What Are The Specialty Fields in Psychology?

fields of psychology

Prospective graduate students must know the many different specialty fields in psychology to pick the right degree. Psychology studies a wide variety of phenomena related to human and animal behavior. Areas of psychology devise unique methods and techniques to improve the well-being of all living things. Since there’s so much variance between psychology fields, nearly everyone can find a suitable specialization match. Choosing a concentration is the first step of receiving master’s (M.A. or M.S.) and doctoral (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) degrees in psychology. As of June 2020, the American Psychological Association (APA) has officially recognized 17 professional psychology specialties. This article will introduce a wide array of psychology specializations in the U.S.

Related resource: Top 20 Most Innovative Psychology Degree Programs At Small Colleges in the U.S.

1. Clinical Neuropsychology

Clinical neuropsychology is a psychological sub-field where clinicians correlate links between the brain and behavior. Clinical neuropsychology seeks to explain how the central nervous system affects people’s actions. Clinical neuropsychologists are responsible for assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients of all ages with neurological challenges. Clinical neuropsychologists see patients with traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, autism, attention-deficit disorder, and more. Clinical neuropsychology strives to advance scientific understanding of the brain to successfully rehabilitate neural impairments.

2. Clinical Health Psychology

Clinical health psychology became an APA-approved specialty in 1997 to focus on promoting patient wellness. Clinical health psychology studies how learning, cognition, social interactions, emotions, and memory affect people’s health-related behaviors. Clinical health psychologists are responsible for helping patients improve mental and physical health. Clinical health psychologists address key issues like obesity, smoking, and alcohol abuse. Clinical health psychologists also educate diverse populations on ways to prevent or cope with chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and cancer.

3. Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is a specialty field in psychology that’s based on the 19th-century teachings of Austrian neurologist Dr. Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis is a unique method of treating disorders by addressing conflicts between the conscious and unconscious mind. Psychoanalysis is built on the idea that people’s repressed thoughts and feelings have an impact on their behaviors. Psychoanalysts access the unconscious mind with dream interpretations, inkblot tests, free association exercises, hypnosis, and more. Psychoanalysts aim to correct cycles of abnormal, maladaptive behaviors by healing hurts pent up in the unconscious.

4. School Psychology

School psychology is an educational sub-field that applies principles of clinical psychology and developmental psychology to improve learning in PreK-12 settings. School psychology studies the instructional processes teachers must use for developmentally appropriate curriculum. School psychologists are responsible for diagnosing and treating children or teens with disorders that interrupt education. School psychologists coordinate the mental and behavioral health services youth need to succeed. School psychologists are well-versed in childhood disorders like autism, anxiety, OCD, depression, conduct disorder, and ADHD. School psychology is also concerned with family and parenting practices.

5. Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is perhaps the biggest specialty that includes all mental health practitioners who treat mental illnesses across the lifespan. Clinical psychology has doctoral-trained, licensed therapists to deliver psychotherapy for patients who meet DSM-5 diagnostic criteria. Clinical psychologists use various approaches, such as behavioral therapy and aversion therapy, to minimize the symptoms of psychological disorders. Clinical psychologists help patients work towards pro-social behaviors, coping or adaptation, personal satisfaction, and an overall sense of well-being. Clinical psychologists differ from psychiatrists who must graduate from medical school to prescribe drug treatments.

You may also like: Ranking Top 40 Doctoral Programs in Clinical Psychology

6. Clinical Child Psychology

Clinical child psychology is another of the areas of psychology that studies the unique needs of humans under age 21. Clinical child psychology focuses on the developmental changes that occur throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence to young adulthood. Clinical child psychology even examines developmental benchmarks for fetuses in the womb. Clinical child psychologists treat kids with a variety of mental disabilities, behavioral disorders, and emotional disturbances. Clinical child psychologists also provide therapy for youth to better cope with life transitions, such as divorce, trauma, bullying, substance use, and puberty.

7. Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is a specialty recognized by the APA since 1998 to study the best therapeutic practices for resolving typical life stresses. Counseling psychology focuses more on everyday obstacles, such as job stress and skill deficits, than mental illness. Counseling psychologists guide individuals or groups through custom interventions to resolve bad living situations. Counseling psychologists utilize various processes, such as existential therapy and psychodynamic counseling, to help patients succeed. Counseling psychologists can aid in career development, trauma management, addiction rehab, retirement planning, workplace conflict resolution, and other avenues.

8. Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Industrial/organizational psychology is a fast-growing specialty that applies psychological principles to the workplace. Industrial/organizational psychology focuses on evidence-based tactics to improve overall work climates. Industrial/organizational psychology links with human resources to ensure the effective management of productive, satisfied employees. Industrial/organizational psychologists research solutions to common workplace issues, including harassment, discrimination, low motivation, gossip, and poor job performance. Industrial-organizational psychologists are often business consultants who advise executives on ways to boost employee engagement and fix colleague conflicts that hurt profits. Industrial/organizational psychology is concerned with protecting employee mental health too.

9. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology

Behavioral and cognitive psychology is a dual sub-field that connects people’s emotional thinking patterns to their problematic behaviors. Behavioral and cognitive psychology is related to applied behavior analysis to positively reinforce socially acceptable behaviors. Behavioral and cognitive psychologists have an experimental-clinical approach to conduct research and apply findings in therapeutic means. Behavioral and cognitive psychologists can examine wide-ranging disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and bulimia. Behavioral and cognitive psychologists work to promote pro-social behaviors to replace negative actions as well as irrational, distorted thoughts.

10. Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is an APA-recognized specialty acknowledged in 2001 to apply psychological principles in the criminal justice system. Forensic psychology is the sub-field where behavioral and cognitive research meld with legal theory. Forensic psychology plays a pivotal role in America’s courts during civil and criminal litigation. Forensic psychologists are trusted by judges for expert testimony on an accused offender’s mental state. Forensic psychologists run defendant psychological evaluations, plan rehabilitation treatment in person, and assist police work with criminal profiling. Forensic psychologists also research topics like jury selection and courtroom dynamics.

11. Couple and Family Psychology

areas of psychology

Couple and family psychology is the discipline that studies individual human behavior in the broader context of relationships. Couple and family psychology advances science’s understanding of systemic relational systems in marriages and households. Couple and family psychology aims to intervene during relational conflicts to strengthen social bonds. Couple and family psychologists conduct group therapy sessions to hash out behavioral and emotional issues that are breaking apart relatives. Couple and family psychologists counsel people with dating, marital, or parenting issues, including infidelity, verbal abuse, domestic violence, and child neglect.

12. Geropsychology

Geropsychology is an interdisciplinary specialty that centers on the unique needs of older adults in the last human developmental stages. Geropsychology uses the principles of psychology, sociology, biology, and even nursing to study factors associated with aging. Geropsychology promotes scientific research on senior citizens who are at least 60 years old to assuage later life issues. Geropsychologists apply research findings to help elderly patients maximize their golden years. Geropsychologists plan interventions to address aging-related problems, including dementia, arthritis, insomnia, and terminal illness. Geropsychologists also assist families with relieving the caregiving strain.

13. Police and Public Safety Psychology

Police and public safety psychology is a relatively new specialty recognized in 2013 to apply behavioral theories in the law enforcement sector. Police and public safety psychology is committed to helping personnel carry out essential societal functions for conformity to our laws. Police and public safety psychologists work in these government agencies to better working conditions for cops. Police and public safety psychologists pose evidence-based methods for officers to deal with their job’s trauma. Police and public safety psychologists strive to develop more resilient law enforcement officials who function ethically.

14. Sleep Psychology

Sleep psychology is a clinical sub-field that utilizes psychological science to treat patient conditions that disrupt sleep patterns. Sleep psychology studies the physiology of sleep to study problematic bedtime behaviors and test effective treatments. Sleep psychologists are clinicians who conduct sleep studies to observe patients who while they’re not awake. Sleep psychologists are trained to address sleep-related difficulties, including insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, bedwetting, restless leg syndrome, and parasomnia. Sleep psychologists look for underlying cognitive or emotional factors that contribute to patients’ disordered rest.

