Fields of Psychology: Definitions & Characteristics

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  • 0:02 What Is Psychology?
  • 1:19 Social, Abnormal &…
  • 2:35 Educational & Forensic…
  • 3:30 Health, Biological &…
  • 4:46 Developmental & I/O Psychology
  • 6:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

The fields of psychology are varied and diverse. There really is no one definition of what makes a psychologist. This lesson reviews many of the main fields of psychology giving some examples along the way.

What Is Psychology?

When you think of psychology, what do you think of? I bet you're picturing a couch with a person lying on it. The person is talking about their deepest troubles and a bearded man is sitting behind the couch nodding as he jots down notes on a pad. Is that what you think of when you think of psychology?

Okay, maybe that is a bit stereotypical. Maybe you just think of counseling in general. People helping other people get through tough times. While counseling is a major field of psychology, it really is only one aspect of what is considered psychology.

Psychologists work in law enforcement, science labs, in hospitals, with animals, with healthy children and children with abnormal development, in schools, in sports arenas, in all aspects of society and social interactions, and even in design and technology fields. There really is no one answer to the question 'What does a psychologist do?' because the field of psychology is so vast and varied. 'What don't they do?' should be the answer.

This lesson will review some of the most common umbrellas of psychology. We use the term umbrella to group the different types of psychological fields. Each umbrella has many different career paths a person could follow within it, but all the careers within an umbrella take the same approach to psychology.

Social Psychology

This is the field that most people think of when they think about psychology. The social psychology umbrella encompasses all types of counseling including individual, group, and marriage counseling. You can find these psychologists in drug treatment centers, conducting group therapy, or in crisis prevention centers, working with victims of abuse. You can also find social psychologists in schools assisting with academic and career development. Any area that deals with the study of people and how they interact with their environment and each other is an area of social psychology.

Abnormal and Clinical Psychology

These umbrellas cover the other aspects of psychology that are well known in society. Conducting tests to assess mental health and need for treatment is an important role of clinical psychologists, and essentially what clinical and abnormal psychology focus on. Clinical psychologists often offer counseling to people with abnormal psychological disorders that may need medication to supplement treatment options. As with many other fields of psychology, clinical and abnormal psychology both build from other fields of psychology like experimental psychology, biopsychology, developmental psychology, and counseling psychology. Taking aspects of each of these other fields, they are applied directly to the concerns of clinical and abnormal psychology.

Educational Psychology

While there are some social psychologists in schools, many school counselors are versed in educational psychology and also tasked with the job of educational testing and curriculum development. Standardized tests are created, in part, by educational psychologist. The testing methods and procedures for ensuring validity and reliability follow the scientific method of experimentation. The umbrella of educational psychology covers speech therapists as well as support for other special needs students in the school.

Forensic Psychology

Have you seen those science based cop shows on TV? They are all based in forensics. Forensic psychology uses the foundations of psychology to assist in law enforcement. Whether the goal is to profile a suspected serial rapist or to properly assess child interviews to determine if the child is at risk of abuse, forensic psychology covers any psychological need in the realm of law enforcement.

Health and Biological Psychology

Understanding the body from a biological perspective is an important part of understanding how we respond to our environment or understanding why things have gone wrong in our bodies. The study of the brain and our biological functions occurs under the umbrellas of health psychology and biopsychology. These are very scientific fields and may even resemble medical careers more than the stereotypical psychology path, but without knowing how the brain and body work, we can never learn how to help people whose brains and bodies aren't working properly.

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