What Does A Counseling Psychologist Do?

Updated October 18, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

According to studies, over 41.7 million US adults saw a therapist in 2021, and the number is growing as mental health continues to be destigmatized. A licensed counseling psychologist can help individuals identify their strengths while providing resources in coping and resilience strategies. In addition, counseling often involves resolving conflicts and psychological challenges with research-backed therapeutic methods, including talk therapy. Understanding the counseling profession in more detail may help you make an informed decision about the type of care you receive for your mental health. 

Wondering How A Counseling Psychologist Can Help Improve Your Mental Health?

The Role Of A Counseling Psychologist

A psychologist is an expert of knowledge in the field of psychology and its history. They study the science of the human mind, focusing on how thoughts lead to feelings and behaviors. Psychologists work in mental health clinics, hospitals, research facilities, online counseling platforms, businesses, and educational institutions. Not all psychologists are counselors. However, a counseling psychologist offers therapeutic support, such as talk therapy, to help clients make positive changes. 

Are There Different Types of Psychologists?

Psychologists can engage in diverse professional roles depending on their practice setting. These include the following positions. 

Counseling Or Clinical Psychologist 

Also known as a clinical psychologist, a counseling psychologist uses talk therapy to help individuals with mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, grief, anger, or social challenges. A counseling psychologist often works directly with clients and may have a specialty in a specific mental illness or therapeutic modality. Not all counselors are psychologists, however. Psychologists have a doctorate, whereas counselors often have a master's degree and particular licensing in counseling or clinical social work. 

Online Psychologist 

An online psychologist uses talk therapy and other methods in the same way as other in-person psychologists. However, they may practice remotely using online forms of traditional therapeutic approaches. 

School Psychologist

School psychologists are experts in learning, behavior, and mental health. They apply their expertise to help students succeed on many levels, including academically, socially, and emotionally. School psychologists foster a team approach, working with students, parents, and faculty to build a healthy learning environment.

Child Psychologist

Child psychologists serve children of all ages, including teenagers. Typical goals for child psychologists and their programs may include helping a child cope with adverse events, improve family relationships, address behavioral challenges, and foster healthy psychological development.

Business And Consumer Psychologist

A business psychologist may partake in various jobs, including working in human resources, designing marketing strategies, and finishing other tasks related to helping the business succeed. They use their sociology and public psychology knowledge to explain which techniques may be most effective in marketing. Consumer psychologists often study the decision-making processes consumers use before purchasing a product or service and what motivates them. 

Research Psychologist

A research psychologist designs, oversees, and reports on scientific studies, often in an academic environment. These professionals may write journals and lead psychological research. 

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists work within the legal system using scientific methods to investigate the potential psychological aspects of a crime, including motivation and mental health conditions. 


What Is A Clinical Psychologist?

According to the American Psychological Association, clinical psychologists have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and often work in the research, university, and health sectors to address behavioral and mental health issues, including:

  • Mental illness 

  • Interpersonal challenges and dysfunctional social behavior

  • Substance use and dependency 

  • Traumatic stress reactions and adjustment concerns

Clinical psychologists specialize in different types of talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or interpersonal therapy. Others use a more eclectic approach that relies on merging elements of different types of talk therapies. Algorithm psychology, a step-by-step problem-solving approach, is also used when the problem requires an accurate solution.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Can Psychologists Prescribe Medications?

Medications are often prescribed to treat mental disorders and conditions in conjunction with other psychotherapy treatments. However, psychologists cannot prescribe medication in most states. A psychiatrist or other medical doctor manages this part of the treatment. However, according to the American Psychological Association, psychologists can prescribe medications in Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Idaho, and New Mexico if they are appropriately trained. 

Please consult your primary care physician before starting, changing, or stopping a medication. 

How Psychologists Support Mental Health

If you want to improve your mental health, a psychologist may be an advocate in this journey. A few ways psychologists offer support include the following:  

  • Acting as a sounding board

  • Contributing observations 

  • Identifying areas for growth 

  • Helping clients recover from traumatic experiences

  • Assisting clients in setting reasonable goals

  • Teaching individuals to change dysfunctional thinking patterns

  • Teaching clients healthy behavioral skills 

  • Teaching acceptance and resilience 

Psychologists are often trained in active listening skills and work with their clients at their pace by offering validation, encouragement, and verbal support. This support can be valuable for individuals struggling to support themselves in this way. A psychologist can offer the skills clients seek to be their own advocate in the future. 

