A psychologist is a professional who evaluates and studies behavior and mental processes (see also psychology). In order to become a psychologist, a person must complete either a master's degree or a doctorate degree, depending on the country in which they live. This definition of a psychologist is non-exclusive; in most jurisdictions, members of other professions (such as counselors and psychiatrists) can also evaluate, diagnose, treat, and study mental processes. There are many types of psychologists, as is reflected by the 56 divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA). Some of the major categories include clinical, counseling, and educational psychologists, who work with persons in a variety of therapeutic contexts; industrial, organizational and community psychologists, who apply psychological research, theories and techniques to "real-world" problems, questions and issues in business, industry, social benefit organizations, and government; and also academics, who conduct psychological research or teach psychology in a college or university.
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
- Professional Practice
- Contrast with Psychiatrists
Psychologists are generally described as "applied" or "research-orientated." The common terms used to describe this central division in psychology are "scientists" or "scholars", those who conduct research, and "practitioners" or "professionals", those who apply psychological knowledge. The training models endorsed by the APA require that applied psychologists be trained as both researchers and practitioners, and that they possess advanced degrees.
People often think of the discipline as involving clinical or counseling psychology. While counseling and psychotherapy are common activities for psychologists, these applied fields are just one branch in the larger domain of psychology.
In Australia, the psychology profession and the use of the title 'psychologist' is regulated by an Act of Parliament, Health Practitioner Regulation (Administrative Arrangements) National Law Act 2008, following an agreement between the state and territory governments. Under the national law, registration of psychologists is administered by the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA). Before July 2010, professional registration of psychologists was governed by various State and Territory Psychology Registration Board. The Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC) oversees education standards for the profession of psychology.
The minimum requirements for general registration in psychology, and to use the title 'psychologist', is an APAC approved four-year degree in psychology followed by either a two-year masters program or two years supervised by a registered psychologist. Endorsement within a specific area of practice (e.g. clinical, counseling, educational, forensic, health, organizational or neuropsychological) requires additional qualifications. These notations are not "specialist" titles (Western Australian psychologists could use "specialist" in their titles during a three-year transitional period from 17 October 2010 to 17 October 2013).
Membership with Australian Psychological Society (APS) differs from registration as a psychologist. The standard route to full membership (MAPS) of the APS technically requires a masters or doctorate in psychology from an accredited course. An alternate route is available for academics and practitioners who have gained appropriate experience and made a substantial contribution to the field of psychology. Association membership requires four years of APAC-accredited undergraduate study.
Restrictions apply to all individuals using the title ''psychologist'' in all states and territories of Australia. However, the terms ''psychotherapist'', ''social worker'', and ''counselor'' are currently self-regulated with several organizations campaigning for government regulation.
Since 1933, the title "psychologist" has been protected by law in Belgium. It can only be used by people who are on the National Government Commission list. The minimum requirement is the completion of five years of university training in psychology (master's degree or equivalent). The title of "psychotherapist" is not legally protected.
In Finland, the title "psychologist" is protected by law. The restriction for psychologists (licenced professionals) is governed by National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Finland) (Valvira). It takes 330 ECTS-credits (about six years) to accomplish the university studies (master's degree). There are about 6 200 licenced psychologists in Finland.
In Germany, the use of the title 'Diplom-Psychologe' ('Dipl.-Psych.') is restricted by law, and a practitioner is legally required to hold the corresponding academic title, which is comparable to a higher M.Sc. degree and requires at least five years of training at a university. Originally, a diploma degree in psychology awarded in Germany included the subject of clinical psychology. With the Bologna-reform, this degree was replaced by a master's degree. The academic degree of Diplom-Psychologe or M.Sc. (Psychologie) does not include a psychotherapeutic qualification, which requires three to five years of additional training. The psychotherapeutic training combines in-depth theoretical knowledge with supervised patient care and self-reflection units. After having completed the training requirements, psychologists take a state-run exam, which, upon successful completion (Approbation), confers the official title of "psychological psychotherapist" (Psychologischer Psychotherapeut). After many years of inter-professional political controversy, non-physician psychotherapy was given an adequate legal foundation through the creation of two new academic healthcare professions.
