Top 25 Specialty Areas of Psychology

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psychologybannerBy Kristen Fescoe
Published August, 2015

While most people are familiar with the general field of psychology, the numerous specialty areas of psychology are much less known. The top 25 specialty areas and sub-fields of psychology careers listed here are only representative of an even broader array of sub-fields within the discipline. Some of the theories and methods associated with certain specialty areas have stood the test of time, with scientific evidence that the specialty area is effective at treating mental health issues. Others are newer theories that are still in their infancy. While some areas of psychology are meant to tackle a specific type of problem or issue, such as developmental psychologists working specifically with children, others can be applied to a range of circumstances. For example, if an individual is living with chronic depression, there are a number of specialty areas that can be applied to treat the depression and the underlying causes. It can sometimes take a degree of trial and error before the individual can find a treatment modality that works for them. This has created a degree of criticism in regards to the subjective nature of the field. However, some see this as one of the field of psychology’s greatest strengths. By having so many options, there are an almost infinite number of possible solutions to help improve the lives of those in need.

Top 25 Specialty Areas of Psychology

Behavioral Psychology

Sample Programs:

University of California – Los Angeles
Argosy University

The study and practice of Behavioral Psychology has been in existence for a number of years. The behavioral approach understands and explains behavior by way of observation. Under this assumption, it is believed that the environment is a strong contributor to human behavior, including various mental illnesses. Under the teachings of behavioral psychology, the primary focus in a therapeutic setting is to replace anti-social behaviors with more pro-social behaviors to minimize life struggles for the individual. The major types of behaviorism include:

Classical Behaviorism: The original theory of Behaviorism or Behavioral Psychology came from the widely known and respected Dr. John B. Watson. In his industry-changing book, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It” (often called the behaviorist manifesto), he outlined his behaviorist approach in psychology as “a purely objective experimental branch of natural science.”

Methodological Behaviorism: This unique type of behaviorism was founded in the notion that all types of psychological research are based largely on the observation of behaviors. This type of information may offer researchers potentially the most accurate information regarding an individual’s psychological make-up.

Radical Behaviorism: This more extreme type of behaviorism states that almost all human behavior can be explained by environmental factors. This extreme view ignores biological and cognitive influences. When you consider research that has found genetic factors, which contribute to disorders such as schizophrenia and depression, this side of behavioral psychology is much more scrutinized.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Master’s Degree
Potential Applications: Applied Behavioral Analysis, Behavioral Therapy to Treat Depressive Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, and many other psychological disorders
Possible Areas of Employment: Private Practice, Academia, Group Practice, Care Facilities, Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities, Hospitals

Biological Psychology

Sample Programs:

University of Michigan
University of Pittsburg

Biological Psychology highlights the biological causes that underlie behavior as well as the effects of evolution and genetics on humans. The idea behind this theory is that behavior and mental processes can be understood by investigating human physiology and anatomy. Biological psychologists focus their research largely on the brain and the nervous system. According to the biological approach, the unfolding of our self is the outcome of genetics and physiology. This approach is the sole theory in psychology that examines thoughts, feelings, and behaviors from a biologically based point of view. Many theorists in this area use the credo “all that is psychological is first physiological,” meaning that all cognitions, feelings and behavior have a biological cause. The biological perspective is important in the study of psychology in three ways:

  1. Comparative method: This method allows researchers a platform for study and comparison of humans and animals.
  2. Physiology: This part of Biological Psychology allows study into how the nervous system and hormones work, how the brain functions, how changes in structure and/or function can affect behavior.
  3. Investigation of inheritance: The final component of Biological Psychology allows study into what a person inherits from their parents.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Master’s Degree
Potential Applications: Investigating the communication between the brain, glands and muscles, as well as studying the cross-section between biology and psychology, between brain activity and mental states.
Possible Areas of Employment: Academia, Research

Clinical Psychology

Sample Programs:

