Psychologists: Definition, Education, Training, Types, Methodologies

Psychologist. Psychiatrist. Which is which? These terms tend to get tossed around and sometimes confused with each other. Visit our page on psychiatrists to learn all about that profession, and read below on to learn who psychologists are, what sets them apart from psychiatrists, who they treat, and more.

What is a Psychologist?

A psychologist is a mental health professional who can conduct research, perform testing, and evaluate and treat emotional and psychological issues for people.[1]

What Credentials Do Psychologists Have?

After completing an undergraduate degree, psychologists then complete five to seven years of academic graduate study to earn doctoral degrees. They then participate in at least a one- or two-year internship (depending on their state) in order to apply for a license to practice psychology. To become licensed, psychologists must pass a national examination and an additional examination specific to their state.[2,3]

After becoming licensed, psychologists can practice, but they must continue to earn hours of continuing education credits each year.[2,3]

Some states like New Mexico and Louisiana allow psychologists to write prescriptions after consulting with a psychiatrist, but in these states, psychologists must have advanced training beyond their license, such as completion of a specialized training program or master’s degree in psychopharmacology.[2,3,4]

What is the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

The main difference is education. As mentioned above, psychologists go through five to seven years of academic graduate study to earn doctoral degrees, and then participate in at least a one- or two-year internship (depending on their state) in order to apply for a license to practice psychology. Psychiatrists earn medical degrees, go through residency training at a hospital’s psychiatric department and then they can be licensed to practice psychiatry. Both professionals treat people with a wide range of mental health problems through psychotherapy, and both can conduct research. However, psychiatrists can prescribe drugs, whereas psychologists are only allowed to prescribe medication in some states.[3,4]

What is a Clinical Psychologist?

The American Psychological Association explains that clinical psychologists “assess, diagnose, predict, prevent and treat psychopathology, mental disorders and other individual or group problems to improve behavior adjustment, adaptation, personal effectiveness and satisfaction.” A clinical psychologist has undergone substantial training related to personality and psychopathology, which means he or she has a thorough understanding of normal and abnormal adjustment and maladjustment across the life span.[5,6]

Who do Psychologists Treat?

Psychologists can treat individuals, couples, families or groups for a variety of mental, emotional and behavioral issues, such as anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, addiction, grief, pain management, mood disorders and more.[4]

How do Psychologists Treat Patients?

Psychologists use various treatments to help people with their problems. However, psychotherapy or talk therapy is a common form of treatment used. Other forms of therapy include cognitive, behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, humanistic, psychodynamic, hypnosis and a combination of therapies. In some instances, medication is used for treatment. In states where psychologists cannot prescribe medication, they work with physicians and psychiatrists to get patients the medical care they need.[2]

Where do Psychologists Work?

Psychologists work in a variety of settings, such as schools, hospitals, universities, prisons, nursing homes, and more. They also work in private practices dealing with their own patients. Still others focus on conducting research in the field of psychology rather than treating patients.[2,7]


  1. Rhode Island Psychological Association. What do Psychologists Do? Retrieved December 24, 2013, from
  2. American Psychological Association. What do practicing psychologists do? Retrieved December 26, 2013, from
  3. WebMD. Downs, M. Psychology vs. Psychiatry: Which is better? Retrieved December 27, 2013, from
  4. American Psychology Association. What is Psychology? Retrieved April 11, 2013, from
  5. American Psychology Association. Public Description of Clinical Psychology. Retrieved December 26, 2013, from
  6. Society of Clinical Psychology. About Clinical Psychology. Retrieved December 27, 2013, from
  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychologists. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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