This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 01 table of contents.

Specialties within Psychology

To give you some idea of the broad range of interests and activities within the field of psychology, the following table lists some of the different types. Percentages are approximate and vary widely in different countries.

Title of Specialty

Typical Professional Activities

Clinical Psychology

Therapy, research, teaching, writing, helping people with behavioral or mental disorders.


Counseling Psychology

Helping people with problems of everyday life (such as marital problems, school problems, family crises)


Educational Psychology

Teaching and research on teaching and learning and educational systems, mostly in academic settings (colleges and universities)


School Psychology and Psychometrics

Testing and diagnosing gifted and learning disabled students, mostly in school settings


Social Psychology

Teaching and research about social influences on individuals


Industrial/Organizational (I/O)

Teaching, research, or program design concerning business and industry


Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

Teaching and research on human information processing such as perception, language, and memory


Human Factors Psychology and Engineering Psychology

Theory and research about interactions between humans and tools, equipment, and systems.


Community Psychology

Activities undertaken in the community to benefit the community.


Developmental Psychology, including Child Psychology, Adolescent Psychology, the Psychology of Aging

The study of development from conception to death


Physiological Psychology, Psychobiology, Neuroscience

Biological Approaches to Psychology


Health Psychology, Medical Psychology, Behavioral Medicine, Rehabilitation Psychology, Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Psychology relating to health and medicine or taking place in hospitals


Comparative and Animal Psychology

Psychology involving the analysis of animal behavior and the comparison of different species


Forensic Psychology, Prison Psychology, Psychology and the Law

Psychology involved with the legal system, prisons, and court system


Methodologists and Statistical Consultants

Psychology involved in setting up experiments and analyzing data


The boundaries between these sub-disciplines are fluid: for example, a developmental psychologist might also be a clinical psychologist. A forensic psychologist is usually a clinical psychologist first, specializing in forensic psychology later. This is also why the percentages add up to more than 100%.

The undergraduate (bachelor's) degree in psychology is very useful because it is flexible. Students with a psychology degree may obtain graduate degrees in fields like business, law, and social work in addition to psychology. Other psychology majors elect not to attend graduate school, and they go to work in other fields. A graduate degree is needed, in almost every case, to be employed as a psychologist. In the field of psychology itself, there are three common graduate degrees: the Masters degree (MA or MS), the Doctor of Psychology degree (PsyD) and the PhD in Psychology degree (PhD). By convention, these degrees are written without punctuation, although are all abbreviations

What is the difference between a PsyD and a PhD?

The PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree is clinically-oriented. It is specifically for people entering psychology as a helping profession. By contrast, the PhD in Psychology (Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) is a research-oriented degree, and a PhD student must do original research which is documented in a PhD dissertation.

A PhD in Clinical Psychology requires both a research dissertation and supervised clinical experience, while the PsyD requires only the clinical training. For this reason a clinical PhD typically requires an extra year for a total of five years of graduate school at minimum. The PsyD is a therapy-oriented degree so the research requirement is absent and most students finish the degree in four years. The starting salary for a PsyD is likely to be higher than that of a Masters degree holder but lower than that of a PhD. Research expertise is valued in academia, so many universities will hire only PhD psychologists for faculty positions.

What is the largest single branch of psychology?

Clinical psychology is the largest single branch of psychology. A slight majority of all psychologists are clinical psychologists, if the phrase is defined broadly to include all those who work in or teach about psychology as a helping profession. Many clinical psychologists do not work in a clinic such as a mental health clinic or school clinic, nor do they always do therapy. A third of all clinical psychologists are employed in academic settings. A third work in hospitals or clinics. A sixth have private practices. The rest do things like consulting for business and industry.

What are differences between psychologists and psychiatrists? How do they often cooperate at mental health centers?

One thing every psychology student should know is that psychologists are not the same as psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are MDs; most clinical psychologists are PhDs or PsyDs. Psychiatrists go through medical school, like any medical doctor, then they specialize in psychiatry the way other MDs specialize in cardiology or internal medicine. Psychologists do not go through medical school; they go to graduate programs in psychology. One important consequence is that psychiatrists can prescribe drugs, while psychologists in the United States usually cannot, except in a small number of states in the U.S. where legislators have given them permission to do so. In other states, psychologists who work at a mental health center maintain professional ties with one or more psychiatrists who visit periodically and prescribe medications when necessary.

What are some common erroneous assumptions of psychology majors?

Psychology majors often make erroneous assumptions about the discipline. For example, many students are unaware that a PhD is required for many entry positions in psychology. Masters degree holders can usually find work in a psychological clinic or other group setting, but they typically do not work as independent therapists or professors. Students tend to overestimate minority participation in psychology, which is still rather low, around 8% by some estimates. Minority students who persist to obtain a PhD may find that several schools are competing for them, because most psychology departments value diversity.

Finally, students tended to overestimate salaries in the field. As of 2007 a salary of $34,000 would be good for a Masters degree holder starting out in a rural mental health clinic, while $42,000 might be a starting salary for a Doctoral degree holder at a medium sized state university. Salaries vary with geographical location and the prestige of the hiring institution. Where the cost of living is high (for example, in culturally desirable cities) salaries are correspondingly high, but the jobs there are harder to get because more people compete for them.

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