What are Psychologists and What Do they Do?

By Lizette Smith, PhD and Jennifer Evans, PsyD

There are many different types of psychologists in the U.S.  Over 15 types or specialties within psychology include proficiencies such as neuropsychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, forensic and public service psychology, and health psychology–to name a few.  Many times, when the public hears the term “psychologist”, they may think of clinical or counseling psychologists.  These are often practicing psychologists who help people manage symptoms of a disorder, adjust and cope with difficult life circumstances, and/or engage in research related to these areas.  These psychologists are found in many different professional locations: private practices, community mental health centers, health care groups, hospitals, prisons, industry and business, rehabilitation facilities, and schools and universities.  Despite the variety of types and work settings, the common purposes behind the work of psychologists are to benefit our society and to improve people’s lives (American Psychological Association).

Keystone Mental Health Services is staffed by doctoral-level clinical and counseling psychologists.  Doctoral-level psychologists have extensive education and training that allow them to treat a wide range of mental health concerns and to help people cope with difficult life situations. Psychologists have an average of 7 years of graduate education and training after receiving their undergraduate degrees.  Course work, clinical practicum, research, and teaching are required, as well as specialized training in psychological testing and measures that allow evaluation of client’s intellectual, academic, vocational, personality, and neuropsychological functioning. Education and practicum experiences are followed by a formal year-long supervised internship.  The American Psychological Association states that, “psychologists with doctoral degrees (a Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) receive one of the highest levels of education of … health care professionals, spending an average of seven years in education and training after they receive their undergraduate degree.”

Psychologists must become licensed by their state to practice. This requires passing a national examination and any additional examinations depending on the state in which they will practice. The license to practice ensures that the psychologist is competent to practice ethically and independently in providing treatment, interventions, and psychological evaluations.  To maintain their licenses over time, psychologists must continue to practice ethically and competently, and engage in continuing education.

Prepared to help a wide diversity of persons, groups, organizations, and families, psychologists treat many types of problems: on-going conditions, severe mental illnesses, emotional or mood problems, behavior disorders, managing physical disorders, coping with trauma and adverse circumstances, school and family problems, addictions, and grief and loss. They have been trained to use an assortment of professionally peer-reviewed and best available research-based treatment and interventions to help persons improve their lives.  Psychologists involve the client in choosing the best treatment approach to address individual concerns, circumstances, and preferences.  Through skills in evaluation and testing, psychologists are equipped to diagnose mental illness, guide treatment, understand persons’ thoughts and feelings, and determine strengths and weaknesses to improve daily functioning.

Keystone Mental Health Services is a mental health practice that assesses, evaluates, and treats mental and behavioral disorders.  We also provide community education and consultation.  Our mission includes reaching those who traditionally have not had access to mental health care.  Our practice addresses concerns such as depression, trauma reactions, anxiety, school problems, attention problems, disruptive behaviors, family problems, loss and grief, level of functioning and diagnostic clarification, identification of problems, recommendations for services, parenting assessment, and many others.  Our psychologists, along with our entire mental health team, offer a broad range of mental health care to youth, adults, and families.  We also are equipped to engage in the following Keystone specialties:  mental health care to the very young child, comprehensive psychological testing, Play Therapy, complex conditions, and cultural competency.  We find that care of our clients is favorably impacted when clients are treated with dignity and respect for their privacy, values, goals, attributes, and individual circumstances; despite their age, cultural background, socio-economic status, or payment source.

The American Psychological Association (www.apa.org)