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What is a psychologist?

A psychologist is a professional who has earned a doctoral degree in the field of psychology from an organized, sequential program in a regionally accredited university or professional school. In New York State, a license must be obtained in order to hold the title of psychologist. For a license, in addition to obtaining a doctoral degree, individuals must complete two years of supervised clinical experience, as well as pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Psychologists can perform three major roles: teacher, researcher, and clinician. They perform these various roles based upon their position and interests. Some individuals devote all their time to one role (e.g. clinician), whereas other devote their time across roles (e.g. teacher and researcher).

As teachers, psychologists teach at the college level on various topics related to psychology (e.g.personality theory, abnormal psychology statistics, experimental design, social psychology).

As researchers, psychologists are trained to conduct and utilize research. Their research is driven by their interests andcan employ various methods and statistical analyses. This training is unique among mental health providers, as training programs in other mental health disciplines (e.g. social work, psychiatry) do not necessarily provide research training or experience.

As clinicians, psychologist are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat a broad spectrum of mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, etc.). psychologist are uniquely trained to conduct psychological assessment with a diverse range of populations and conditions. Assessments can focus on goals such as: providing or clarifying a diagnosis, developing treatment recommendations, evaluating neuropsychiatric disorders, monitoring progress after traumatic brain injury, and providing recommendations for medical procedures (e.g. for bariatric surgery). Regarding treatments, they are trained to understand the scientific research regarding various treatments for psychological disorders plus they are trained in the provision of a variety of treatment interventions to ameliorate these disorders.. This knowledge is then used to select what are known as Evidence Based Treatments. Evidence based treatments are treatments that consider the unique factors of the individual, their culture, and the scientific evidence supporting their use.

  • Clinical psychologists provide diagnostic assessment and psychotherapy for a variety of mental disorders.
  • School psychologists provide psychoeducational testing, evaluations for learning disorders, and testing aimed at identifying academic strengths and weaknesses.
  • Health psychologists seek to help patients understand the relationship between medical conditions and psychological factors. They may assist patients in coping with medical problems or treatments.
  • Neuropsychologists evaluate and diagnose mental and behavioral problems related to brain illnesses or injuries.
  • Forensic psychologists provide consultations to courts and attorneys on an individuals mental state and its impact on the legal matters under review.
  • Organizational psychologists provide organizations, groups, and individuals with evaluations to improve workplace functioning and employee health.
  • Sports psychologists assist athletes with understanding the mind-body connection to enhance the performance of teams and individual competitors.
  • Academic psychologists provide education in a University setting to students interested in psychology.
  • Research psychologists conduct research on a variety of topics relevant to understanding human behavior with humans and animals.
  • Consulting psychologists work with other healthcare professionals or agencies to provide advice and supervision related to the psychological aspects of the care of patients.
  • Psychologists vs. Psychiatrists - while clinical psychologists earn PhDs, psychiatrists earn medical doctor (MD) degrees. Psychiatrists are medical doctors trained to treat mental disorders using medication. Compared to psychologists, psychiatrists have less training in psychotherapy and tend to focus on treating psychological problems with psychotropic medication. Clinical psychologists do not have prescription privileges in New York and hence cannot prescribe medication but rather utilize a variety of psychotherapeutic techniques. They are also trained to complete evaluations using standardized approaches which may include assessment of psychological, personality, academic, vocational, and/or neuropsychological functioning (depending on the psychologist's training and specialization.)
  • Psychologists vs. Social Workers - compared to clinical social workers, clinical psychologists receive more specialized training in psychotherapy and psychological assessment. Social workers’ education involves a more extensive examination of broader, society-level problems (e.g., poverty, racism, sexism, etc.) that have an impact on individuals. Due to this, social workers require additional supervision after graduation in order to be able to conduct psychotherapy. They cannot administer psychological assessments. The degree required for practicing social work is a Masters in Social Work (MSW).
  • Psychologists vs. Physicians - it is not uncommon for people experiencing mental health difficulties to discuss their difficulties with their primary care physicians. In fact, 70% of people experiencing mental health difficulties turn there first. As a result, primary care physicians and nurse practicioners working in primary care prescribe 60-70% of psychotropic medications. Though primary care physicians are trained in a broad array of medical health problems, they do not receive extensive training in treating psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Primary care physicians can make referrals to mental health professionals. Some primary care offices may include a behavioral health consultant (usually a social worker or clinical psychologist) on site.