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Psychology is a huge field, with some big dividing lines between the major areas of practice, as well as dozens of specialties further divided into dozens more sub-specialties. Every one of them is significant enough to support a specialized career in psychology.

General Versus Applied Psychology Is the Major Divide in Psychology Careers

The divide between the applied practice field of clinical and counseling psychology and the field of general psychological work is the biggest dividing line in professional psychology today.

The major distinction there is that both applied fields deal with direct patient contact. Whether a counseling or a clinical psychologist, your primary training and goal will be to directly work with patients and help them through psychological problems. This is generally defined as work of psychological practice.

therapy group

Applied psychologist, on the other hand, will take the same principles and training in psychological concepts and use it in a less personal way. Applied psychologists might work in the field of industrial-organizational psychology, for example, looking at companies and systems to see how their structure and management aligns with known psychological principles. Or they could work in research or marketing, taking their understanding of social psychology and human behavior and crafting ad campaigns or investigating economic market trading phenomena.

Because they have no direct patient contact, applied psychologists are not usually required to be licensed. And in many cases, that means they can get into their jobs with lower level degrees… a bachelor’s or master’s versus a master’s or doctorate, perhaps.

According to National Center for Education Statistics data from 2020, just short of 120,000 bachelor’s degrees were granted in psychology the previous year. The same year, slightly more than 29,000 master’s degrees were conferred, and just over 6,200 doctoral degrees.

That shows a big gap between the number of people who have earned, and are using, a psychology education in some field, and those who could possibly be practicing clinically.

Because research is not always considered applied psychology, there are plenty of roles for non-patient facing psychologists even in the higher degree levels. In many cases, you might actually qualify for licensure just due to your academic interests… but not need it for the jobs you pursue.

The Most Important Choice: Counseling Psychology vs. Clinical Psychology

young woman on therapist's sofa

Because it has such huge implications for both the cost of your education and the type of work you will do, the next divide in psychology probably represents the hardest choice you will have to make. And that’s the difference between clinical and counseling psychology.

For most laymen, a psychologist is someone you go to for help with some mental health issue. The exact issue, or the ways they diagnose and treat it, aren’t all that important.

But in the eyes of both practicing psychologists and counselors, and the government authorities that license them, it’s an important distinction.

The most important difference between the two is a fuzzy line: the severity of mental illness they specialize in treating.

Clinical Psychology Dives Into the Hardest Problems of Mental Health

Clinical psychological training is aimed at providing the tools and knowledge to get to the bottom of the toughest cases of serious psychopathological problems:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depressive disorders

Their training must go deep into theory and explore psychoanalytic, behavioral, and cognitive drives to get to the bottom of these complex problems. Their practice overlaps to some extent with psychiatrists, with a psycho-medical perspective in many cases. They are more likely to practice in hospitals, dedicated mental-health facilities, and private practice.

Most importantly, clinical psychologists are all licensed psychologists. That’s an important distinction defined by law… and it’s not true of counseling psychologists.

Counseling Psychology Helps Most People With Routine Challenges in Their Daily Lives

female therapist with young patient

Counseling psychologists are equipped to deal with more integrated individuals using more humanistic and individualized treatments. They may treat some of the same types of disorders as clinical psychologists, but in cases that are less severe. They also handle more general mental health problems rising from social, emotional, and physical issues.

Their patients are more responsive to traditional talk therapy and other treatments less invasive or extreme than used by clinical psychologists. Counseling psychologists get more training in those interventions and are more likely to specialize by areas such as:

  • Marital and family therapy
  • Drug and addiction counseling
  • School counseling

They may work at community health centers and other non-profits and in other human-services organizations.

While some counseling psychologists are in fact licensed psychologists, others hold different licenses and titles. So even though their education is in a psychological field, and they practice what a layman would consider to be psychology, by degree and by law they will be called:

  • Marriage and family therapists
  • Counselors
  • Social workers

…and similar titles. All of those fall into a broad range of counseling psychology work. So do actual licensed clinical psychologists who use their license to practice in counseling psychology instead.

Confused? Don’t be!

