What is a Psychologist?

 

Historically psychological theories have contributed to our understanding of human behaviors. The same is true in current society. Psychologists help us to understand why humans behave in the ways they do. They support well-being by helping individuals to understand and overcome behaviors in order to lead a healthier and happier life.

 

Studying human development at all stages of life contributes to society in many ways. Analyzing factors helps determine what influences environments, relationships, and cultural beliefs on human behavior and interactions with others. Studies in these areas can help professionals understand and assist addicts in overcoming harmful habits. They can also help determine factors that will help slow the onset of geriatric disorders such as dementia.

 

Psychologists also play an important role in the medical community. Diagnosing and treating mental disorders is only one aspect of this role. They are also essential to the overall well-being of patients and families. They provide support for those that are facing terminal illnesses. Offering comfort and coping skills to family members of terminal patients is also an important part of a psychologist’s contribution. They are also an invaluable resource to those that have suffered trauma in their lives.

 

Psychologists assist society at various stages in life as well. This is exemplified in those that choose to work in school settings. School psychologists play a key role in the education of the whole child. They are able to diagnosis and offer suggested treatments for a variety of disabilities. They also work with school administrations to create conditions in which all students can thrive.

 

The work of psychologists is invaluable to society. This is increasingly true as we become more and more reliant on technology. It is psychologists that help us to understand the importance of our behaviors and interactions in becoming a successful and well-rounded member of society.

 

Responsibilities and Roles of a Psychologist

 

There is a plethora of specialties within the realm of psychology. These specialties can be grouped into four main categories – therapy, social work, psychology, and counseling.

Therapy is the process of helping a patient improve their mental and emotional health as well as their overall well-being.

 

  • Art therapists allow patients to use their creativity to express themselves. Art is a method that can be used as a coping tool or as a tool to interpret deeper meanings.
  • Cognitive behavior therapists take a practical approach to solving problems. They encourage patients to change the way they think, thereby changing behaviors.
  • Marriage and family therapists help couples and families identify the underlying issues that are causing conflict. They then help families work through these issues.

 

Another career category to consider is social work. The overall goal of social work is to help people improve the quality of their lives. As there was with therapy, there are many variations of career paths under the heading of social work.

 

  • Addiction social workers work with substance abuse issues. They assist their patients with the day-to-day reality of their addiction and the path to recovery.
  • Pediatric social workers strive to help children find success socially and academically. They provide coping skills for children and families dealing with mental, emotional, and social issues.
  • Corrections social workers assist those that are entering the corrections system deal with a life of incarceration. They also assist those that are being released with issues arising from reentering society.
  • Family social workers help families deal with issues and assist in finding the source of issues. These individuals can expect to help families deal with issues such as domestic abuse, teen pregnancy, foster care, and repetitive negative behaviors.
  • Geriatric social workers help seniors and their families deal with common geriatric issues such as entering long term care facilities, dealing with loss, and living alone.

 

Psychologists work primarily with the mental well-being of individuals. Their goal is to help patients overcome a variety of mental disorders.

  • Armed Forces psychologists work with service men and women to overcome the stressors and mental illnesses that come with serving in the military. These psychologists are specially trained to help those serving in the military deal with life before, during, and after deployment. They may also help with issues like anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
  • Child psychologists study children from birth to adolescence. They study, analyze and diagnose mental, social, and emotional development and issues.
  • Clinical psychologists analyze, identify, and treat mental disorders. They are not able to prescribe medicine. Instead they help patients to understand the illness and how to cope.
  • Consumer psychologists study and analyze people’s behavior as consumers. They often study areas such as buying habits and impulse control.

 

Counselors use their knowledge and skills to assist clients in overcoming adversities and decision making strategies as well as working together.

  • Career counselors work with individuals who need assistance in starting, changing, or advancing in a chosen career. They work with clients to find what path will bring happiness and success.
  • Child abuse counselors help those that have suffered abuse to rebuild their lives. They provide a safe environment for a child abuse victim to identify and work through the effects of the abuse.
  • Grief counselors work with those that are suffering after the loss of a loved one or after a traumatic life event. They assist their clients in finding a means of coping that helps them in the healthiest way possible. [1]

 

Psychology as a Career

 

The career options with a psychology degree are numerous. There are options at every level of education.

