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What Is Psychology? And What Does a Psychologist Do?

We explore the field of psychology and reveal what a psychologist does.

Think of psychology and an image of someone in a white coat, asking their clients to lie on a couch so that they can analyse their dreams might be one of the first things that comes to mind.  

The chances are, you’re thinking of someone like Sigmund Freud, who was active during the early 1900s and considered the father of psychoanalysis - an expert in unravelling the complexities of unconscious thought. Fast-forward over a century and psychology is a very different field – it's both a thriving academic discipline and a vital professional practice.  

In the past 25 years, psychology has experienced an unprecedented period of growth. Scientific breakthroughs and new research have helped us to have a more in-depth understanding of the science behind the human mind and how it influences how we think, act and feel. This knowledge has helped psychologists across the globe to address many of the problems and issues we face as a society.    

What do Psychologists do?

Psychologists are professionals who study and analyse human behaviour, emotions, and mental processes. They use their knowledge to help individuals understand and navigate challenges in their lives. Psychologists can work in various settings, including clinical and counselling practices, research institutions, schools, businesses, and government organisations.

Join us as we discover more about the field of psychology and reveal what a psychologist does in their day-to-day role.  

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What Is Psychology? What Different Fields of Psychology Are There? 

The British Psychological Society (BPS) define psychology as ‘the scientific study of the mind and how it dictates and influences our behaviour, from communication and memory to thought and emotion. (It is) dedicated to the study of human behaviour – and the thoughts, feelings and motivations behind it – through observation, measurement, and testing, in order to form conclusions that are based on sound scientific methodology.’ 

It’s a broad and diverse science, and psychologists are tasked with studying human thought, development, emotion, personality and more. As the discipline matures and grows, lots of different subfields and specialty areas of psychology have emerged. These include: 

  • Biological psychology - concerned with how biological processes in the brain and the body influence the mind and our behaviour. This area of psychology is closely linked to neuroscience. Psychologists and neuroscientists often work together to understand brain injuries and brain abnormalities using tools such as MRI and PET scans. 
  • Cognitive psychology - concerned with the study of how humans think, including how we remember and retain information, how we perceive things, how we make decisions, how we solve problems, how we acquire language and more. 
  • Developmental psychology - concerned with how humans grow and change over a lifetime – not just physically, but socially, emotionally and cognitively too. Developmental psychologists may help patients deal with issues surrounding motor skill development, emotional development, self-awareness, moral reasoning and beyond.
  • Social psychology – concerned with understanding more about how our behaviour is influenced by our environment and the presence of other human beings. Social psychologists research a wide range of topics, from group behaviour to leadership, to conformity and aggression and more. 

Many Psychology degree courses, including our Psychology Masters conversion course, help students to develop a broad knowledge of the areas of psychology mentioned above. However, after graduating, some students go on to specialise in a more vocational area, such as: 

  • Sports psychology - focused on helping athletes, coaches and referees to improve their performance under a unique set of pressures 
  • Clinical psychology - focused on the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders 
  • Educational psychology - focused on applying psychological techniques to support young people and their families and promote social and emotional wellbeing 
  • Forensic psychology - focused on using psychological research and principles in the legal and criminal justice system. 

Learn more about the different areas of psychology you could go into.  


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What Does a Psychologist Do? 

Practicing psychologists have the training and the clinical skills to help people to cope more effectively in certain situations. Some psychologists are involved in developing an in-depth scientific understanding of how our biology impacts our behaviour, whilst others are more involved in helping a wide variety of people by treating different kinds of issues – from depression and anxiety to learning to cope in stressful situations and overcoming addictions.   

As psychology is such a broad field, there’s no simple answer to ‘what does a psychologist do’ as the response varies dramatically depending on which field their practicing within. However, many psychologists will be involved in a variety of the following activities: 

  • Conducting scientific studies to understand more about how the brain works and how it impacts how we think, act and feel 
  • Conducting research studies, through techniques such as observations, interviews and surveys, to find patterns that could help to predict future behaviour 
  • Raising awareness of psychological issues and developing programmes to respond to them within schools, workplaces and other environments 
  • Working with patients or clients– families, couples and individuals – to help them make desired changes to their behaviour through evidence-based treatment plans  
  • Diagnosing psychological disorders and carrying out psychological treatment plans in conjunction with a clinician. 

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How Do I Become a Psychologist?  

The path to becoming a Psychologist can be long – in the UK, you first need to study a BPS accredited undergraduate or postgraduate conversion course, such as our Psychology MSc, in order to achieve Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) of the BPS. Afterwards, you’d need to go on to gain relevant work experience in the field you’re most interested in – such as educational psychology, clinical psychology or organisational psychology. The final step towards becoming a chartered psychologist is to undertake further BPS accredited postgraduate study, doctorate study or specialist training in your chosen field. 

You can find out more about the journey to becoming a chartered psychologist here.  


What Else Could I Do with a Psychology Degree? 

In fact, only around 15 to 20% of psychology graduates end up working as professional psychologists. However, many students use their in-depth knowledge of human behaviour and the transferrable skills they’ve learnt throughout their degree to shape alternative career paths in fields such as: 

  • Advertising 
  • Citizens Advice 
  • Human Resources 
  • Counselling 
  • Marketing 
  • Mental Health Nursing 
  • Law 
  • Speech and Language Therapy 
  • Teaching 
  • User Experience/Interface Design 
  • Social Work 
  • Charity Work 


Broaden Your Mind With Our BPS Accredited Degree 

If you’re interested in becoming a psychologist or pursuing a career in a related area, taking our distance learning Psychology Masters (conversion) is a great first step. Discover more about the course here.  

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