There are many different subspecialties in psychology and dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of different kinds of jobs a person can do within each one. Here are some of the more well-known areas in psychology, as well as some careers within those disciplines:
Social Psychology How does an individual fit with the rest of the world and how does being part of a group influence human behavior? Those are the kinds of questions that are explored in social psychology.
Social psychologists can work for universities or the government to conduct research on how social influences, perception, and interactions with others impact human behavior, according to the APA. These specialists can also work in a variety of fields in the private sector, including marketing, politics, and human resources.
Forensic Psychology Thanks to shows like CSI and Criminal Minds, forensic psychology is more well known than other many specialties in this science. Forensic psychology applies the scientific research of clinical, cognitive, and social psychology to the legal arena and could include psychological assessment of people accused of crimes, threat assessment for child custody evaluations, or competency evaluations, explains the APA.
Cognitive Psychology This field focuses on how people think as well as their capacity for understanding, interpreting, and retaining different kinds of information. According to the APA, there is a huge variety in the kinds of things cognitive psychologists can study; a few examples of the diverse opportunities include how we learn new concepts and languages, how to address learning disabilities, how humans and computers interact, the breakdown of internal mental processes that happen in diseases like Alzheimer’s, or the healing power of music therapy.
Sports Psychology Sports psychologists can help athletes and teams in a wide array of settings and levels of competition, from little league to the Olympic games. These experts specialize in sport specific psychological assessment and mental skills to help athletes train and perform better in competition, according to the APA. Sports psychology encompasses counseling and clinical interventions about issues like motivation, eating disorders, depression, burnout, and career transitions.
Humanistic Psychology Humanistic psychology is based on the study of human strengths and what psychotherapy techniques can help a person function better, or “live their best life.” According to GoodTherapy, it’s based on the teaching and theories of Abraham Maslow, this field chooses to “focus on the positive,” and view humans as intrinsically good. Counseling and therapy are a main focus in this field, and people who study this often work as therapists or social workers. This branch of psychology is sometimes criticized because it relies heavily on the subjective experiences of individuals, which makes gathering and recording evidence in a traditional scientific way difficult.
Positive Psychology The term “positive psychology” was first coined by Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, former president of the American Psychological Association, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, a psychology professor at Claremont Graduate University in California. Dr. Seligman and Dr. Csikszentmihalyi believed that contemporary psychology focused too much on treating mental illness rather than promoting healthy mental states; their goal was to create a field that focused on how people’s strengths and virtues could improve their well-being.
Although positive psychology and the psychologists who promote it are often highlighted in popular media, critics point to a lack of hard evidence linking a positive outlook with improved health outcomes. As has been pointed out in an APA article, skeptics fear that people with conditions like cancer or depression may blame themselves for not having the “right” mindset if they don’t get better. One meta-analysis that conducted closer analysis of many studies suggests the benefits of positive psychology are often exaggerated.
Evolutionary Psychology This field considers human behavior, thoughts, and feelings through the lens of how humans have had to evolve and adapt to survive over time; the way we compete, connect, and cooperate can all be explained by our basic drive to survive and pass on our genes, according to Britannica. This specialty arose in the late 1980s as a synthesis of findings in several areas including ethology (the scientific study of animal behavior), cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and social psychology. Jobs in evolutionary psychology can range from work in museums or zoos, resource management, research, or as a professor.