Examining The Different Definitions And Types Of Psychology

Updated March 22, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Psychologists generally strive for a better understanding of our thinking — and learn 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.

Below, we'll be exploring the foundations of the field of psychology, the ongoing development of the field and the many different types of psychology. We’ll also look at the efficacy of therapy to address multiple mental health conditions. 

What Is Psychology?

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The term "psychology" is generally agreed to have been derived from the Greek words "psyche," which can be translated to mean "breath, mind, soul, or principle of life." This was then paired with “logos" meaning "word or reason." This is thought to have informed 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 generally concerned with "all aspects of the human experience" and that "the understanding of behavior" is among the main focus(es) of a psychologist.

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

Beyond this, psychology is considered by many to be a broad and multifaceted academic discipline with several schools of thought. Each iteration of psychology generally seeks to: 

  • Describe behavior: Doing this can help with understanding what behavior is, thereby making it possible to differentiate normal or healthy from abnormal or unhealthy behaviors.

  • Explain behavior: Psychology generally 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 can make it possible to change that behavior or to control whether it happens at all. 

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 may have 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, are considered by most to be 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 — which has been regarded by many as occurring in the mid-1900s.

10 Different Psychology Types

Understanding the differences between the types of psychology can help you understand the depth and true complexity of the field. Below are a few of what some regard as the most common types of psychology. 

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is regarded by many as the study of how the human brain processes information. It also may cover how information is gathered, processed, and recalled. Some of the processes considered under cognitive psychology might include:

  • Concept formation: This area of focus addresses 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 concept generally 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, can help in achieving clinical goals.

  • Attention: Cognitive psychology can investigate attention, focus and concentration and considering how these elements work together to improve performance.

  • Perception: This can include studying the physical senses as well as how we interpret the stimuli they receive.

  • Language development: This can include the components of language, language acquisition how we understand language and the connection between language and emotions.

Other areas of science that are closely related to cognitive psychology can include linguistics, biology, philosophy, and neuroscience (or brain science). 

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

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

  • Helping to improve memory and treat memory loss during a person's lifespan

  • The development of educational programs

  • Therapy for speech and language disorders

  • Facilitating greater efficiency in decision making

Sport And Performance

While it is often associated with athletics, sport and performance psychology generally focuses on  helping persons to achieve their goals — not just in athletic activities but in other areas  of life as well. 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. Many agree that 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 can 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 disorders or who have suffered trauma

  • Therapy to assist with confidence building and developing a positive mindset

  • Offering techniques for developing goal-setting and mental skills

  • Offering techniques to help improve physical aptitude


What is neuropsychology? 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) may affect behavior. 

Neuropsychologists can 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, or Alzheimer's disease

  • Hyperactivity disorder and attention deficit disorder

  • Learning disorders

  • Seizure disorders, including epilepsy

  • Sports concussion and traumatic brain injury

Clinical Psychology

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Assessment, treatment, and research are among 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.

Clinical psychologists can conduct a psychological assessment of the client, using a range of methods to diagnose disorders. These can include:

  • Administering and interpreting intelligence, personality, and neuropsychological tests.

  • Conducting interviews with the use of questioning to gather information

The APA states that some clinical psychologists can choose to work with specific disorders such as substance use disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They 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 generally a high demand for clinical psychologists — and they find employment in a wide range of settings, which can include practice, hospitals, businesses, schools, mental health facilities, the military, and the government.


Counselors "help patients deal with and understand problems, including issues at home, at the workplace, or in their community,” per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

This form of psychology generally 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 can 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. These can include gender, sexual orientation, and mental state. 

Counseling psychologists may 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 may be more research-based\. The counseling psychologist, on the other hand, can assist clients with

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Depression

  • Relationship problems

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Educational development

  • Personality disorders

  • Work-related stress

  • Career opportunities and counseling

  • Sleep problems

  • Life crises

  • Parenting struggles

  • Addiction

  • Life transitions


The field of psychology is regarded by many to be very dynamic, allowing new areas of focus come about on a regular basis. For instance, agencies like the British Psychological Society (BPS) include cyberpsychology (also known as web psychology and internet psychology) as one of the emerging fields within psychology.

Cyberpsychology generally 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. Other activities such as online shopping and gaming and their effect on behavior are also considered in cyberpsychology.

In describing and justifying cyberpsychology, the BPS points to "the increasing presence and usage of technology in our lives." Cyberpsychologists may address issues such as:

  • Sleep deprivation

  • Eating disorders

  • Low self-esteem

  • Cyberbullying

  • Depression

  • Self-harming

  • Social isolation

  • Addictive behaviors and substance use disorder

Industrial And Organizational (I/O) Psychology

I/O can apply theories and methodologies from several other areas of psychology to organizational settings. The APA defines I/O psychology as "the scientific study of human development and 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:

  • Job analysis methods such as task analysis, questionnaires, and interviews

  • Recruitment, placement, and promotion of personnel

  • Performance appraisal, including analysis and management of files

  • 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

Educational Psychology

The field of educational psychology generally involves the study of the emotional, social, and cognitive aspects of the learning process. It also can look at how psychological issues may affect student education. Educational psychology is often associated with the applied field of school psychology. It can be categorized both as research and applied to a field of psychology. In practice, it includes:

  • Special education and support for gifted students as well as those with learning disabilities to help them achieve their full potential

  • Ongoing 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 generally focuses on the changes which can 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 include:

  • Motor skill development

  • Self-awareness and self-concept

  • Identity formation and personality development

  • Executive functions

  • Moral understanding and reasoning

  • Language acquisition

  • Emotional development

  • Developmental disorders and learning disabilities

Forensic Psychology

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

Apart from 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 survivors and offenders.

Services these specialists might provide include:

  • Anger management

  • Psychological assessments

  • Psychotherapy to individuals and groups

  • Crisis management

  • Sex offender assessments

  • Court-ordered evaluations

  • Personality assessments

How Can Online Therapy Help Proactively And Acutely Manage Mental Health?

Therapy is generally no longer thought of as something which should be reserved for persons with mental illness. Instead, more have come to acknowledge that looking after your mental health can be just as important as taking care of your physical health. Now, the services of psychologists or mental health professionals can help many with understanding themselves and others better, coping with the routines and rhythms of daily life, and to help facilitate a higher quality of life. 

Stigma, cost, and accessibility can all be barriers to care in a traditional therapeutic setting. However, online therapy allows many to bypass these concerns, supporting those in need from the comfort of their home or another safe space.

Is Online Therapy Effective For Mental Health Conditions?

With the rise of telemedicine and virtual therapy options, many are wondering if online therapy is effective for mental health conditions. A recent meta-analysis conducted by the National Center for Health Research has confirmed that online therapy can be highly effective for both behavioral disorders and mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders and depression. Findings showed significant self-reported improvement across the 20 study groups reviewed, covering a population of over 1,400 online therapy patients. 


There are many different types of psychology, which has empowered many to seek professional support for difficulties and mental health disorders. Online therapy has been indicated to be effective for those looking to improve their mental health. BetterHelp can connect you with a therapist in your area of specialty. 

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