Since 1979, the title "psychologist" has been protected by law in Greece. It can only be used by people who hold a relevant license to practice as a psychologist. The minimum requirement is the completion of university training in psychology at a Greek university, or at a university recognized by the Greek authorities.
In the Netherlands, the title of "psychologist" is not restricted by law. The Dutch professional association of psychologists (NIP), using trademark law, posited its own title "Psychologist NIP" (Psycholoog NIP). This title is granted exclusively to holders of a master's degree in psychology after a year of postgraduate experience. The titles "psychotherapist" (psychotherapeut) and "healthcare psychologist" (gz-psycholoog / gezondheidszorgpsycholoog) are restricted through the Individual Healthcare Professions Act (wet BIG) to those who have followed further postgraduate (PsyD/DPsych or Licentiate level) training. The use of the titles "clinical psychologist" (klinisch psycholoog) and "clinical neuropsychologist" (klinisch neuropsycholoog) are reserved for those who have followed specialist post-licentiate training.
In New Zealand, the use of the title "psychologist" is restricted by law. Prior to 2004, only the title "registered psychologist" was restricted to people qualified and registered as such. However, with the proclamation of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act in 2003, the use of the title "psychologist" was limited to practitioners registered with the New Zealand Psychologists Board. (The titles "clinical psychologist", "counseling psychologist", "educational psychologist", "intern psychologist", and "trainee psychologist" are similarly protected.) This is to protect the public by providing assurance that the title user is registered and therefore qualified, competent, and can be held accountable for their practice. The legislation does not include an exemption clause for any class of practitioner (e.g., academics, or government employees).
In South Africa, psychologists are qualified in either clinical, counseling, educational, organizational or research psychology. To attain the qualification, one must complete a recognized master's degree in psychology, an appropriate practicum at a recognized training institution, and take an examination set by the Professional Board for Psychology. Registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is required and includes a Continuing Professional Development component. The practicum usually involves a full year internship, and in some specializations, the HPCSA requires completion of an additional year of community service. The master's program consists of a seminar, coursework-based theoretical and practical training, a dissertation of limited scope, and is (in most cases) two years in duration. Prior to enrolling in the master’s program, the student will have studied psychology for three years as an undergraduate (B.A. or B.Sc., and, for organizational psychology, also B.Com.), followed by an additional postgraduate honours degree in psychology; see List of universities in South Africa. Qualification thus requires at least five years of study, and at least one internship. The undergraduate B.Psyc. is a four-year program integrating theory and practical training, and — with the required examination set by the Professional Board for Psychology — is sufficient for practice as a psychometrist or counselor.
In Sweden, the title "psychologist" is restricted in law. It can only be used after receiving a license from the government. The basic requirements are a completed five years specialized course in psychology (equivalent of a master's degree) and twelve months of practice under supervision. All other uses are banned, though often challenged. "Psychotherapist" follows similar rules but the basic educational demands are another one and a half years (spread out over three years) at a specialized course in psychotherapy (that vary concerning theoretical footing), in addition to an academical level degree within a field concerning the treatment of people (psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist a.s.o.).
In the UK, the titles "registered psychologist" and "practitioner psychologist" are restricted by law. In addition, the following specialist titles are also restricted by law: "clinical psychologist", "counselling psychologist", "educational psychologist", "forensic psychologist", "health psychologist", "occupational psychologist" and "sport and exercise psychologist". The Health Professions Council (HPC-UK) is the statutory regulator for practitioner psychologists in the UK. In the UK, the use of the title "chartered psychologist" is also protected by statutory regulation. The title "chartered psychologist" simply means that the psychologist is a chartered member of the British Psychological Society, but it does not necessarily signify the psychologist is registered with the HPC-UK. It is an offense for someone who is not in the appropriate section of the HPC-UK register to provide psychology services. The requirements to register as a clinical, counseling and educational psychologists is a professional doctorate (and in the case of the latter two the British Psychological Society's Professional Qualification which meets the standards of a professional doctorate). The title ‘psychologist’ is not protected on its own. Also the title of "neuropsychologist" is not protected at present. The British Psychological Society is working with the HPC-UK to ensure that the title of "neuropsychologist" is regulated as a specialist title for practitioner psychologists. One of the options could be the use of post-doctoral level registers.
