What Is a Psychologist?

Medically Reviewed

Psychologists obtain doctorate degrees, not medical degrees, and can prescribe medications in only three U.S. states.

Psychologists are doctors who obtain a doctorate degree that is either a PhD, a PsyD, or an EdD.

They work with patients to help diagnose, treat, and manage a wide range of conditions and issues related to emotions, thoughts, and overall mental health.

Some areas in which they may help include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Grief
  • Addiction
  • Coping with chronic illness
  • Relationship difficulties

Psychologists use a variety of therapies to help patients, including cognitive, behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, humanistic, or psychodynamic therapy; hypnosis; or a combination of several therapies.

According to the American Psychological Association, there are about 105,000 licensed psychologists in the United States.

Psychologists work in various settings, including:

  • Private practice
  • Schools, colleges, and universities
  • Hospitals
  • Prisons
  • Veterans' medical centers
  • Community health and mental health clinics
  • Business and industry
  • Nursing homes and rehabilitation and long-term care centers

Psychologist Training and Education

Psychologists usually receive an undergraduate degree in psychology, and then go on to earn a master's degree and a doctorate degree in psychology. This usually takes an additional five to seven years.

To become a licensed psychologist, most states require a year-long, full-time supervised internship before graduation, plus an additional year of supervised practice.

Psychologists must also pass a national examination, plus another examination that's specific to the state where they wish to practice.

Once licensed, psychologists must obtain a certain amount of continuing education to maintain their license.

Psychologists can go on to receive additional schooling and licensing if they want to specialize in a particular field of psychology, or if they want to gain expertise in psychoanalysis (a non-drug mental health treatment technique).

In Illinois, Louisiana, and New Mexico, psychologists can undergo advanced training after they're licensed in order to prescribe medications.

Usually, they must complete a specialized training program or a master's degree in psychopharmacology.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: What's the Difference?

A big difference between a psychologists and a psychiatrist is that psychiatrists graduate from medical school, obtaining an MD. Because of this, psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Psychologists are not medical doctors, so most of them can't prescribe medications (outside of the three states mentioned above, where doing so is allowed with advanced training).

Psychologists mainly focus on the thoughts, feelings, and general mental health of patients, while psychiatrists often focus on disorders that involve a chemical imbalance.

Because of their differences, psychologists and psychiatrists often work together or refer patients to one another to provide the best care for their patients.

For example, psychologists may refer a patient to a psychiatrist if they believe a medication may be helpful to the patient.

On the other hand, psychiatrists may refer a patient to a psychologist if the psychologist has a particular expertise in a non-drug treatment, such as psychoanalysis.

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