Psychologists - What They Do

Psychologists assess and diagnose behavioural, emotional and cognitive disorders, counsel clients, provide therapy, conduct research and apply theory relating to behaviour and mental processes. Psychologists help clients work toward the maintenance and enhancement of psychological, physical, intellectual, emotional, social and interpersonal functioning. They work in private practice or in clinics, correctional facilities, hospitals, mental health facilities, rehabilitation centres, community service organizations, businesses, schools and universities, and in government and private research agencies.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Examine and assess behaviour, diagnose behavioural, emotional and cognitive disorders, counsel clients and provide therapy
  • Help clients manage physical illness and disorders
  • Counsel individuals and groups to achieve more effective personal, social and vocational development and adjustment, and offer mediation services
  • Use standard psychological tests for assessment
  • Plan intervention programs and conduct program evaluation
  • Apply psychological theory and principles regarding behaviour and mental processes such as learning, language development, memory and perception to develop treatment programs
  • Formulate hypotheses and experimental designs, review literature, conduct studies and publish research papers, educational texts and articles
  • Deliver presentations at conferences, workshops or symposia
  • Provide consultation services to government and other organizations.
  • Psychologists may specialize in applied psychology or experimental research. Sub-specialties include behavioural psychology, child psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology, industrial psychology, neuropsychology, social psychology or sports psychology.

Job titles

  • psychologist
  • experimental psychologist
  • clinical psychologist
  • research psychologist
  • psychological associate
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • A doctoral degree in psychology is required in order to use the designation "Psychologist" in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.
  • A master's degree in psychology is required for the designation "Psychologist" in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
  • A master's degree in psychology is required in order to use the designation "Psychological Associate" in Ontario and Manitoba.
  • In Prince Edward Island, a doctoral degree is required to work in private practice, or a master's degree with practice limited to institutions and agencies.
  • A period of supervised practical experience is required in most jurisdictions.
  • Successful completion of the written Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is required in most provinces.
  • Oral examinations and board interviews are required in some provinces.
  • Registration with a regulatory body is required in all provinces, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
  • Membership in the provincial professional association for psychologists is mandatory in all provinces, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
  • Psychologists can become specialized in a particular area through training and experience. 

Essential Skills


  • Read case management notes. For example, clinical psychologists read case notes from therapy sessions to learn about patients' presenting symptoms, clinical observations, reactions to therapies and the progress being made toward treatment goals. (2)
  • Read short e-mail, memos and text entries in forms. For example, they may read e-mail from supervisors and colleagues to learn about upcoming meetings and training opportunities. They may read memos to learn about changes to intake and referral procedures. They read notes and comments written on intake, assessment and referral forms to learn about patients' and colleagues` opinions. (2)
  • Read articles and features in newsletters, magazines and newspapers. For example, clinical psychologists read newsletters from community groups to learn about their services and referral policies. Industrial psychologists may read articles in magazines such as the Economist to stay informed about events such as economic downturns which could influence the needs of corporate clients. (2)
  • Read training, policy and procedure manuals. For example, they may read training manuals to learn how to invigilate, score and interpret psychological assessments. They read their organizations' policy and procedure manuals to learn about the approved uses of assessments, crisis management protocols and patient intake procedures. (3)
  • May read requests for proposals. For example, self-employed industrial psychologists read requests for proposals to learn about the scopes, timelines, reporting requirements and budgets of advertised research projects. (3)
  • Read and interpret reports. For example clinical psychologists read psychological and psychiatric reports to learn about colleagues` observations, assessments, treatment successes and recommendations. Industrial psychologists read and interpret psychological reports to learn about test takers' cognitive abilities, interests, personality styles and mental illnesses. (4)
  • Read textbooks, research papers and articles in peer-reviewed journals. For example, clinical psychologists read textbooks such as Assessment in Children to learn new therapeutic approaches for children with anxiety disorders. Sports psychologists read research papers to learn how multi-regional imagery scans can be used to predict the success of high performance athletes. Industrial psychologists read articles in journals such as the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology to learn about functional phonological recoding processes. (4)