You can think of counseling psychologists as primarily working with people to attack issues that are creating stress, anxiety, or harm in their lives through specific techniques and problem-solving that may involve both standard therapy techniques and just basic reasoning and reassurance.

For clinical psychologists, the toolbox includes the advanced therapies and techniques needed for people who are otherwise completely incapable of normal function, or who suffer from complex and overlapping mental health issues.

Picking a Clinical Versus a Counseling Psychology Specialty Can Make a Big Difference in License Requirements

Although there are no hard and fast lines between the types of problems they might treat or the kinds of therapies they use, there are major differences in how these fields are licensed.

Clinical psychology licenses require a doctoral degree in psychology, full-stop. Practice as a clinical psychologist in all 50 states will take a PhD in Psychology or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree, plus passage of the EPPP, Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology exam, on top of thousands of hours of post-graduate supervised practice experience, at a minimum.

old patient meeting therapist

Counseling psychology licenses can be obtained with a master’s degree in any relevant field. There are more varieties of license that you can pursue for a career in counseling psychology, including:

  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
  • Licensed Professional Counselor / Licensed Mental Health Counselor
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Each of these also requires passing a particular test and accumulating post-graduate experience. They often have a particular area of focus that dictates what type of cases they will take or what their major concern is—social workers, for instance, work from a holistic perspective that combines therapeutic treatment with practical problem-solving like finding housing, securing food stamps, or helping clients find a job.

Complicating matters slightly, counseling psychologists who practice as licensed psychologists will also need a clinical psychology license. Although they are fully qualified to practical clinical psychology, many psychologists offer counseling services.

Finding a Degree in Psychology to Match Your Career Goals

Of course, all these considerations around licensure and field of practice have big implications for the kind of degree you will need to pursue. At the most basic, it’s a question of how far you want to take your education… standing pat with a four-year bachelor’s degree, or going all-in on a doctorate that may take a decade or more of schooling, altogether?

Associate Degrees in Psychology

Two-year associate degrees in psychology are best used as transfer degrees, counting as the first two years of a bachelor’s program between cooperating colleges. But they offer enough basic grounding in principles and history of psychology to help you land an entry-level job as an assistant in many kinds of counseling agencies or as an assistant in mental health or long-term care facilities. At an affordable price, these offer a good introduction that can get you started in your psychological education.

Average cost according to NCES: $7,562

Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology

A four-year bachelor’s degree can meet the qualifications for similar, non-clinical, non-treatment jobs in mental health care. They can also meet full qualifications for certain kinds of general psychology jobs in corporate or governmental roles. Maybe most importantly, they all come with a healthy helping of liberal arts training that gives you a well-rounded background for any kind of professional job. The critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that come with this degree can be useful in any field, and employers are increasingly setting this as the lowest bar for jobs.

Average cost according to NCES: $66,472

A bachelor’s degree qualifies you for employment in many non-patient facing psychology jobs, and is generally required to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in the field.

Master’s Degrees in Psychology

In general, regardless of major, a master’s program in psychology fields takes around two years of full-time study to complete. These programs become more specialized, often offering a wealth of concentrations to choose from. They will include internships or other practical hands-on experience. In most cases, for licensure and to ensure the right kind of educational coverage, they will need to be accredited by a specialized accrediting body in line with professional organizations of the field.

psychologist with young girl

Average cost according to NCES: $39,498 (two years)

For licensure in marriage and family therapy, counseling, or social work, a master’s is the standard professional degree required.

Doctoral Degrees in Psychology

A doctoral degree in psychology can take anywhere from four to seven years to complete. For licensed clinical psychologists, the choices here will not just span concentrations, but also two types of doctorates: the more practical, applied studies of a PsyD, or the more research-oriented, theoretical PhD in Psychology. Both will make you eligible for licensure. A PsyD may be slightly shorter and may not require a doctoral dissertation, while a PhD can offer better preparation for academic or research roles.

Average cost according to NCES: $118,494 (six years)

For counseling professionals in other fields, a doctorate represents an advanced education that offers either more practical expertise or academic and research credentials.

It’s going to be a question of goals, costs, and availability that will steer you down the right path. In many cases, online programs can help you come to grips with all three of those factors. You can learn more about degree levels, including costs, careers, and admission requirements on our Online Psychology Degree page.

