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Nature of Psychology Work

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Psychologist listening to female patient
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Psychologists study the mind and behavior, but the actual work performed by individual psychologists can vary dramatically. As you might imagine, psychology is an enormously diverse field. While psychologists often apply their knowledge of the human mind and behavior in a wide variety of ways, they frequently specialize in a very specific area. There are many different types of specialty areas, and so the exact answer to the question "What does a psychologist do?" may depend largely on specialty area, employment sector and even geographic location.

What Do Psychologists Do?

Psychologists may work in a wide variety of settings, including schools, universities, hospitals, private clinics, government offices, corporations and small businesses. Psychologists primarily work in one of two broad areas: research psychology or applied psychology. Research psychologists investigate physical, emotional, social, cognitive and biological bases of human thought and behavior. They often conduct experiments and may work at a colleges or universities, or they may be employed by a business or government office.

Applied psychologists use their knowledge of human behavior to solve real world problems or help people overcome psychological distress. Applied psychologists may work directly with patients in a health care setting, such as in a hospital, mental health clinic, school or private practice. Other applied psychologists may work in government, industry, business or nonprofit settings. In addition to applying their knowledge of psychology directly, these professionals may also perform research, offer training, design products, create programs or provide psychological advice.

A Day in the Life of a Psychologist

Psychologists employed in research settings often spend a great deal of time developing hypotheses and collecting data. The exact research methods used by psychologists depend largely on the topic they are studying. For example, some psychologists might perform research using lab experiments, while others might use naturalistic observation. Other methods commonly used include administering questionnaires, clinical studies, surveys and interviews.

Psychologists employed in health care settings often spend a considerable amount of time working directly with clients. This might involve conducting assessments of new patients, diagnosing mental disorders and performing psychotherapy. Psychologists also frequently consult with other health professionals including doctors, nurses and other therapists.

More About Careers in Psychology

Reference: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Psychologists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos056.htm

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