Document use

  • May locate data on product labels. For example, clinical and sport psychologists may scan labels on medications to identify drug names, warnings and dosages. (1)
  • Locate data in tables and lists. For example, they locate data in answer key tables in order to score personality inventory tests. They may scan tables and lists to locate population sizes and other demographic statistics. They locate patients' phone numbers in contact lists. (2)
  • Complete intake, assessment and reporting forms. For example, clinical psychologists enter patients' contact and demographic information on intake forms. They complete assessments forms to obtain baseline information about patients and assess their progress. Industrial psychologists may complete reporting forms to identify assessment outcomes of job candidates. (3)
  • Locate and interpret data in graphs. For example, they may locate data in graphs to determine the effectiveness of treatments and therapies. They may interpret graphs of personality inventory and cognitive assessment results to learn about patients' characteristics and abilities, and to develop treatment plans. (3)
  • May interpret drawings and diagrams. For example, neuropsychologists may analyze drawings made by patients to learn about their neuropsychological functions. Clinical psychologists may interpret responses to Rorschach Inkblots to learn about patients' personality characteristics. Sports psychologists may interpret brain scans to determine the influence that changing blood flows to motor and prefrontal cortexes have on the performance of athletes. (4)


  • Write reminders, notes to co-workers and short text entries in forms. For example, they may write notes on test scoring forms to alert co-workers to significant responses and outcomes. They may write entries in insurance claim forms to record services provided and explain treatment outcomes. (1)
  • Write brief e-mail to co-workers and colleagues. For example, they write e-mail to request information on patients and to schedule meetings with co-workers. (2)
  • Write clinical case notes. For example, clinical psychologists write notes about patients' presenting symptoms, meeting and therapy outcomes and matters for follow-up. Industrial psychologists write notes in clients' files to record observations and outcomes of meetings. (2)
  • Write letters to patients, caregivers, social workers, physicians and psychiatrists. For example, clinical psychologists write letters to parents in which they outline the results of their children's therapy sessions and propose treatment options. Industrial psychologists may write letters which introduce their services to new patients and explain payment schedules and psychological assessment procedures. (3)
  • May write treatment plans and termination summaries. For example, clinical psychologists write treatment plans which identify: patients' presenting symptoms; treatment strategies; achievable goals and objectives. They may write termination summaries to describe patients' case histories, intervention results and recommendations. (3)
  • Write assessments, evaluation reports and proposals. For example, clinical psychologists write assessments and evaluation reports to describe assessment methods and outcomes. They report their observations, conclusions and recommendations for further treatment. Industrial psychologists may write reports to clients in which they summarize the outcomes of research, assessment and development projects. They write proposals to outline research, assessment and employee recruitment projects, describe proposed methodologies, timelines and costs and suggest likely outcomes. (4)
  • May write research papers and journal articles. For example, a sports psychologist writes a research paper to describe the negative psychological responses experienced by under-recovered athletes. An industrial psychologist writes a journal article to describe a new psychological assessment and elaborate on its theoretical constructs, development processes and psychometric properties. (5)


Money Math

  • May calculate expense claim amounts for travel and supplies. For example, they may calculate reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses, per diems and the use of personal vehicles at per kilometre rates. (2)
  • May calculate invoice amounts and verify invoice totals. For example, self-employed psychologists may calculate charges for time worked and related expenses incurred. They add applicable taxes such as the Goods and Services Tax. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Schedule appointments for patients and clients. For example, clinical psychologists schedule appointments for counselling sessions and meetings. They reschedule appointments to accommodate urgent requests and cancellations. (1)
  • May determine the sizes of control groups for research projects. For example, industrial psychologists determine the sizes of control groups by considering the availabilities of research subjects and the required reliabilities of research study results. (2)
  • May establish and monitor budgets. For example, self-employed clinical psychologists may establish operating budgets that include costs of office space, equipment, supplies and staff. Sports psychologists may prepare budgets for research projects. They propose budget amounts for equipment, research assistants and administration. (3)
  • May establish schedules for projects. For example, when designing psychological assessments of clients, industrial psychologists consider lead times, availabilities of staff and research subjects and approval processes. (4)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • May measure patients' motor skills. For example, industrial psychologists may determine research subjects' motor skills by measuring hand strength and counting the numbers of finger taps in given amounts of time. (1)
  • May calculate the requirements of research projects. For example, industrial psychologists may calculate the number of psychological assessments required for research projects by considering sample sizes and testing protocols. (2)
  • Measure cognitive functioning and personality characteristics using a variety of psychological assessments. For example, they use assessments such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence scale and the Wechsler Memory scale to measure cognitive abilities and memory retention. (3)

