Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior, or the way people think, feel, and behave. The field of psychology includes different disciplines and subfields of study, including child development, workplace productivity, and rehabilitation psychology. Understanding the types of psychology can help you decide whether seeing a psychologist is the next best step for you or a loved one.
What it implies
Psychology has come a long way since the days of lying on the therapist’s couch. Your experience with a psychologist will depend on many factors, including why you are seeing them. Whatever the reason, however, you’ll likely start by answering a few questions about your current situation.
You may be questioned about the following:
- If you have seen a psychologist before
- What brings you to the date (your main concern)
- What do you think is the problem
- What you hope to achieve by meeting a psychologist
- How you will pay for your appointments (insurance or out of pocket)
At the end of your first date, you should leave with a general idea of what the psychologist recommends and if you can work well with that psychologist.
Types of doctors who practice it
Psychologists with a doctorate in clinical psychology can diagnose mental disorders but cannot prescribe drugs to treat these disorders.
Physicians and mental health professionals who use psychology in their daily practice include:
- Psychiatrists can provide psychotherapy and prescribe medication.
- Mental health practitioners are licensed therapists who do not prescribe medication.
- School counselors and early childhood educators use their knowledge of psychology to help children and adolescents.
- Clinical social workers are trained to assess mental health and develop recovery plans that involve referrals to community resources.
Psychologists can work with people for the short or long term, and can help you go through major life transitions, including talking to friends and family, becoming a parent, or making an important career change. People also see psychologists to deal with chronic illnesses and terminal illnesses.
Conditions treated by psychologists include:
- Addiction, including substance use disorders
- Eating disorders such as binge eating or anorexia nervosa
- Personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder or paranoid personality disorder
- Psychotic disorders, which affect a person’s sense of reality and cause hallucinations or delusions
- Mood disorders, where people experience mood swings over several weeks (extreme happiness, extreme sadness, or both)
- Sleep-wake disorders, including insomnia and excessive fatigue during the day
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Psychologists may focus on an area of interest known as a subspecialty. Each subspecialty can open the door to a different career path and a different way of helping people:
- Biopsychologists or biological psychologists are brain and behavior researchers.
- Consumer psychologists are the people behind what drives your desire to buy certain items and support certain brands over others.
- Environmental psychologists focus on your relationship with your surroundings, whether it’s a community park, schoolyard, or business building.
- Counseling psychologists work in clinics with clients using talk therapy to address underlying thought patterns and behaviors. They also help build self-confidence and self-confidence.
- Forensic psychologists work closely with the law as expert resources for criminal cases, child custody assessments and civil cases.
- Military psychologists and aviation psychologists focus directly on the emotional needs of the military or the aviation industry.
- Personality psychologists focus on how the personality is formed, whether it is changeable and what contributes to personality disorders.
- Social psychologists using their skills to improve teamwork and productivity or reduce stigma that can contribute to a toxic office culture, for example.
Since psychology is such a large field of study, different types of practitioners focus on specific types of people, disorders, or concerns. Here are some examples :
- Cognitive psychology focuses on human thinking, memory, reasoning, perception, decision making and judgment.
- Developmental psychology focuses on specific stages of life, from the prenatal period through adolescence to adulthood at the end of life.
- Engineering psychology focuses on the functionality and usability of the product.
- Health psychology or medical psychology deals not only with health, illness and health care, but also with education and prevention of physical and psychological illness.
- Organizational psychology focuses on work environments and increasing morale and productivity.
- Neuropsychology focuses on the functioning of the brain, such as how the brain reacts and recovers from an injury or trauma.
- Educational psychology discusses how people learn and retain new information, as well as the best methods to help people with memory.
- Rehabilitation psychology specializes in people with disabilities and chronic health issues.
- Research or experimental psychology this is where the hypotheses are tested.
- Social and personality psychology deals with what makes us do the things we do.
- Sport and performance psychology helps athletes or artists overcome mental blocks and maximize career potential, as well as teams improve their chances of success.
Training and certifications
When looking for a mental health professional, check their training and certifications, as the training and practice required for different roles vary.
An advisor is a person who offers advice or guidance, consultation or instruction to someone else. While many states require counselors to be licensed by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), this may not be the case where you live.
If you see an “L” before their professional title (the letters after their name), it means they are considered clinicians in good standing with a state license.
Examples include a Licensed Family and Marriage Counselor (LFMC), Licensed Professional Clinical Mental Health Advisor (LPCC), or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Some counselors will also choose to complete additional certifications.
Professional therapists will have obtained a bachelor’s degree and usually at least a master’s degree or even a doctorate. Therapists can tailor their career path to suit their interests and training.
Therapists can focus on:
Psychologists earn their undergraduate degree in psychology or a related field before obtaining a relevant master’s degree and a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) or Psychology (PsyD) in clinical psychology or counseling psychology.
Regardless of their doctoral student status, they are not considered to be doctors and cannot prescribe medication. However, they must comply with state licensing requirements.
Psychiatrists are doctors by definition. They start with a bachelor’s degree before going to medical school and earning their MD or doctorate. Thereafter, they undergo four additional years of residency in psychiatry.
During their residency, psychiatrists are exposed to a variety of patients, conditions, and healthcare settings. They can also choose an area of interest where they can take further training, such as child and adolescent psychiatry or drug addiction.
Psychology is said to have roots in ancient Greece, but is nonetheless considered to be a relatively new discipline that emerged in the 19e century (late 1800s).
Psychology’s focus on the conscious mind changes dramatically with Sigmund Freud, an Austrian physician who brought to the fore the idea of the unconscious and psychoanalysis as a method of treatment. Freud believed that mental illness could be treated by talking to the patient, and this formed the basis of important aspects of clinical psychology as we know it today.
In addition to the psychoanalytic school of thought, there are many others, including:
- Behaviorism, or the emphasis on observable behaviors, which led to the idea that behaviors can be learned through conditioning
- Humanistic psychology, which emphasizes the whole of individual and human motivation
- Cognitive psychology, which focuses on internal cognitive processes and brain function
Psychology focuses on the way we think, feel and act. Mental health professionals must complete their education in psychology before they are permitted to provide psychotherapy and treatment for mental disorders.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Can You Do With A Psychology Degree?
What you can do with a degree in psychology depends on the level of the degree obtained and your specific area of interest. You can do clinical counseling or psychotherapy or participate in research.
Why is psychology important?
Psychology is important because it explains human behavior, or why we do the things we do. It can also be used to help individuals and organizations make desired changes and excel in their productivity and performance.
What are the four goals of psychology?
The four main goals of psychology are to describe the behavior (what happened), to explain the behavior (why did it happen), to predict the behavior (what would happen if), and to change or control behavior (what can we do next time).