20 Different Types of Psychologists and What They Do

Here are just a few careers in the many different types of psychology

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Getty Images/​Tom Merton

What are the different types of psychologists and what exactly do they do in the variety of fields in psychology? When people hear the term psychologist, many immediately imagine a man or woman sitting in an office, scribbling notes while a client sits on a leather fainting couch. Sure, there are plenty of psychologists who engage in this type of talk therapy, but people who work in the field of psychology also do a variety of other things.

Did you know that there are psychologists who study how people work and interact with the tools in their environment? Or that some psychologists come up with ways to help slow global warming? Below is a list of some of the specialty areas and related tasks they include.

Aviation Psychologists

These psychologists study the behavior of pilots and other flight crew members. Aviation psychologists also perform research on airline safety, develop new training equipment, and help select suitable employees.

For example, an aviation psychologist might select or even develop psychological tests used to screen applicants for elite pilot positions. Because of the highly specialized and delicate nature of the job, it is essential to choose candidates who are healthy, stable, and capable of coping with intense pressure. Aviation psychologists utilize their knowledge of psychology to ensure that only the best people are chosen for these critical roles.

Aviation psychologists might also work with other professionals including engineers and human factors psychologists to design different components of airplanes such as the cabins or flight decks. By taking human psychology into consideration during the design process, aviation psychologists can help ensure that these products are developed with perception, attention, memory, and other capabilities in mind.

Biopsychologists

These psychologists are also sometimes called biological psychologists or physiological psychologists. They study and perform research on the brain and behavior. By examining the neural bases of behavior, biopsychologists are able to understand different biological factors that might impact how people think, feel, and act.

This type of psychologist might also investigate how brain disease and injury impact behavior. By better understanding how people are affected by such injuries and diseases, researchers can also find new ways of preventing, treating, and managing serious brain illnesses and trauma.

Clinical Psychologists

Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose and treat individuals suffering from psychological distress and mental illness. They also perform psychotherapy and develop treatment plans.

Clinical psychologists often work in hospitals, mental health clinics, and private practice. They are trained in a variety of treatment techniques but may specialize in treating certain disorders or working with certain populations. For example, a clinical psychologist might specialize in an area such as substance abuse treatment, child mental health, adult mental health, or geriatric mental health.

While clinical psychologists often work in medical settings, they are not physicians and in most cases cannot prescribe medications.

Cognitive Psychologists

Cognitive psychologists investigate how people think, including topics such as decision-making and problem-solving. This type of psychologist is interested in how the brain processes, learns, stores, recognizes, and utilizes information.

Cognitive psychologists may work in a variety of settings including universities, research centers, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, government agencies, and in private practice. Professionals in this field often perform a range of duties such as conducting research and working with patients.

As with other areas of psychology, cognitive psychologists often choose to specialize in a particular area such as memory, language development, attention, problem-solving, or learning disabilities.

Community Psychologists

This type of psychologist conducts research on community health issues. They also seek to educate the community and develop prevention programs. These professionals are focused on helping lead positive changes at both the individual and community levels.

You may find community psychologists working in a range of settings at universities, government agencies, community organizations, and private businesses as professors, consultants, policy advisors, program directors, and researchers.

Research in this area tends to be very action-oriented and focuses on developing real-world solutions that can immediately be put into practice. Community psychologists work to address social problems, promote health and wellness, and enact policies that improve people's lives.

Comparative Psychologists

Comparative psychologists study the behavior of different species, particularly how animal and human behavior differs. Why study animals? Because while there are obviously major differences, it is assumed that some things may hold true for all species. Therefore studying the behaviors and responses of animals such as rats and dogs can provide insights into human behaviors as well.

Such observations have proven important throughout much of psychology's history. Thorndike's work with cats, Pavlov's work with dogs, and Skinner's work with pigeons are examples of how studying animal behavior has led to insights that apply to human beings.

Consumer Psychologists

Also known as marketing psychologists, consumer psychologists research consumer behavior and develop marketing strategies to promote businesses. This type of psychologist is involved in helping businesses better understand what makes consumers purchase products and services.

They research how buyers respond to marketing messages, analyze decision-making strategies, and investigate the role that emotions play in purchasing choices. These professionals help businesses develop marketing messages, identify target audiences, develop products that appeal to specific consumers, and learn about how attitudes toward brands and products form and change. They accomplish these tasks through the use of market research surveys, experiments, naturalistic observations, and consumer focus groups.

Counseling Psychologists

Counseling psychologists provide psychotherapy to people suffering from psychological disturbances, behavioral problems, emotional difficulties, stress, and related issues. These professionals share many commonalities with clinical psychologists. Both provide psychotherapy, often work in mental health settings, and can legally identify themselves as "licensed psychologists" in any state in the U.S.   

Cross-Cultural Psychologists

This type of psychologist looks at how people vary across cultures and how cultural affiliations influence behavior. They often explore how different aspects of behavior may be either universal or varied across different cultures. For examples, cross-cultural psychologists might investigate how parenting styles differ between collectivist cultures versus individualist cultures as well as how these differences in upbringing influence adult behavior.