Data Analysis Math

  • Compare raw test results to scales to determine test takers' cognitive and motor-skill abilities. (1)
  • Calculate data to describe the operations of their practices, programs and projects they manage. For example, self-employed clinical psychologists may calculate the percentage of patients who qualify for specialized programs by program type. Psychologists in hospitals may calculate statistics such as the total number of meetings held, caseload sizes and new patient loads. (2)
  • Collect and analyze psychological assessment scores. For example, clinical psychologists may analyze multiple scale scores, percentile ranks and base rates to assess patients' mental health. (3)
  • May calculate research project data. For example, industrial psychologists use statistical analysis software and data collected from research projects to calculate statistics such as confidence intervals at specific significance levels, correlations, variances and standard errors. (4)
  • May analyze correlations and other data to prove hypotheses. For example, sports psychologists may analyze data collected from surveys, sporting events and brain scans to prove theorems regarding the effects of attitudes, drugs or training on high performance athletes. (5)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate times of job tasks such as therapy sessions, meetings and interviews. For example, clinical psychologists consider patients' needs, topics of discussion and the durations of previous interviews and meetings to estimate time requirements. (1)
  • May estimate lengths of time it will take patients to regain their mental health. For example, clinical psychologists estimate the numbers of sessions that patients require by taking into account their backgrounds and presenting symptoms. (2)
  • May estimate the lengths of time it will take to conduct experiments and research. They consider the scopes of projects, lead times and the availability of resources. (3)

Oral communication

  • Discuss ongoing work with co-workers and colleagues. For example, clinical psychologists working in hospitals may discuss operational matters such as caseloads, hours of work, training opportunities, shifts and work procedures with supervisors. (1)
  • Discuss services and products with suppliers. For example, clinical psychologists may talk to workers at substance abuse programs to learn about treatment options and intake procedures. Industrial psychologists may speak with suppliers to learn invigilation procedures, psychometric properties and costs of psychological assessments. (2)
  • May lead workshops and give presentations. For example, clinical psychologists present information on treatment programs and strategies at conferences, school assemblies and community support group meetings. Industrial psychologists present projects' findings to clients and field questions. (3)
  • Exchange confidential information with their patients' families, guardians and caregivers and colleagues such as social workers. For example, clinical psychologists ask the parents and guardians of young patients for background information and discuss diagnoses and treatment options with them. They may speak with social workers, school support staff, psychiatrists and other psychologists to discuss unusual disorders as well as formulate and coordinate treatment plans for troubled teenagers. (3)
  • May negotiate fees for service contracts with clients. For example, self-employed psychologists may negotiate contracts to establish new employee assistance programs. Industrial psychologists may negotiate budgets for employee recruitment projects and timelines with their clients. (3)
  • Discuss the theoretical and technical aspects of psychology. For example, clinical psychologists may answer questions posed by lawyers, prosecutors and judges in courts and boards of inquiry. They may consult psychiatrists and other mental health professionals about complex cases. (4)
  • May interview and counsel patients. For example, clinical psychologists interview patients to collect information needed for diagnoses and to establish therapeutic relationships. They may present ideas that spark discussions and ask open-ended questions to probe for information. They listen intently to patient responses and provide reassurance and guidance to help them improve their emotional, physical, intellectual and interpersonal functioning. (4)


Problem Solving

  • Cannot assist their patients due to lack of community resources and supports. They help patients to develop contingency plans and acquire interim services while they wait for appropriate community resources and supports to become available. (2)
  • Encounter patients who are reluctant to participate in therapy. Clinical psychologists speak to other mental health professionals and caregivers to determine the reasons for the reluctance. They terminate involvement with patients who refuse service and refer them to other resources. (3)
  • Find that treatment plans are ineffectual. They consult other mental health professionals to determine the reasons for the poor results and weigh alternate treatment options. They initiate revised treatment plans and evaluate their results. (3)

Decision Making

  • Choose times and locations for meetings. For example, clinical psychologists select times for treatment sessions. (1)
  • Decide to start or stop treatment programs and therapeutic relationships. For example, clinical psychologists may decide to terminate treatment programs and therapeutic relationships if they believe that patients are not making progress. (2)
  • Choose assessment tools, counselling strategies and therapies. For example, industrial psychologists choose assessment tools after considering the purposes of assessments and budgets set for these activities. Clinical psychologists select counselling strategies which suit their patients' treatment needs and fit community resources which are available. (3)
  • May select research methodologies and resources for research projects. For example, industrial psychologists select equipment, facilities and personnel to fit the specifications of research projects. (3)
  • May decide that patients require emergency supports. For example, clinical psychologists may decide that patients require hospitalization because they may harm themselves and others. (4)