University of North Carolina
University of Washington

The field of Clinical Psychology involves the combination of science, theories, and practice to help clinicians better understand, predict, and decrease maladjustment, disability, and discomfort while enhancing adjustment, regulation, and personal development. Clinical Psychology is among the specialty areas in psychology that also encompass many different types of therapeutic technique and theories. Within the greater field of Clinical Psychology, clinicians will commonly use a number of elements, which can include cognitive, emotional, biological, psychological, social, and behavioral contexts. Clinical Psychologists are highly trained in how to create and implement scientifically based professional knowledge and skills that help further psychology as a science and advance the professional application of psychology. Clinical Psychologists can be found in a number of places, including research, academia and supervision, program development and evaluation, consultation, public policy, professional practice, and other forums that improve psychological well-being in individuals, families, groups, and organizations. Their responsibilities range from prevention and early intervention of minor life crises to dealing with more severe and impacting issues such as mental health matters that may require further treatment. Clinical Psychologists generally work directly with individuals at all developmental levels (infants to older adults), as well as groups (families, patients of similar psychopathology, and organizations), using a wide range of assessments.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Clinical psychologists assess and treat a wide range of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders ranging from eating disorders to schizophrenia. Some clinical professionals specialize in specific problems such as phobias or depression. Others only work with specific population groups like children or the elderly.
Possible Areas of Employment: Private practice, mental health clinics, hospitals

Cognitive Psychology

Sample Programs:

Stanford University
Harvard University

Cognitive Psychology involves the study of how people perceive, how they think and how the memory system functions. There is a range of topics that fall within this broad scope, but some of the most relevant topics include the function of language, attention, memory and the processes that people use to make decisions and solve problems. The field focuses on the mental processing of information, including the specific functions of reasoning, problem solving, and memory. Cognitive psychologists are interested in the mental plans and thoughts that guide and cause behavior. A cognitive psychologist can work directly with clients who are dealing with a mental illness or other life crisis. They might work with people who have suffered a debilitating accident or illness. Their skill set can be useful in creating educational curriculum or designing software.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Areas such as perception, language, attention, memory, problem-solving, decision-making and judgment, and levels of intelligence
Possible Areas of Employment: Universities, government agencies, corporate businesses, private practice

Cognitive Behavioral Psychology

Sample Programs:

University of Chicago
The Beck Institute

Cognitive Behavioral Psychology is widely used method of psychology that works to solve existing problems and change anti-social thinking and behavior. Cognitive Behavioral Psychology (CBP) or Therapy (CBT) stems from behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and therapy based upon a combination of basic behavioral and cognitive principles. This modality combines two types of traditional therapy, beginning with the identification of the thoughts that underlie negative thinking and working toward unwanted behaviors. Many clinicians working with clients who suffer from anxiety and depression use a blend of cognitive and behavioral therapy. This technique recognizes that there may be behaviors that cannot be controlled through rational thought, they instead emerge based on prior conditioning from the environment and other types of stimuli. CBT is “problem focused” (used to deal with a specific issue) and “action oriented” (therapist works directly with the client to choose strategies to help address problems), or directive in its therapeutic approach. CBP or CBT theory differs from many more traditional theories like psychoanalysis. Behaviorists believe that psychiatric disorders involve a relationship between a feared stimulus and an avoidance response, resulting in a conditioned fear. Cognitive therapists believed that conscious thoughts could influence a person’s behavior inherently. In combination, the two theories create a treatment modality that embraces the best of both worlds.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Master’s Degree
Potential Applications: Treatment of depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses.
Possible Areas of Employment: Private practice, group practice, rehabilitation treatment facilities, mental health treatment facilities, hospitals

Correctional Psychology

Sample Programs:

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
Santa Clara University

The little known field of Correctional Psychology plays an important role within a correctional facility. Correctional Psychologists function as part of a collaborative team, working alongside caseworkers, attorneys and correctional facility staff members to change, reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors in incarcerated inmates. Through this collaboration, the psychologist works with other members of the team to create a safer environment for all inmates and staff in the correctional facility. When the Psychologist begins working with an inmate, they will use the interview technique, observe the client’s behavior and review their chart. The psychologist may have the inmate complete a survey or administer a psychological test to aid in the process of assessing and diagnosing. The Correctional Psychologist may also interview family members or others involved in their life. After all necessary data has been collected, the psychologist will review and evaluate the findings. From this information the Correctional Psychologist uses professional training and skills to identify clinical disorders and make a formal diagnosis. After a diagnosis is in place, the correctional psychologist will develop an appropriate treatment plan. This is often done by working with a group of professionals, such as doctors, caseworkers from the legal system, and other professionals from the client’s community. One of the most important responsibilities of a Correctional Psychologist is to provide counseling to clients after the treatment plan has been formulated.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Minimizing anti-social acts of inmates, reducing recidivism rates upon release, treatment of mental illnesses of inmates
Possible Areas of Employment: Prisons, correctional facilities, psychiatric hospitals