And many of the areas of counseling psychology have their own unique majors… degrees in counseling, in social work, or in marriage and family therapy in addition to the more general degree in psychology. These, in turn, have their own unique concentration options, requirements for practical experience, and accreditation considerations.

Specialty Accreditation Is a Big Consideration for Any Kind of Psychology Degree

Accreditation is such a common feature of the American college system that most students never have to even think about it. It’s a process that every reputable school goes through, offered by third-party organizations which are themselves recognized by the Department of Education or the Commission on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

For certain kinds of degree programs, though, accreditation must be front and center. That’s because in order for a degree to count for licensure, including in these psychology fields, it must have an additional specialty accreditation specific to the field.

For psychology degrees, that will mean one of these heavy-hitters has to have signed on the dotted line okaying your program:

  • Psychology
    • American Psychological Association (APA) – Doctoral only
    • Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) – Master’s and above
  • Counseling
    • Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP) – Master’s and above
    • Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) – Master’s and above
  • Marriage and Family Therapy
    • Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) – Master’s and above
  • Social Work
    • Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) – Bachelor’s and Master’s

Since many of these accreditation considerations only kick in at the master’s level and above, you’re free to rely on general accreditation as your mark of excellence at the bachelor’s and associate degree levels. Ultimately, where it matters most is at the level of degree you will rely on for licensure… if a license is what you plan to pursue.

Fine Your Niche Among the Many Specializations in Psychology

teenager meeting with therapistThe further you advance in degree levels, the more important it will be that you are picking both a major and a specialization that align with your goals. It’s not just a question of licensing, although that will be an issue. It’s also the case that so much expertise is required in different areas of practice that you need to build your skills through your education. You can’t count on picking it all up on the job.

The degree concentration you pick and the major you choose will be a major factor in charting the course of your career.

These concentrations aren’t always strikingly different from one another. Studying behavior psychology introduces you to a school of ideas and treatment techniques rooted in that school. Having learned that, however, you could easily go on to apply that knowledge as a specialist in marital counseling or forensic psychology.

There are also some pretty broad overlaps between certain concentrations… child and educational psychology have a lot in common, as do rehabilitation and health psychology.

Of course, you can also use this broad palette to your advantage as you climb the degree ladder. Take a concentration in cognitive psychology as an undergraduate, and you can improve your expertise in that treatment field to then go on to apply it in a concentration in sports psychology or some other practice area at the master’s or doctoral level.

There’s no clean way to break down all the different specializations available exclusively according to the three big splits, either. You can take a concentration in gerontological psychology and go into counseling, into clinical practice, or into general research or consultation as a non-licensed psychologist.

Instead, it might be more useful to break down concentrations by the category they are concentrating on. Gerontology, for example, focuses not on a disease or a specific method of diagnosis or treatment, but a population: the elderly. A concentration in cognitive psychology doesn’t have anything to say about what issues or what population groups you work with, but rather focuses on a model of perception and treatment options for issues related to cognition.

So, we break down some of the major concentrations available in different kinds of psychology degrees, at all different levels, according to their category of classification. We note which areas of psychology you are most likely to find or use those concentrations within, and we list some of the jobs available, with their median annual salary as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The further you proceed in your psychology studies, the more clarity you will have about the differences – and the different fields you can pursue through each concentration.

Psychology Programs that Focus on Mental Health Issues

This category of concentrations seeks to teach the skills and specialized techniques needed in addressing specific issues of mental health.
young man meeting professional

Addiction Counseling

  • Counseling
  • Psychology
  • Social Work

Addictions counseling and therapy work is some of the most challenging in any psychology field. Fighting the brain’s own chemical structures and incentives is a tough battle, rarely won. But the focus in this concentration gives you the tools you need to save people and their loved ones from the despair that addiction brings.