In the UK, clinical psychologists undertake a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (D.Clin.Psych., Clin.Psy.D. or similar), which is a doctorate with both clinical and research components. This is a three-year full-time salaried program, provided by thirty centers across the UK, sponsored by the National Health Service (NHS). These clinical psychology doctoral degrees are accredited by the British Psychological Society and the Health Professions Council (HPC). Entry into these programs is highly competitive and requires at least a three-year undergraduate degree in psychology, plus some form of experience, usually in either the NHS as an assistant psychologist or in academia as a Research Assistant. More information about the path to training in the UK can be found at the central clearing house for clinical psychology training applications, and at www.ClinPsy.org.uk where questions can be answered on the forum ran by qualified UK clinical psychologists.
There are 19,000 practitioner psychologists registered across seven categories: clinical psychologist, counseling psychologist, educational psychologist, forensic psychologist, health psychologist, occupational psychologist, sport and exercise psychologist in the United Kingdom since December 2012. At least 9,500 of these are clinical psychologists, which is the largest psychology group within clinical settings such as the NHS. Around 2,000 are educational psychologists.
A professional in the U.S. or Canada must hold a graduate degree in psychology (MA, Psy.D., Ed.D., or Ph.D.) or have a state license in order to use the title "psychologist". The exception to this is the profession of a school psychologist who can be certified by boards of education to practice and use the title "psychologist" with an Education Specialist (Ed.S) degree. The most commonly recognized psychology professionals are clinical and counseling psychologists, who provide psychotherapy and/or administer and interpret psychological tests. There are state-by-state differences in requirements for academics in psychology and government employees.
Psychologists in the United States campaigned for legislation changes to enable specially trained psychologists to prescribe psychiatric medicine. New legislation in Louisiana, New Mexico, and Illinois has granted those who take an additional masters program in psychopharmacology permission to prescribe medications for mental and emotional disorders in coordination with the patient's physician. Louisiana was the second state to provide such legislation. This legislation has not come without considerable controversy. As of 2009, Louisiana is the only state where the licensing and regulation of the practice of psychology by medical psychologists who prescribe medications is regulated by a medical board (i.e., the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners) rather than a board of psychologists. While other states have pursued prescriptive privileges, they have yet to be successful. Similar legislation in the states of Hawaii and Oregon passed through the legislative House and Senate but it was vetoed by the Governor.
In 1989 the U.S Department of Defense was directed to create the Psychopharmacology Demonstration Project. By 1997, ten psychologists were trained in psychopharmacology and granted the ability to prescribe psychiatric medications.
Full membership with the American Psychological Association in the United States and Canada requires doctoral training (except in some provinces like Alberta where a master's degree is sufficient). Associate membership requires at least two years of postgraduate studies in psychology or an approved related discipline. The minimal requirement for full membership can be waived in circumstances where there is evidence that significant contribution or performance in the field of psychology has been made.
There are a number of U.S. schools offering accredited programs in clinical psychology resulting in a master's degree. Such programs can range from forty-eight to eighty-four units, most often taking two to three years to complete after the undergraduate degree. Training usually emphasizes theory and treatment over research, quite often with a focus on school or couples and family counseling. Similar to doctoral programs, master's level students usually must fulfill time in a clinical practicum under supervision; some programs also require a minimum amount of personal psychotherapy. While many graduates from master's level training go on to doctoral programs, a large number also go directly into practice—often as a licensed professional counselor (LPC), marriage and family therapist (MFT) or other similar licenses.
