What do Psychologists Do?

Two key roles of psychologists are:
1. Doing research to understand how people think, feel and behave, and
2. Working with people to help them make change.
Psychologists who help people make changes to their health and well being can work in any number of settings. These can include hospitals, clinics, schools and universities, correctional facilities, and private offices.

Whether working in a private office, or as a member of a health care team in a hospital or clinic, there are two main activities you can expect of a psychologist:

  • Assessment and diagnosis. Psychologists develop valid and reliable means of assessing mental health problems and disorders. These might include the use of psychological tests and questions to help understand and diagnose problems, plan treatment and assess whether treatment is working.
  • Psychological treatments. Psychological treatments, like cognitive behaviour therapy, are among the most effective treatments for mental disorders (like depression and anxiety). Sometimes mental disorders respond best to psychological treatments in combination with other kinds of treatment (for example, medication) but sometimes psychological treatments work best on their own.

Just like physical disease, there are many kinds of psychological problems and disorders and psychologists may focus their practice on some of them. In helping people with these problems, a psychologist might work with an individual adult or child, a couple or family, or a group. For a complete listing of the kinds of problems and disorders with which psychologists work,  click here.  A few examples include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Marital and family problems
  • Work issues or other lifestyle and relationship problems
  • Head injury and dementia
  • Coping with life threatening or chronic disease (e.g. cancer, diabetes, heart disease)
  • Behaviour and learning problems of childhood
  • Substance use and abuse (e.g. smoking, alcohol)

Here are some additional roles that psychologists take on

  • Consult with family doctors, nurse practitioners and other kinds of health care providers on mental health problems and treatment needs
  • Work with schools and the workplace in helping children and adults function to their fullest potential
  • Design and evaluate treatments and programs to help ensure people get the right treatment and that it is effective

To find out what you might expect out of a visit to a psychologist, click here.