Overwhelmed by the many different subfields of psychology concentrations? You couldn’t be blamed – the American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes 53 separate divisions of psychology. This article will describe some of the most prominent areas, in hopes of helping as you choose a focus.
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Psychology is an ever-growing science, and to more easily grasp its breadth, it’s important to understand each psychology concentration may be broken down into two main categories: research, and practice. Research encompasses the study of humans and/or animals, while practice pertains to the application of that knowledge in real- world situations. Some subfields of psychology focus primarily on research or on practice; others include both categories as a focus (i.e., a scientist-practitioner model). In fact, one of psychology’s unique aspects is that it combines both research and practice to advance the field.
This subfield of psychology includes areas such as behavioral neuroscience, psychobiology and neuropsychology. Researchers in this subfield concentrate on the relationship between the brain and behavior. They may study how the brain and nervous system impact our thoughts, feeling and moods; a brain injury’s impact on the function of the body or emotions; or how an animal’s brain changes over time.
Clinical psychologists, who work in the largest specialty area in the field, apply psychological principles and scientific research to assess, diagnose and treat patients with mental, behavioral and emotional problems. These clinicians often work in private practices, but many also work in community centers or at universities and colleges as researchers, teachers and instructors.
This subfield’s focus is to help patients recognize their strengths and resources in order to cope with their problems. Counseling psychologists practice counseling/psychotherapy, teach and conduct research. Counseling psychologists study how problems and people differ or evolve across life stages. Counseling psychologists also investigate the influence of differences among people (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability status) on psychological well-being.
Cognitive and Perceptual Psychology
This area of psychology focuses on the study of human perception, thinking and memory. Cognitive and perceptual psychologists may focus on learning and how that influences the brain and behavior. Cognitive psychologists also study reasoning, judgment and decision-making. They generally work in research settings.
Developmental psychologists study the physical and cognitive development that occurs over the course of the human lifespan. These psychologists generally specialize in an area such as infant, child, adolescent or geriatric development, while others may study the effects of developmental delays.
Forensic psychologists apply psychological principles to legal issues. This may involve studying criminal behavior and treatments or working directly in the court system. Forensic psychologists often conduct evaluations, screen witnesses or provide testimony in court cases.
Psychologists in this field apply psychological principles to research on workplace issues such as productivity and behavior. Some psychologists in this field work in areas such as human factors, ergonomics and human-computer interaction.
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Social and Personality Psychology
Personality psychologists study the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings and behavior that make each person unique. These psychologists often work in academic settings as instructors or researchers. Social psychologists study social behaviors, including how individual self-image and behavior is impacted by interactions with others. These psychologists often conduct research in academic settings, but others work in such areas as advertising and government.
School psychologists work within the educational system to help children with emotional, social and academic issues. Those with this focus collaborate with teachers, parents and students to find solutions to academic, social and emotional problems. Most school psychologists work in elementary and secondary schools, but others work in private clinics, hospitals, state agencies and universities. Some go into private practice and serve as consultants, especially those with a doctoral degree in school psychology.
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Experimental psychologists study both human and nonhuman animals with respect to their abilities to detect what is happening in a particular environment and to acquire and maintain responses to what is happening. They tend to work in a laboratory setting, whether it is in an academic institution, or other areas such as manufacturing, engineering firms or even zoos.
Quantitative and Measurement Psychology: This area focuses on methods and techniques for designing experiments and analyzing psychological data. Some psychologists may develop new methods for performing analysis while others create research strategies to assess the effect of social or educational programs and psychological treatment. They may develop and evaluate mathematical models for psychological tests. They can also propose methods for evaluating the quality and fairness of the tests.
This is an area that helps athletes refine their concentration on goals, become more motivated and learn to deal with the anxiety or fear of failure that may accompany sports competition.
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