Counseling Psychology

Sample Programs:

Stanford University
University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign

Counseling Psychology is one of the most widely known specialty areas within the greater field of psychology careers. This type of psychology emphasizes advancing positive personal and social functioning throughout the life span of an individual. Counseling Psychologists are involved with the emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns of people and groups of people. The practice of a Counseling Psychology career is made up of a wide array of culturally-sensitive practices that are designed to help individuals increase their general mental health, lessen distress and disturbances, resolve crises, and increase the pro-social function in the individual’s life. Counseling Psychologists attend to both normal developmental issues as well as problematic areas associated with physical, emotional, and mental disorders. This means that practitioners must use a multidisciplinary perspective in the many different practical areas of psychology. Therapeutic relationships used by Counseling Psychologists can be either brief or long-term, depending upon the needs of the client. These relationships and the subsequent therapies are problem-specific and goal-directed.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Doctoral Degree (some states allow licensure with a Master’s Degree)
Potential Applications: Counseling psychologists help clients deal with problems that occur in day-to-day life. For example, they help people to work through social and emotional problems, career setbacks and health concerns.
Possible Areas of Employment: Private practice, mental health clinics, hospitals

Developmental Psychology

Sample Programs:

University of Minnesota — Twin Cities
Pennsylvania State University— University Park

Developmental psychology is the empirical study of how and why human beings change over the course of their lifetime. The field was originally concerned solely with infants and children, however, over time it has expanded to include adolescence, adult development, aging, and the entire lifespan. This type of psychology involves the study of the ways in which people change and grow, which often involves the observation and study of physical, social, intellectual and emotional growth patterns that unfold as an individual matures. Developmental psychologists will often study specific age groups such as the elderly or young children. The field examines change across a broad range of topics including: motor skills, cognitive development, executive functions, moral understanding, language acquisition, social change, personality, motivation, relationships, emotional development, self-concept and identity formation.

Minimum Required Degree Level:
Potential Applications: Working with a specific population (the elderly, infants, youth) to help them function as effectively as possible.
Possible Areas of Employment: Universities, government agencies, assisted living facilities, healthcare facilities

Engineering Psychology

Sample Programs:

New Mexico State University
Tufts University

Engineering Psychology is an emerging specialty area of psychology that is still considered novel. This growing field is not widely researched and little data exists on salary rates and growth. As an increasing amount of focus is placed on the psychology behind consumerism, this field will likely explode over the coming years. A steadily increasing number of industries are realizing that by having psychologists participate in the design process, the final product can become more usable, cost-effective, practical and pleasing; making it more in demand by consumers. Products designed under the guidance of an engineering psychologist are typically better designed from the start and can help eliminate upset customers and expensive redesigns, increasing the company’s profitability. Engineering psychologists work in many different settings, including academia, governmental agencies and private businesses. Many of these professionals choose to specialize in sub-fields such as human factors, ergonomics, human-computer interaction or usability engineering. There are many ways in which these professionals can improve safety, productivity, and a company’s financial bottom line. Engineering psychologists have recently become a critical part of evaluating car companies, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and NASA.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Minimum of Master’s Degree with strong preference for a Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Working in product development to enhance a new or existing product
Possible Areas of Employment: Corporations, private businesses, governmental agencies

Experimental Psychology

Sample Programs:

Towson University

Experimental Psychology is a specialty area of the greater field of psychology that applies the scientific method to study human and animal thoughts, motivation and behavior. Many of the skills and theories taught at psychology programs throughout the country are also used by other specialty areas of psychology to conduct research on issues ranging from childhood development to the treatment of mental illnesses.
Experimental psychologists are employed in a variety of settings including colleges, universities, research centers, government and private businesses. Some Experimental Psychologists focus on teaching experimental methods to students, while others participate in active research on a variety of subjects including cognitive processes of humans, animal behavior, mental illnesses, neuroscience, personality and many other subject areas.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Minimum of Master’s Degree with a strong preference for a Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Using the empirical scientific method to investigate psychological phenomena
Possible Areas of Employment: Universities or colleges, research centers, government and private businesses