Coursework includes:

  • An overview of various addiction disorders and the psychological and chemical grounds behind them
  • Psychopharmacology and the effects of various drugs in both addictions and treatment of addictions
  • Family and environmental considerations in addiction, covering social and emotional supports of addiction

Jobs may include:

  • Social Worker – $50,390
  • Substance Abuse Counselor – $48,520
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640

Rehabilitation Psychology

  • Counseling
  • Social Work

Rehabilitation is the process of building individuals up again after setbacks, trauma, or debilitating disease. It’s almost entirely the province of licensed counselors and social workers, who deal with individuals from all walks of life who have run into setbacks.

Rehab work has a broad swath of considerations that cross boundaries between the psychological and the practical. Coursework includes:

  • Career development and rehabilitation planning classes that offers an overview of building a rehabilitation plan and finding the resources to help support it
  • Vocational assessment and evaluation to help you assess employment opportunities and develop a baseline in client status
  • Clinical and trauma intervention techniques to assist in stabilizing clients and getting them ready to return to work and society
  • Medical and psychological considerations in disability and rehab work, building a base of understanding of how the physical and the mental interact in the rehabilitation process

Jobs may include:

  • Training and Development Specialist – $61,570
  • Rehabilitation Counselor – $38,560
  • Social Worker – $50,390

Psychology Programs that Focus on Different Patient Population Groups

Another category of psychology degree concentrations looks at the population of individuals or groups served in a specialty area.

Educational Psychology

  • Counseling
  • Psychology

Educational psychology focuses on understanding the learning processes that humans engage in every phase of life. This can take in theoretical and applied elements of developmental psychology, personality, individual behaviors, social psychology, and cultural psychology. It can be equally applicable between applied and general psychology.

Coursework in educational psychology can include:

  • Examining the principles of psychology that apply to testing and measurement, and understanding how to develop accurate measurements of learning
  • Human developmental processes and stages that form the biological bases of psychology and mental processes, ranging from infant to old age
  • Studies of the physiological processes behind learning and memory

Jobs may include:

  • School Psychologist – $82,770
  • School and Career Counselor – $60,510

schoolboy talking with therapist

Child/Adolescent Psychology

  • Counseling
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Marriage and Family Therapy

Working with children in psychology can be both challenging and rewarding. It definitely requires special training, which is what concentrations in adolescent or child psychology can offer. They prepare graduates in any kind of clinical or counseling psychology field for one-on-one or group work with kids. You’ll get a complete overview of the kinds of psychopathologies and developmental considerations present in children and adolescents as well as practical training for handling mental health issues.

Coursework often includes:

  • An overview of cognitive and developmental psychology disciplines to offer perspective on what is happening physiologically and mentally in the growing mind
  • Special techniques for psychological assessment in children, who may have limited ability to verbalize or communicate their thoughts
  • Social psychology studies focused on family systems and theory, exploring the support structure for children
  • Specialized intervention methods for psychological treatment in children

Jobs may include:

  • Social Worker – $50,390
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • School Psychologist – $82,770
  • Marriage and Family Therapist – $49,880
  • School and Career Counselor – $60,510

Gerontological Psychology

  • Counseling
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Marriage and Family Therapy

Sometimes called geropsychology, this concentration prepares students for working with older adults or in settings, like long-term care facilities, primarily populated by older adults. The challenges of aging are both physical and mental, so this concentration dives into the specific issues common in an aging brain as well as addressing the mental stresses introduced by overall wear and tear in the course of a life.

The comes through coursework including:

  • Developmental and neuroanatomical overviews of adults, exploring how the mind changes in time and what physical processes alter thought
  • Since physical issues often come with drug therapies, courses in the psychopharmacology and interactions of common drugs are often given
  • It’s important to understand health and physiological processes in aging

Jobs may include:

  • Social Worker – $50,390
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • Marriage and Family Therapist – $49,880
  • Rehabilitation Counselor – $38,560

Forensic Psychology

  • Psychology

This concentration brings the science of psychology into the field of the law and criminal justice. Although the popular conception of it is all Silence of the Lambs, the reality is that forensic psychologists are trained not just to evaluate the criminally insane, but also to consult with the design of prisons and penal systems, to evaluate potential jurors in both civil and criminal matters, and to help victims of crime deal with the psychological consequences.

