Historical and Modern Psychological Perspectives

Breadth and Applications of Psychology

Career paths in psychology can follow the multiple subdisciplines that have developed, such as cognitive psychology, neurology, and forensic psychology.

Psychology overlaps with other fields of study, including biology, medicine, sociology, anthropology, political science, and philosophy. All scientific and health-related fields are made up of many specific disciplines. For example, biology includes subdisciplines such as botany, ecology, and genetics. Medical doctors may specialize in treating brain cancers or kidney disease. Psychology is no different. The scope of psychological research and practice is so broad that no one can be an expert in all areas. Psychology also overlaps with other disciplines. One growing area of overlap is between psychology and behavioral economics. Behavioral economics explores the effects of social, cognitive, and emotional factors on economic decision-making. The most important subdisciplines of psychology in the past century include clinical, developmental, biological, cognitive, and social psychology.

Most people with undergraduate degrees in psychology do not do clinical work. Psychology majors work in fields as diverse as sales, marketing, criminal justice, politics, and education. People with undergraduate degrees can also perform some limited social services under supervision, such as working in a group home. Providing independent clinical services requires a master's or doctoral degree in psychology. Each state has different licensing requirements. Typically, licensure requires passing tests about psychology and state regulations along with about two years of postgraduate supervised experience. Most clinicians also develop specific areas of expertise. For example, a therapist may specialize in working with aggressive children, anxious adults, or people recovering from brain injuries.

Major Fields of Psychology

Field of Psychology Focus of the Field Employers
Clinical and counseling Assess and treat emotional and behavioral disorders, conduct treatment outcome research and research related to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors Hospitals, schools, private practice, social service agencies
Cognitive and perceptual Study memory, thinking, reasoning, decision-making, and perception, explore the biological basis of cognition Research settings (universities, government agencies), businesses
Developmental Research emotional, cognitive, and social changes throughout life, apply research to improve education and elder care Research settings (universities, government agencies), schools, community agencies, social service agencies
Educational/school Promote effective learning and teaching, enhance student motivation, study the effectiveness of educational programs and teachers Hospitals, prisons, rehabilitation programs, schools, universities
Environmental Study the dynamics of people and their environments, including natural environments, social settings, and cultural environments Educational institutions, government agencies, architectural firms
Evolutionary Focus on evolutionary subjects such as adaptation, mutation, aggression, mating, and an organism's chances of survival Universities, laboratories, research institutions
Forensic Apply psychological principles to legal subjects such as the behavior of attorneys, juries, judges, and others in the criminal justice system Prisons, jails, juvenile detention centers
Industrial/organizational Apply psychological research methods and principles to workplaces to improve health, quality of work life, and productivity Corporations
Neuropsychology Focus on the relationships between brain and behavior, such as how the brain stores memories and how diseases and injuries affect brain perception and behavior Universities, laboratories, research institutions
Social Focus on interactions between individuals and groups, includes study of culture, social norms, attitudes, leadership, compliance, and persuasion Marketing, advertising, corporations
Sport Address psychological aspects of sports behavior, such as team interactions, recovering from injury, and maximizing performance Gyms, athletic facilities, sports teams, schools

Psychology is a broad discipline with applications that go beyond the treatment of mental health problems.