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Subfields of Psychology

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Subfields of Psychology

The study of the human mind is vast and touches every area of our experience. It seems there is no human dynamic that we can not look at through the lens of psychology. Therefore, to better serve a particular group of people, we can break down the study and practice of psychology into various subfields.

  • What are the subfields of psychology?
  • What are the basic and applied research subfields?

Subfields of Psychology colorful abstract of the mind StudySmarterColorful abstract of the mind, pixabay.com

Subfields of Psychology

A subfield is a more targeted area of research within a field of study. Each subfield in psychology specializes in a different area of human experience. The subfields of psychology can be organized into three main categories: basic research, applied research, and the helping professions.

Let's take a closer look at these categories and their components.

Basic Research Subfields

The basic research subfields include those that help build the basis of knowledge in psychology. The following are the basic research subtypes:

Cognitive

The subfield of cognitive psychology focuses on the human mind. Professionals in this field explore thinking, intelligence, language, attention and memory, and perception. Cognitive psychologists might work in research, as professors, or within the business world.

Developmental

Developmental psychology researches behavioral and cognitive changes as we grow, mature, and age. These professionals observe the psychological, social, and biological changes that occur throughout life. Research in this area is shared with educational institutes and care facilities, and informs public policy.

Educational

Professionals in this subfield focus their research on the psychology of learning and the effect different environments have on it. Researchers also create more effective learning materials, teaching methods, or testing strategies.

Experimental

Experimental psychologists often work within research establishments or academic institutions. They conduct experimental research within a specific field such as perception, language acquisition, or motivation.

Psychometric and Quantitative

Psychometric and quantitative psychologists help interpret the research collected from psychological studies and experiments. They decipher the statistics, technology, and research methods of data collection. They also create and implement tests and interpret the scores and results.

Social

The subfield of social psychology is concerned with how we interact with others. Experts in this field investigate how people we interact with influence our behavior, beliefs, and worldviews. These professionals might work in schools, hospitals, and marketing, or as social media consultants.

Applied Research Subfields

The applied research subfields are concerned with solving practical problems like increasing productivity, training employees, the culture of the workplace, and the quality of the implementation of systems.

Forensic

Forensic psychologists are concerned with the intersection of law and psychology. For example, they might work with law enforcement, correctional facilities, and universities. They assist in criminal investigations, conduct research to influence the creation of laws concerning mental health, or consult in court proceedings.

Environmental

Environmental psychologists are concerned with the reciprocal influence of individuals on their environment. These professionals might study the cognitive repercussions of sustainability, urbanism, and wildlife conservation.

Health

Health psychologists help people live healthier lives by cultivating healthy habits and eliminating harmful behaviors. They may work on the community level to implement programs that encourage safe sex practices or help those suffering from addiction. They also work on the national level to help reform healthcare systems.

Industrial-Organizational

Industrial-organizational psychologists are concerned with the effects of the working environment on the individual. For example, they might work for a company to help them select personnel, improve productivity, and boost morale.

Neuropsychology

Neuropsychologists are concerned with the psychological ramifications of changes or irregularities in the organic material of the brain. You might find these professionals working in Alzheimer's research and treatment or with patients with traumatic brain injuries. In addition, they might work with patients with psychiatric disorders, or those on the autism spectrum.

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation psychologists work with patients who have changes to their optimal health function after an event or injury. They might work in a health facility, hospital, or academic institution.

School

School psychologists are concerned with creating an optimal learning environment for students. They also work in intervention or as guidance counselors to identify and treat emotional or social problems. They might work in schools, child welfare, or research agencies.

Sport

Sports psychologists are concerned with the psychological effects and influences of physical activities. They work with coaches on leadership and with athletes to improve performance. They might work for a university, research association, or as part of an athletic team.

The Helping Professions

The Helping Professions are concerned with the interaction of people, their environment, and machines.

Clinical

These professionals work to treat patients with clinical disorders. You can find them working as psychotherapists, using a variety of approaches to treat patients with long-term disorders like schizophrenia or depression. They might be teachers, researchers, or therapists.

Community

Community psychologists address mental heath on the community, rather than individual level. They focus on enhancing a community or environment to promote better psychological health. For example, they might work in crisis prevention, or intervention with the local government, or advocate for better integration of underrepresented groups and minorities.

Counseling

Counseling psychologists help individuals adjust to challenging situations or events in their lives. Just like clinical psychologists, they often work as counselors. However, their patients suffer from much milder disorders.

Important Subfields

There are varying subfields of psychology that are important.

Important Subfields for Psychologists

The largest subfield of psychology is clinical psychology. The most significant number of working professionals in psychology are clinical specialists. This subfield encompasses a substantial and intriguing field of research.

Professionals working in this field also require substantial education and certification. Clinical psychologists must complete doctoral studies. If they intend to work as therapists, they must obtain state licensure.

Important Subfields for Teachers

Educational and school psychology are two subfields of particular importance to teachers. Educational psychologists work to cultivate an environment for optimal learning for students. They also help develop the most effective teaching strategies for teachers. School psychologists focus on preventing or eliminating obstacles to learning. They ensure that the learning environment is optimal for encouraging the highest quality of education. Sometimes, their work includes helping individual students who might suffer from depression or mood disorders. They also work in prevention and help identify students who may be at risk or experiencing violence at home or in their personal lives.

