Psychology is a broad field with many options for specialization. If you’re just starting out in your academic career, you’re likely to choose a general Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree program. However, as you prepare to head into graduate school, the degree you pursue will directly affect the type of psychologist you become in your future career. This includes where you might work and which patient demographics you'll work with, so carefully consider your options before making a decision.
Abnormal psychology is a specialization that explores patterns of behavior and thought that is considered abnormal. It’s often thought that abnormal psychology deals in extremes of mental illnesses. However, it actually focuses on any thoughts or behaviors that deviate from what is widely accepted to be the norm.
In theory, everyone has thoughts and behaviors that fall somewhere along a spectrum. The further one moves from the normal range, the more likely it is that the thoughts and behaviors in this area are considered abnormal. However, it’s important to realize that everyone has their own definition of what normal means. As a result, in practice, abnormal psychologists give greater weight to the degree to which one’s abnormal thoughts and behaviors are distressing or disruptive to one’s daily life.
Biopsychology is the intersection of biology and psychology. A biopsychologist is a professional who studies how biological changes in the brain lead to behavioral changes and challenges. These scientists explore how the brain works and how biological processes affect behaviors, emotions and thoughts. Specifically, a biopsychologist might evaluate the effects of brain lesions, brain-altering chemicals and brain-related genetics.
There are diverse opportunities available in biopsychology. Some of these professionals work for pharmaceutical companies to develop and test new medications intended to treat psychiatric disorders. Others may work directly with patients, such as those who have sustained brain damage.
Performance and Sports Psychology
Performance and sports psychology are a dynamic field that is well-suited to individuals who are passionate about both sports and psychology. Sports psychologists work with amateur athletes, professional athletes, coaches and sports organizations. They focus on the application of psychological principles to improve performance and enhance motivation. A sports psychologist’s job responsibilities can be diverse. They may do any of the following:
- Evaluate and counsel athletes with eating disorders.
- Help athletes transition to major changes, such as joining a new team or playing for a new coach.
- Guide athletes in overcoming burnout, over-training or injury-related emotional challenges.
A sports psychologist may also work to enact organization-wide changes. In a youth sport organization, for example, a psychologist may recommend changes in policy that support a healthier school-life-sports balance for participants. In a professional sports organization, psychologists may consult with management on overcoming modern challenges. As a real-life example, consider Major League Baseball (MLB) teams that have played simulated crowd noise in empty stadiums for games played during the pandemic. A psychologist may have recommended this tactic for the purpose of supporting the players’ motivation and simulating a normal game environment.
Forensic psychology involves the application of psychological principles and research to the law and to individuals involved with the law. In practical terms, forensic psychology can involve anything from conducting psychological assessments of parties involved in child custody disputes to screening law enforcement job applicants. There are many different types of jobs in forensic psychology, and not all of them require a PhD. Indeed, many professionals who work in this field hold a master’s degree instead. Careers with a psychology degree include the following:
- Expert witness: An attorney may call an expert witness, such as a psychologist, to the stand during a trial to testify about some aspect of the case.
- Defendant evaluations: A forensic psychologist may assess whether a defendant is sufficiently mentally competent to stand trial.
- Prison psychologist: A forensic psychologist may work exclusively with inmate populations.
- Corrections consultant: A corrections consultant may design rehabilitative programs, provide sentencing recommendations or evaluate an inmate’s potential risk of recidivism upon release.
Some psychologists focus on working with patient populations of a specific age range. For example, geropsychologists specialize in the psychological needs and challenges of older adults, as well as their family members and caregivers. The ultimate goal of geropsychology is to enable older adults to enjoy high quality of life and optimized potential. Furthermore, geropsychologists focus on helping family caregivers maintain their well-being while dealing with the many diverse challenges of caregiving. Geropsychologists have particular expertise in the following areas:
- The various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
- The development of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety later in life.
- The way in which older adults cope with chronic health conditions.
- The effects of grief and loss on older adults.
- The challenges associated with end-of-life care.
If you have a love of social science and a passion for helping others, consider earning your psychology degree at Grand Canyon University. Choose from a range of degree levels and specialization options, including the Bachelor of Science in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sport Psychology program and the Master of Science in Psychology with an Emphasis in Health Psychology. You can explore our types of psychology degrees by clicking on Request Info at the top of your screen.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.