To do so, they receive coursework that can include:

  • Studies of the bases of criminal behavior and the personality and social elements that contribute to crime
  • How mental illness impacts the criminal justice system
  • Techniques and methods for assessing mental well-being in criminal populations
  • What the law has to say about mental health and how state-of-mind and intent can be assessed in criminal matters

Jobs may include:

  • Psychologist – $81,040

Developmental Psychology

  • Counseling
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Marriage and Family Therapy

Developmental psychology offers the big picture perspective on human psychological development and transformation across the lifespan. It draws from a wide range of other specialties in psychology, from cognitive to educational to behavioral studies. On the other end, it supports concentrations like geropsychology and child psychology by offering in-depth perspectives on the state of mind that individuals in those phases of life experience.

This is a science-heavy concentration but one that has broad applications. You’ll develop expertise through coursework such as:

  • Neuroanatomy and physiology of the mind through the lifespan, exploring how the brain grows and ages at all phases
  • Course in both general and applied research help you understand how new information is developed in this field
  • Specific classes in both geropsychology and child and adolescent psychology explore the challenges in developmental work at both ends of the lifespan

Jobs may include:

  • Social Worker – $50,390
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • School Psychologist – $82,770
  • Marriage and Family Therapist – $49,880
  • School and Career Counselor – $60,510

Psychology Programs that Focus on Different Methodologies

These concentrations focus on different schools of thought and treatment within psychology.

Applied Psychology

  • Counseling
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Marriage and Family Therapy

Applied psychology is a catch-all concentration at many universities. In fact, at some universities, applied psychology is treated as a major by itself, with concentrations in specific sub-specialties. It covers coursework designed to address some specific practical issue in psychological treatment, which can be everything from addiction to health to industrial-organizational studies.

Coursework may include:

  • Classes in diagnostics, assessment, and psychopathology to equip students for diagnosing mental health issues in a specific field
  • Treatments and psychopharmacological approaches to addressing specific psychological issues
  • Other specific coursework in your field of interest

Jobs may include:

  • Social Worker – $50,390
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • School Psychologist – $82,770
  • Marriage and Family Therapist – $49,880
  • School and Career Counselor – $60,510
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologist – $113,320
  • School Psychologist – $82,770

Clinical Psychology

  • Counseling
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Marriage and Family Therapy

Although clinical versus counseling psychology is one of the big divides in the field, clinical psychology concentrations have a lot to offer to counseling psychologists as well. They are commonly offered in counseling-oriented degree programs. The concentration offers mental health professional advanced training in direct patient treatment skills. It may also further develop specific knowledge in the wide variety of different fields of applied psychology, such as family and child therapy, crisis counseling, or addiction treatment.

On top of any classes that address those specific sub-specialties, clinical psychology concentrations commonly include coursework such as:

  • Studies in abnormal psychology and psychopathologies focused on assessment and diagnostic skills
  • Exploring particular or a variety of psychotherapeutic interventions, ranging from behavioral to cognitive and beyond
  • Practicum and other practical, hands-on work in clinical therapy settings

Jobs may include:

  • Social Worker – $50,390
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • Marriage and Family Therapist – $49,880

Cognitive Psychology

  • Psychology

Cognition is the study of how people perceive and think. If you are curious about how the brain processes information and stores and retrieves memories, this is the concentration for you. It can explore the functions of problem solving, reasoning, and decision-making. It’s a science-heavy focus that gets into the cutting-edge explorations of research into thinking and the mind at the functional level. Psychologists may take this kind of training and move on to research or theoretical work, or use it in the diagnosis and treatment of severe mental illness.

Coursework in this field often includes:

  • Studies of the biological bases of behavior and the neurological function underlying cognition, including processing of vision, hearing, and other sensory inputs
  • Explorations of the concepts of intelligence, memory, and creativity as well as theories and evidence supporting them
  • Measurement and modeling techniques, including research design and statistical methods
  • How cognitive development advances through the lifespan and what effects social and cultural factors may have

Jobs may include:

  • Psychologist – $81,040
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • School Psychologist – $82,770

behavioral therapist with young boy

Behavioral Psychology

  • Psychology
  • Counseling
  • Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Social Work

Behavioralism is one of the most influential modern theories in psychology. It’s so popular that you can often find it offered as a major, with a variety of sub-concentrations within it in areas such as applied behavioral analysis, addiction, or animal psychology. This school of thought explores psychological processes through observable behaviors and assesses changes in those behaviors that result from environmental stimuli. There are a range of perspectives within behaviorism, such as classical, radical, and methodological, that these concentrations might focus on. Behavioral psychology concentrations offer strong training toward behavioral therapy treatments but may also be used to go into advanced research or used in broader social and cultural psychological applications.