Subfields of Psychology - Key takeaways

  • The subfields of psychology are grouped into three categories: basic research, applied research, and the helping professions.
  • The basic research subfields are cognitive, developmental, educational, experimental, psychometric and quantitative, and social psychology.
  • The applied research subfields are forensic, environmental, health, industrial-organizational, neuropsychology, rehabilitation, social, and sports psychology.
  • The helping professions are clinical, community, and counseling psychology.
  • The most popular subfields of psychology are clinical and counseling psychology.
  • Clinical psychologists make up the largest percentage of psychologists.
  • Educational and school psychology are the most important subfields for teachers.

Frequently Asked Questions about Subfields of Psychology

Clinical and counseling psychology are the two most popular subfields of psychology.

The subfields of psychology are cognitive, developmental, educational, experimental, psychometric and quantitative, social, forensic, environmental, health, industrial-organizational, neuropsychology, rehabilitation, school, sport, clinical, community, and counseling psychology. 

Clinical psychology represents the largest percentage of psychologists. 

The helping professions emphasize the positive potential of humans. 

Educational and school psychology are two subfields of particular importance to teachers. 

Final Subfields of Psychology Quiz

Question

A psychologist who works with families to help build coping skills is likely a:

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Counseling Psychologist

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Check the helping professionals.

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5th-grade teacher

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A psychologist that provides therapy to patients with severe mental health disorders is probably a:


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Clinical Psychologist 

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A Helping professional is someone who offers ______ and _____ services to individuals and the community.


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Health, education

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A psychologist who works to help groups of people through prevention and intervention methods is likely a:

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Community Psychologist

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Question

What are the three categories of subfields in psychology?

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Basic research, applied research, and the helping professions.

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Which one of the following is not one of the helping professions?

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School psychology

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Which one of the following is not one of the basic research subfields?

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Neuropsychology

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Which two subfields are particularly important to teachers?

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School and developmental psychology

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What are the two most popular subfields of psychology?

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Clinical and counseling psychology

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Which of the following is not one of the applied research subfields? 

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Cognitive psychology

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Which subfield represents the largest number of psychologists?

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Clinical psychology

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Which subfield is the most similar to clinical psychology?

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Counseling psychology

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Which category of subfields is concerned with the workplace?

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Applied research subfields

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Which category of subfields is concerned with the interaction of people, the environment, and machines?

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The helping professions

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Which category of subfields is concerned with building a basis of knowledge within psychology?

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Basic research subfields

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What is applied research?

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Research that directly focuses on solving a real-world problem.

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What is naturalistic observation?

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Observing a specific problem in a real-world environment.

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What do MRI machines do?

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Scan the brain to show its structure and abnormalities.

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What is the goal of cognitive psychology?

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To understand how the brain works.

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What do climate and environmental psychologists focus on?

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How the environment impacts human behavior and how to promote climate-conscious action.

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What do clinical psychologists do?

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Assess, diagnose, and treat mental disorders.

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What do counseling psychologists do?

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Assess and treat psychological problems and stress, as well as mental disorders.

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How are clinical psychology and counseling psychology different?

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Clinical psychologists have their eyes on more severe and long-lasting conditions, whereas counseling psychologists look at the overall well-being of a person.

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What does developmental psychology focus on?

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How we grow, adapt, and develop at different life stages.

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What do forensic and public service psychologists do?

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Forensic and public service psychology help provide insight on criminal behavior, as well as treat victims of crime.

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What does health & rehabilitation psychology focus on?

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Promoting better bodily health through psychology, along with adapting to chronic illness and healing from injuries.

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What is human factors and engineering psychology?

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Looking at products and processes to see if they are intuitive to use and conducive to how people use things.  

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What are industrial & organizational psychologists (I/O psychologists) focused on?

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Assessing how to help with employee communication, productivity, and satisfaction

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What does sports and performance psychology help people with?

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Be more confident in their skills so they can perform their best

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What is external validity?

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How much results from research can be applied outside of the testing envrionment.

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What is informed consent?

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Knowing what you are agreeing to.

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True/False: participants might feel pressured to partake in an applied research study, especially in a workplace or team.

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True

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Examples of biological helping professions:

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Doctor

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Occupational Therapists (OTs) are healthcare professionals who focus on bridging the gap between physical and mental difficulties with daily tasks. True or false?

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True

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There are ___ foundational skills that helping professionals should possess.

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5

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What isn't a non-verbal skill helping professionals are trained in? 

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Eye contact 

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What isn't a verbal skill that helping professionals are trained in? 

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Skilled in encouraging others to open up

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Licensed clinical social workers and licensed counselors are the same thing. True or false?

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False

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You can be a Psychiatrist with a Master's degree in psychology. True or false?

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False. Psychiatrists are required to go to medical school followed by a residency like any other medical doctor. 

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Which of the following is NOT an example of nonverbal skills? 

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Paraphrasing and reflecting 

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Which of the following is NOT an example of verbal skills? 

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Voice tone


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True or False: Helping professionals in psychology need to be culturally sensitive and aware.

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True

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What type of communication are helping professionals trained in? 

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Therapeutic Communication

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Approximately how many hours of practical experience do counselors need for licensure? 

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At least 1,000 hours 

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What type of license do counselors need to practice? 

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Counselors are state-licensed

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What type of degree do community psychologists need? 

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Community psychologists need at least a graduate degree or higher

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True or False: Clinical psychologists do NOT need field experience along with a doctoral degree to establish their counseling practices and conduct research. 

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False

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Which of the following does not describe the requirements needed to become a helping professional in psychology? 

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Helping professionals in psychology need to be a certain age. 

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Which of the following is not one of the six foundational skills that helping professionals should possess:

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Being happy all the time

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