Forensic Psychology

Sample Programs:

New York University
University of Denver

One of the most popular specialty fields within the field of psychology is Forensic Psychology. Each year more and more students express an interest in this fascinating area of study. Despite the popularity in the movies and on television, many people do not understand what forensic psychologists really do and how to pursue a career in this field. Forensic Psychologists work at the intersection of psychology and the legal system. Division 41 of the American Psychological Association, which is the Council for the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS), outlines forensic psychology as: “The professional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology, when they are engaged regularly as experts and represent themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system.” This means that practitioners of forensic psychology apply traditional psychological principles to criminal investigation and the legal system. Forensic psychologists use their skills and training in psychology to understand elements of the legal system. Forensic psychologists can become an important part of both criminal and civil matters, such as custody disputes, insurance claims, and civil lawsuits. Other professionals in this field are employed in family courts and offer traditional psychotherapy, perform child custody evaluations, investigate reports of child abuse or neglect and evaluate visitation risk assessments. Those employed by civil courts are responsible for assessing competency, provide psychological opinions and provide therapy to crime victims. Those professionals employed by criminal courts are responsible for conducting evaluations of mental competency, work with child or delicate witnesses and provide assessment of juvenile and adult offenders.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Minimum of Master’s Degree with a strong preference for a Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Field investigations, criminal profiling, courtroom testimony, report writing, correctional therapy
Possible Areas of Employment: Prisons, correctional facilities, law enforcement agencies, governmental agencies

Gerontology Psychology

Sample Programs:

University of Massachusetts

Gerontology Psychology or Geropsychology is another rapidly growing area of psychology. As the average age of the population continues to advance (largely due to the Baby Boom Generation reaching retirement), this area will likely continue to grow over the next ten years. The field of Geropsychology is an excellent option for psychologists who wish to pursue a psychology career that combines multidisciplinary work involving a wide range of issues. These may include depression, family relationships, anxiety, medical conditions, diminished mental capacity, retirement, changes in sexuality, facing possible poverty and many others. Professionals choosing a career in this field have the benefit of a variety of career options and places to work. Professional Geropsychology is an area of psychology that applies the information and techniques of general psychology to understanding and supporting older persons and their families to help them increase overall well-being, overcome obstacles they are facing and achieve their highest potential during the later stages of life. This field involves the large diversity among older adults, the complicated ethical issues that involve geriatric practice and the need for interdisciplinary models of care. The specialty of professional geropsychology addresses many biopsychosocial problems encountered by older adults and their families, including:

  • Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Dementia and related behavioral/lifestyle changes
  • Changes in decision-making or everyday living abilities
  • Coping with and managing chronic illness
  • Behavioral health concerns such as insomnia, pain
  • Grief and loss
  • Family caregiving strains
  • Adjustment to aging-related stresses including marital/family conflict, changing roles
  • End-of-life care

Minimum Required Degree Level: Minimum of Master’s Degree with a strong preference for a Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Treating mental health disorders, grief counseling, end of life care and planning
Possible Areas of Employment: Private practice, long-term care facility, elderly care facilities

Health Psychology

Sample Programs:

Virginia Commonwealth University
Northcentral University

Health psychology is a specialty area of psychology where highly skilled clinicians study the ways in which health and illness is affected by biological, social and psychological factors. Health Psychologists study issues such as how patients deal with illness, pain management and how to change poor health habits. They often work with medical doctors to provide patients with total health care. This growing area of psychology is gaining ground largely due to a push for alternative methods of health management. By understanding that there is often a psychological element to health issues or crises, these issues can be better managed by using psychological techniques. Health psychologists can also be an intregal part of healthcare teams for individuals who are battling long term, chronic diseases, acute and life-threatening illnesses or other severe health issues.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Minimum of Master’s Degree with a strong preference for a Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Work within the medical system to help patients manage the psychological elements of physical ailments
Possible Areas of Employment: Hospitals, medical clinics, private consulting

Humanistic Psychology

Sample Programs:

