Different Types of Psychology

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Do all the different types of psychology perplex you? If you are at all fascinated by the brain and behavior or mind and motivation, pursuing a degree in psychology may be a fantastic academic fit. Starting your journey with a ‘road map’ is a great way to navigate this vast territory, either to plan your education path or potential career.

Different Fields of Psychology: Which area is right for you?

In a field such as psychology, you have to defer the American Psychological Association (APA) – it’s that simple. So, according to the APA the 4 recognized “specialties” are[i] :

  • Clinical
  • Counseling
  • School
  • Industrial/organizational

different types of psychology degrees

Other areas are considered "areas of concentration" or "subfields" in Psychology. Why is this important? Well, it may not matter so much in high school or the undergraduate years, but it starts to become important when you realize that:

  1. Referring to yourself as a “Psychologist” requires licensure[ii]
  2. Most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree either the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree[iii].

If you are starting to get the idea that your academic degree is linked to your career goals you are on the right track. Being a psychology major, you have plenty of room to find your niche.

What is Clinical Psychology?

If you think of psychology as a tree with branches, clinical psychology is the limb that is concerned with assessing and treating mental, behavioral and emotional disorders. These issues may range from stress and anxiety caused by daily life to extreme and chronic conditions such as schizophrenia, personality disorders, or depression. Clinical psychologists work in private practice, but also work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation facilities, and community and mental health centers. Many clinical psychologists focus their interests on:

  • Special populations (e.g. Pediatric Psychologist)
  • Specific problem areas (e.g. phobias, substance abuse, or depression)
  • Specialty areas (e.g. Health Psychologist or Neuropsychologists)

What is Counseling Psychology?

Counseling psychology is pretty closely related to clinical psychology. Another specialty area, it focuses on facilitating personal and interpersonal relationships. In other words, they help you ‘deal’. Many work in academic settings, health care institutions, community mental health centers, hospitals, or private clinics. While the practices are broad, counseling psychologists are concerned with [v]:

  • Life span issues such as vocational development and adjustment
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Mental health counseling
  • Daily life issues such as at home or in community

What is School Psychology?

School Psychology integrates principles of educational psychology, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, community psychology and applied behavior analysis (ABA). The focus here is on applying psychological principles and techniques to education and developmental disorders. School Psychologists work with children, youth, families, other learners of all ages and the schooling process in general. They need a pretty good understanding of issues such as protecting the rights of minors, and state regulations for schools included. Their goals include [vi]:

  • Helping students understand and overcome social or behavioral problems through classroom guidance lessons and counseling
  • Collaborating with teachers, administrators, and parents to help students succeed
  • Reporting possible cases of neglect or abuse and refer students and parents to resources outside the school for additional support
  • Helping students create a plan to achieve academic and career goals

What is Industrial/Organizational Psychology?

Industrial/Organizational psychology, known as I-O, is the branch of psychology that applies psychological theories and principles to business and industry in order to solve some of the problems that might arise in the workplace. Some Industrial/organizational psychologist work as consultants for management firms, others might work in businesses, industries, governments, and colleges and universities. The interests of an I-O Psychologist include [vii] :

  • Management and employees' working styles
  • Employee morale
  • Workplace productivity
  • Policy planning
  • Organizational development

Different Types of Psychology Degrees

In terms of concentrations in psychology, The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) awards specialty certification in 15 different areas of psychology, such as clinical health, couple and family, or rehabilitation. Within these areas you might find ones that are more research- oriented, and others that are more practitioner-oriented. Knowing whether you prefer to conduct experiments and hypothesize or whether you prefer to assess clients in various settings is something to keep on your ‘good to know’ list. What are some of the major concentrations in psychology?

Developmental psychology is the study of how the brain and nervous system progress and process information, along with the development that takes place throughout life. This might mean evaluating how behavior and coping mechanisms change. We often hear of developmental psychologists who focus on children and adolescents (Child Psychologists), but they also may study the psychology of aging (Geropsychology) and issues facing older adults.

Social psychology studies how people’s mindsets and behavior are formed by social interactions. They examine both individual and group interactions and may look for ways to improve these dynamics.

Forensic psychology integrates both applied and clinical facets of psychology and law in the legal and criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists might help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological aspects of a particular case. Or they may be called on to testify in court as expert witnesses. Some might help the victims of crime cope with trauma. Others might try to determine what makes a psychopath tick to help determine sentencing within the judicial system. They typically specialize in family, civil, or criminal casework.

Neuropsychology studies the effects of brain injuries, brain disease, developmental disorders, or mental health conditions on behavior and thinking.

Health psychology examines how psychological and behavioral factors interact with health and illness. Psychologists in this concentration area promote healthy-living strategies and may develop programs targeted to common health-related behaviors, such as smoking, poor diet, and sedentary behavior.

Whether you know now which area is more captivating to you or not, choose a psychology degree track that ultimately supports your preference. It never hurts to think ahead as an undergrad, or start refining your coursework, or checking into licensing laws as a graduate student.


[i]apa.org/ [ii]bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social- science/psychologists.htm | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm | [v] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social- science/psychologists.htm [vi]apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/school.aspx | [vii]bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm | [viii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm | other sources: onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3031.02 | abpp.org/

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