Psychology, first recognized in the 1870s, is a science focused on human behavior. It is a varied discipline in which research psychologists develop and test theories regarding mental and behavioral functioning and well being of human beings. Psychologists also study how people relate to each other and to their environments. As research yields new information, the findings are integrated into the knowledge that practitioners call upon as they work with clients and patients of all demographics and all ages. Some psychologists are innovators who develop new ways of meeting the changing needs of people, organizations and communities.
Over the years, a better understanding of the connection between the mind and the body has resulted in partnerships between psychologists and other health-care providers, according to the American Psychological Association. This has made whole-person health care more acceptable, accessible and available to more patients.
Clinical practitioners provide therapy for people of all ages, although many specialize; for example, working mainly with the elderly, with adults or with youth. Psychologists also help individuals deal with problems of everyday living. Some work in schools to help students with behavior problems. Others might help solve problems in workplaces.
How Psychology is a Service to Society
Some psychologists treat people with mental illness and serious psychological conditions, while others help people deal with difficult transitions, family dysfunction and problems with interpersonal relationships, divorce or death of a family member or friend. As populations change, psychologists must make necessary and ongoing adjustments in order to meet their clients’ evolving needs. The increasing number of seniors has led psychologists and other health practitioners to become more knowledgeable about the needs of the elderly, so this aging population can receive appropriate therapy and support. Workplace psychologists are learning to meet the needs of more two-career families and the evolving gender roles in the workplace. The growing diversity in the USA today requires psychologists to develop and refine treatments and approaches that will meet the unique needs of different underserved groups and communities.
Psychology’s impact on society is evident in a variety of cultures, communities and institutions. Many people, especially in big cities, have had contact with a psychologist for one reason or another, according to research Angela Martin in her article, “The Impact Of Psychology Jobs in Modern Society.” Psychotherapy has been instrumental in helping different people make important life changes. For example, psychologists provide therapy for couples who need help working through relationship issues; parents and children who need guidance in order to confront and overcome family problems; and individuals want to learn how to explore and understand themselves, how they came to be who they are, and what they need to do to be the people they dream of becoming.
Clinical psychologists assess and provide therapy for mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Treatments include short-term crises, different modes of therapy for problems stemming from childhood or adolescent conflicts, and severe, and long-term treatment for patients suffering with chronic conditions. Some clinical psychologists choose to focus on specific problems, such as phobias, clinical depression, mental disorders or trauma. Other clinicians focus on specific populations.
Researchers, such as Dr. Jonathan Shedler, a psychologist at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, have studied psychodynamic psychotherapy.
The psychodynamic method focuses on psychological roots of emotional suffering and uses techniques, such as self-examination, self-reflection and the therapist-patient relationship as a way of understanding problematic patterns in the patient’s life. Psychologists use psychodynamic psychotherapy for treating individuals with depression, anxiety, panic and stress-related illnesses.
Sport psychologists help individual athletes become more motivated and learn to deal with fear of failure and the anxiety that affects some athletes during competition. Psychologists help athletes cope with the psychological effects of injury or early retirement. The sports psychology field is expanding because sports are attracting more children who are becoming increasingly competitive at younger ages. Psychologists and other health professionals, as well as families and coaches, are gaining more awareness of injuries impacting the brain and causing temporary or permanent damage.
Rehabilitation psychologists treat stroke and accident victims, and also individuals with developmental disabilities and other conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy. These clinicians often work with medical practitioners and physical therapists to help patients find ways to cope with, adapt to and move beyond their predicaments in order to improve their lives. Rehabilitation psychologists are employed by clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation centers, where they treat patients who need support while learning to deal with issues of personal adjustment, pain management, family and interpersonal relations, and employment.
Counseling psychologists may specialize in helping families and family members find the external and internal resources they need to cope with ongoing adversity, day-to-day problems and the impact of illness and loss. They help people understand the effects individuals have on each other and on the family as a whole. Therapy can help individuals and the people who care about them understand workplace and unemployment problems. They believe that behavior is affected by age, race, class, family, relationships, gender, sexual orientation, spiritual beliefs, disability status, and that people sometimes need help to reach a state of psychological well-being.
Developmental psychologists study human psychological development that occurs throughout a person’s life. Recently, the primary focus of developmental psychology has expanded beyond childhood and adolescence, which are the most formative years. As life expectancy increases, developmental psychologists are becoming more knowledgeable about aging and psychological development that occurs during a person’s later years. Researchers are finding better ways to help older people stay as independent as possible. Psychologists put this knowledge into practice with their elderly patients and help families understand the needs of elderly relatives, who may require assistance, companionship or psychological intervention.
School psychologists provide comprehensive mental health services to children and adolescents in schools and other academic settings. They also assess and counsel students, consult with school staff, parents and social workers, and the conduct behavioral interventions, including family therapy, when appropriate.
Forensic psychologists contribute their expertise to legal issues. Psychological consultations with victims, perpetrators, witnesses or jurors can be essential when it comes to understanding and judging a case. They may also be asked to evaluate the mental competence of defendants before determining their ability to stand trial. Forensic psychologists often participate in the judicial system by helping attorneys and judges make decisions about parental custody of children.
Psychologists need a master’s, specialist or doctoral degree in psychology. Practicing psychologists are also required to obtain a state-mandated license or psychology board certification, or both. Students should be aware that acceptance into graduate psychology programs can be very competitive. Some master’s degree programs may not require an undergraduate major in psychology, but most expect applicants to have completed coursework in introductory psychology, experimental psychology and statistics. Some doctoral degree programs require applicants to have a master’s degree in psychology, while combined masters and doctoral degree programs may accept applicants who have earned a bachelor of psychology degree.
An undergraduate degree in psychology provides aspiring psychologists with valuable preparation for graduate studies in the field. People with graduate degrees who are entering the field of psychology will find more high-level job opportunities than will those who have undergraduate degrees.
Psychology graduate students learn about normal and abnormal psychology. They also study connections between brain function and behavior, and between the environment and behavior. Master’s and doctoral students learn how to help patients develop behaviors that will contribute to increasing their emotional resilience and health.
Opportunities are expanding for individuals who have doctoral degrees in psychology. The focus on prevention -- rather than diagnosis and treatment -- of illnesses and problems requires professionals to guide people toward making healthy behavior a part of their everyday lives. Many of the serious issues people are confronting in the early part of the 21st century are generated by behavioral issues, such as drug addiction, poor personal relationships, plus domestic and community violence, according to the American Psychological Association.
Psychologists who practice independently in all states plus the District of Columbia are required to be licensed, although licensing laws vary from state to state. Most clinical and counseling psychologists must complete a series of requirements that may include: earning a doctorate in psychology, completing an internship encompassing one to two years of professional experience, working under the supervision of a psychologist as psychological assistants in clinical, psychotherapy or research settings. After completing these steps, psychologists must pass the licensing Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. In many states, licensed psychologists must take continuing education courses every one to two years to renew their licenses. BLS
The number of jobs in the field of psychology in 2010 was approximately 174,000, up from 158,000 in 2008. The job outlook for psychologists in the years 2010 to 2020 is positive, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012 to 2013 edition, published by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment prospects for professionals in this career field will increase by 22 percent, which is faster than other occupations during the same time period. Employment growth is likely to vary by specialty.