15. Rehabilitation Psychology

Rehabilitation psychology has been an APA-recognized specialty since 2015 to study the recovery process after debilitating injuries or illnesses. Rehabilitation psychology is focused on promoting positive adaptations for recovering patients to cope with their new normal. Rehabilitation psychologists frequently treat patients after strokes, TBIs, heart attacks, amputations, paralysis, and third-degree burns. Rehabilitation psychologists also help patients with life-altering diagnoses, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Rehabilitation psychologists give patients the strength to adjust to living with severe medical conditions. Rehabilitation psychologists also advocate for disability-related protections under the law.

16. Addiction Psychology

Addiction Psychology is another of the clinical areas of psychology that seeks to successfully treat substance abuse disorders. Addiction psychology develops evidence-based rehabilitation methods to break the cycles of drug and alcohol use. Addiction psychology has the goal of preventing deadly overdoses by withdrawing patients’ bodies off harmful drugs like heroin, oxycodone, cocaine, meth, and ecstasy. Addiction psychologists have in-depth knowledge about how substances affect brain mechanisms and restructure the “pleasure center.” Addiction psychologists develop specialized treatment plans to stop drug dependence and prevent recovery relapses. Addiction psychologists are also qualified to treat co-occurring disorders.

17. Sports Psychology

Sports psychology is an up-and-coming specialization that shines a spotlight on the psychological factors that influence athletic performance. Sports psychology is a scientist-practitioner field where researchers apply their findings to advance the well-being of athletes. Sports psychologists consult with individuals or teams at all levels from youth to professional sports. Sports psychologists counsel athletes through difficult situations, including identity crises, burnout, injuries, and loss of self-esteem. Sports psychologists perform cognitive and behavioral skills training to teach strategies like stress management or attention. Sports psychologists also assist coaches with exercise planning and team-building plans.

Related resource: Ranking Top 25 Graduate Sports Psychology Degree Programs

18. Biofeedback and Applied Psychophysiology

Biofeedback and applied psychophysiology is the APA’s newest specialty recognized in 2019 to study techniques for controlling bodily functions. Biofeedback entails using electrical sensors to receive physiological data and learn how to direct involuntary body activities. Biofeedback technology measures vital signs, including heart rhythm, breathing rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. Biofeedback and applied psychophysiologists use this relaxation tactic to reduce patients’ stress response to certain stimuli. Biofeedback and applied psychophysiology aids clinical care by teaching patients valuable self-regulation tools.

Interested in one of these different specialty fields in psychology? Becoming a psychologist requires attending graduate school for at least a master’s degree. Master’s-level practitioners can practice in some psychology areas, such as forensic and industrial psychology. However, the majority of psychologists receive the highest level of academic education for a doctorate. Whether a Ph.D. or Psy.D., doctoral degrees require 90 or more semester credits of graduate courses after a bachelor’s degree. The total timeline to a psychology doctorate typically spans from eight to 12 years. Choosing a doctoral program that’s accredited by the American Psychological Association is best. Accredited doctorates have high-quality curricula with both specialized fieldwork and hands-on research for a dissertation. After graduation, aspiring psychologists must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that now’s an excellent time to pick from the psychology specializations. During the 2018-2028 decade, the employment of psychologists will increase to 207,800 nationwide. Much faster-than-average psychology job growth of 14 percent will create 26,100 new doctoral-level jobs. Among the highest growth areas are rehabilitation, industrial, counseling, school, clinical, and addiction psychology. Psychologists receive an average annual salary of $87,450, which equals $42.04 per hour. Income in psychological specialties ranges from $46,100 to $197,700 per year though. Students interested in a psychology degree have the opportunity to study one or more of the intriguing areas above. Start researching graduate training programs if any of these 18 specialty fields in psychology speak to your interests.