Graduate School - Areas of Specialization

The psychology major provides its students with both a liberal arts education and the opportunity to explore specific areas of psychology in which they have special interests. Graduate education is a process of further refinement during which students become increasingly proficient and knowledgeable in an area of psychological specialization. Described below are some specialty areas in psychology that require graduate education. (See also APA's Psychology/Careers for the Twenty-first Century: Scientific Problem Solvers - located in the student/work study room.)

CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY: Clinical psychologists assess and treat people with mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. They may act as therapists for people experiencing normal psychological crises (e.g., grief) or for individuals suffering from chronic psychiatric disorders. Some clinical psychologists are generalists who work with a wide variety of populations, while others work with specific groups like children, the elderly, or those with specific disorders (e.g., schizophrenia). They are trained in universities or professional schools of psychology. They may be found working in academic settings, hospitals, community health centers, or private practice.

COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY: Cognitive psychologists study a variety of mental processes that people use every day, such as attention, perception, memory, problem solving, reasoning, judgment, decision-making, and language comprehension and production. They typically use experimental approaches to understand how the mind completes these tasks.

COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY: Counseling psychologists help people recognize their strengths and resources to cope with their problems. They may do similar counseling/psychotherapy as clinical psychologists; however, counseling psychologists tend to focus more on persons with adjustment problems rather than on persons suffering from severe psychological disorders. They may be trained in Psychology departments or schools of Education. Counseling psychologists are employed in academic settings, community mental health centers, and private practice.

DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: Developmental psychologists study how we develop intellectually, socially, and emotionally over the lifespan. Some focus on just one period of life (e.g., childhood or adolescence). Developmental psychologists usually do research and teach in academic settings, but many act as consultants to day care centers, schools, or social service agencies.

EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY: Educational psychologists are concerned with the study of human learning. They attempt to understand the basic aspects of learning and then develop materials and strategies for enhancing the learning process. For example, an educational psychologist might study reading and then develop a new technique for teaching reading. They are typically trained in Schools of Education and employed in academic settings. (See also School Psychology.)

EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: This area includes a diverse group of psychologists who do research in the most basic areas of psychology (e.g., learning, memory, cognition, perception, motivation, and language). Their research may be conducted with animals instead of humans. Most of these psychologists work in academic settings.

FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY: Forensic psychologists apply psychological principles to legal issues. They may help a judge decide on child custody or evaluate a defendant's competence to stand trial. Some are involved in analyzing crime evidence, some do clinical work in corrections settings, some work as consultants to trial lawyers, some serve as expert witnesses in jury trials, and some formulate public policy on psychology and the law. Most forensic psychologists have PhDs in clinical psychology; some also hold JDs in law.

HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY: Health psychologists are concerned with psychology's contributions to the promotion and maintenance of good health and the prevention and treatment of illness. They may design and conduct programs to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight, manage stress, and stay physically fit. They are employed in hospitals, medical schools, rehabilitation centers, public health agencies, academic settings, and private practice.

HUMAN FACTORS PSYCHOLOGY: Human Factors researchers study the human/machine interface. They may help make appliances such as cameras user-friendly, or they may do studies of safety-related issues in the design of machinery, airplane controls and instrument layouts, or they may do basic research on human perceptual and motor abilities as they relate to the operation of machines, computers, and other mechanical devices.

INDUSTRIAL/ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY: Industrial/organizational psychologists are primarily concerned with the relationships between people and their work environments. They may develop new ways to increase productivity or be involved in personnel selection. They are employed in business, government agencies, and academic settings.

PHYSIOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY: Physiological psychologists study the physiological correlates of behavior. They study both very basic processes (e.g., how brain cells function) and more readily observable phenomena (e.g., behavioral changes as a function of drug use or the biological/genetic roots of psychiatric disorders). Most are employed in academic settings. The current field of NEUROPSYCHOLOGY explores the relationship between brain systems and behavior using scans such as PET and functional MRI.

SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY: School psychologists are involved in enhancing the development of children in educational settings. They assess children's psychoeducational abilities and recommend actions to facilitate student learning. They are typically trained in Schools of Education and work in public school systems. They often act as consultants to parents, teachers, and administrators to optimize the learning environments of specific students. (See also Educational Psychology.)

SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY: Social psychologists study how our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors are affected by other persons. Some topics of interest to social psychologists are attitude formation and change, aggression, prejudice, and interpersonal attraction. Most social psychologists work in academic settings, but some work in federal agencies and businesses doing applied research.

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY: Sports psychologists are concerned with the psychological factors that impact athletic performance. They also look at the effects of exercise and physical activity on psychological adjustment and health. Sports psychologists typically work in academic settings and/or as consultants for sports teams.

Want more information?

This website gives information about the fifty-plus Divisions of the American Psychological Association. Note the many topic areas on the APA homepage - read and enjoy! For more psychology related links go to (homepage for the Association for Psychological Science, the other major national association). The more familiar you become with topics in psychology, the more you can define your career interests.

Adapted from: Lloyd, M. A. & Dewey, R. A. (1997, August 28). Areas of specialization in psychology. Retrieved from