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Psychologists study the mind and behavior to support people with mental health conditions. They might specialize in different subfields, such as clinical or forensic psychology.

This article provides an overview of what psychologists do, the different types of psychologists, and how they can help.

A psychologist with a patient during a therapy session.Share on Pinterest
Image credit: Maskot/Getty Image

Psychologists have gone through clinical and academic education in psychology to understand the mind and behavior.

They provide services to people with mental health conditions and those going through difficult or distressing times.

People might receive different services from a psychologist, depending on their area of specialty.

For example, a psychologist might help someone with symptoms of depression or anxiety. The person may be dealing with specific issues, such as anger problems or bereavement.

Psychologists use a variety of methods to help people in different situations. A common approach is providing psychotherapy, which is a type of talk therapy to help people cope with symptoms and improve their well-being.

In some cases, a psychologist will work with other healthcare professionals to provide treatment. For example, they might work with a family doctor or psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication.

Psychologists can work in private practices or a variety of other locations, including hospitals or schools. Some psychologists also conduct diagnostic assessments and academic and clinical research.

There are many areas in which a psychologist might specialize.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), recognized specialties of psychology include the following:

  • Clinical neuropsychology aims to understand the relationship between the brain and behavior.
  • Clinical health psychology examines and supports clinical services to promote physical and mental health.
  • Psychoanalysis focuses on understanding and changing personality and other unconscious aspects of behavior and thinking.
  • School psychology involves working with pupils, parents or caregivers, and teachers in school settings.
  • Clinical psychology provides support and care for people with mental health and behavioral problems.
  • Child and adolescent psychology focuses on infants, children, and adolescents.
  • Counseling psychology helps people with a variety of emotional, social, work, health, or academic problems at any age.
  • Organizational psychology specializes in human behavior in workplaces and organizations.
  • Behavioral and cognitive psychology uses learning, development, and cognitive principles to help with behavioral, thinking, and emotional problems.
  • Forensic psychology operates within the judicial and legal system.
  • Couple and family psychology addresses problems that people might have in relationships and families.
  • Geropsychology focuses on older people and their families.
  • Police and public safety psychology supports law enforcement workers and other public safety professionals.
  • Sleep psychology examines sleep and sleep-related disorders.
  • Rehabilitation psychology assists people recovering from an injury or illness.
  • Group psychology and psychotherapy prepares group leaders to identify issues and support the development of individual group members.
  • Serious mental illness psychology specializes in helping people with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.
  • Psychopharmacology applies psychological principles to drug development and research.

Psychologists can support the treatment of many problems, including:

Psychiatrists have a different educational background than psychologists. They are medical doctors who have chosen to specialize in psychiatry rather than another area of medicine.

They have the authority to prescribe medications to people with mental health conditions.

On the other hand, psychologists are not medical doctors and are unable to prescribe medication.

Psychologists typically have a doctoral degree that involves at least 4–6 years of full-time education and training after an undergraduate degree.

Psychologist training can vary depending on the specialty. For example, the training may focus on statistics, biology, or social factors.

Psychologists must obtain a license to practice, which requires national and state-specific examinations.

People looking for a psychologist can consult their family doctor. A doctor will be able to assess a person’s needs and suggest the right kind of psychologist.

It is also possible to locate a psychologist online. For example, the APA provide an online search tool for finding local psychologists.

Anyone who is experiencing persistent emotional, behavioral, or cognitive problems could benefit from seeing a psychologist. Parents or caregivers who suspect that their child has ADHD or ASD can also take them to these specialists for an evaluation.

Some examples of signs that it may be helpful to see a psychologist include:

  • feeling anxious on a regular basis
  • experiencing overwhelming feelings of sadness or helplessness
  • having difficulty with everyday challenges or work
  • using drugs or alcohol to cope
  • having suicidal thoughts
  • experiencing abuse or other trauma

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Many insurance plans cover the cost of mental healthcare. Sessions typically range from $65 to $200, depending on the area and psychologist, but the costs can sometimes be higher.

People in the United States without insurance can access funding for mental healthcare through Medicaid. Some employers or universities will also cover costs, while community mental health clinics may offer low cost or sliding scale therapy.

Psychologists specialize in the mind and behavior. They provide a range of different services, including treatment for mental health symptoms.

Most psychologists have a doctoral degree with extensive training. They differ from psychiatrists, who are medical doctors able to prescribe medications.

Anyone who is experiencing mental health, thinking, or behavioral issues should consider talking to their doctor, who can assess the situation and recommend the right psychologist, if necessary.