A Close Look At The Different Types Of Psychology

By Jacqueline Samaroo

Updated February 20, 2020

Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault

Psychologists constantly strive for a better understanding of the mind and how to use this knowledge to help clients. Their efforts have led to the development of various fields of psychology, each one dedicated to delivering the best service to clients and society in general.

We'll take an in-depth look at several of the different types of psychology and how they each cater to clients' needs. We'll put things in perspective first, though, with some background information on what psychology is and how it developed.

Once you are done the reading, you will have a better idea as to which area of psychology is best suited to your mental health needs.

What Is Psychology?

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The term "psychology" is derived from the Greek words "psyche" meaning "breath, mind, soul, or principle of life" and "logos" meaning "word or reason." This is brought out in the simple definition of psychology given by the American Psychological Association (APA):

"Psychology is the study of mind and behavior."

The APA elaborates on this definition by revealing that psychology is concerned with "all aspects of the human experience" and that "the understanding of behavior" is the main focus of a psychologist.

As a field of study, psychology tries to understand the various factors which influence behavior. It does this by examining the relationship between behavior and mental processes such as reasoning, learning, thoughts, emotions, and motivation.

Psychology is a broad and multifaceted academic discipline with several schools of thought which are further sub-divided into many more different types of psychology. Regardless of what form it takes, when put into practice the goals of psychology are to:

  • Describe behavior - This helps with understanding what behavior is, thereby making it possible to differentiate normal or healthy from abnormal or unhealthy behaviors.
  • Explain behavior - Psychology seeks to explain why people behave the way they do, including those behaviors which are associated with mental illness.
  • Predict behavior-By understanding a particular behavior and why it happens, it becomes possible to predict when that behavior will occur.
  • Change (or control) behavior-The ability to predict under what conditions a behavior will occur makes it possible to change that behavior or to control whether it happens at all. This final goal of psychology is often regarded as its most important goal.

A Brief History Of The Development Of Psychology

The nature of the mind has fascinated thinkers throughout history, and there is a wealth of evidence showing that ancient civilizations tried to understand the connection between brain, mind, and behavior. These early musings, such as those of the Greek intellectuals Thales, Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras, fell under the banner of philosophy and helped to lay the foundation of what would later become known as Modern Psychology.

Psychology continued to be considered as a branch of philosophy well into the 1800s. The emergence of psychology as a separate body of knowledge began when its earliest advocates started to rely on the use of scientific methodologies to support their arguments and theories on the mind and behavior.

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Wilhelm Wundt of Germany was among the first of these psychologists, and he is credited with being the very first person to call himself a psychologist. Apart from Wundt, who is known for his contributions to both experimental psychology and cultural psychology, other academics who helped to lay the foundations of Modern Psychology include:

William James-An American philosopher and psychologist, known as the founder of functionalism and as one of the leaders in the development of pragmatism.

Edward B. Titchener-An English psychologist and one of Wundt's followers, known for his work in experimental psychology and for creating the structuralism theory of consciousness.

Hermann Ebbinghaus-A German psychologist known for his early experiments in rote learning and memory; his discovery of the forgetting curve; and his description of the learning curve.

Ivan Pavlov-A Russian physiologist known as the founder of modern behavior therapy and for his experiments in the conditioned reflex.

Sigmund Freud - An Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, noted for his studies of the unconscious mind.

John B. Watson-An American psychologist known as the father of behaviorism and for his controversial classical conditioning experiment titled Little Albert.

The current diverse types of psychology have grown out of the work of these scientists and many others like them who have made their own contributions to the development of psychology.

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Ten Different Types Of Psychology

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is the study of how the human brain processes information.It looks at how information is gathered, processed and recalled.Some of the processes considered under cognitive psychology are:

  • Concept formation - This deals with how we categorize information and how new information is linked to what we already know.
  • Memory formation - A large part of cognitive psychology is studying how humans acquire, store and retrieve information as facts and skills.
  • Reasoning - This covers how we make deductions and inferences to come up with logical arguments.
  • Problem-solving-Problem-solving techniques, such as the use of good judgment, help in achieving goals.
  • Attention - Cognitive psychology investigates attention, focus and concentration and how these work together to improve performance.
  • Perception-This includes studying the physical senses as well as how we interpret the stimuli they receive.
  • Language development - This includes the components of language; language acquisition; how we understand language; and the connection between language and emotions.
  • Learning-Cognitive psychology looks at how we learn and what interventions can be applied to learning difficulties.

