Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. The word “psychology” comes from the Greek words “psyche,” meaning mind or soul, and “logos,” meaning study.
As a social science, psychology encompasses a broad range of topics – from the inner workings of the brain and the role of genetics to the impact of the environment and social experiences on human thoughts, emotions, and actions.
There are many branches and subfields within psychology that focus on specific areas of study. Some psychologists work primarily as researchers and aim to expand our theoretical knowledge, while others work directly with clients or patients and focus on practical applications.
The many types of psychology share common goals of describing, understanding, predicting, and influencing behaviors and mental processes. Read on to know more!
Foundations of Psychology
Several core branches represent the traditional foundations of modern psychological study and research methods.
Experimental psychology utilizes scientific methods and research to study the mind and behavior. Research methods used include controlled lab experiments, observational studies, surveys, and case studies.
Key areas of focus include memory, cognition, learning, motivation, attention, perception, and decision-making. Experimental psychology aims to uncover cause-and-effect relationships related to human thoughts and behaviors.
Biological psychology examines the physiological, evolutionary, and neuroscientific bases of behavior and mental processes.
Also known as biopsychology or psychobiology, this field analyzes how the central nervous system, neural connections, and genetics are related to psychological functioning.
Key topics include neuroplasticity, synaptic transmission, brain damage, neurodevelopmental disorders, emotion, and biological correlates of mental illness.
Behaviorism focuses on analyzing observable, measurable behaviors that can be objectively tested and scientifically studied.
Early behaviorists believed psychology should focus strictly on stimulus-response conditioning in observable behaviors, rejecting the study of unobservable mental states or processes.
Contemporary behaviorism has expanded to include cognitive processes in observational behavioral analysis through approaches like latent learning and social learning theory.
These psychological fields specifically analyze human growth and change over the lifespan.
Developmental psychology examines how thinking, feeling, and behaviors evolve throughout a person’s entire life, from infancy to old age.
Key developmental psychology topics include motor skills, language acquisition, identity formation, moral understanding, social roles, relationships, aging, and death. Theories of human development analyze how nature and nurture influence developmental milestones and processes.
Educational psychology focuses on learning processes and human development, specifically in educational settings. Key topics include modeling student cognition, understanding individual differences, and creating optimal instructional environments.
Educational psychologists study effective teaching approaches, classroom management strategies, and factors that promote student learning and motivation. The goal is to enhance teaching practices, learning outcomes, and educational policy.
Mental Health Branches
These fields in psychology directly address psychological disorders, abnormal behaviors, and mental health treatment.
Clinical psychology focuses on diagnosing and treating mental disorders. Clinical psychologists often work in mental health facilities, hospitals, or private practices, conducting psychotherapy, psychosocial interventions, personality assessments, neuropsychological testing, and diagnosing conditions.
They develop individualized treatment plans that can involve different modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, or psychodynamic approaches.
Counseling psychology is oriented toward improving mental health, relationships, and well-being through assessment and therapy. Counseling psychologists help patients understand problems and challenges and make positive changes to thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Therapeutic approaches emphasize empowering clients and promoting growth. Counseling psychologists work in many settings, including health centers, schools, justice systems, corporations, and private practices.
Applied Psychology Fields
These applied fields of psychology focus on using psychological principles to understand and solve problems in real-world contexts.
Forensic psychology deals with the intersection between psychology and the legal system. Forensic psychologists provide psychological expertise in criminal cases, civil disputes, custody battles, and court proceedings.
They perform competency evaluations and risk assessments and develop psychological profiles to help guide courtroom decisions. Key topics include criminal profiling, insanity defenses, eyewitness testimony, sex offender management, psychology of law enforcement, and correctional psychology.
Organizational psychology applies psychological theories and research to business and workplace settings.
Also known as industrial-organizational psychology, this field analyzes employee behavior, personnel selection, job satisfaction, productivity, management styles, and organizational development. The goal is to maximize well-being and performance in work environments.
As psychology continues evolving as a science and profession, new applied subfields continue to emerge, including:
Sports psychology focuses on psychological factors that impact athletic performance, motivation, and well-being.
Sports psychologists aim to optimize athletes’ mindsets, manage competitive anxiety, improve team dynamics, and address injuries. Performance issues like slumps, burnout, and coping with retirement are also addressed.
Health psychology applies psychological knowledge to promoting health, preventing illness, and understanding health behaviors.
Key topics include stress management, healthy lifestyles, illness perceptions, patient-provider communication, coping with chronic illness, pain management, and influences on adherence to medical treatment plans.
Engineering psychology examines how people interact with complex systems and technology. The goal is to enhance usability, user experience, and human-technology interaction through applied research and analysis.
Key topics include interface design, human-computer interaction, augmented reality systems, and integrating psychology in technical design.
Considerations for Students
The field of psychology offers a tremendous diversity of career paths. Students interested in becoming psychologists will need to obtain advanced degrees, including a Ph.D., PsyD, or EdD, for clinical positions and a master’s degree for non-clinical roles such as industrial-organizational psychology.
Licensing requirements vary greatly depending on the state and specific psychology career. Students should research the credentialing processes for various specialties.
For example, clinical psychologists usually need to complete internships, pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), and accrue supervised professional experience before obtaining licensure to practice independently.
Employment opportunities and salary potentials differ across psychological disciplines. Growth is projected for many specialties as interest in mental health services and organizational consulting continues rising.
However, competition for academic and research positions can be substantial. Students should thoroughly explore which branches best match their abilities, interests, and professional goals.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are the four main types of psychology?
The big four branches of psychology are clinical, cognitive, behavioral, and developmental. Clinical psychology focuses on mental health issues, cognitive thinking processes, behavioral observable actions, and developmental changes across the lifespan. These core areas provide a foundation for the many other subfields.
What are the seven schools of psychology?
The major schools of thought in psychology are psychoanalysis, behaviorism, humanism, cognitive psychology, biological psychology, evolutionary psychology, and sociocultural psychology. Each school has its own theories on how the mind works based on different ideas like the unconscious, conditioning, free will, neural wiring, evolution, and cultural influences.
What are the goals of psychology?
The main goals of psychology are to describe, understand, predict, and influence behavior and mental processes. Psychologists want to observe and measure human nature. They form theories to explain thoughts, emotions, and actions. Then, they test those theories to see how well they predict things. Finally, psychologists aim to use that knowledge to help improve mental health, relationships, and human welfare.
Can psychology graduates operate in a hospital?
Yes, absolutely! Hospitals employ clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals to provide therapy, conduct psychological evaluations, and support patients. Counseling psychologists also work in hospitals, supporting families and helping patients adjust. And many psychological researchers work in hospital settings.
Can psychology doctors operate on brain damage?
Nope! Psychologists have doctoral degrees but aren’t medical doctors, so they can’t perform surgery or directly treat medical conditions. Psychologists who assess and treat brain injury patients rely on neurologists and psychiatrists for the physiological medical aspects. However, they can definitely provide cognitive and therapy interventions to help manage the behavioral effects of brain damage.