Clinical Practice in Institutional Settings
Psychologists work in hospitals, clinics, extended-care facilities, and many other types of institutions that deliver mental healthcare services. In such settings, a psychologist might be a practitioner, an administrator, or both.
Some clinical psychologists are heavily engaged in scientific research within their area of expertise; a great deal of research is conducted within universities, but much is also conducted within other public (ie., government) institutions, or private industry.
The next few paragraphs comprise descriptions of some of the different subfields of Psychology in which one could pursue a career. (A similar list that includes a few additional subfields can be found at the website of the American Psychological Association).
Psychology and Business
The field of Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology has been rapidly expanding in recent years. Today, many psychologists are employed by large businesses, to develop and administer measures aimed at maximizing productivity and employee well-being and retention.
Industrial/organizational psychologists are concerned with such issues as: organizational structure and change; workers’ productivity and job satisfaction; consumer behavior; selection, placement, training, and development of personnel; and the interaction between humans and machines. They work in businesses, industries, governments, and colleges and universities. Some may be self-employed as consultants or work for management consulting firms.
Experimental psychologists are a diverse group of psychologists who conduct research on and often teach about a variety of basic behavioral processes. These processes include learning, sensation, perception, human performance, motivation, memory, language, thinking, and communication. Experimental psychologists also study the behavior and neurobiology of animals, in order to better understand human behavior. Most experimental psychologists conduct their research in an academic setting, such as a university, but many work instead for some branch of government, or in a private-industry lab.
Psychology and the Law (Forensic Psychology)
As an area of research, psychology and law is concerned both with looking at legal issues from a psychological perspective (e.g., how juries decide cases), and with looking at psychological questions in a legal context (e.g., assessing a defendant’s mental competency). Forensic psychologists may provide assessments or expert testimony for the courts, or provide consultation on such matters as jury selection, or the reliability of eyewitness testimony. Many forensic psychologists also have degrees in Law.
The field of Health Psychology deals with the promotion and maintenance of behavior and lifestyle choices that are conducive to good health, or the prevention or treatment of illness. In applied contexts, such as hospitals or community healthcare centers, health psychologist often collaborate with other medical health professionals in treating certain individuals.
Health psychologists conduct research into the various ways that behavioral, biological, and social factors interact to affect health. For example, a health psychologist might study how stress in the workplace affects the incidence of heart disease.
Psychologists who work in the field of rehabilitation psychology work with people who have suffered a physical deprivation or loss, helping them deal with the psychological aspects of disability and rehabilitation. A typical client may be someone who has recently become paraplegic, or who has lost her eyesight, or who suffers from a chronic illness. Individuals in these or similar unfortunate situations will face many new challenges in everyday life, and a rehabilitation psychologist may provide a range of psychological supports to help them function. Research in the field of rehabilitation psychology examines how biological, social, or environmental factors affect the functioning of people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
Neuropsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience
Neuropsychologists study the relations among brain structure and behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and sensory and perceptual functions. Neuropsychologists also diagnose and treat disorders related to the central nervous system. Behavioral neuroscientists are primarily researchers who study the interactions between brain functions and behavior. A behavioral neuroscientist may do research that is either “basic”, “applied”, or both. Most behavioral neuroscientists conduct research in an academic environment (ie., a university), where they can do research on nearly any topic they wish, so long as they can receive funding for it, which is typically in the form of a government grant. Other behavioral neuroscientists are employed by government to conduct research on various applied issues, or by pharmaceutical companies to conduct preclinical studies of drugs.
Careers in Social Psychology
The field of social psychology deals with how people interact with each other and how they are affected by social environments. Most social psychologist work in academia, and are therefore heavily engaged in research and teaching.
Careers in Developmental Psychology
Developmental psychologists study human development across the life span, from newborns to the aging population. They are employed in academic settings, teaching and doing research, or may work in applied settings such as day-care centers and in programs with youth groups, community mental health centers, or nursing homes.