Psychology is a broad field of study applicable to every part of human life. This gives budding psychologists a number of specialties to pursue. In fact, it seems as if there is a subfield for every interest. We believe it is never too early to consider your academic and professional options. Listed below are some types of psychologists practicing their craft today and short descriptions of each. This is a great starting point for further investigation of professional psychology careers, but remember, you are not limited to the subfields on this list.
What Is a Psychologist?
While most of us think immediately of a therapist when we picture a psychologist, this is only one aspect of the field. Psychology is the study of the human mind, how it works, and how it influences behavior. Psychologists specialize in more than personal therapy. These professionals work with individuals, businesses, and other organizations focusing on mental health, but also employee selection, consumer behavior, government policies, learning disabilities, group behavior, and more.
Is There a Need for Psychologists?
As mental health becomes less stigmatized, and the use of psychology in such diverse fields as cross-cultural psychology and consumer behavior continues to become more recognized, the need for psychologists is increasing.
How to Become a Psychologist
First, major in Psychology in college. All Psychology students study the breadth of the field, to begin with, with more specialization possible as you progress. There are different requirements for each of the types of psychologists out there, but most require at least a Master’s degree after college. Investigate the field you want to pursue for more detail.
Types of Psychologists
Aviation psychologists work on flight crew behavior, airline safety, design training equipment, and use psychological techniques such as tests and interviews in-flight crew selection. The high-pressure work of piloting an airplane requires stable candidates with excellent coping skills, for example. Engineers often work with aviation psychologists to design airplane cabins and flight decks.
Biopsychologists, also known as biological psychologists or physiological psychologists, work on human behavior and the brain. These psychologists look to the neural root of human behaviors to understand the impact of biology on human actions, thoughts, and feelings. Biopsychologists also study the impact of brain injury and disease on behavior, which can lead to a new treatment, management, and prevention approaches.
Clinical psychologists are one of the most commonly encountered types of psychologists because they work in all areas of mental health. They work directly with people with mental illnesses and psychological conditions. In addition to diagnosing, clinical psychologists offer psychotherapy and overall treatment plans. Some specialize in particular areas, such as adult mental health or substance abuse issues.
Cognitive psychologists study thinking itself, including the way the brain handles and uses information, from learning to memory to problem-solving to language. These mental health professionals may work with patients or engage in research. They often concentrate on subjects like language development or learning disabilities. Cognitive psychologists work in many healthcare settings and can offer practical approaches to improve decision making, enhance memory, or improve learning.
While many types of psychologists work directly with patients, community psychologists work on broader social and health issues affecting communities. They work with the public on education and prevention that will bring positive changes through action.
Comparative psychologists work with both humans and animals to gain insight into human psychology. They study the behavior of different species to understand the differences and similarities between human and animals. These professionals work from the basis that many aspects of psychology are universal across species, but not all. Pavlov’s famous experiment with dogs is just one example of comparative psychology research.
Consumer psychologists, also known as marketing psychologists, are one of the types of psychologists who work primarily with businesses. They use knowledge of consumer buying behavior, such as what gets consumers to make a purchase and how consumers respond to advertisement design, to improve marketing and design. They also research consumer emotions, decision-making, target demographics, and attitudes toward products and brands. They even create products to appeal to particular consumer groups.
Counseling psychologists, like clinical psychologists, work with individuals on mental health issues, such as stress, grief, substance abuse, depression, and related problems. These professionals may specialize, perhaps in behavioral problems or family counseling. Like clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists are licensed. Out of all the types of psychologists in the field, counseling psychologists are the most common.
Cross-cultural psychologists investigate the way different cultures influence human behavior. They look at the way human behavior can be different between cultures, or how it can be similar. Cross-cultural psychologists investigate the difference in parenting approaches in individualist and collectivist cultures, for example, and how those differences affect later behavior.
Developmental psychologists are concerned with the way humans develop, from birth until death. Many focus on one period of life, such as old age or early childhood. This group of psychologists may assess children for developmental delays, research adolescent issues, or work with individuals on coping with developmental issues. Psychologists who work in this subfield might also focus on moral understanding, personality, language acquisition, motor skills, or identity formation.
Educational psychologists are concerned directly with learning and education, focusing on how the learning process is affected by cognitive, emotional, and social factors. Applied work might include creating teaching and instructional strategies and materials. Research might focus on ADHD, gifted children, or the learning process.
Engineering psychologists work on enhancing human abilities through the work environment, technology, and equipment, such as healthcare equipment, cell phones, and cars. This is largely an applied field, where these professionals create practical solutions.
Environmental psychologists are concerned with people and their relationship with their surroundings, artificial or natural. Research in this subfield could include the human impact on the environment, while applied work might have an environmental psychologist shaping government policies.
Evolutionary psychologists investigate how psychological changes have affected human behavior during human evolution. This subfield holds that human psychological traits have adapted humans to survive over thousands of years.
Forensic psychologists work at the intersection of psychology and the law, which could include consulting on criminal or civil legal cases, providing therapy to crime victims, testifying in court, handling child custody evaluations, or assessing an offender’s risk of returning to crime. This subfield has become increasingly popular because of pop culture depictions of forensic psychologists; please note that these portrayals are inaccurate, and the reality is not so dramatic.
Health psychologists focus on the way psychology, behavior, and social groups influence health, from wellness to illness. Some professionals work directly with clients, through psychotherapy, coping skills, psychological assessment, and healthy behaviors. They focus on the whole person, considering behavior that might impact the medical problem, such as medication compliance, and the patient’s education, background, or economic status. Practitioners commonly work in medical settings.
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists largely work on business concerns, by researching behavior in the workplace, focusing on worker productivity, assessing employees, and training. They might create training programs to reduce injuries and increase efficiency. They also are employed to assess a business organizationally and suggest ways to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and increase employee retention.
Military psychologists work in military settings and can provide therapy for military members and helping discharged soldiers adjust to civilian living. Others use their psychological knowledge for recruiting, training, and leadership, or researching aspects of military life.
Neuropsychology considers the physical brain, both structure and function, as it relates to psychology and human behavior. A neuropsychologist might be called in if a patient has lesions in the brain to test the electrical activity in the brain or to assess whether a brain injury might cause behavioral problems.
Personality psychologists investigate personality and the traits that affect human behavior. This broad topic can have practical applications, such as research into changing one’s personality, investigations of personality traits that might connect to specific health problems, or how personality affects decision making.
School psychologists help school children cope with academic, social, emotional, and behavior problems at school. They provide support and advice to students and direct intervention when necessary. They can also help students create a plan to deal with their school difficulties. These professionals work with parents, teachers, and school staff to make sure that the school environment is supportive and safe.
Social psychologists investigate group behavior, including behavior in social environments and how individuals are influenced by groups. Other topics explored cover a broad range, from persuasion to prejudice. Social psychologists might use their knowledge to influence groups towards healthier behavior and productivity.
Studying psychology can be an exciting career path, with a multitude of possibilities and opportunities. If none of the types of psychologists listed above are quite what you want, just do some research. Somewhere in the psychology field, there is a place for you.