Psychology is one of the most varied academic disciplines today and includes potential career paths both in research and clinical practice. Although psychologists may use a range of labels to describe their field of expertise or study, the American Psychology Association only recognizes 14 specializations. Two fields were added as late as 2013: Sleep Psychology and Police and Public Safety Psychology.
It is important for students to note that some concentrations are doctoral-based**, but should be considered if the goal of completing a master’s is to continue into a PhD program. Below is a list of APA-recognized concentration areas within the profession:
Clinical Neuropsychology is a specialized area of practice concerned with the science and study of human behavior, specifically brain behavior, development and functioning. Educational preparation for this field begins at the doctoral level with additional training completed in post-doctoral settings.
Clinical Health Psychology
Clinical health psychology has its foundations in the health sciences, dealing with the scientific study of physical and emotional illness. The field applies scientific study to multiple, interrelated subjects, including anatomy, pharmacology, human physiology and more. Specifically, practitioners in this area concentrate specialized knowledge to promote and maintain healthy behaviors, preventative and treatment methods for illness and disability, as well as overall improvement of the health care system.
Psychoanalysis in Psychology**
Psychoanalysis in psychology concerns itself with a specialized approach to therapeutic activity with theories that examine areas such as social behavior or cognitive processes. Training in this area is intensive and can only be completed in a post-doctoral situation – which may take several years to complete. Professionals in psychoanalysis implement both short- and long-term therapeutic activities such as dream interpretation or group therapy.
School psychology is considered by the APA to be a general, service-oriented practice within the field. It deals with the psychology of children, youth, and their families, providing a range of assessment, intervention and evaluation processes within the educational setting. School psychology teaches students about developing effective psychological techniques to promote the development of effective learning environments.
Clinical psychology is an application-based psychological specialty built on research, assessment, counseling and consultation and treatment of mental health and behavioral issues in individuals and families alike. The field includes a broad scope of practice, covering all ages, demographics and cultural backgrounds.
Clinical Child Psychology
Clinical child psychology is a professional field of study, where psychologists provide services and care to children, ranging from infants to adolescents. Studies in this area focus on developing a student’s understanding of child psychology, such as cognitive development and deficits, mental disorders, emotional disorders or stress problems.
Counseling psychology is another general, service-based practice in psychology. The profession focuses on interpersonal relationships, addressing emotional and social issues, work and school problems and health concerns. Practically, counseling psychologists assist individuals, couples, children and families alike to enhance their well-being, handle personal crises and alleviate points of emotional or behavioral stress (e.g., depression, anxiety).
At its core, industrial and organizational psychology is the study of human behavior in the workplace, and applies scientific research to investigate group, individual and organizational behaviors. In this field of practice, psychologists use their knowledge to optimize working performance, assess individual training needs, create training programs and implement organizational assessment platforms.
Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology
A professional area of psychology practice, behavioral and cognitive psychology deals specifically with cognitive processing; at its most basic, the methods of thinking and learning. Combining a clinical and research approach to the practice, psychologists in this area study a range of issues, such as substance abuse, depression, learning disorders, mental health problems and emotional behavior issues.
Forensic psychology is positioned as a professional, expert-based area of study and profession, where psychologists apply their experience and expertise to the judicial system. Typically, forensic psychology concentrates study in three areas: clinical (e.g., assessment, diagnosis, treatment); forensics (techniques to apply psychological training to legal questions); and the legal system (understanding of laws and the overall legal system).
A broad field of psychology, family psychology is another professionally-oriented specialty that concentrates on understanding human behavior’s impact in the family dynamic. Larger topics include communication and organizational theory, psychotherapy, personality and human behavior, family assessment, advocacy and training, consultation skills and family and couples therapy.
A recent addition (approved in 2010), geropsychology endeavors to study the older adult, in particular aging, adult development, mental health in later stages of life and health maintenance. Geropsychology is closely aligned with the social service practice, addressing issues ranging from depression and the grief of loss to family caregiving, end-of-life considerations to dealing with chronic illnesses.
Police & Public Safety Psychology
This branch of psychology combines psychological research and practice within the law enforcement and public safety industries. Experience in this practice is wide ranging, covering everything from understanding crisis intervention to creating criminal profiles, researching hostage negotiation techniques to improving law enforcement training, police and public safety psychologists.
At its core, sleep psychology studies sleep disorders, including underlying psychological, physiological and behavioral issues that may be causing or disrupting normative sleep behaviors. Research focuses in areas such as sleep cycles, sleep regulation, sleep deprivation, insomnia and sleep-related breathing disorders.