What Are the Subfields of Psychology?
Psychology is the field of science that focuses on the mind and behavior. Although it’s a relatively new science, psychology has quickly become a very popular scientific field, and many subfields of psychology have emerged.
The initial focus of psychology was on the causes and effects of the mental processes involved in behaviors. Now, psychologists understand that many factors contribute to and influence behaviors.
In This Article:
- Exploring the Subfields of Psychology: Which Will You Pursue After Earning a Psychology Degree?
- Benefits of Pursuing a Career in Different Areas of Psychology
Exploring the Subfields of Psychology: Which Will You Pursue After Earning a Psychology Degree?
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in one of the various fields of psychology, you could make it your life’s work to facilitate positive change for others. Keep reading to learn about some of the subfields of psychology to explore.
Psychological Research and Ethics
Psychological research and ethics is a rewarding field for those more interested in the scientific progress of psychology. Like all sciences, psychology requires investigation into the causes of behavior based on research, observation and measurement. Psychological researchers must be able to support theories with data and analysis, as well as understand the ethical issues surrounding research subjects and how they should be treated.
You can explore jobs working in academic research with a bachelor’s degree, so earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology is a good place to start in this field. Additionally, consider looking for entry-level research assistant jobs or similar positions.
The different areas of psychology often recognize that the mind and body are closely intertwined. For example, 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. After earning a psychology degree, 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.
Social psychology focuses on the study of humans in social contexts. Social psychologists study the influence of others on an individual’s thoughts or behaviors, and make interpretations and predictions about people’s feelings, beliefs and behaviors.
Child and Adolescent Psychology
As the name implies, child and adolescent psychology focuses on patients from infancy through adolescence. More specifically, this subfield is the psychological study, assessment and treatment of children and adolescents, often in a clinical setting. This includes topics such as:1
- Cognitive, emotional, developmental and behavioral issues
- Trauma and loss
- Stress and coping
- Issues in a social context
Although it may be difficult to watch children experience hardships during their childhoods, making sure that each child’s basic psychological needs are met can also be very rewarding.
Adult Development and Aging
This subfield of psychology focuses on the study of adult development, the many different aspects of adulthood and how they relate to psychology. One major topic in this subfield is how people change throughout their adult development and aging.
A similar subfield to adult development is geropsychology. Geropsychology is a specialty that focuses on helping an aging population and their families maintain their psychological and physical well-being to achieve their maximum potential during later life. This means that geropsychology deals with many different topics, including mental health, chronic illness, grief and loss, health promotion and end-of-life care.2 You can best learn about these topics by earning a graduate degree, such as a master’s in geropsychology.
Sport and Performance Psychology
Sport and performance psychology studies how behaviors and thoughts affect sports and athletic performance. A psychologist in this field will work with athletes, coaches and trainers to increase motivation and performance based on research and theories. These professionals often advise athletes on enhancing their performance in different environments and can even counsel athletes about the developmental and social issues related to sports participation.
Earning a bachelor’s in sports psychology is a great place to start if you intend to become a sports psychologist. This degree program will teach you fundamental skills surrounding performance and mental health and will serve as the initial step for those who want to pursue a career in this field.
This subfield of psychology bridges biology and cognition, dealing with how the brain produces our thoughts, feelings and behaviors in biological terms. These psychologists study brain development and change as well as how the brain is affected by injury and disease. Cognitive neuroscience also focuses on areas of the brain that control mental processes, such as thinking, and investigates how the brain controls these mental activities.
Forensic psychology is another subfield of psychology that acts as a bridge between two fields — in this case, the science of human behavior and law. This field can be enticing to those interested in criminal psychology as well as the criminal justice system, although it is often glorified in pop culture.
Forensic psychologists play a vital role in the criminal justice system. Some common functions performed by these professionals include:3
- Providing sentencing recommendations and competency evaluations
- Giving testimony as an expert witness
- Performing child custody evaluations
- Consulting with law enforcement
- Providing psychological services to inmates and offenders
Earning a master’s in forensic psychology can help you understand the fundamentals of this subfield, as well as the role it plays in the criminal justice system, while also exploring topics related to criminal psychology and the legal system.