There is stiff competition to gain acceptance into clinical psychology doctoral programs (acceptance rates of 2-5% are not uncommon). Clinical psychologists in the U.S. undergo many years of graduate training—usually five to seven years after the bachelor's degree—in order to gain demonstrable competence and experience. Licensure as a psychologist takes an additional one to two years post Ph.D./Psy.D. (licensure requires 3,000 hours of supervised training), depending on the state (see below under licensure). Today, in America, about half of all clinical psychology graduate students are being trained in Ph.D. programs—a model that emphasizes research and is usually housed in universities—with the other half in Psy.D. programs, which has more focus on practice (similar to professional degrees for medicine and law). Both models envision practicing Clinical Psychology in a research-based, scientifically valid manner, and are accredited by the American Psychological Association and many other English-speaking psychological societies. APA accreditation is very important for U.S. clinical psychology programs and may affect employment prospects and licensure after one graduates.
Doctorate (Ph.D. and Psy.D.) programs usually involve some variation on the following 5 to 7 year, 90-120 unit curriculum:
The practice of clinical psychology requires a license in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and many other countries. Although each of the U.S. states is different in terms of requirements and licenses (see  and  for examples), there are three common elements:
- Graduation from an accredited school with the appropriate degree
- Completion of supervised clinical experience
- Passing a written examination and, in some states, an oral examination
All U.S. state and Canada province licensing boards are members of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) which created and maintains the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Many states require other examinations in addition to the EPPP, such as a jurisprudence (i.e. mental health law) examination and/or an oral examination. Most states also require a certain number of continuing education credits per year in order to renew a license. This can be obtained through various means, such as taking audited classes and attending approved workshops.
There are professions whose scope of practice overlaps with the practice of psychology (particularly with respect to providing psychotherapy) and for which a license is required.
In the United States, of 170,200 psychologist jobs, 152,000 are employed in clinical, counseling, and school positions, 2,300 are employed in industrial-organizational, and 15,900 are in "all other" positions. Opportunities are limited for bachelor's degree and master's degrees holders, and they will face intense competition in the job market.
The median salary in the U.S. in 2012 for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists was USD$69,280 and the median salary for organizational psychologists was USD$83,580.
Clinical psychologists can offer a range of professional services, including:
In practice, clinical psychologists may work with individuals, couples, families, or groups in a variety of settings, including private practices, hospitals, mental health organizations, schools, businesses, and non-profit agencies. Most clinical psychologists who engage in research and teaching do so within a college or university setting. Clinical psychologists may also choose to specialize in a particular field—common areas of specialization. Some of which can earn board certification, include:
Contrast with Psychiatrists
Although clinical psychologists and psychiatrists may share the same fundamental aim—the alleviation of mental distress—their training, outlook, and methodologies are often different. Perhaps the most significant difference is that psychiatrists are licensed physicians. As such, psychiatrists often use the medical model to assess mental health problems and rely on psychotropic medications as the chief method of addressing mental health problems. Clinical psychologists receive extensive training in psychological test administration, scoring, interpretation, and reporting (psychiatrists are not trained in psychological testing and cannot administer Qualification Level C Tests). These tests help to inform diagnostic decisions and treatment planning. For example, in a medical center, a patient with a complicated clinical presentation who is being seen by a psychiatrist might be referred to a clinical psychologist for psychological testing to aid in diagnosis and treatment. In addition, psychologists (particularly those from Ph.D. programs) spend several years in graduate school being trained to conduct behavioral research, including research design and advanced statistical analysis. While this training is available for physicians via dual MD/Ph.D. programs, it is not typically included in medical education. Conversely, psychiatrists, as licensed physicians, have received training more broadly in other areas such as medicine and neurology and may bring this knowledge to bear in identifying and treating medical or neurological conditions that can present similarly to psychiatric diseases.
Psychologists generally do not prescribe medication. Although, in some jurisdictions, psychologists have limited prescribing privileges. Clinical and other psychologists are experts at psychotherapy (typically clinical psychologists are trained in a number of psychological therapies, including, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, existential, psychodynamic, and systemic approaches), and psychological testing (e.g. including neuropsychological testing). In three US states (Illinois, Louisiana, and New Mexico), some psychologists with post-doctoral pharmacology training have been granted prescriptive authority for certain mental health disorders upon agreement with the patient's physician.