A psychologist is a professionally trained mental health professional who helps patients navigate challenging life situations or mental health issues. To become a psychologist you must earn a doctoral degree; qualifying degrees include a Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D. To actively practice, a psychologist must be licensed in their state and maintain good standing. Psychologists are trained to administer tests that can evaluate a patient’s cognitive strength and weaknesses, intellectual skills, vocational aptitude and preference, personality characteristics, and neuropsychological functioning, explains the American Psychological Association (APA).
A psychologist meets with patients in an office and may work with a variety of methods, depending on patient need, such as cognitive, behavioral or interpersonal. According to the APA, common reasons a person may visit a psychologist include:
- Dealing with depression, anger or anxiety over a long period of time.
- Help with a chronic condition that is interfering with their lives or physical health.
- Help with grieving and other abrupt transitions.
- Overcoming addictions.
- Managing chronic illness.
- Breaking old and harmful patterns of thinking or behavior.
Psychologists are healthcare professionals who use scientific methods to understand the relationships between the brain, environment and behavior. Psychologists may focus on research — studying how the brain and various environments drive behaviors to better understand the issues that trouble patients and society as a whole — or they may focus on practice — interacting with people using therapeutic methods. The American Psychological Association shares some of the more prevalent types of psychologists:
- Clinical psychologists assess and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.
- Cognitive and perceptual psychologists study human perception, thinking and memory.
- Community psychologists work to strengthen the abilities of communities, settings, organizations and broader social systems to meet people’s needs — such as improving support for victims of natural disasters, or working to improve health policies.
- Counseling psychologists help people understand and take action on everyday issues, career and work problems, and serious adversity.
- Developmental psychologists study the psychological development of the human being throughout life.
- Educational psychologists concentrate on how effective teaching and learning take place.
- Engineering psychologists conduct research on how people work best with machines.
- Environmental psychologists study the dynamics of how people interact with their environments.
- Evolutionary psychologists study how evolutionary principles such as mutation, adaptation and selective fitness influence human thought, feeling and behavior.
- Experimental psychologists study cognitive processes, comparative psychology (cross-species comparisons), and learning and conditioning.
- Forensic psychologists apply psychological principles to legal issues.
- Health psychologists specialize in how biological, psychological and social factors affect health and illness.
- Industrial/organizational psychologists apply psychological principles and research methods to the workplace to improve productivity, health and the quality of work life.
- Neuropsychologists and behavioral neuropsychologists explore the relationships between brain systems and behavior.
- Quantitative and measurement psychologists focus on methods and techniques for designing experiments and analyzing psychological data.
- Rehabilitation psychologists work with stroke and accident victims, people with mental disabilities, and those with developmental disabilities caused by such conditions as cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism.
- School psychologists assess and counsel students, consult with parents and school staff, and conduct behavioral interventions when appropriate.
- Social psychologists study how a person’s mental life and behavior are shaped by interactions with other people.
- Sport psychologists help athletes refine their focus on competition goals, become more motivated, and learn to deal with anxiety and fear of failure around competition.
If you are experiencing a challenging time, have mental health difficulties, or just want professional guidance as you move through life, a therapist can provide relief, tools and structure. The national average cost for a therapist is $80-$100 per hour, although prices may be higher or lower depending on geographic location and the experience and training of the therapist.
Psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed therapists are all health professionals who offer various modalities of therapy. Ask questions about the type of therapy they specialize in (such as cognitive or behavioral, etc.) and their area of expertise (such as grief, anxiety, body image disorders, etc.) to help you find the right fit for your needs. Therapy sessions are typically 50-60 minutes long. The patient usually meets with the therapist in their office; sessions may also be held remotely (via Skype, etc.) or in a clinical setting. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists who have earned advanced degrees will typically charge higher rates than other licensed therapists. Depending on your diagnosis, your health insurance may cover your therapy costs.
To be able to write a prescription, a clinical psychologist must practice in a state that permits them to do so, and must either have a master’s degree in psychopharmacology or have completed the required advanced training program. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), five states currently permit psychologists to write prescriptions: Idaho, New Mexico, Illinois, Iowa and Louisiana. Many psychologists who are not able to write prescriptions work in partnership with psychiatrists, pediatricians or primary care doctors to help their patients who need medication.