Other areas of science that are closely related to cognitive psychology include linguistics, philosophy, and neuroscience (or brain science). In fact, the APA lists Brain Science and Cognitive Psychology as one area of psychology and defines it as the "study (of) how the human mind thinks, remembers and learns." It also points out that the work of the cognitive psychologist can involve looking at the associations between "cognition and emotion."

While the field of cognitive psychology is largely research-oriented, many cognitive psychologists work in public and private practice assisting clients and patients.

Examples of practical situations in which the theories of cognitive psychology can be applied include:

  • Helping to improve memory and treat memory loss
  • The development of educational programs
  • Therapy for speech and language disorders
  • Facilitating greater efficiency in decision making

Sport And Performance Psychology

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While it is often associated with athletics, sport and performance psychology deals with helping persons to achieve their goals not just in athletic activities but in other areas such as business, the performing arts, the military,and political life. It is perhaps for this reason that it is sometimes referred to simply as performance psychology.

The APA mentions "mental toughness and the ability to persevere during a high-stakes situation" as areas of focus for the sport and performance psychologist. This is because the field is particularly concerned with performance under pressure, especially when that performance includes physical, emotional and mental stress.

In general, sport and performance psychologists work with clients to help them find ways of coping with or overcoming problems that hinder their performance in any way. This means that their service is also useful to just about anyone seeking to become better at the things that they do.

Approaches which the sport and performance psychologist might use include:

  • Counseling to help clients who may be experiencing anxiety or have suffered trauma
  • Therapy to assist with confidence building and developing a positive mindset
  • Techniques for developing goal-setting and mental skills
  • Techniques to help improve physical aptitude

Neuropsychology

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Generally speaking, neuropsychology is a combination of both neurology and psychology. More precisely, it combines cognitive psychology and brain physiology to study how neurological disorders (disorders of the nervous system) affect behavior. In other words, neuropsychology is concerned with how brain disorders lead to mental disorders.

Neuropsychologists study the brain's structures and their functions with a particular interest in how these relate to behavior and cognitive function. As such, the neuropsychologist may be called upon to treat patients with a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Brain tumors and brain cancer
  • Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease
  • Hyperactivity disorder and attention deficit disorder
  • Learning disorders
  • Seizure disorders, including epilepsy
  • Sports concussion and traumatic brain injury

The following is a list of some of the assessments and tests which neuropsychologists use to help them identify brain disorders.

  • Neuroimaging (Brain Scans) -The MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and computed axial tomography (CAT) scans are all examples of ways in which the neuropsychologist can assess a patient's brain structure and function.
  • Standardized Tests -These tests are used to diagnose deficits in brain function by assessing a wide range of variables, including intelligence; various aspects of memory; language function; and visuospatial function, as well as problem-solving and organizational skills.
  • Experimental Tasks -These are an array of controlled tasks meant to measure a patient's reaction and their accuracy in performing certain tasks. The results can be used to pinpoint deficits in neurocognitive processes.
  • Electrophysiology - This involves measuring brain activity from recordings of electrical and magnetic signals from the nervous system. Two non-invasive methods of doing this are electroencephalography (EEG)and magneto-encephalography (MEG).

Clinical Psychology

Assessment, treatment, and research are the three most important aspects of clinical psychology. The field is primarily focused on the practical applications of research findings and methodologies in helping patients with mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

The clinical psychologist conducts a psychological assessment of the client, using a range of methods to diagnose disorders. These include:

  • Administering and interpreting intelligence, personality, and neuropsychological tests.
  • Conducting interviews with the use of questioning to gather information and also as a way to closely observe client behavior.

The APA points out that some clinical psychologists choose to work with specific disorders such as addiction or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Others elect to work with specific psychological issues such as work-related stress or relationship problems. Clinical psychologists may also choose to work exclusively with a particular demographic, such as with youth or with older people.

Regardless of how they specialize, there is a high demand for clinical psychologists, and they find employment in a wide range of settings, including private practice, hospitals, businesses, schools, mental health facilities, the military and with the government.