You’ll find coursework in this concentration such as:

  • Many of the findings of behaviorism rely on well-crafted experimental design, so many classes are devoted to building conditions and running solid experiments
  • Behavioral studies are often linked to cognitive models, so coursework in cognitive neuroscience is usually required
  • Studies of environmental factors and the uses of reinforcement in behaviors are common

Jobs may include:

  • Social Worker – $50,390
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • Marriage and Family Therapist – $49,880
  • Training and Development Specialist – $61,570
  • Rehabilitation Counselor – $38,560
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologist – $113,320
  • School Psychologist – $82,770

Social Psychology

  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Counseling

Social psychology deals with the relentless impact of human as social creatures on both individual cognition and emotion, and on group behaviors and attitudes. Social and cultural perceptions can put enormous pressure on individuals and contribute to mental health issues; they can also offer a way to provide support and relief. On the other end, culture and society itself is shaped by the accumulation of different cognitive patterns and behaviors coming from individuals.

This is a field with broad applications in the psychological world both in terms of individual treatment, academic study of culture and history, and real-world policy and business. Coursework often includes:

  • Investigations and comparative study of cultural and multicultural psychological patterns and principles of interaction
  • Studies of group and crowd behaviors and perceptions driven by being part of a group
  • Understanding how individuals perceive their role and place in a group through studies of social cognition
  • Research methods for understanding the large-scale effects of social psychology in action
  • A basic exploration of interpersonal relationships and the dynamics of family and friendships

Jobs may include:

  • Social Worker – $50,390
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • Marriage and Family Therapist – $49,880

neuropsychology

Neuropsychology

  • Psychology

Neuropsychology investigates the deepest connections between the physical brain and human thoughts and behaviors. Tying together what is understood about the brain and neurological system at the furthest reaches of science with the latest advances in psychology, this field is key to understanding both the medical and the behavioral aspects of the mind. It’s a big field both in research and in pioneering new diagnosis and treatment methods in clinical psychology. It offers the promise of developing new theories of mind, of consciousness, and treatments for both mental and physical disease.

This is another science and research heavy concentration. There is often a difference between clinical neuropsychology and research neuropsychology concentrations. It’s also commonly bundled together with cognitive psychology as a model of understanding and interpreting cognition as cognitive neuropsychology.

These concentrations often include coursework such as:

  • Courses in neuroanatomy and neuroscience provide foundations in understanding how the brain and central nervous system function
  • Neuropsychological assessment techniques that combine medical and neurological fundamentals with psychological testing are covered
  • Classes in neuropathology trace how brain injury and disease can be linked to psychological conditions, and also how psychological diagnoses may indicate trouble in particular areas of the brain

Jobs may include:

  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • Psychologist – $81,040

Psychology Programs that Focus on Different Industries

Finally, there are concentrations that are focused on a specific industry or commercial practice within psychology.
environmental psychology

Environmental Psychology

  • Psychology

The lived experience of humans in their environments can have profound impacts on their psychological well-being. Environmental psychology concentrations study how human behavior and experience change according to the environment, as well as the impact that human behaviors have on that environment. It is an interdisciplinary field that can incorporate biological science, social science, architecture, and even ergonomics depending on the focus of the concentration.

You might also find sub-specializations in this field as architectural psychology, sustainability psychology, and disaster psychology, among others. The core concentration is likely to include coursework such as:

  • Both biological and environmental science studies are important to this field of study
  • Social psychology and social science courses explore how the environment is partly shaped by culture and collective behaviors
  • Students may opt to explore psychological effects of both natural and constructed environments through coursework in architecture, landscape architecture, or biology

Jobs may include:

  • Psychologist – $81,040

Health Psychology

  • Psychology
  • Counseling
  • Social Work

Human thoughts and behavior are tied to our physical well-being in more ways than just through brain chemistry. Injury and disease can have substantial impact on our emotions and perspectives, sometimes rising to the level of mental health crisis. Health psychology studies that area of mental health impacts, as well as examining how the opposite can be true—how mental health can impact physical well-being.

