What is Psychology?

"Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. The discipline embraces all aspects of the human experience — from the functions of the brain to the actions of nations, from child development to care for the aged. In every conceivable setting from scientific research centers to mental healthcare services, "the understanding of behavior" is the enterprise of psychologists."

American Psychological Association, 2016

What Does a Psychologist Do?

A psychologist studies how we think, feel and behave from a scientific viewpoint and applies this knowledge to help people understand, explain and change their behaviour. Psychologists have expertise in all aspects of psychological functioning, including cognitive, emotional, behavioural, spiritual and intellectual dimensions. Psychologists assess, advise and assist people to improve their life emotional and behavioural functioning.

Psychologists apply their expertise to a broad range of issues and clients. Their clients include individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. The settings in which psychologists offer their services are diverse, including schools, health centers/clinics and hospitals, community and sports organizations, the workplace, public safety services, research institutes, as well as private offices.

For further information about psychologists and the practice of psychology, please refer to the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta or the Canadian Psychological Association.

The scope of practice for the profession of psychology is set out in Schedule 22, Section 3 of the HPA. In their practice, psychologists do one or more of the following:

(a) assess, diagnose, treat, guide and support persons or groups of persons in order to enhance development, effective living and quality of life or to prevent, remedy or ameliorate mental, emotional, cognitive, behavioural and interpersonal difficulties;

(b) teach, supervise or consult in the practice of psychology;

(b.1) manage and conduct research in the science, techniques and practice of psychology;

(c) provide restricted activities authorized by the regulations.

Psychologists engage in research, practice (assessment and intervention) and teaching across a wide range of topics having to do with how people think, feel and behave. Their work can involve individuals, groups, families and as well as larger organizations in government and industry. They work with clients of all ages with many specializing in one area (i.e. pediatrics, adult, geriatrics). Some of the kinds of topics towards which psychologists focus their research and practice are as follows:

  • mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, phobias, etc.;
  • neurological, genetic, psychological and social determinants of behaviour;
  • psychological determinants of health and psychological factors that contribute to health and disease management; 
  • role of psychological factors in preventing disease and maintaining physical health;
  • rehabilitation and adjustment to disability and chronic illness;
  • brain injury, degenerative brain diseases;
  • perception and management of pain;
  • relationship between psychological factors and physical conditions and illness (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, stroke);
  • management of psychological aspects of terminal illnesses and end-of-life care;
  • cognitive functions (e.g., learning, memory, problem solving, intellectual ability);
  • developmental and behavioural abilities and problems across the lifespan;
  • criminal behaviour, crime prevention, and services for victims and perpetrators of criminal activity;
  • addictions, substance use and abuse (e.g. smoking, alcohol, prescription and recreational drugs);
  • stress, anger and other aspects of lifestyle management;
  • court consultations on the role of psychological factors in legal matters (e.g., accidents and injury, parental capacity, competence to manage one’s personal affairs);
  • psychology in the workplace (e.g. motivation, leadership, productivity, marketing, healthy workplaces, ergonomics);
  • marital and family relationships and problems;
  • social and cultural behaviours and attitudes;
  • relationship between the individual and the many groups of which they are part of (e.g. work, family, society); and
  • psychological factors related to performance at/in work, school, recreation and sport.

Where Do Psychologists Work?

Some psychologists work primarily as researchers and faculty at universities and at governmental and non-governmental organizations. Most work primarily as practitioners in hospitals, schools, clinics, correctional facilities, employee assistance programs and private offices. Others works as consultants to corporations and various organizations. Many psychologists are active in research, teaching and practice.

What is the difference between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

In Canada, the professionals who most commonly treat people with mental health problems are psychologists and psychiatrists. A psychologist holds a master’s and/or doctoral degree in psychology that involves from 6 to 10 years of university study of how people think, feel and behave.

Psychologists who hold doctoral degrees, can use the title ‘Dr.’ Psychologists who practice (and hence those who are licensed) typically will have completed their graduate university training in clinical psychology, counselling psychology, clinical neuropsychology or educational/school psychology.

The Impact of Psychology

On an individual level, we all face challenges daily that can cause stress and worry which may negatively impact our quality of life, health and well-being. Psychologists work in many different areas of society and can offer coping strategies, interventions and referrals to improve healthy thinking and boost resiliency to reduce the impact of stress and effects of these challenges to elevate health and well-being.

Additional examples of life and health issues where psychologists may help include helping people to overcome depression, stress, trauma, or phobias, ease the effects of parental divorce on children, speed up the recovery from brain injury, improve management of physical health-related issues, overcome personal difficulties and thought-related issues, improve self-esteem, improve motivation, helping to stop or prevent bullying at school or in the workplace, ensure that students in school are being taught in the most efficient and effective way, making sure that people are happy at work and perform to the best of their abilities, helping the police, courts, prison services to perform more effectively and to help athletes and sports people to perform better.

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What is Psychology?

Learn about the profession of psychology and what psychologists do.

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Related Sites

View external organizations and websites which may be useful in your search for information on the practice and regulation of psychology.

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Registration and Renewal

This section provides information and resources regarding registration requirements, fees and renewing a practice permit.

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Concerns About a Psychologist

This section provides information and resources to address concerns about the conduct of a psychologist. 


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Professional Guidance

CAP communicates with members, providing regulatory information and guidance. Regulated members are welcome to contact CAP for professional guidance related to regulatory information.

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About CAP

Learn more about CAP and its mandated responsibiliites under the Health Professions Act. 

Resources & Regulatory Information

A number of documents govern the regulation of the profession of psychology and documents and resources are developed in order to promote competent and ethical practice and to guide its members. 

Sexual Abuse/Misconduct

Addressing and Preventing Sexual Abuse and Misconduct for Psychologists