Clinical psychology is closely related to school psychology and counseling psychology. One distinction is that there are a few states which have begun to allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication as long as they have attained specific levels of training and certification.

Counseling Psychology

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Counseling psychologists "help patients deal with and understand problems, including issues at home, at the workplace, or in their community." That's according to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)which gives a combined total of over 108, 000 for the number of counseling, clinical and school psychologists in the U.S.

Counseling psychology focuses on helping clients to identify their assets and strengths and to use these to their advantage when faced with challenges at the various stages of life. Counseling psychologists take into consideration how people interact with each other; the client's social environments (family, school, community, work); and all other internal and external factors which influence a person's behavior, such as gender, sexual orientation, and mental state.

Counseling psychologists work with clients one-on-one, as well as with couples and families. Their work is often compared to that of the clinical psychologist, but there are some noticeable differences. For instance, the clinical psychologist is more research-based and is more likely to treat a wide variety of acute mental disorders. The counseling psychologist, on the other hand, is more likely to assist clients with

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Relationship problems
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Educational development
  • Work-related stress
  • Career counseling
  • Sleep problems
  • Parenting struggles
  • Addiction

Cyberpsychology

The field of psychology is very dynamic and so new areas of focus come about on a regular basis. For instance, the British Psychological Society (BPS) includes cyberpsychology (also known as web psychology and internet psychology) as one of the emerging fields within psychology.

Cyberpsychology involves the study of psychological phenomena related to the use of the internet and all other forms of technology. The field includes the rapidly developing area of online counseling, where clients can conveniently connect with a therapist via the internet. Furthermore, while much emphasis is placed on social media, other activities such as online shopping and gaming and their effect on behavior are also considered in Cyberpsychology.

In describing cyberpsychology, the BPS points to "the increasing presence and usage of technology in our lives." This has led to a range of negative effects which are studied and treated by the cyberpsychologist and may include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Eating disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Cyberbullying
  • Depression
  • Self-harming
  • Social isolation
  • Addictive behavior

Cyberpsychology research is also ongoing into positive effects, such as a greater sense of community, which can be derived from internet use. Thus, apart from providing therapy for the negative effects of technology use, cyberpsychologists also strive to help clients use technology in such a way that they gain the psychological benefits it offers.

Industrial And Organizational (I/O) Psychology

I/O psychology emerged as a separate field of psychology in the early 1900s. It applies theories and methodologies from several other areas of psychology to organizational settings. The APA defines I/O psychology as "the scientific study of human behavior in the workplace." It goes on to describe the function of I/O psychologists as to "study and assesses individual, group and organizational dynamics in the workplace."

I/O psychologists can assist businesses with a range of employee-related services, including:

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  • Job analysis methods such as task analysis, questionnaires, and interviews
  • Recruitment, placement, and promotion of personnel
  • Performance appraisal, including analysis and management of the information, gathered
  • Design, implementation, and evaluation of employee-training programs
  • Identifying, eliminating and preventing unacceptable workplace behaviors such as aggression and bullying
  • Assessing and improving occupational health and job satisfaction, both of which affect employees' quality of life outside of work

Another of their functions is providing insight into consumer preferences as well as customer satisfaction with goods and services offered. Also, the I/O specialist can assist businesses in developing their marketing strategies.

Educational Psychology

The field of educational psychology involves the study of the emotional, social and cognitive aspects of the learning process. It also looks at how psychological issues affect student education, as well as how motivation techniques; behavior modification through conditioning; and knowledge of student-aptitude can improve outcomes for students.

Educational psychology relies on a wide variety of instruments, tests, and assessments to gauge students' cognitive development. While most of these are designed for use with students up to the high school level, there has been a recent focus on the use of educational psychology theories for the benefit of college students, as well. Furthermore, the rise in the number of persons taking up adult education opportunities has led to a push for educational psychology to take their learning into consideration, too.

Educational psychology is often associated with the applied field of school psychology. That field is more concerned with problems that arise in schools and interventions to promote constructive behavior among all persons within the school. However, educational psychology is categorized both as research and applied to a field of psychology. In practice, it includes:

  • Special education for gifted students as well as those with learning disabilities to help them achieve their full potential
  • Evaluation of teaching and testing methods
  • Assessment of entire education programs
  • Developing new resources for use in the teaching-learning process

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology studies the changes which take place in humans throughout their lifetime. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as life-span psychology. It seeks not only to identify the changes but also to understand why they happen and the factors which affect them.