 

Those that would like to enter the workforce earlier can find careers with an Associate’s degree in psychology. Within the realm of human services, there is the option of working as a social services assistant or medical records keeper. It would also allow a candidate to work at a detention center or group home. In the mental health field, those with an Associate’s degree are able to work as a counselor’s assistant. Other options include medical records keeper or operator for a crisis hotline. This level of education also offers the opportunity to work with the school system as a paraprofessional or in the business world in a human resources position. Most of these are hourly positions and range from approximately $11 to $14 per hour depending on position and geography.

 

A Bachelor’s degree in psychology offers more and higher paid opportunities. Those earning this degree are able to work as case managers and rehabilitation specialists. Work in law enforcement and corrections is also possible as well as the possibility of becoming a school counselor. Salaries for these types of positions average between $35,000 and $50,000.

 

More lucrative careers can be found in the business world. A psychology degree offers the opportunity to work in human resources or in marketing and business administration. Salaries in business related careers average $47,000 to $63,000.

 

The more advanced the degree earned, the more opportunities that open. Some options open to those that hold a Master’s degree in psychology include: psychology professor, behavior analyst, residential youth counselor, hospital patient services representative, legal psychologist, victims advocate, juvenile justice detention officer, employment counselor, child custody worker, mental health counselor, guidance counselor, and social worker. Salaries for such careers range an average of $40,000 to $65,000 depending on job and geographical region. [2]

 

Those that have earned one of the variations of a Doctorate degree in psychology will have the opportunity for the most prestigious and high paying careers. Some of these careers include clinical psychologist, industrial psychologist, forensic psychologist, school psychologist, psychotherapist, cognitive psychologist, university professor, and applied psychologist. Having a Doctorate degree also affords the opportunity to open a private practice as well. Salaries for these careers range on average from $70,000 to $110,000 depending on career and geographical region. 7

 

History of Psychologists

 

Throughout history, humans have been intrigued at how the human brain works. Scientists throughout the ages have asked questions such as, how do our thoughts, feelings, and experiences help to shape who we are. In fact, records exist dating psychological experimentation back to Egyptian Pharaoh Psmatik I in the 7th century B.C. [3]

 

Even in ancient times, there were differing opinions about the various aspects of psychology. Well-known thinker, Plato suggested the brain was the organ where mental processes took place. Fifty years later, Aristotle disagreed and claimed that it was not the brain, but the heart that controlled our mental functions. [4]

 

The late 18th century and the 19th century bring us more insight as to how the practice of psychology began to develop. It was during this time period that Franz Mesmer detailed his use of mesmerism to cure some mental illnesses. This practice is still used today under the name, hypnosis.

 

After Mesmer, we encounter Franz Gall. He cultivated the science of Phrenology, which suggests that the shape of a person’s skull can reveal the personality traits of a person. There is also the case of Phineas Gage, whose tragic accident with an iron pole revealed that certain areas of the brain control various aspects of us. This is further confirmed when French physician, Paul Broca discovered that an area in the left frontal lobe plays a role in our language acquisition. 2

 

While we can even place some credit for modern psychology with Charles Darwin’s theories, it isn’t until 1879 that psychology becomes part of academia. Wilhelm Wundt created the first formal laboratory in this year to study human emotions. It was one of Wundt’s students in the German University of Leipzig, G. Stanley Hall that then established the first American psychology laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.[5] Hall later founds the American Psychological Association and creates two important academic journals.             Wundt and Hall are followed by many recognizable names and theories. Among these are Freud, Pavlov, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Jung.

 

Sigmund Freud started began his career influenced by his colleague, Josef Breuer. With this influence he asserted that neuroses were rooted in a traumatic occurrence in the patient’s past. He believed that the way to overcome these neuroses was to remember and to confront the trauma. He and his inspiration, Breuer, together published their findings with this theory in Studies in Hysteria in 1895.[6]Freud went on to publish several more theories including The Interpretation of Dreams and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.