Coursework in health psychology concentrations can include:

  • Studies of psychology and health impacts through the life-cycle, looking at how both aging and thought processes shift along with health concerns
  • Perspectives on health and wellness aren’t just an individual consideration, so coursework in psychosocial impacts on health and select disease are studied
  • Behavioral factors that contribute to certain conditions and the field of psychoneuroimmunology looks at impacts of mental health on physical health

Jobs may include:

  • Social Worker – $50,390
  • Substance Abuse Counselor – $48,520
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640

industrial psychologist

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

  • Psychology
  • Counseling

Most of our lives are spent in the workplace. This means that the process of work, and the social experience of working with others, can have profound impacts on mental health and wellness. On the flip side, our mental well-being can have big effects on our productivity and ability to work as part of a team. I-O psychologists look at all the relationships between psychology and participation in large organizations. The concentration may focus on either individual counseling, as for people who are experiencing troubles on the job, or with large-scale evaluation and consulting from the theoretical or practical perspectives

Coursework in these concentrations may include:

  • Many courses in I-O concentrations explore social psychology with a particular focus on group and team dynamics
  • The effects of leadership and organization can have a strong effect on psychology within an organization, so courses look at personality and principles in these areas
  • Because workplaces are often a melting pot of different cultures and views, classes in cultural psychology and multiculturalism are common

Jobs may include:

  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologist – $113,320
  • Substance Abuse Counselor – $48,520
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640
  • Training and Development Specialist – $61,570
  • Rehabilitation Counselor – $38,560

Media Psychology

  • Psychology

Media psychology concentrations are sometimes also called media and technology concentrations. It’s a nod to the reality that the media we consume today is wrapped up with technology and is changing faster and faster. Media studies in psychology look at how the human mind absorbs, digests, and is altered by media consumption. The creation of stereotypes, the expectations of audiences, the influence of advertising… all rest on human psychology.

Expertise in this field is becoming more and more in demand as it becomes clear how society is changed by a changing media landscape. Courses in this concentration may include:

  • A grounding in new media technology, such as social media, is part of the program, as well as an overall look at technology and society
  • Social psychology is a necessary building block for understanding media influence and impact
  • Investigations into digital technologies and learning also helps explain the media psychology landscape

Jobs may include:

  • Psychologist – $81,040

Sports Psychology

  • Counseling
  • Psychology

Sports, or performance, psychology is the study of the psychological impacts on teamwork, athletic performance, and how mental well-being can be affected by exercise and competition. It’s a popular concentration because everyone imagines going on to a job with the Lakers, but there are many different applications for this kind of psychology education. Graduates have a good grasp of team-building and building mental attitudes for maximum performance in a wide variety of fields.

Coursework may include:

  • Exploring human movement and anatomy through kinesiology classes
  • How athletes can deal with sporting injuries and rehabilitation considerations
  • The impacts of health on mental well-being reveal the benefits of exercise at all levels
  • Relationships and social psychology studies are a vital part of understanding how teams are built and shaped through leadership

Jobs may include:

  • Psychologist – $81,040
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist – $99,640

The Oldest Kind of Counseling Comes With New Degree Concentration Options

pastor listening Priests and pastors were offering support and assistance with mental health issues for thousands of years before psychology even became a recognized field of study. That role hasn’t gone away. Instead, pastoral counseling programs now incorporate the science of psychology into the practices of faith-based therapies.

These aren’t traditional psychology degrees, however. Typically offered by private Christian schools, they blend the doctrinal teachings of that faith with recognized principles of counseling and psychology.

That divergence means that these degrees are not recognized by most states for licensing purposes. On the other hand, most states have an exemption to their licensing requirements for clergy and faith-based counseling services. So, pursuing a degree or concentration in pastoral counseling remains a way into the field of counseling psychology.

