normally studies them through indirect observations such as behaviors, speech patterns, and neuroactivity.
Subfields and specialties in psychology
Because no one can study it all, psychology comes in several specializations and types. Each specialty focuses on a single aspect of the mind, allowing us the opportunities to dig deeper into our thoughts and behaviors. While each psychological specialty is different, they all fall under two broad types. These types define how psychologists use their knowledge to treat mental health.
The following are just the most common practices in psychology. As we learn more about how our minds function, new branches will emerge such as consumer, military, cross-cultural, environmental, sports, and others.
These psychologists use their knowledge of human behavior to treat mental health issues and other real-world problems. As they often work directly with patients, they are usually the public face of the field.
Here are some examples of applied psychology:
Clinical Psychology. The largest block of psychologists works directly to help patients with their mental health through counseling and psychotherapy. They can diagnose and treat psychiatric conditions such as stress, substance abuse, depression, phobias, panic and eating disorders, and other
Counseling Psychology. Similar to clinical psychologists, these individuals focus on more general personal distress or social conflicts in workplaces and relationships.
Forensic Psychology. These psychologists study how the mind interacts with the law. They handle lawsuits, insurance claims, custody disputes, abuse victims, and other legal matters that involve civil, criminal, or family law. They may even evaluate risk assessments for criminals.
Occupational or Organizational Psychology. These psychologists assess and provide recommendations concerning the productivity and performance of people in a workplace. Their work also helps improve how we interact with our machines.
Health or Medical Psychology. Also called behavioral medicine, this branch studies how our mental health affects our physical health.
Sometimes called basic psychology, research psychologists sit on the leading edge of our understanding of emotions, behaviors, thought, social structures, and the physical effects of the mind. They spend their days conducting experiments and surveys for universities, governments, and businesses.
These subfields fall under the research category:
- Social Psychology. Social psychologists attempt to understand the social influences on human behavior. In other words, they study how our minds deal with other people.
- Evolutionary psychology. A general study on how human behaviors, languages, and cultures developed through history. These psychologists attempt to find the origins of common behaviors in an attempt to learn more about the human experience.
- Cognitive Psychology. Cognitive psychologists study how we think, solve problems, learn, communicate, and remember. Practical applications improve memory and decision-making, including the effectiveness of educational programs.
- Neuropsychology. Neuropsychologists study how the mind interacts with the physical brain. In doing so, they help diagnose and treat mental and behavioral problems related to brain injuries and trauma.
- Developmental Psychology. Psychological research into human development or how people grow and develop over their lives. These psychologists also study how the environment affects how we think and behave.
Are psychologists doctors?
People often equate the doctor with a medical doctor (MD), or someone who practices medicine, but the term means much more than that. As such, anyone who possesses a doctoral degree is a doctor of some kind. Because psychologists will have a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D.), they are indeed doctors.
However, it is a bit more nuanced than that. This is because most psychologists cannot prescribe or administer medicines. They also cannot prescribe or perform medical treatments or surgeries. They are usually restricted to short-term counseling sessions, though some clinical psychologists can prescribe medications under certain jurisdictions.
What are 3 things a psychologist does during their day?
Psychological jobs may seem straightforward, but they are far from normal. While psychologists perform similar tasks and duties to medical doctors, these tasks are unique to the profession. They can also vary from one psychological practice to another. Therefore, the 3 things below are only the most common tasks done by a clinical psychologist.
Provide Therapy to Patients
Clinical psychologists spend most of their day providing therapy to their clients. Similar to psychiatrists and counselors, these therapy sessions can take many forms, but they all exist to change client behaviors. The goal is to make the patients feel empowered to take control of their lives through sustainable coping mechanisms and strategies.
Diagnose Psychological Disorders
Besides therapy, a psychologist will typically spend time properly diagnosing patient problems. These tasks require evaluating patients for behavioral, mental, and emotional disorders as well as the right treatments for them. While this is mostly done through tests and observations, it may also require consulting other health professionals such as doctors, nurses, and other psychologists to get it right.