 

Ivan Pavlov is best known for his work in classical conditioning. In his famous experiment, Pavlov conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. His work led to his theory that complex situations need to be simplified into the terms of an experiment. He believed that it was in this way that patients were able to work through behaviors. [7]

Piaget was the first to study cognitive development. His goal was to prove that intelligence is not a fixed trait. He asserted that there are stages that humans go through to obtain the adult thought processes that we take for granted. He also introduced the concept of schemas. He asserted that our past experiences are what we draw upon in order to react in [8]situations. [9]

 

Like Piaget, Lev Vygotsky also studied cognitive development. However, his theories contradicted those of Piaget. While Piaget focused on innate abilities, Vygotsky believed that social factors had more of an influence on learning and behavior. One of Vygotsky’s most notable theories was that of the zone of proximal development. He believed that there is a threshold where an individual can learn and discover on their own. In order to go beyond that threshold, assistance from a more knowledgeable person is required. Vygotsky’s work is the basis for using cooperative groupings in the educational setting.

 

Carl Jung was a supporter of Freud’s theories early in his career. However, he publically distanced himself by criticizing Freud in 1912. After this, Jung went on to develop a differing version of psychoanalytic theory. Jung believed that Freud had too narrow a view. Rather than just repressed desires being at the root of issues, repressed memories were a factor as well. He also contended that behaviors were a result of not just past experiences, but also future aspirations. Jung is also the one that developed the theory of archetypes. Archetypes are thoughts and images that have universal meanings across cultural lines. [10]

 

Psychological Organizations

 

As with many professions, there are a number of organizations that promote and support the work of psychologists. These organizations may be based in a single country or international in focus. Many have also evolved over time. For example, the National Council of Women Psychologists that was based in the United States is now known as the International Council of Psychologists. The name of the organization was changed to reflect the changes in the organization and its members. Many of these organizations also have subdivisions. These are smaller groups within the organization that focus on a smaller sect of the psychological community, such as behavioral psychology.

 

            Peer reviewed journals are another hallmark of these organizations. Psychologists are encouraged to submit their research to these journals for possible publications. Reading such journals allow professionals to keep updated on current trends and new developments within the profession. Some more notable psychological organizations are:

American Psychological Association (APA)

 

The American Psychological Association was founded in 1891 by Stanley Hall. Humble in its beginnings, the APA grew rapidly after World War 2. Today the organization boasts over 115,000 members and over 54 divisions in the subfields of psychology. The organization strives to increase psychology’s role in the scientific community. Members of the APA are all holders of Doctoral degrees in fields related to Psychology. The APA also has many publications and journals, such as the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, available to its members. [11]

International Society for the History of Neurosciences (ISHN)

 

The International Society for the History of Neurosciences was founded in 1995 in Montreal. The goals of the organization include: improving communication among those interested in the history of neuroscience, promote research in the history of neuroscience, and promote education in the history of neuroscience. [12]

 

Education Required

 

As with any career, there is a path that must be travelled to become a psychologist. There are options available for individuals all along this path. The first step on this path is to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. In pursuit of this degree, a student of psychology would take classes such as general psychology, experimental psychology, developmental psychology, and statistics.[13] It is also suggested during this phase of education that a student gains some practical experience on his or her own. This could include volunteer work or working with a research project.

 

After completing a bachelor’s degree an aspiring psychologist will need to decide the field of specialization that he or she would like to pursue. There is a myriad of choices, so some research is necessary. It is also important to note that most fields of study also require a doctorate degree. 

 

There are several options when looking at doctorate degrees:

  • A PhD is also known as a Doctor of Philosophy. This is the traditional degree of psychologists. During the course of this degree program, there is an equal emphasis on clinical and research training. These degree programs are highly competitive.
  • The PsyD is the Doctor of Psychology degree. This program emphasizes clinical psychology, with a minimum amount of study of research psychology. Pursuit of this degree is less competitive. A student should opt for this degree if they plan on focusing on counseling or psychotherapy.
  • If planning on working in a school setting, the EdD in Psychology is offered. This degree offers those working in a school setting an opportunity to increase skills as well as pay. It also offers an individual the opportunity to expand career options to include professors, hospital psychologists, as well as opening a private practice.
  • Finally, there is the EdS. This is a non-doctoral degree that allows the practice of psychology. It is usually seen in those working in the field of school psychology.[14]

 

Beyond schooling, licensure is required to practice psychology. This process includes a two year internship under a licensed psychologist. Some fields require an APA approved internship. After that, there is a national exam and background checks. Some states also ask that a candidate present a case study to a board of psychologists.