Saybrook University
Michigan School of Professional Psychology

Humanistic Psychology is a methodology that believes that the study of human strengths should be used to develop psychotherapy techniques that can improve how an individual functions. Psychologists and counselors who work within the field of Humanistic Psychology fill a wide range of positions as social workers, counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists. Because humanistic psychology is an intellectual theory, practitioners within this area use the theory as an occupational specialty within another area of psychology, such as counseling psychology or marriage and family psychology. Humanistic psychology emphasize the distinctiveness of each individual person and their ability and responsibility to make choices in their own life. Humanistic psychologists believe that an individual’s free will and understanding the meaning of events in an individual’s life are the most important things to study in order to help improve their situation and overcome obstacles.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Minimum of Master’s Degree with a strong preference for a Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Psychotherapy, treatment of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, marriage and family therapy
Possible Areas of Employment: There are a wide range of employment possibilities as this type of treatment can be applied to almost all psychological treatment options

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Sample Programs:

LaSalle University
Bowling Green State University

The specialty field of psychology seeing the most significant rise is the area of Industrial/Organizational Psychology (often referred to simply as I/O psychology). This field is characterized by the scientific study of human behavior within organizations and the work place. I/O psychology focuses on developing philosophies for individual, group and organizational behavior and using this information to solve problems in the work place. Understanding the science of behavior in the workplace requires detailed understanding of organizational development, attitudes, career development, decision theory, human performance and human factors, consumer behavior, small group theory and process, criterion theory and development, job and task analysis and individual assessment. This unique area of psychology requires an understanding of specific ethical considerations as well as legal, administrative, and case law and executive orders that relate to activities in the workplace. I/O Psychologists are scientist-practitioners with proficiency in the design, execution and analysis of research in psychology. They apply these findings to help address human and organizational problems in the context of organized work. I/O Psychologists are also responsible for:

  • Identify training and development needs
  • Design and optimize job and work and quality of work life
  • Design and apply training programs and evaluate their effectiveness
  • Coach employees
  • Develop criteria to evaluate performance of individuals and organizations
  • Assess consumer preferences, customer satisfaction and market strategies

Minimum Required Degree Level: Master’s Degree
Potential Applications: Apply psychological research to problems in the workplace. They tend to be expert communicators who can analyze business hierarchies to determine the weak points in an organization, such as lack of productivity or a misuse of company resources.
Possible Areas of Employment: Corporate businesses, government agencies, universities, private consulting

Marriage and Family Psychology

Sample Programs:

Seton Hall University
Antioch University

Marriage and Family Psychology is yet another rising area within the field of psychology (the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a ten year rise of 29 percent). This field is closely related to mental health counseling in that many similar treatment methods are used in both types of therapy and intervention. Marriage and Family Psychologists or Therapists are mental health professionals with a minimum of a Master’s Degree and typically two years of supervised clinical experience. Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs or Family Therapists) are trained to assess, diagnose and treat mental health and substance abuse problems in an individual or small group. The field of family therapy is considered one of the core mental health disciplines with roots in the notion that mental illness and family difficulties are best addressed as a family unit. In order to become a licensed MFT, a professional must be trained in traditional psychotherapy as well as family systems. These skilled therapists must understand the family’s challenges and patterns of interactions that might cause problems to arise. MFTs often treat individuals, but they may also offer couples, family and group therapy as needed.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Master’s Degree
Potential Applications: Working with individuals, couples and families to deal with those issues that affect the family system
Possible Areas of Employment: Private practice and hospitals

Military Psychology

Sample Programs:

Tennessee State University

Predicted Rise: 53%

The specialty area of Military Psychology is a branch of psychology with a focus on military personnel and their families. This area is expected to see tremendous growth as Americans have remained engaged in active military combat for a number of years. Some of the responsibilities of a Military Psychologist include performing psychiatric evaluations, assessing and treating mental and emotional disorders, and providing counseling services to service members and their families. In the United States, each branch of the military employs psychologists who work to treat active-duty and retired military personnel. Job titles of different types of military psychologists might include:

  • Army Mental Health Specialist
  • Army Psychologist
  • Navy Psychologist
  • Marine Psychologist
  • Air Force Psychologist