Counseling the Treatment of Mental Disorders
While therapy can solve most mental health issues, some severe disorders may require a more potent treatment. To that end, a psychologist might refer the patient to a psychiatrist or a neurosurgeon.
Because only a psychiatrist can prescribe medicines for mental health issues, the psychologist must explain the reasons behind the recommendation and referral. That may include walking the patient through the evaluations, facts, and risks.
That also means the psychologist must take clear notes of each consultation. Psychiatrists will use these notes to help narrow their assessments to ensure all possibilities are covered.
Other Things a Psychologist Might Do
Psychologists do more than the above three things. Depending on their specialization, they may not even see patients. Here are a few examples:
- Academic research psychologists will spend their day in research, teaching classes, grading homework assignments, and developing new psychological theories.
- An industry research psychologist will spend time developing theories, collecting data, and doing public relations.
- Behavioral psychologists may spend their day observing people and conducting surveys
- Occupational psychologists might evaluate and train new employees for a company.
These daily tasks can be as varied as the psychologists themselves.
How do psychologists help patients?
All psychologists help patients deal with their mental issues in some way, though some are more direct than others. Some counsel patients to determine their issues and the courses of action they should take. Others study how the mind functions, diving deep into the abyss to improve current treatments and find even better ones. In the end, everyone has a part to play.
Therapy and Counseling
For instance, applied psychologists mostly help patients through psychotherapy. This therapy relieves anxiety and other symptoms by offering viable behavioral changes. For most patients, these counseling sessions are all they need, giving them a safe place to work things out on their own.
These therapy sessions can also take a variety of forms. Depending on the patient, a psychologist can offer either humanistic, cognitive, behavior, cognitive-behavioral, or psychodynamic counseling.
When patients need more than just therapy, psychologists can recommend that patients obtain treatment from a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medication and other treatments for mental health conditions.
Diagnose Mental Health Issues
While a practicing psychologist cannot administer medication for mental health issues, they can help patients through the process. They can administer tests and assessments required to determine the difficulties patients have. They can then teach coping skills while monitoring the patients as they go through their treatments.
Treat Short-Term Problems
While psychologists mostly help people with depression and anxiety, they can also help people work through short-term problems such as job loss, the death of a loved one, or relationship issues. These treatments usually only require a single therapy session and serve as the bulk of the work psychologists do.
Treat Substance Abuse
Finally, a psychologist will help people with alcohol or substance addiction to work through their issues and become sober. These sessions may include therapy sessions, medical recommendations, and other means for developing new coping strategies.
Where can I learn more about a career in psychology?
If the life of a psychologist seems to agree with you and your career goals, then you need to seek out the training and required licensing. To that end, the website for the American Psychological Association (APA) is a good start.
American Psychological Association
The APA defines who can be a psychologist by establishing the education and specification requirements. They also define the tasks and duties psychologists can and cannot perform. As such, they should be your first place to learn all aspects of the profession from clinical psychology to child development.
Local College Psychology Department
To be a licensed psychologist, you must obtain a Ph.D., Psy.D., or EdD. Degree from an APA-accredited university. As such, you can learn more about the field by talking to a local college Psychology department. They can tell you what education you need as well as any local licensing requirements.
If you take this route, please note that it takes at least 7 years of training to become a psychologist. A typical psychologist also requires at least a year of supervised internship followed by supervised practice before getting a license.
Local State Licensing Board
Each state is responsible for defining its local licensing requirements. As such, you can talk to your local licensing board to learn more about these licensing requirements and the next step in your journey.
A Local Psychologist
If you feel that psychology is your calling, feel free to talk to a local psychologist. They can walk you through their daily duties and help you assess if the career is right for you. They can even help you determine which branch of psychology you should pursue.
Concluding Thoughts on What a Psychologist Does on a Daily Basis
Psychologists study the human mind, emotions, and behaviors. However, there are many different therapies psychologist use for example, humanistic psychology and positive psychology. They then use this knowledge to help people deal with their mental health issues. As such, they spend their day conducting assessment tests and therapy sessions that direct their patients to the treatments they need to improve their lives.