Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. The discipline embraces all aspects of the human experience — from the functions of the brain to the actions of nations, from child development to care for the aged. In every conceivable setting from scientific research centers to mental health care services, “the understanding of behavior” is the enterprise of psychologists.
Psychologists traditionally treat patients with mental and emotional problems, but they also serve as scientists researching the phenomenon of human (and non-human) behavior. They study how human beings relate not only to each other but also to machines, and they work to improve these relationships. In particular, they concentrate on behaviors that affect the mental and emotional health and mental functioning of healthy human beings.
In their research, psychologists follow scientific methods, using careful observation, experimentation and analysis. They develop theories of human behavior and test them through their research. As this research yields new information, psychologists’ findings become part of the body of knowledge that practitioners call upon in their work with clients and patients.
Psychology is a tremendously varied field. Psychologists conduct both basic and applied research, serve as consultants to communities and organizations, diagnose and treat people, test intelligence and personality and teach future psychologists and other types of students. With the rapidly increasing diversity of the U.S. population, psychologists bring important knowledge and skills to understanding different cultures.
There are many different careers within this profession. For example, psychologists work with business executives, performers and athletes to reduce stress and improve performance. They advise lawyers on jury selection and collaborate with educators on school reform. Immediately following a disaster, such as a plane crash or bombing, psychologists help victims and bystanders recover from the trauma, or shock, of the event. They team with law enforcement and public health officials to analyze the causes of such events and prevent their occurrence.
Many psychologists work independently. They also team up with other professionals—for example, other scientists, physicians, lawyers, school personnel, computer experts, engineers, policymakers and managers—to contribute to every area of society. That’s why you will find psychologists in laboratories, hospitals, courtrooms, schools and universities, community health centers, prisons and corporate offices.
Most psychologists say they love their work. They cite the variety of daily tasks and the flexibility of their schedules. They are thrilled by the exciting changes taking place in the field, from adapting technology to humans to working as part of primary health care teams. They are working hard to provide answers to research questions in diverse areas such as prevention, perception and learning. Educators strive to train the next generations using new technology and knowledge.
To be a psychologist, you must earn a doctoral degree in psychology. The American Psychological Association provides a listing of accredited doctoral programs in the following areas:
- Clinical psychology
- Combined professional-scientific psychology
- Counseling psychology
- School psychology
In terms of curriculum, psychology students in traditional programs can expect to study both normal and abnormal functioning, focusing on the intersection of two critical relationships: between brain function and behavior and between the environment and behavior.
Learn More About a Career in Psychology
- Watch a video profile of psychologists.
- Get detailed information about psychology careers.
- Find out what you need to do to prepare for a career as a psychologist.