Professionals who specialize in Military Psychology become experts in the responsibilities they conduct, depending on their area of specialization. Some Military Psychologists conduct research, perform tests, or treat mental and emotional disorders. Research in Military Psychology is typically designed with goal of finding out which personality traits are best for certain military positions. Research may also focus on military-specific issues such as how to most effectively treat some common mental ailments in the military, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is the responsibility of Military Psychologists to conduct mental health evaluations before recruits are allowed to enlist in the service. These interviews help ensure that new recruits are mentally and emotionally stable enough to handle the stress of being in the military. Clinical and counseling Military Psychologists are responsible for assessing, diagnosing, and treating military personnel who may be battling a mental or emotional disorder. This could include trying to decipher the extent of a soldier’s emotional trauma, and recommending a course of treatment. Some of the more common problems that plague military personnel may include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, grief, anxiety, and sleep issues.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Conduct research, perform tests, or treat mental and emotional disorders among enlisted men and women.
Possible Areas of Employment: Military facilities, hospitals

Neuropsychology

Sample Programs:

Loyola University
Drexel University

Neuropsychology involves the study of the relationship between the brain and behavior. Neuropsychologists often work with patients who have sustained a traumatic brain injury. This branch of psychology is concerned with how the brain and the nervous system affect an individual’s thoughts and behaviors. Professionals within this area of psychology focus on how injuries or illnesses of the brain affect cognitive functions and behaviors. A Neuropsychologist must hold an advanced degree in clinical psychology (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), and has completed a supervised clinical internship as well as specialized post-doctoral training in this field. Neuropsychology involves the application of standardized tests and measures in the study of brain behavior relationships. Neuropsychological tests are used to evaluate cognitive deficits, while also being a part of the management, treatment and rehabilitation of cognitively impaired patients. Another part of Neuropsychology is the development of models and methodologies to be used in understanding normal and abnormal brain function.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Investigating the relationship between the brain and behavior, working with individuals who have sustained traumatic brain injuries, working with individuals who were born with neurological defects
Possible Areas of Employment: Hospitals, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation facilities, academia, research labs

Postmodernism

Sample Programs:

Pacifica Graduate Institute

One of the less pursued specialty areas of psychology is postmodernism. This area of psychology is concerned with questioning the core of psychological science and methods by challenging the approach and the focus on the individual. Postmodern psychologists believe that in order to understand human cognition and reason, it is necessary to look at the social and shared processes involved in thinking and reasoning. These professionals have created the argument that people in powerful positions have too much input into what is “real” and “true” in the field of psychology. As a group of professionals they advocate for a more “social constructionist” view of reality, where the concepts of “reality” and “truth” are constructed by the greater society, not a select few. This type of psychology is important because it reminds all psychological professionals that the field of psychology is constantly evolving.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Studying the social situations that effect the way people think and feel
Possible Areas of Employment: Academia, research, private practice

Recreational Psychology

Sample Programs:

Illinois State University
Temple University

Another area of psychology that is experiencing a great deal of job growth is the field of Recreational Psychology or Recreational Therapy. Recreational therapists are responsible for the planning, direction, and coordination of recreationally based treatment programs for individuals with mental illness, disability, injury, or other illness. These highly trained clinicians employ a range of different treatment modalities, including arts and crafts, games, drama, poetry, music, dance, sports and “community reintegration” field trips. The goal of these treatment modalities is to help preserve or enhance a client’s physical, social, and emotional well-being. Recreational therapists are responsible for all or some of the following:

  • Evaluate client’s specific needs through observations, reviewing medical records, conducting psychological testing, and communicating with other healthcare professionals, family members and the individual
  • Generate treatment plans and agendas that are in keeping with the patients’ specific needs and interests
  • Design and implement interventions to avoid injury to a patient
  • Engage clients in therapeutic activities, such as those listed above
  • Assist the client in learning appropriate social skills they will need to become or remain independent
  • Teach clients about the ways they can cope with anxiety or depression
  • Record and investigate a client’s progress or lack of progress
  • Evaluate interventions for effectiveness

Minimum Required Degree Level: Minimum of Master’s Degree with a strong preference for a Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Utilizing recreationally based treatment modalities to treat mental illness, disability, injury, or other illness
Possible Areas of Employment: Long-term care facilities, rehabilitation facilities, schools, hospitals

Rehabilitation Psychology

Sample Programs:

