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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. The term covers a broad range of disorders, from depression to obsession-compulsion to sexual deviation and many more. Counselors, clinical psychologists and psychotherapists often work directly in this field.

  • Biopsychology: Biopsychology is a field of psychology that analyzes how the brain and neurotransmitters influence our behaviors, thoughts and feelings. This field can be thought of as a combination of basic psychology and neuroscience.

  • Clinical Psychology: Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illness, abnormal behavior and psychiatric problems.

  • Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive psychology is the branch of psychology that studies mental processes including how people think, perceive, remember and learn. As part of the larger field of cognitive science, this branch of psychology is related to other disciplines including neuroscience, philosophy, and linguistics.

  • Comparative Psychology: Comparative psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the study of animal behavior. Modern research on animal behavior began with the work of Charles Darwin and Georges Romanes and has continued to grow into a multidisciplinary subject. Today, biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, ecologists, geneticists and many others contribute to the study of animal behavior.

  • Counseling Psychology: Counseling psychology focuses on providing therapeutic treatments to clients who experience a wide variety of symptoms. It is also one of the largest specialty areas within psychology. The Society of Counseling Psychology describes the field as " a psychological specialty [that] facilitates personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span with a focus on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental and organizational concerns."

  • Developmental Psychology: This field of psychology looks at development throughout the lifespan, from childhood to adulthood. The scientific study of human development seeks to understand and explain how and why people change throughout life. This includes all aspects of human growth, including physical, emotional, intellectual, social, perceptual and personality development. Topics studied in this field include everything from prenatal development to Alzheimer's disease.

  • Educational Psychology: Educational psychology involves the study of how people learn, including topics such as student outcomes, the instructional process, individual differences in learning, gifted learners and learning disabilities.

  • 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: The field of health psychology is focused on promoting health as well as the prevention and treatment of disease and illness. Health psychologists also focus on understanding how people react, cope and recover from illness. Some health psychologists work to improve the health care system and the government's approach to health care policy.

  • Human Factors Psychology: Human factors is an area of psychology that focuses on a range of different topics, including ergonomics, workplace safety, human error, product design, human capability and human-computer interaction. In fact, the terms human factors and ergonomics are often used synonymously, with human factors being commonly used in the United States and ergonomics in Europe.

  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology: Industrial organizational psychology is a field of psychology that applies psychological theories and principles to organizations. Often referred to as I/O psychology, this field focuses on increasing workplace productivity and related issues such as the physical and mental well being of employees. Industrial organizational psychologists perform a wide variety of tasks, including studying worker attitudes and behavior, evaluating companies and conducting leadership training.

  • Personality Psychology: Personality psychology looks at the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behavior that make a person unique. Some of the best-known theories in psychology have originated in this field, including Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality and Erikson's theory of psychosocial development.

  • School Psychology: School psychology is a field that works within the educational system to help children with emotional, social and academic issues. The goal of school psychology is to collaborate with parents, teachers, and students to promote a healthy learning environment that focuses on the needs of children.

  • Social Psychology: Social psychology looks at a wide range of social topics, including group behavior, social perception, leadership, nonverbal behavior, conformity, aggression and prejudice. It is important to note that social psychology is not just about looking at social influences. Social perception and social interaction are also vital to understanding social behavior.

  • 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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