Critical Thinking

  • May assess the performance of support staff and research assistants. For example, self-employed clinical psychologists assess the performance of support staff. They gather information from patients and observe workers' behaviours. (2)
  • Assess the suitability of assessment tools. They identify criteria such as ease of use, validity and cost. They gather information on the cost and accuracy of measurement instruments from vendors and colleagues. (2)
  • Assess the risks that patients pose to themselves and others. For example, to judge the risk that sexual predators will re-offend, clinical psychologists review their backgrounds, histories of violent behaviours and the results of psychological assessments and diagnoses. They question these patients about their mental and emotional states. (3)
  • Assess the physical, intellectual, emotional, social and interpersonal functioning of patients. For example, clinical psychologists assess the severity of mental illnesses by analyzing information from interviews, assessments and consultations with other mental health professionals. (3)
  • May assess the suitability of programs for particular clients. For example, clinical psychologists assess the suitability of therapeutic programs by analyzing the effects they have had on patients' physical, intellectual, emotional, social and interpersonal functioning. Industrial psychologists assess the suitability of job candidates for their clients by observing behaviours and demeanours, speaking with references and analyzing the results of psychological assessments. (4)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Psychologists plan their work to adhere to appointment schedules and conform to projects' timelines. Psychologists may receive their assignments from managers and team leaders. Clinical psychologists must be prepared to modify their schedules if patients are in crises and require emergency assistance. (3)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Psychologists may organize the activities of workers such as support staff and research assistants. They may organize the activities of support staff such as receptionists to ensure meetings and appointments are efficiently scheduled. They may organize the activities of research assistants to meet project requirements. (3)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember patients' names, histories and treatment plans.
  • Recall details of policies, operating procedures and regulatory requirements. For example, clinical psychologists remember confidentiality guidelines and reporting procedures of cases where patients are at risk of harming themselves and others.

Finding Information

  • Locate information about community resources. For example, clinical psychologists learn about community resources by reading local resource directories and scanning information presented on websites. They ask patients, co-workers, colleagues, supervisors and community agencies` staff about services and programs in their areas. (2)
  • Locate information about patients and clients. For example, clinical psychologists locate information about patients from a variety of sources. They conduct interviews and observe body language. They speak to co-workers and colleagues. They read case management notes, court orders, and psychological, criminogenic risk and psychiatric assessments. (3)
  • Locate information about assessment and treatment strategies. They read professional journals and articles posted on websites hosted by organizations such as the Canadian Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association. They discuss assessment and treatment matters with co-workers, colleagues, test developers and retailers. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use graphics software. For example, they use presentation software such as PowerPoint and Keynote to create slides for presentations at workshops and conferences. They import tables, charts and graphs and use custom animation features to make the slides more visually appealing. (2)
  • Use databases. For example, they use databases such as PsychINFO to locate, download and print archived journal articles. Clinical psychologists use databases to input and retrieve contact information, case management notes and patients' attendance records. (2)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they may create spreadsheets to track times spent with patients and manage counselling and program data. (2)
  • May use bookkeeping, billing and accounting software. For example, psychologists in private practices may use bookkeeping, billing and accounting software to track payables and receivables, and to generate and print financial summaries. (2)
  • Use communication software. For example, they use e-mail software to exchange messages and attachments with colleagues. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they use Internet browsers such as Internet Explorer and Firefox to find information about psychological assessments, training opportunities and treatment strategies. They may access password protected on-line databases and download research papers and journals. (2)
  • Use word processing. For example, they use word processing applications such as Word and WordPerfect to write letters and prepare reports. They use more advanced features to create research papers which incorporate tables, footnotes, bibliographies and drawings. (3)
  • Use statistical analysis software. For example, research psychologists may use statistical analysis software such as SPSS and SAS to input and analyze research data. They use advanced features to generate descriptive and bivariate statistics and predictions for numerical outcomes. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Psychologists work independently when assessing and treating patients. They coordinate and integrate job tasks with co-workers such as support staff when performing administrative tasks. They may participate in or lead multidisciplinary teams comprising social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and medical doctors assigned to patients. (3)

Continuous Learning

Psychologists must learn continuously to maintain registrations and stay abreast of new community resources, counselling interventions and therapies. They attend conferences, seminars and workshops offered by colleagues, post-secondary institutions, community organizations and professional associations. They read articles in academic journals to learn about research findings, new diagnoses, therapies and technologies. They learn by discussing cases with co-workers, colleagues and managers, participating in case management teams and speaking with patients and their caregivers. They generally determine their own learning goals but may be required to participate in mandatory training and learning activities designated by provincial and territorial registration boards. (3)