University of Wisconsin
UNC School of Medicine

The role of a Rehabilitation Psychologist or Rehabilitation Counselor is to work to help individuals with emotional and physical disabilities live a more independent lifestyle. They work directly with clients to minimize the personal, social, and professional effects that a disability can have on employment or independent living. Rehabilitation counselors are responsible for the following:

  • Offer individual and group counseling to help clients adjust to their disability
  • Investigate each client’s abilities, interests, experience, skills, health, and education
  • Develop a treatment plan by working with other professionals, such as doctors, therapists, and psychologists
  • Create rehabilitation or treatment plans based on clients’ values, strengths, limitations, and goals
  • Arrange for clients to obtain necessary medical and social services
  • Help potential employers understand the needs and abilities of people with disabilities
  • Help clients to create strategies to develop their strengths and adjust to their limitations
  • Locate resources that help clients live and work more independently
  • Monitor clients’ progress and adjust the rehabilitation or treatment plan as necessary
  • Advocate for the rights of people with disabilities to live in the community and work in the job of their choice

Rehabilitation counselors help those with physical, mental, emotional, or social disabilities in a wide variety of ways. Some counselors work with students to implement strategies to most efficiently advance from school to work. Others help veterans cope with the mental or physical effects of their military service.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Master’s Degree
Potential Applications: Working with people with physical, mental, emotional, or social disabilities to aid them in securing employment, housing and social support
Possible Areas of Employment: Long-term care facilities, day programs, private practice, group practice, hospitals, schools

School Psychology

Sample Programs:

Rider University
Towson University

School Psychologists are skilled professional psychologists who work as a part of a collaborative school team in order to support students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach. They are responsible for employing training in mental health, learning, and behavior, to assist students become successful academically, socially, behaviorally and emotionally. School Psychologists can work with families, teachers, school administrators, and other educational professionals to foster safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that enhance the connections between home, school, and the community. Most School Psychologists are employed in K-12 public schools. In addition to these tasks, they are responsible for providing services in a variety of other settings, including:

  • Data collection and analysis
  • Assessment
  • Progress monitoring
  • School-wide practices to promote learning
  • Resilience and risk factors
  • Consultation and collaboration
  • Academic/learning interventions
  • Mental health interventions
  • Behavioral interventions

School Psychologists are also qualified to provide direct interventions to students, consult with teachers, families, and other school-employed mental health professionals (such as school counselors, school social workers) to improve support policies, work with academic administrators to improve school-wide practices and policies, and collaborate with community providers to coordinate needed services.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Master’s Degree
Potential Applications: Work to promote healthy learning environments that meet the emotional, social and academic needs of children by working with parents, teachers and students
Possible Areas of Employment: Schools, universities

Social Psychology

Sample Programs:

Tulane University
Loyola University

The sub-field of social psychology involves the empirical study of how an individual’s cognitions, feelings, and behaviors are effected by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. By stating that others’ presence may be imagined or implied is meant to suggest that humans have a tendency to experience social influence even when no other people are present, such as when watching television, or following internalized cultural norms. Social Psychologists are responsible for explaining the ways in which human behavior is a direct result of an interaction of mental states and immediate social situations. They are the professionals in psychology who study the factors that influence individuals to behave in certain ways while in the presence of others. They will then investigate the conditions where certain behavior and feelings occur or reoccur. It is the Social Psychologist’s job to understand the way feelings, thoughts, beliefs, intentions and goals are constructed and how various psychological factors influence our interactions with others.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Minimum of Master’s Degree with a strong preference for a Doctoral Degree
Potential Applications: Understand how social interactions affect the way individuals think and feel
Possible Areas of Employment: Research, academia, private practice, group practice, hospitals

Sports Psychology

Sample Programs:

Purdue University
JFK University

Another novel area of psychology is the field of Sports Psychology. The aim of this area is to fill the “hole” in competitive sports that cannot be filled by a coach (who focuses on the physical side of sport). It is the Sports Psychologist who focuses on an athlete’s mindset and factors that influence their mindset. Sport Psychologists work with athletes of all levels to identify, refine and achieve their athletic goals. In some cases, athletes seek out help from a Sport Psychologist or other exercise and Sport Psychology professional when they have a problem they cannot overcome by working alone or with a coach. Some common examples include anxiety or lost focus during competition. Another example might be difficulty communicating effectively with teammates, keeping their temper under control or having the motivation needed to complete exercise requirements. Sport Psychologists can also be helpful even when the athlete is not experiencing a problem. Some of the many responsibilities of Sport Psychologists include:

