Major Subfields of Psychology

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  • 1:05 Counseling Psychology
  • 1:40 Clinical Psychology
  • 2:30 School Psychology
  • 3:05 Social Psychology
  • 3:50 Experimental Psychology
  • 4:40 Developmental Psychology
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

In this lesson, you'll get a taste for some of the major subfields of psychology. Check your knowledge with a quiz that asks you to match up scenarios with the field that would likely correspond to them.

Areas of Study

Carlos is applying to graduate school and plans to work as a psychologist after graduating. He'll need to learn about the subfields of psychology. This will help him have a better idea of what role he would play in the world if he chooses a particular area to study. He asks his advisor, Laila, for more information to help him make a decision. This lesson follows Carlos as he learns more about the different subfields of psychology and weighs out which one fits him the best.


Laila tells Carlos right off the bat that there are more subfields than they'll have time to cover in their first conversation, but that she'll focus on the major ones for now.

She also gives him the caveat that with any description of an area of psychology, she'll be generalizing about each, as though each psychologist fits a certain box or mold. In reality, she says, there are sometimes overlapping interests of each subfield. Today, she says she'll be giving him more of a characterization of what is most commonly associated with each.

'Got it!' Carlos says, eager to move on to hearing about each of the areas he is considering studying.

Counseling Psychology

'Are there any subfields you already know?' asks Laila. Carlos replies that he knows about counseling psychology. Many people in his life are seeing counselors. They help individuals adjust to the circumstances of their life, from dealing with divorce to grieving a loved one and many other challenges.

Laila confirms that this is where counseling psychologists place their focus. They meet with individuals and families and support them to address their concerns using a variety of techniques that may help them to cope with life's challenges.

Clinical Psychology

Carlos mentions he also has a few classmates who now work in the subfield of clinical psychology. They describe seeing individuals in a counseling situation, so he wonders if there is a difference.

Laila explains that clinical psychologists may do many of the same activities as counseling psychologists. However, clinical psychology involves treating behavioral, emotional and mental disorders, including those that present significant challenges to those dealing with them.

Laila gives the example of a person diagnosed with severe depression who may find great difficulty performing basic activities of life, such as grocery shopping or working at a job. This person may benefit from the expertise of a clinical psychologist who is familiar with working with these types of challenges. The psychologist may also work with less severe situations as well, similar to a counseling psychologist.

School Psychology

As he talks with Laila, Carlos remembers that when he was transitioning into high school, he got into a fight that led to some time talking with the school psychologist. He later also saw the school psychologist to be tested for dyslexia. He wonders if this area is its own subfield.

Laila confirms that school psychology involves working with young people in educational environments. These professionals may provide a variety of services, from addressing emotional and behavioral topics to testing for learning challenges. For instance, the school psychologist had worked with Carlos and his family to come up with a plan for getting him support to deal with his frustrations and to stay on track with his classes.

Social Psychology

Carlos also wonders, 'Does everyone who studies psychology counsel people directly?' Laila tells him that not everyone takes the path of acting in a one-on-one capacity. Many psychologists work in academic environments and as researchers.

One subfield to consider that includes this type of research is social psychology. Social psychology involves studying the interactions between people and how this affects us. For instance, the school psychologist who worked with Carlos when he was in a fight at school might have used social psychology research related to childhood fights to better understand this phenomenon.

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