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What Is the Role of a Psychologist?

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Psychology is the study of the psyche or mind. In addition to information, the mind constantly processes thoughts and emotions. An individual's behavior is influenced by the mind's perception of stimuli received via the five senses. Something that was said, heard, seen, touched or smelled is interpreted and initiates a reaction. Psychologists study the impact of the mind on the body, which is manifested by behavior.


Doctors with a Ph.D. or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in psychology are called psychologists. Although a Master's degree is sufficient for a few specialties, generally a doctoral degree is required. Psychologists are not the same as psychiatrists. Although they both treat mental health conditions, psychiatrists can prescribe medication for patients, whereas psychologists cannot. This is because psychiatrists are medical doctors, M.D.s. Therefore, psychiatrists focus on the physiological cause of a condition and psychologists focus on emotions and thought process.


The types of psychologists are distinguished by specialty. For example, there are health, social, developmental, neuropsychological, clinical, research, sports and counseling psychologists, to name a few. Some work directly with patients and some do not. For example, research psychologists often do not treat patients. Psychologists can also be employed as teachers in colleges and universities. Industrial-organization psychologists help companies improve employee relations and may be held by those with a Master's. Psychological assistants may also be Master's level individuals but typically work with psychologists with a Ph.D. However, the most common specialty is clinical psychologist. Some of these psychologists work at hospitals, clinics and medical centers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 34 percent have a private practice and are self-employed. Sports psychologists provide counseling for athletes.


The functions of a psychologist depend on the specialty of the psychologist. Generally, psychologists conduct evaluations and psychological testing to diagnosis patients. They provide what is referred to as "talk therapy." This can occur on an individual or one-to-one basis or in a group. School psychologists mainly conduct intelligence, aptitude and psychological testing. IQ tests and personality inventories are commonly used to determine if a learning or emotional disability exists. Research or experimental psychologists may conduct studies via lab experiments or surveying a specific population. Counseling psychologists may provide therapy during times of adjustments to major life changes such as being fired, getting divorced or losing a loved. They develop treatment plans and may engage in role-playing to help individuals modify their behavior.


Psychologists help individuals focus on what is causing the symptoms to manifest or intensify. Once the source of the condition is identified, psychologists work with patients to develop coping skills. Psychologists provide a safe environment to express one's feelings. They are also bound by doctor-patient confidentiality, except when future harm to self or other is mentioned.


Since psychologists are not medical doctors, they cannot prescribe medications. Although, not all patients require medication to recover, those with biologically based conditions do. Additionally, medication alone may not be sufficient to treat one's mental health condition. Treatment may require visits to both a psychiatrist and a psychologist.


Barbara Aufiero has been writing health-related articles since 2008, specializing in mental health and health insurance. Aufiero resides in New York and holds a Master of Arts in psychology.

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