What is the Role of a Psychologist?

Although the responsibilities of psychologists depend largely on the specialty area they practice, all psychologists have a similar role and must adhere to the American Psychological Association’s principles of ethical behavior and conduct. The APA created an Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct that defines the general principles that pertain to the roles and responsibilities of psychologists. Psychologists must also have the required educational background, which includes a master’s or doctoral degree and licensing and certification in the state.

A General Look at the Role of the Psychologist

Generally, psychologists conduct evaluations and psychological testing to distinguish what clients are struggling with. Once they make their diagnosis, psychologists provide therapy sessions that can be done on an individual, couple or group basis. This “talk therapy” is crucial to the client’s healing and takes place with the psychologist asking questions for the client to reflect on. Not only does the psychologist learn more about the client during these therapy sessions, but the client learns about him or herself.

Psychologists must also collaborate with others, such as family members, doctors and teachers. Depending on the client and the type of care being received, the psychologist will be responsible for relaying all information, including the diagnosis, treatment and progress being made by the client. Psychologists may also work with this team to devise new treatment plans.

Since there are many specialty areas, the above information is a general overview of clinical psychologists, which make up the majority of these professionals. Consider that research and experimental psychologists spend time conducting studies, observing behavior and surveying populations. Industrial-organizational psychologists are brought into companies to help them boost employee morale and productivity. Counseling psychologists handle everyday problems like divorce, job changes or losing a loved one as opposed to severe mental disorders.

Even with all the differences among the various specialty areas, there is one factor that all psychologists share: the interest and appreciation for learning about human behavior and how it is influenced from the world around us.

Assessing the Patient

Assessing patients is an important part of a psychologist’s responsibility since this will determine a diagnosis and treatment program for the client. Assessments are critical evaluations of the client, and the information is drawn from interviews, observations and IQ, aptitude and achievement tests. What the psychologist hopes to gather from the assessment is the cause for the behavior, the severity of the problem and the effects the mental condition may be placing on the client’s lifestyle. This information will also be shared with other significant individuals that the client is being treated by.

Intervention and Treatment

Once a diagnosis is made, intervention and treatment will begin. There are many different approaches toward treating clients, such as psychotherapy, group therapy or behavior modification. The type of treatment provided is dependent on the client’s issues and the training of the psychologist. Generally speaking, psychologists encourage clients to engage in several types of therapy for a more complete treatment program. For example, the client may have one-on-one sessions with the psychologist, talking out feelings and building a sense of trust. The client may then participate in group therapy sessions to help them relate to others with the same issues. Or, the client may meet with their family several times a month to talk things out in a non-biased, neutral setting.

Collaboration with the Medical Community

It’s important to note that psychologists are not medical doctors and therefore cannot treat clients with medications. Psychologists earn either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in doctorate school, but only medical doctors, or M.D.s, can prescribe medications. This is one of the reasons why psychologists must collaborate with other medical professionals, as each person plays an important role in the treatment of the patient. The psychologist assesses the patient, writes up a diagnosis and implements a treatment plan and then may suggest that the client see a psychiatrist to prescribe medication. This collaboration is an ongoing effort as everyone works together as a team.

Following Ethical Standards and Principles

Psychologists must follow the ethical standards and principles set forth by the APA. The most significant responsibility the psychologist has is to minimize harm to their clients, otherwise known as nonmaleficence. Psychologists must have the best interest for their patients and diagnose and treat them accordingly. At the same time, psychologists should apply the ethical principles of beneficence, which means that the patients receive the maximum benefits. It can be difficult to balance both ends of the spectrum, but ultimately, psychologists need to provide their clients with the best treatment possible without causing harm.

With the nature of work that psychologists perform, it’s especially important that they employ honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. These qualities are not only crucial during therapy sessions but also outside them. Psychologists do not steal, engage in fraud or provide false information. They strive to keep their promises by establishing a trustworthy framework to succeed in. Psychologists will not over-commit either, since they know they have to remain as dependable as possible.

Even though psychologists must keep their clients’ sessions confidential, they also have a duty to warn. This means that if the client says something that is of danger to themselves or others in society, the psychologist has a right to share this information with the proper authorities. Finally, psychologists have a responsibility to deliver the same standard of care to all patients, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion.

It’s obvious that psychologists have significant responsibilities to follow while continuing to maintain their honesty and integrity. This role can be substantial at times, but it’s certainly one of the most rewarding experiences in one’s work career.


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