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What They Do

Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists Career Video

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Psychologists are concerned with human behavior. They study and diagnose problems and emotional or mental disorders. Some may set up laboratory tests, while others are involved in counseling.

This is a very broad field. While clinical psychologists -- those who diagnose and treat mental illness -- make up roughly 50 percent of the profession, there are lots of other specialties.

Developmental psychologists study development at different stages in people's lives. Their work helps explain behavior caused by changes in age, from birth to old age. Counseling psychologists work with people who may not be mentally ill, but need help dealing with problems. Social psychologists study how people interact with each other and with their environments, studying everything from marriage to religious groups.

Experimental psychologists conduct scientific experiments with animals and people to help them understand different aspects of behavior. Consumer psychologists work with companies or advertising agencies to help determine which products will be attractive to consumers. Organizational psychologists study the relationship between people and their work, focusing on job satisfaction and motivation, as well as training and productivity.

"There are so many specialties within psychology," says Marion Hurley, a counseling psychologist. "There are lots like me who counsel, but there are many who work in labs, industry or universities. It depends what your interests are."

While psychologists like Hurley see patients during the day and work in an office, you're more likely to find experimental psychologists like John Krantz in the laboratory. Krantz works at Hanover College in Indiana.

"I'm a scientist trying to use the scientific method to understand people, and helping people is a byproduct of this research," says Krantz, who conducts research using both animals and human subjects.

Most psychologists will tell you their field is misunderstood. "There's a lack of understanding by many people in industry of the usefulness of this field. This is mostly because people don't understand it," says Peter Weissenberg, an organizational psychologist from New Jersey who's been studying the motivation and compensation of professional athletes.

"Many of the people I work with assume an organizational psychologist is only there to help industry exploit workers. This just isn't true. I'm there to help everyone work better together."

When people think of psychologists, they automatically think of counseling and clinical psychologists. This can be a bit trying for the 50 percent of psychologists who do other kinds of work. "People almost always assume I'm a counselor when they hear I'm a psychologist. I've even had people ask me for advice on rearing children," says Krantz.

The general public also has other misconceptions about psychologists. "In my case, it's not a bad thing that people assume I'm a counseling psychologist -- because I am. But I hate that some people assume you're trying to analyze them in everyday conversation," says Hurley.

Because psychologists are involved in the study of human behavior, there is a need for them in many areas. You'll find psychologists of different kinds working in government, hospitals, the military, nonprofit societies, universities, schools and industry. Some are self-employed.

At a Glance

Study and diagnose emotional and mental disorders

  • Psychologists can work for governments, hospitals, the military, schools or industry
  • Clinical psychologists make up about 50 percent of the profession
  • You'll need a graduate degree