 

Psychology vs. Psychiatry

 

While psychology and psychiatry are similar careers and have similar goals, there are some very fundamental differences. First is the amount and type of education needed. Psychologists generally obtain some type of doctorate degree in psychology and then complete a two year internship. Psychiatrists are actually medical doctors. In order to become a psychiatrist, a candidate must first obtain a MD degree. Once this has been accomplished, a four year residency in psychiatry is required. This usually involves working in a hospital setting with patients that suffer from severe mental illness and/or working with children. [15]

 

With this difference in education, patient treatment plans often differ as well. Psychologists focus on therapy to improve a patient’s well-being. Because psychiatrists have a medical degree, they are able to prescribe medication. Most of their time spent with patients focuses on the management of medications. This variation in treatments is why we find psychologists and psychiatrists often working together to treat a patient.

 

References

[1]Baker, D. B. & Sperry, H. (2017). History of psychology. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. DOI:nobaproject.com

[2] Heffner, C. (2017). History of psychology (387 BC to present). In AllPsych, Psych Central’s Virtual Psychology Classroom. https://allpsych.com/timeline/

 

[3] McFarlane, M. & Nierman, M. (2017). Discovering Psychology, in Annenberg Media. www.learner.org/series/discoveringpsychology

[4] Editors. (2017). Sigmund Freud. In Biography.com. https://www.biography.com/people/sigmund-freud-9302400

[5] Ganatt, W. (2017). Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Encyclopedia Brittanica in https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ivan-Pavlov.

[6]McLeod, S. (2015). Jean Piaget. Simply psychology in https://simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html.

[7] McLeod, S. (2014). Lev Vygotsky. Simply psychology in https://simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html.

[8] McLeod, S. (2014). Carl Jung. Simply psychology in https://simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html.

[9] APA. (2017). Who we are. In apa.org.

[10] ISHN. (2017). International Society for the History of Neuroscience. In http://www.ishn.org

[11]Learn how to become a psychologist. In allpsychologyschools.com

[12]Learn how to become a psychologist. In allpsychologyschools.com

[13]Psychologist job duties, job description, and employment opportunities. (2017). In study.com/psychologist.html

[14] The 50 best jobs for psychologists. (2017). In careersinpsychology.org.

 

[15]Psychologists vs. psychiatrists: do you know the difference.. In allpsychologyschools.com

 

     

 

 

 

 

[1]Psychologist job duties, job description, and employment opportunities. (2017). In study.com/psychologist.html

[2] The 50 best jobs for psychologists. (2017). In careersinpsychology.org.

 

[3]Baker, D. B. & Sperry, H. (2017). History of psychology. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. DOI:nobaproject.com

[4] Heffner, C. (2017). History of psychology (387 BC to present). In AllPsych, Psych Central’s Virtual Psychology Classroom. https://allpsych.com/timeline/

 

[5] McFarlane, M. & Nierman, M. (2017). Discovering Psychology, in Annenberg Media. www.learner.org/series/discoveringpsychology

[6] Editors. (2017). Sigmund Freud. In Biography.com. https://www.biography.com/people/sigmund-freud-9302400

[7] Ganatt, W. (2017). Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Encyclopedia Brittanica in https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ivan-Pavlov.

[8]McLeod, S. (2015). Jean Piaget. Simply psychology in https://simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html.

[9] McLeod, S. (2014). Lev Vygotsky. Simply psychology in https://simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html.

[10] McLeod, S. (2014). Carl Jung. Simply psychology in https://simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html.

[11] APA. (2017). Who we are. In apa.org.

[12] ISHN. (2017). International Society for the History of Neuroscience. In http://www.ishn.org

[13]Learn how to become a psychologist. In allpsychologyschools.com

[14]Learn how to become a psychologist. In allpsychologyschools.com

[15]Psychologists vs. psychiatrists: do you know the difference.. In allpsychologyschools.com

 


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