Because psychology deals with human behavior, psychologists apply their knowledge and techniques to a wide range of endeavors, including human services, management, education, law, and sports. In addition to the variety of work settings, psychologists specialize in many different areas.
- Clinical psychologists, who constitute the largest specialty, generally work in independent or group practice or in hospitals or clinics. They may help the mentally or emotionally disturbed adjust to life and are increasingly helping all kinds of medical and surgical patients deal with their illnesses or injuries. Some work in physical medicine and rehabilitation settings, treating patients with spinal cord injuries, chronic pain or illness, stroke, and arthritis and neurologic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis. Others help people deal with life stresses such as divorce or aging. Clinical psychologists interview patients; give diagnostic tests; provide individual, family, and group psychotherapy; and design and implement behavior modification programs. They may collaborate with physicians and other specialists in developing treatment programs and help patients understand and comply with the
prescribed treatment. Some clinical psychologists work in universities, where they train graduate students in the delivery of mental health and behavioral medicine services. Others administer community mental health programs.
- Counseling psychologists perform many of the same functions as clinical psychologists and use several techniques, including interviewing and testing, to advise people on how to deal with problems of everyday living, whether personal, social, educational, or vocational.
- Developmental psychologists study the patterns and causes of behavioral change as people progress through life from infancy to adulthood. Some concern themselves with behavior during infancy, childhood, and adolescence, while others study changes that take place during maturity and old age. The study of developmental disabilities and how they affect individuals and others is a new discipline within developmental psychology.
- Educational psychologists evaluate student and teacher needs and design and develop programs to enhance the educational setting.
- School psychologists work with students, teachers, parents, and administrators to resolve students’ learning and behavior problems.
- Experimental psychologists study behavior processes and work with human beings and animals, such as rats, monkeys, and pigeons. Prominent areas of experimental research include motivation, thinking, attention, learning and retention, sensory and perceptual processes, effects of substance use and abuse, and genetic and neurological factors in behavior.
- Industrial and organizational psychologists apply psychological techniques to personnel administration, management,
and marketing problems. They are involved in policy planning, applicant screening, training and development, psychological testing research, counseling, and organizational development and analysis. For example, an industrial psychologist may work with management to develop better training programs and to reorganize the work setting to improve worker productivity or quality of work life.
- Social psychologists examine people’s interactions with others and with the social environment. Prominent areas of study include group behavior, leadership, attitudes, and interpersonal perception.
The past few years have seen a rise in some newer specialties:
- Cognitive psychologists deal with the brain’s role in memory, thinking, and perceptions; some are involved withresearch related to computer programming and artificial intelligence.
- Health psychologists promote good health through health maintenance counseling programs that are designed, for example, to help people stop smoking or lose weight.
- Neuropsychologists study the relation between the brain and behavior. They often work in stroke and head-injury programs.
- Geropsychologists deal with the special problems faced by the elderly.
The emergence and growth of these specialties reflects the increasing participation of psychologists in providing direct services to special patient populations.
Other areas of specialization include psychometrics, history of psychology, art therapy, psychopharmacology, and community,
comparative, consumer, engineering, environmental, family, forensic, population, military, and rehabilitation psychology. Many psychologists also hold faculty positions at colleges and universities and some work as high school psychology teachers.