Fields of Psychology

An Overview of the Different Fields of Psychology

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Psychology is a huge topic and conveying the depth and breadth of the subject can be difficult. As a result, a number of different fields of psychology have emerged to deal with specific subtopics within the study of the mind, brain and behavior.

Most general and introductory psychology courses cover many of these fields of psychology. As you delve deeper into the subject, you’ll soon find courses offered in each individual area.

Each field of psychology represents a specific area of study focused on a particular topic. Oftentimes, psychologists specialize in one of these areas as a career.

The following are just some of the major fields of psychology. For many of these specialty areas, additional graduate study in that particular field is required.

  • Abnormal Psychology: Abnormal psychology is a field of psychology that deals with psychopathology and abnormal behavior. Clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors typically work in this field. Mental health professionals help assess, diagnose, and treat a wide variety of mental disorders including anxiety and depression.
  • Biopsychology: This area of psychology is focused on how the brain, neurons, and nervous system influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This field draws on many different disciplines including basic psychology, experimental psychology, biology, physiology, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. People who work in this field often study how brain injuries and brain diseases impact human behavior.
  • Comparative Psychology: This field of psychology is centered on the study of animal behavior. This area has its roots in the work of researchers such as Charles Darwin and Georges Romanes and has grown into a highly multidisciplinary subject. Psychologists often contribute to this field, as do biologists, anthropologists, ecologists, geneticists and many others.
  • Counseling Psychology: This field is one of the largest individual areas within psychology. It is centered on treating clients experiencing mental distress and a wide variety of psychological symptoms. The Society of Counseling Psychology describes the field as an area that can improve interpersonal functioning throughout life by improving social, and emotional health as well as addressing concerns about health, work, family, marriage, and more. 
  • Developmental Psychology: Psychologists who study development are interested in how people change and grow throughout the entire lifespan. They often study things such as physical growth, intellectual development, emotional changes, social growth, and perceptual changes that occur through life. Some developmental psychologists focus on a specific period of time during development such as early childhood, adolescence, or late adult. This field covers a huge range of topics including everything from prenatal development to Alzheimer's disease.
  • Educational Psychology: Psychologists who work in this field are focused on understanding how people learn. They might study how different variables influence individual student outcomes. They also study topics such as learning disabilities, giftedness, the instructional process, and individual differences.
  • Experimental Psychology: Experimental psychology is an area of psychology that utilizes scientific methods to research the mind and behavior. Experimental psychologists work in a wide variety of settings including colleges, universities, research centers, government and private businesses.
  • Forensic Psychology: Forensic psychology is defined as the intersection of psychology and the law, but forensic psychologists can perform many roles so this definition can vary. In many cases, people working within forensic psychology are not necessarily "forensic psychologists." These individuals might be clinical psychologists, school psychologists, neurologists or counselors who lend their psychological expertise to provide testimony, analysis or recommendations in legal or criminal cases.
  • Health Psychology: Health psychologists are interested in improving health across a wide variety of domains. These professionals not only promote healthy behaviors, they also work on the prevention and treatment of illness and disease. They might research how people cope with illnesses and help patients look for new, more effective coping strategies. Some professionals in this field help design prevention and public awareness programs, while others work within the government to improve health care policies.
  • Human Factors Psychology: Some of the subjects of interest in this interdisciplinary field include human error, product design, ergonomics, human capability, and human-computer interaction. People who work in human factors are focused on improving how people interact with products and machines both in and out of the workplace. They might help design products intended to minimize injury or create workplaces that promote greater accuracy and improved safety.
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology: This field of psychology, often referred to as I/O psychology, works to improve productivity and efficiency in the workplace while also maximizing the well-being of employees. I-O psychologists study topics such as worker attitudes , employee behaviors, organizational processes, and leadership.
  • Personality Psychology: This field is focused on the study of the thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors that make each individual unique. Classic theories of personality include Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality and Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. Personality psychologists might study how different factors such as genetics, parenting, and social experiences influence how personality develops and changes.
  • School Psychology: Professionals in this field that work in schools to help kids deal with academic, emotional, and social issues. School psychologists also collaborate with teachers, students, and parents to help create a healthy learning environment.
  • Social Psychology: This field of psychology is focused on the study of topics such as group behavior, social perception, leadership, nonverbal behavior, conformity, aggression and prejudice. Social influences on behavior are a major interest in social psychology, but social psychologists are also focused on how people perceive and interact with others.
  • Sports Psychology: Sports psychology is the study of how psychology influences sports, athletic performance, exercise and physical activity. Some sports psychologists work with professional athletes and coaches to improve performance and increase motivation. Other professionals utilize exercise and sports to enhance people’s lives and well-being throughout the entire lifespan.

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