What Psychologists Do
Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological research and methods to workplace issues.
Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and human behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and their environments.
Psychologists typically do the following:
- Conduct scientific studies of behavior and brain function
- Collect information through observations, interviews, surveys, and other methods
- Research and identify behavioral or emotional patterns
- Test for patterns that will help them better understand and predict behavior
- Use their knowledge to increase understanding among individuals and groups
Psychology seeks to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. Depending on the topic of study, psychologists use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence a person’s actions.
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 relationships or patterns of behavior between events, and use this information when testing theories in their research or 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 certain populations, such as children or the elderly, or certain specialties, such as the following:
- Health psychologists study how psychological factors affect health and illness. They educate both patients and medical staff on psychological issues and promote healthy-living strategies. They also investigate health issues, such as substance abuse or teenage pregnancy, and develop programs to address the problems.
- Neuropsychologists study the relation between the brain and behavior. They typically work with patients who have sustained a brain injury.
Clinical psychologists often consult with other medical personnel regarding the best treatment for patients, especially treatment that includes medication. Two states, Louisiana and New Mexico, currently allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication to patients. In most states, however, only psychiatrists and medical doctors may prescribe medication for treatment. See the profile on physicians and surgeons for more information.
Counseling psychologists advise people on how to deal with problems. They help patients understand problems, including issues at home, at the workplace, or in their community. Through counseling, they work with patients to identify their strengths or resources they can use to manage problems. For more information, see the profiles on mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, and social workers.
Developmental psychologists study the psychological progress and development that takes place throughout life. Many developmental psychologists focus on children and adolescents, but they also may study aging and problems facing the elderly.
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 court, civil court, or criminal court.
Industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychology to the workplace by using psychological principles and research methods to solve problems and improve the quality of work life. They study issues such as workplace productivity, management or employee working styles, and employee morale. They also work with management on matters such as policy planning, employee screening or training, and organizational development.
School psychologists apply psychological principles and techniques to education-related and developmental issues. They may address student learning and behavioral problems; design, implement, and evaluate performances; and counsel students and families. They may also consult with other school-based professionals to suggest improvements to teaching, learning, and administrative strategies.
Social psychologists study how people’s mindsets and behavior are shaped by social interactions. They examine both individual and group interactions and may investigate ways to improve negative interactions.
Some psychologists become postsecondary teachers or high school teachers.