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All that You Want to Know about the Nature of the Job of Psychologists

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Psychologists study human behavior and the mental processes related to that behavior. Research psychologists investigate the physical, cognitive, emotional, or social aspects of human behavior. Psychologists in applied fields provide mental heal services in hospitals, clinics, schools, or private settings.

Like other social scientists, psychologists formulate hypotheses and collect data to test their validity. Research methods depend on the topic under study. Psychologists may gather information through controlled laboratory experiments, as we as through personality, performance, aptitude, and intelligent tests. Other methods include observation, interviews, questionnaires, clinical studies, and surveys. Computers are widely used record and analyze this information.

Psychologists apply their knowledge and techniques to a huge range of endeavors including human services, management, education, law, and sports. In addition to a variety of work settings, psychologists specialize in many different areas. Clinical psychologists-who constitute the largest specialty-generally work in independent or group practice or in hospitals or clinics. They assist mentally or emotionally disturbed clients adjust and increasingly help medical and surgical patients deal with their illnesses or injuries. Some work in physical rehabilitation settings, treating patients with spinal cord injuries, chronic pain illness, stroke, arthritis, and neurologic conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Others help people deal with life stresses such divorce or the death of a loved one. Clinical psychologists interview patients and give diagnostic tests. They provide individual, family, and group psychotherapy, and design and implement behavior modification programs. They may collaborate with physicians and other specialists in developing and implementing treatment and intervention programs that patients can understand and comply with. Some clinical psychologists work in universities, where they train graduate students in the delivery of mental health and behavioral medicine services. Others administer community mental health programs.

Relatively new specialties within clinical psychology include cognitive psychology, health psychology, geropsychology and neuropsychology. Cognitive psychologists deal with memory, inking, and perceptions. Some conduct research related to computer programming and artificial intelligence. Health psychologists promote good health through health maintenance counseling programs that are designed to help people achieve goals such as stop smoking or lose weight. Neuropsychologists study the reaction between the brain and behavior. Geropsychologists deal with the special problems faced by the elderly. The emergence and growth of these specialties reflects the increasing participation of psychologists in providing direct services to special patient populations.

Counseling psychologists use various techniques, including interviewing and testing, to advise people on how to deal with problems of everyday living, including career choices.

Developmental psychologists study the patterns and causes of behavioral change as people progress from infancy to adulthood. Some specialize in behavior during infancy, childhood, and adolescence, while others study changes that take place during maturity or old age. The study of developmental disabilities and how they affect people is a relatively new area within developmental psychology.

Experimental psychologists study behavior processes as they work with human beings and animals, such as rats, monkeys, and pigeons. Prominent areas of study in experimental research include motivation, thinking, attention, learning and retention, sensory and perceptual processes, effects of substance use and abuse, id genetic and neurological factors affecting behavior.

Industrial-organizational psychologists (I/O) apply psychological techniques to personnel administration, management, and marketing problems. They are involved in applicant screening, training and development, counseling, and organizational development and analysis. An industrial psychologist might work with management to develop better training programs and to reorganize the work setting to improve worker productivity or quality of work life. They may also act as consultants to management.

School psychologists work with students, teachers, parents, and administrators to resolve students' learning and behavior problems. They collaborate with teachers, parents, and school personnel about classroom management strategies, parenting skills, substance abuse, working with students with disabilities or gifted and talented students, and teaching and learning strategies. They may evaluate the effectiveness of academic programs, behavior management procedures, and other services provided in the school setting.

Social psychologists examine people's interactions with others and with the social environment. Prominent areas of study include group behavior, leadership, attitudes, and interpersonal perception.

Working Conditions

A psychologist's specialty and place of employment determine working conditions. Clinical, school, and counseling psychologists in private practice have pleasant, comfortable offices and set their own hours. However, they often must offer evening hours to accommodate their clients. Those employed in hospitals, nursing homes, and other health facilities may work evenings and weekends, while those who work in schools and clinics generally work regular hours. Psychologists employed as faculty by colleges and universities divide their time between teaching and research, and a few have administrative responsibilities as well. Many have part-time consulting practices as well. Most psychologists in government and industry have structured schedules. Psychologists often work alone, reading and writing reports. Many experience pressures due to deadlines, tight schedules, and overtime work. Their routine may be interrupted frequently. Travel may be required to attend conferences or conduct research.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

A doctoral degree generally is required for employment as a clinical or counseling psychologist. Psychologists with a Ph.D. qualify for a wide range of teaching, research, clinical, and counseling positions in universities, elementary and secondary schools, private industry, and government. Psychologists with a Doctor of Psychology-generally work in clinical positions.

Persons with a master's degree in psychology can work as organizational or industrial psychologists. Others work as psychological assistants, under the supervision of doctoral-level psychologists, and may conduct research or psychological evaluations or counsel patients. Many work as school psychologists or counselors, and some teach in high schools or two-year colleges.

A bachelor's degree in psychology qualifies a person to assist psychologists and other professionals in community mental health centers, vocational rehabilitation offices, and correctional programs. They may work as research or administrative assistants or become sales or management trainees in business. However, without additional academic training, their opportunities in psychology are severely limited.

In the federal government, candidates having at least 24 semester hours in psychology and one course in statistics qualify for entry-level positions. Because this is one of the few areas where one can work as a psychologist without an advanced degree, competition for these jobs is keen. Most students need at least two years of full-time graduate study to earn a master's degree in psychology. Requirements usually include practical experience in an applied setting or a master's thesis based on an original research project.

Competition for admission into graduate programs is keen. Some universities require an undergraduate major in psychology. Others prefer only basic psychology with courses in the biological, physical, and social sciences, statistics, and mathematics.
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