This list is far from exhaustive… new and interesting concentrations are being developed all the time as the state of the art in the field advances. And you’ll already run across all kinds of mashups, stuff like cognitive and behavioral neuroscience concentrations, that put together areas of interest in exciting ways.

A General Curriculum in Psychology Offers Foundations for Every Area of Practice and Applied Field

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Of course, your concentration courses come on top of the general coursework that all students in the major must master.

Every type of psychology degree must first conform to the expectations of American higher education. That means, at the associate and bachelor’s levels, you will be studying the same kind of general education and liberal studies courses as every college student:

  • English writing and communications
  • History and social studies
  • Math and sciences
  • Economics
  • Foreign languages

Although the courses and subjects you will have to fulfill to graduate will vary from college to college, the overall goal is to give you a well-rounded background suitable to a university graduate. The broad base of coursework is also designed to provoke thought and hone your critical thinking skills.

Of course, these are valuable traits for any psychology career. You’ll have to think on your feet and be a keen judge of evidence and personality. And you’ll have to have the capacity to connect and communicate with people, often at a very deep level.

You’ll need that as you dive into the psychology-specific curriculum for your program. That will mean coursework in areas such as:

  • Foundations and History of Psychology and Therapy – No matter what your major, you’ll spend some time tracing back the current state of thought and practice to the long history of humans thinking about thinking. From ancient Greek philosophers up through scientific practitioners like Freud and Skinner, you’ll learn how psychology emerged as the discipline it is today.
  • Bases of Human Behavior – You’ll explore both the physiology and neurological bases of human behavior, learning how brain wiring dictates much of what we do. And you’ll have classes that look at the social, cultural, and cognitive influences that shape how all those neurons develop and form our thoughts and behaviors.
  • Assessment – Regardless of the field you go into, you’ll be trained in how to conduct proper scientific assessments in both group and individual contexts. Learning about common tests like the Stanford-Binet and Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory gives you a handle on how to diagnose and evaluate psychological issues.
  • Psychopathologies – The long list of mental health issues is front and center in almost every psychology degree program. This goes hand-in-hand with assessment, teaching you what to look for and how to categorize types of mental illness.
  • Ethics and Legalities – Messing with people’s minds is a serious business, with significant implications in both morality and law. Every psychology degree comes with instruction in your legal obligations to society and patients, and the ethical considerations of diagnosis and treatment.
  • Treatment – Most degrees, even those that do not necessarily lead to licensure, include some coursework aimed at treating mental health issues. For upper-level programs, this is the main course—a variety of psychopharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatment methods are looked at both theoretically and practically.

Dissertations and Thesis Projects Are Front and Center in Psychology Degree Programs

Research and experimentation are constant factors in modern psychology. Even at lower degree levels, you’ll have classes in experimental design and participating in research programs uncovering new findings and treatments.

As part of graduate programs in psychology, every kind of concentration will involve a thesis, dissertation, or a synthesis project designed to show exactly what you have learned and to allow you to express your own ideas in the field.

These can take up as much as half of the total time you spend earning degrees at these levels. They may come to define your career and will be the first thing employers look at. But they are also an invaluable way to teach you how to think about and bring together everything you have learned in your studies.

Practicum and Internships Solidify Your Skills for Psychology Positions

All degree programs will come with placements in real-world to help hone your skills. Working in either clinical or counseling psychology requires learning through experience. Every patient is different; classroom theory can play out very different in practice.

So dedicated courses and internship placements will put you under the watchful eye of experienced professionals who work with patients with genuine problems in real clinical settings.

Even if you’re destined for more general psychology practice, seeing how work is done in the real world is an important step to prepare for your career. Internship placements with sports teams, at major companies, with social service agencies, or in government give you an on-the-ground picture of how your psychology studies will be applied.

These are the stakes as you are searching to find the right psychology program and concentration for your goals. And with the information you have and the comprehensive selection of programs on this page, you are sure to find it.

2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market information for Marriage and Family Therapists, School and Career Counselors and Advisors, Social Workers, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Training and Development Specialists, Rehabilitation Counselors, and Field of degree: Psychology reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2022.