Developmental psychologists study the broad categories of physical, social, emotional, cognitive, personality, perceptual, and intellectual change. These can be narrowed to include:

  • Motor skill development-These include learned gross motor skills (such as walking) and fine motor skills (such as writing).
  • The emergence of self-awareness and self-concept -This encompasses the ability to see yourself as an individual and the development of a set of beliefs about who you are.
  • Identity formation and personality development- This deals with how each person develops a personality - their distinctive behavior traits, emotional patterns, and
  • Executive functions - These are cognitive functions which include attentional control, problem-solving, planning, and working memory.
  • Moral understanding and reasoning - This involves the ability to differentiate right from wrong.
  • Language acquisition- This covers the ability to both comprehend language and reproduce it.
  • Emotional development - As an area of child development, emotional development looks at how humans develop the ability to understand, express and control their emotions.
  • Developmental disorders and learning disabilities - These include conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual impairments, vision impairment, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology involves the use of the theories and practices of psychology within the legal system. This is often seen in situations where forensic psychologists are called upon to give expert witness testimony in court cases. The field is much wider than this, however, as it also encompasses the effort to understand why persons commit crimes, display aggression, and engage in socially deviant behaviors.

Apart from private practice, forensic psychologists can be found working in prisons, law firms, rehabilitation centers, and police departments, among other settings. They are often required to work directly with lawyers, law enforcement officials, victims, accused and convicted persons, as well as the families of victims and offenders.

Services they might provide include:

  • Anger management
  • Psychological assessment
  • Psychotherapy to individuals and groups
  • Crisis management
  • Sex offender assessment
  • Court-ordered evaluations
  • Personality assessment
  • Recommendations for visitation

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One of the requirements to be certified as a forensic psychologist is having earned a doctoral degree in the field. There may be cases, however, where different types of psychologists find that their work overlaps with that of the forensic psychologist. For instance, another psychologist can be called upon to testify in cases where their expertise in a particular area is required.

Other Types Of Psychology

What we have looked at so far is by no means an exhaustive list, as there are many other subfields within psychology. The number of different types of psychology is constantly increasing with each new area of research into how the mind works. A few other types of psychology worth noting here are:

  • Social Psychology- This covers the study of how our thoughts, emotions,and behaviors are affected by others. It includes social influence brought on by the presence of another person or persons and includes situations where the presence is only implied or is imagined.
  • Health Psychology-The field of health psychology is concerned with how psychological, biological, behavioral, environmental, cultural and social factors affect health. The work of the health psychologist is aimed at improved and maintained health for clients as well as illness prevention.
  • Climate and Environmental Psychology - This field of psychology examines the connection between psychological health and the environment. It takes into account the several different types of environments we exist in, including our natural, built and social environments. It also encourages protection of the natural environment.
  • Human Factors and Engineering Psychology- Practitioners of human factors and engineering psychology are concerned with how elements of design and method of operation affect our interactions with machines and technology. The field is closely related to, and often grouped with, ergonomics.
  • Quantitative Psychology- This field involves research and design of tools and techniques used to measure psychological processes such as behavior. It is heavily based on mathematical modeling, statistical analysis, and research design.
  • Experimental This field deals with the scientific methods used to study behavior. It is based on experimentation and scientific research, as well as the collection and generation of facts about psychology.
  • Rehabilitation Psychology-Psychologists within this field work with persons with disabilities and chronic health issues, helping them to gain coping strategies to improve their quality of life.

Therapy is no longer thought of as something which should be reserved for persons with serious mental illness. Instead, more and more persons have come to acknowledge that looking after your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. Many people now seek out the services of a psychologist for help with understanding themselves and others better; coping with the routines of daily life, and as a way to improve their overall well-being.

A service like BetterHelp can assist you with reaching whatever kind of psychologist you feel best matches your mental health needs. So, whether you are simply looking for a listening ear or have a deeper mental health concern, don't hesitate to get in touch with them today.


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