Specialties of Psychology: Definitions & Characteristics

Instructor: Daniel Murdock

Daniel has taught Public Health at the graduate level and has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences & Health Education.

This lesson defines and discusses the main specialties in the field of psychology. We explore the real-world problems that each specialty addresses and how psychology professionals address them.

Professional Psychology Specialties

What comes to mind when you imagine a professional psychologist? Where do they work? What kind of work do they do? Many of us think of a clinical psychologist, someone who assess and treats mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders in a clinical setting. Clinical psychology is the largest and perhaps the most well-known psychology specialty. Psychology, however, is a very diverse field that includes many other kinds of professionals as well. In this lesson, we'll explore some of the main specialties of psychology, the problems they address, and the skills and procedures that professional psychologists use to address them.

A psychologist helps a patient deal with stress using relaxation therapy
A psychologist and his patient

Health & Rehabilitation Specialties

Health psychology applies psychological theory and research to understand how psychological and behavioral factors affect health, illness, and healthcare. While clinical psychologists focus on mental health issues, health psychologists focus on a wide range of health-related behavior, such as diet and exercise, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. Health psychologists work on improving health through behavior change. Some health psychologists work with individual patients, while others work on large-scale behavior change and health promotion programs.

Rehabilitation psychology applies psychological theory and research to improve the lives of people living with disability due to injury or illness. Rehabilitation psychologists often work in teams and help people overcome physical, cognitive, and emotional barriers to life activities. Rehabilitation psychologists evaluate and treat emotional coping, mental health status, and behavioral adaptions to disability.

Community & Cross-Cultural Specialties

Community psychology deals with relationships between individuals and their community. Community psychologists try to understand and improve the lives of individuals within the context of the groups, organizations, and communities to which they belong. Community psychologists work as educators, consultants, policy developers, and researchers in community organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies to promote community well-being.

Cross-cultural psychology examines how cultural differences influence human behavior. Cross-cultural psychologists strive to understand the similarities and differences between people living in various cultures throughout the world. They focus on the role of culture in things like child development, social behavior, personality, and emotions.

Workplace, Engineering, & Legal Specialties

Industrial and organizational (I/O) psychology is concerned with human behavior in organizations and the workplace. I/O psychologists apply psychological theory and research to the workplace in order to improve productivity and enhance the quality of work life. I/O psychologists address issues related to employee recruitment and placement, training and development, workplace motivation, and workplace performance.

Human factors psychology, or 'engineering psychology', is the study of how people interact with machines and technology. Human factors psychologists work on making these interactions easier, safer, and more pleasant. They work in a wide range of sectors, including business, government, and academia. Human factors specialists apply their knowledge of psychology to accomplish objectives such as improving work environments for employees, designing products that are safe and easy to use, and increasing productivity by improving human performance and reducing human error.

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