Developmental Psychologists

Developmental psychologists research human development across the entire lifespan. Some focus on a specific period such as early childhood, adolescence, adulthood, or old age. These professionals may perform tasks such as evaluating children who may have a developmental delay or disability, investigating issues associated with aging, and studying how language skills are acquired.

Some developmental psychologists may focus on research and add to our understanding of developmental issues that can arise throughout life. Other professionals may perform applied work with clients who need assistance coping with developmental issues.

Educational Psychologists

These psychologists study how people learn and the educational process. This might involve developing instructional strategies and teaching techniques. Some educational psychologists study giftedness or learning disabilities.

This type of psychologist looks at how social, cognitive, and emotional factors impact the learning process. Some professionals in this field specialize in identifying and dealing with potential problems that might interfere with how children learn. Others specialize in researching the learning process, while some might instead focus on designing instructional materials that maximize learning outcomes.

Engineering Psychologists

Engineering psychologists are focused on discovering ways to enhance human abilities by improving machines, equipment, technology, and work environments. While some may focus on more basic research, this is most often a very applied field. Engineering psychologists work to solve real-world problems and develop solutions that can have practical applications in everyday life.

For example, professionals in this field may be tasked with developing technology that can be used in the healthcare industry to help patients recover faster. They also help design and refine products that people use each and every day including mobile phones and motor vehicles.

Environmental Psychologists

Environmental psychologists explore the relationship between people and their surroundings, including natural environments as well as created environments. This might involve working on conservation projects, helping to protect endangered species, and investigating ways to halt global warming. These professionals may work as researchers to study the impact that humans have on their environments. Some environmental psychologists also work in government to shape environmental policies.

Forensic Psychologists

Forensic psychologists focus on the relationship between psychology and the law. This might involve acting as a consultant in criminal cases or civil disputes, performing child custody evaluations, and offering psychotherapy services to crime victims.

Thanks to popular depictions in movies and television programs, interest in this field has grown tremendously in recent years. While these pop culture depictions often portray the forensic psychologist as a sleuth working to catch criminals, real forensic psychologists typically perform duties such as assessing juvenile and adult offenders for risk of recidivism, working with child witnesses, evaluating competency to stand trial, and offering professional testimony in court.

Health Psychologists

Health psychologists are centered on how psychology, biology, social groups, and behavior influence wellness, illness, and overall health. They work with clients to help maximize well-being and improve both mental and physical health.

Some professionals in this field perform clinical work where they assess and treat clients who are seeking assistance with a variety of health issues. This might involve providing psychotherapy, administering different psychological assessments, teaching people about different coping techniques, and educating clients about healthy behaviors.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

I-O psychologists study workplace behavior such as how to select the best employees for particular jobs and how to increase worker productivity. An I-O psychologist might utilize his or her knowledge of psychological principles to design assessments to screen candidates for specific job roles.

They may also be tasked with developing training programs for existing employees in order to increase knowledge, maximize efficiency, and minimize injury. I-O psychologists are also frequently asked to assess businesses on an organizational level and look for new ways to lower costs, improve efficiency, and increase employee satisfaction and retention.

Military Psychologists

Military psychologists practice psychology in a military setting. This can include such things as treating soldiers who have mental illness or emotional distress, researching different aspects of military life, and helping soldiers transition back to civilian life.

Some military psychologists focus on performing psychotherapy within different branches of the military, while others apply their knowledge of the human mind and behavior toward recruiting, combating stress, training, decision-making, and leadership.

Personality Psychologists

Personality psychologists study the different aspects of personality and how individual traits influence an individual's life and behavior. Researchers in the field of personality psychology are interested in a wide range of topics that can have applications in everyday life.

For example, they might study how personality forms and whether it can be changed. They might also investigate whether certain personality traits are tied to specific illnesses or disorders, how personality influences the decisions people make, and the many factors that contribute to the development of personality.

School Psychologists

School psychologists help children cope with emotional, academic, social, and behavior problems in school settings. Professionals who work in this field of psychology play a vital role in the educational system, typically collaborating with parents, teachers, students, and other school staff to ensure that the learning environment is healthy, safe, supportive, and productive.

Children who are struggling with some sort of issue, whether it is behavioral, emotional, or academic in nature, can work with a school psychologist to come up with an effective plan to deal with the difficulty. School psychologists provide direct intervention or behavioral management when needed, or may simply offer support and advice to students who need someone to talk to.

Social Psychologists

Social psychologists study the behavior of groups including how people behave in social settings and how groups influence individual behavior. A social psychologist might investigate a wide range of topics including attitudes, prejudice, communication, interpersonal relationships, aggression, and persuasion.

For some professionals, this largely involves conducting basic research designed to add to our understanding of social behavior. In other cases, social psychologists utilize their skills and knowledge to influence human behavior in order to foster healthier and more productive groups.

As you can see from these brief descriptions, there are many types of psychology and psychologists that focus on a wide variety of human behaviors. If you are considering a career in psychology, try out our quiz to find out what psychology career option is the best fit for you.

Sources:

American Psychological Association. Environmental Psychology Makes a Better World.

Greenberg, G. Comparative Psychology and Ethology. The Behavioral Neuroscientist and Comparative Psychologist. American Psychological Association. 2010.

Society for Community Research and Action. What Is Community Psychology? 2017.

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