Offering Expertise 

When starting sessions, the client is often familiar with what has happened to them and how they have dealt with it thus far. An advantage of opening up about these areas with a psychologist is that they often experience similar concerns from past or current clients. As trained psychologists, they have developed a level of expertise that allows them to see the situation from a professional viewpoint. In addition, they can offer solutions that have proven effective in studies along with their clinical experiences.

Acting As A Sounding Board

Perhaps you have some ideas about your mental health conditions, what caused them, or how you could make changes. As therapy is a collaborative process for your benefit, psychologists may welcome your opinion on what treatment could suit you best. They can often offer feedback to facilitate your insight.

Contributing Observations

Whether you see a psychologist for support with depression, anxiety, or work stress, your mental health challenges may affect how you see your situation. In these instances, a psychologist can provide an objective perspective. Even if you describe an event in intense emotional terms, the psychologist can glean facts from your description and contribute their objective view.

Helping You Identify Challenges 

Although you may have a general idea of what you're experiencing, a psychologist can offer a diagnosis or help you further identify these challenges. There may also be other concerns contributing to your distress. A clinical psychologist uses therapeutic strategies (such as interviews or self-tests) to evaluate your thought processes, emotions, and behavior. These interventions can help the psychologist determine if you would benefit from an official evaluation or further treatment. 

Supporting You Through Adverse Or Traumatic Experiences

Many individuals that have experienced psychological trauma choose to see a psychologist to address the emotions surrounding the traumatic event or situation. The therapist can offer listening skills and understanding, as well as insight into the impact of trauma and how it may have affected you. They can guide you to a healthier perspective and offer strategies to build resilience, such as coping skills surrounding emotional control. These resources may include relaxation, breathing, and mindfulness practices. Some therapeutic modalities are specifically designed to treat the impact of trauma and mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Helping You Set Reasonable Goals

When you feel overwhelmed by mental, emotional, or behavioral challenges, reaching out to a psychologist may guide you in decision-making. Setting reasonable and achievable goals at first can help remove the overwhelm from therapy. Therapy is often a process and may take time. Your therapist can offer you coping skills as you work to obtain more challenging results. 

Teaching Cognitive Restructuring 

In many forms of therapy, psychologists work with clients to change thought patterns called cognitive distortions, which are unwanted or unhelpful thoughts. Through cognitive restructuring, a counselor can help you transform your thought patterns concerning troubling events, dysfunctional relationships, or your concept of yourself. In this method, a psychologist may use a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you evaluate, challenge, and modify your unwanted beliefs and transform them into healthy or realistic forms of thought. 

Teaching Behavioral Change 

Changing thoughts is often used as the doorway to changing behavior. However, along with changing your thoughts, you may benefit from actively choosing different behaviors. You can learn and practice new behavioral skills through roleplay, journaling, brain mapping, and other cognitive techniques with your counseling psychologist.   

Offering Support

A counseling psychologist can offer positive reinforcement during times of significant stress and emotional difficulties. Although many people turn to loved ones during a struggle, a counseling psychologist can provide validation, empathy, and compassion through a session dedicated to you. In addition, you can know that their advice is research-backed and from their years of experience. No matter how you think, feel, or behave, your counseling psychologist supports your sincere efforts to improve your mental health.

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Wondering How A Counseling Psychologist Can Help Improve Your Mental Health?

How Do Online Psychologists Offer Support? 

Online psychologists face the same requirements as in-person therapists and can offer many of the same forms of therapy. A counseling psychologist who works through an online platform can provide the same level of emotional support that an in-person psychologist may offer in your community. For example, one study found that people who used BetterHelp experienced a significant decrease in the severity of depression symptoms.

You can begin therapy through a platform like BetterHelp after finishing a questionnaire to be matched with a professional within 48 hours. Without having to leave the comfort of your home, you can begin addressing your mental health concerns with a supportive and understanding online therapist. In addition, BetterHelp's therapists maintain over 1000 hours of supervised clinical experience, at least a master's degree, and an up-to-date license in their state of practice. 


Whether you're facing symptoms of a mental health condition or are seeking support with everyday challenges, a mental health provider like a counseling psychologist may benefit you. Consider taking the first step by reaching out to a therapist for guidance. 

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