Psychology is one of the most fascinating fields of study — and it is also one of the most vast. If you are considering a career in psychology, you likely already know that there are dozens of sub-fields and specialties to consider, and the sooner you understand each of them, the sooner you can focus your studies and engage with information pertinent to your future practice. Thus, without further ado, here are the top 25 psychology specialties explained:
Behavioral psychologists believe that the environment influences human behavior. Thus, behavioral psychologists strive to address mental illness through observation and improvement of the environment. More radical behaviorists believe that environmental factors explain all human behavior, while other behaviorists allow biological and cognitive influences can have effects.
In contrast to behavioral psychology, biological psychology focuses on the biological causes of human behavior. Many biological psychologists study human evolution and genetics to understand how the brain and nervous system have changed through time. This is a large specialty that you will study during your bachelor’s degree program in psychology.
Clinical psychology is the most well-known psychology specialty. This field utilizes science, theories and practice to help clinicians understand how mental illnesses present and give them therapy ideas for effectively treating their patients.
One of the broadest specialties within psychology, cognitive psychology studies how people think, perceive and remember. Mental processing is exceedingly complex and poorly understood by modern science, so cognitive psychologists strive to clarify how language, attention, memory, decision-making and other cognitive processes work.
A method of treating mental illness, cognitive-behavioral psychology strives to interrupt and replace existing unwanted behaviors with healthier and more positive behaviors. With input from both behaviorists and cognitive psychologists, this field is relatively new and exceedingly promising.
An unpopular psychology specialty that is nonetheless especially important to society, correctional psychology studies the behaviors of those affected by the justice system. Psychologists in this field work as part of a team to eliminate unwanted behaviors within correctional facilities.
Another well-known psychology specialty, counseling psychology involves promoting mental and emotional wellness through psychology practice. Counseling psychologists work with all manner of patients, from those with behavioral or developmental disorders to those who are generally healthy.
Developmental psychologists study how the human mind changes over the course of a lifetime. Research in this field is often focused on children, who are developing rapidly and establishing behaviors and thought patterns they will use as adults, though adults can be the target of developmental research, as well.
Working in one of the newest psychology specialties, engineering psychologists help product developers improve their designs, making them more practical, pleasing and usable with the application of psychology knowledge.
Experimental psychology is the application of the scientific method to the field of psychology. Usually, experimental psychologists work with other psychologists to design, run and analyze experiments, which improves the accuracy of their findings.
Forensic psychology is the application of psychology to the justice system. Forensic psychologists can participate in criminal and civil lawsuits, helping one side better understand the psychological principles at play and evaluating mental competency of actors.
The population is aging, but psychologists hardly understand how advanced age impacts psychological processes. Gerontological psychology focuses on the behaviors of older members of society and strives to improve mental and emotional well-being into old age.
Health psychologists study how an individual’s psychological health impacts their physical health and wellness. Because many illnesses are significantly affected by psychological elements, this specialty might provide patients with additional techniques for managing their health.
One of the oldest psychology specialties, humanistic psychology is an intellectual theory that highlights the uniqueness of each individual. Psychologists working in this field understand the importance of the whole person when making diagnoses or treatment plans.
A growing psychology specialty, industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology studies human behavior within the workplace. Many I/O psychologists work for corporations intent on improving their physical spaces and corporate policies to improve productivity and morale amongst employees.
Marriage and Family Psychology
As the name suggests, this specialty focuses on assessing, diagnosing and treating problems that arise in small groups, most often amongst romantic couples or family units. Often, psychologists in this field are also experts in mental health and substance abuse psychology, as these are common factors impacting relationships.
Military psychologists are dedicated to studying and serving military personnel and their families. In the United States, each branch of the military employs psychologists who are specially trained to understand the unique rigors of that field of military service.
One of the most promising new fields of psychology, neuropsychology focuses on how the brain can affect human behavior. As imaging technology provides researchers with unprecedented access to living and functioning brains, psychologists could finally come to understand how the brain and the mind connect.
An older psychology specialty and thus one that is not particularly popular, postmodernism is concerned with how social processes affect thinking and reasoning. For example, postmodern psychologists might question how concepts like “reality” and “truth” are constructed by society.
Also called recreational therapy, this specialty encompasses the use of recreation, like arts and crafts, games, music, dance, sports and more, in the treatment of mental illness. Recreational psychologists might study the impact of different recreational activities or be responsible for planning and coordinating such activities for clients.
Rehabilitation psychologists assist those with emotional or behavioral disabilities gain more independence. Working directly with clients, psychologists in this specialty strive to find solutions that minimize the effects of certain disabilities to help build a satisfying lifestyle.
As part of a collaborative team providing various student services, school psychologists support education by helping students through academic, social, behavioral or emotional hardships. Most often, school psychologists are employed in K-12 public schools, though they can work at colleges and private institutions, as well.
Social psychology is the study of how the presence of others can impact an individual’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors. As a social species, humans are highly dependent on social interactions, but those interactions can affect mental health in interesting ways worthy of research.
Athletes attest that high performance in sports is as reliant on one’s mental health and clarity as one’s physical strength and prowess. Sports psychologists help athletes with their mental game by providing more effective strategies for coping with the stresses of high-level sports.
Substance Abuse Psychology
Slowly, society is recognizing and accepting that substance abuse and addiction are mental illnesses that require treatment, not criminal punishment. Substance abuse psychologists research these fascinating behaviors and deliver treatment to those struggling with physical and psychological dependence.