Professionals in abnormal psychology focus on atypical behavior in members of a society, including mental health disorders and their treatments. These behaviors often change within different cultural groups and generations, as behavior considered atypical in one culture may be common in another. This means that although studies done by abnormal psychologists may investigate a wide variety of behaviors, they are connected by a theme of abnormality.
Abnormal psychology also encompasses the study of social norms and the standards of acceptable behavior within a society. Abnormal behaviors that happen outside of societal norms can help psychologists understand the causes behind the behaviors.
The health psychology field revolves around not only people’s mental health, but also their physical health and well-being. A health psychologist strives to ensure that their patients are at their best — physically, mentally and cognitively — and are living their healthiest lifestyle overall. They emphasize the relationship between the body and mind and how making changes in one affects the other.
Earning a master’s in health psychology can prepare you to work in a variety of settings, including:
- Community health
- Occupational health
- Public health
- Clinical health
As a health psychologist, you can choose to work with others on a larger scale or on a more personal scale — whichever you prefer. Either way, you will work to help people make healthy physical and mental choices.
Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Industrial and organizational psychology, also known as I/O psychology, is the study of human behavior in organizations and the workplace.4 Many topics fit into this subfield, so it may be beneficial to earn a PhD in General Psychology with I/O psychology emphasis to ensure that you understand all the factors of this field. Applicants for this PhD program must have either a master’s degree in psychology and the required GPA from an institutionally accredited school or a doctoral degree in the psychology field and the required GPA from an institutionally accredited school.
An I/O psychologist addresses many issues in the workplace, and they have expertise in the design, execution and interpretation of human psychology as it applies to organized work. They often coach employers and employees to ensure a high quality of life and work within an organization as well as identifying needs for training and development.
Benefits of Pursuing a Career in Different Areas of Psychology
No matter which of these psychology fields appeals to you, you can look forward to pursuing a meaningful career that has the potential to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Here are some benefits of majoring in psychology:
- Wide variety in careers: One of the many benefits of pursuing a career in psychology is the wide selection and diverse types of psychology to choose from. Majoring in psychology can lead you to many career paths and allow you to find a path that is the best fit for you.
- Learning about yourself and others: In becoming a psychologist, there are some questions you may ask yourself along the way. These questions include, Why do people behave in a certain way? and Am I interested in learning more about people’s emotions, actions and thoughts? By having your own interest in these subjects, you will be able to learn more about the individuals you will be helping.
- Having rewarding work: If you enjoy working out difficult problems and helping people through challenges, then psychology may be the right career field for you. You have the opportunity to dig deeper and understand people by conducting behavioral, emotional and cognitive exercises.
- Changing people’s lives: Helping people work through their problems and struggles can allow them to change and experience improved physical, emotional and mental health.
- Research and observe data: Leading or helping to run psychology studies requires spending many hours on researching methods, tactics and statistics. Learning to gather and organize data can be an impactful skill to have as a psychologist.
- Networking professionally: Psychology degrees provide you with opportunities to undertake internships or practicums and research projects. Getting your voice out there in the professional world while earning your degree can help showcase the skills you have developed from your studies.
- Studying something you’re passionate about: If you enjoy working with individuals and are passionate about the different fields of psychology, then you should consider getting a degree in this field. Discovering the type of psychology you want to study can be an adventure in itself.
Grand Canyon University’s (GCU) College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers a wide variety of psychology degrees at all levels that will introduce you to the various subfields of psychology. To learn more about your options at GCU and begin pursuing your own preferred psychology field, complete the form on this page.
1American Psychological Association. (2020, August). Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 13, 2023.
2American Psychological Association. (2008). Geropsychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 13, 2023.
3Cherry, K. (2022, October 18). An Overview of Forensic Psychology. Verywell Mind. Retrieved April 13, 2023.
4American Psychological Association. (2022, May). Industrial and Organizational Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 13, 2023.
Approved by the assistant dean of Behavioral Health from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on May 24, 2023.
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. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.
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