  • Enhancing Performance – By using various mental strategies, such as visualization, self-talk and relaxation techniques, Sport Psychologists can help athletes overcome difficulties and achieve their full potential.
  • Cope With the Pressures of Competition – Athletes of all level can experience anxiety, stress and difficulty when in the limelight of competition. Sport Psychologists can help athletes deal with pressure from parents, coaches and even their own personal expectations.
  • Recovering From an Injury – In the wake of a sports injury, many athletes may need assistance working through lingering pain, obeying physical therapy regimens or adjusting to the changes in playing time.
  • Keep up an exercise program – There are times when dedicated athletes who would like to exercise regularly may be faced with unexpected obstacles to fulfilling this goal. Sport psychologists can help individuals increase their motivation and tackle any complications blocking the way to success.
  • Enjoy sports – An increasing number of youth sports organizations are hiring a Sport Psychologist to train coaches and volunteers about how to help kids enjoy sports as well as how to promote healthy self-esteem in young athletes of all skill levels.

Sports Psychology is often present in non-athletic settings. Many of the same strategies that Sport Psychologists employ to train athletes, such as relaxation techniques, mental rehearsals and cognitive restructuring, are useful in the workplace and other applied settings.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Master’s Degree
Potential Applications: Apply psychological principles to motivate athletes and improve their performance
Possible Areas of Employment: Athletics, universities, private practice

Substance Abuse Treatment Psychology

Sample Programs:

University of North Carolina – Wilmington
University of Florida

The field of Substance Abuse Treatment Psychology involves the treatment of individuals who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders or another form of addiction. Substance Abuse Treatment Professionals deliver treatment to clients and support the client as they recover from addiction and maintain sobriety. Substance Abuse Counselors are typically responsible for the following:

  • Assess and evaluate overall mental and physical health status, addiction or problem behavior, and readiness to receive treatment
  • Develop treatment goals and plans
  • Review and recommend treatment options to clients and their families
  • Assist clients in developing the skills and behaviors required to recover from their addiction or modify their behavior
  • Work with clients to identify behaviors or situations that interfere with their recovery
  • Educate families about addiction and help them develop strategies to cope with those problems
  • Refer clients to other resources and services
  • Conduct outreach programs to help people identify the signs of addiction and other destructive behavior, as well as steps to take to avoid such behavior

Substance Abuse Counselors can work directly with clients individually as well as conduct group therapeutic sessions. Many implement the theory of traditional 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with life stressors to further help them recover, as well as how to rebuild professional relationships to reestablish their career.

Minimum Required Degree Level: Bachelor’s Degree
Potential Applications: Working with individuals who are battling a substance abuse or other addiction
Possible Areas of Employment: Rehabilitation facilities, substance abuse treatment facilities, hospitals, private practice

Psychology Sub-Fields and Specialty Areas

With such a wide range of topics within the greater area of psychology, one can begin to see how much breadth and depth this field encompasses. When we think of the use of psychology to help better the lives of people in need, we typically think of the narrow scope of counseling psychology. We think of a person who suffers from a mental disorder going to the office of a psychologist and using talk therapy to work on their “issues.” What many people do not realize is that psychology is made of a wide range of specialty areas and sub-fields that can be applied to a range of diagnoses, issues, social groups and many other areas. Psychology is applicable to both mentally ill as well as mentally fit populations. Psychological research is being conducted on a wide range of areas that can be applied to far reaching industries and issues. Health and Biological Psychologists are working to improve physical and mental health of those who need it. The field of psychology is a large and varied field that touches the lives of almost everyone.

Resources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook

Careers in Psychology: How to Become a Military Psychology

Divisions of the APA

About the Author

After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Rutgers University and then a Master of Science in Clinical and Forensic Psychology from Drexel University, Kristen began a career as a therapist at two prisons in Philadelphia. At the same time, she volunteered as a rape crisis counselor, also in Philadelphia. After a few years in the field, she accepted a teaching position at a local college where she currently teaches online psychology courses. Kristen began writing in college and still enjoys her work as a writer, editor, professor and mother. In addition to her work on specialty areas of psychology, check out her articles on other aspects of psychology.

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