Psychology is a field that covers a vast array of different modes of inquiry, goals, and techniques. It can be broken down into many different types or categories. One helpful way to differentiate between the various psychology types is to look at academic, professional, and popular psychology. Each of these branches has a different way of going about the work of psychology.
In addition to the various types, there exist many different “schools of thought” of psychology. These schools of thought sometimes gain or lose popularity over time. For example the very first psychologists adhered to the structuralist school of thinking. Over time, new research and findings relegated structuralism to the history books and new schools of thought like functionalism and behaviorism rose to the forefront. Psychotherapy, cognitive theory, gestalt, and developmental are all various schools of thought that have existed over time.
The three main psychology types are academic, professional, and popular.
Academic psychology is the core, the basis, for the field of psychology. This is the type of psychology that has traditionally been researched and studied in academic settings. The work done on academic psychology has allowed the speed of more nuanced and specific psychology. Common focuses under academic psychology are abnormal psychology, biological, cognitive, developmental, personality and social psychologies.
Biological psychology, for example, places primary focus on the actual physical aspects of human thought and behavior. Therefore, most biological psychologists do a lot of work on the brain, nervous system, and genetics. This type of psychology has a lot of overlap with biology and will often work hand in hand with biologists.
This type of psychology covers the topics that actually have a specific career path. Psychologists in this category are generally less interested in research and much more interested in applying the findings of others’ research to specific situations. Professional psychologists generally see patients or clients and try to help them with a wide array of issues. Sometimes that is addressing mental disorders but other psychologists focus on helping athletes, employees, or other professionals perform at the top of their ability. The common branches of professional psychology include, but are by no means limited to, clinical, counseling, educational, forensic, health, occupational and sports psychology.
Sports psychologists are interested in helping athletes overcome adversity, play at the top of their ability, and develop mental resiliency. Many professional sports organizations employ sports psychologists full time to work with the athletes. Additionally, sports psychologists will work with coaches, parents, fitness professionals, and general exercisers to promote enjoyment in sport and exercise.
Lastly, popular psychology covers the topics that may lack the academic reputation of the previously mentioned forms. However, the topics that popular psychology have covered over time have provided valuable insights into human behavior and thought. However, one must be wary when investigating popular psychology because many people who are not qualified to write about or research these topics feel that they are. Common subfields of popular psychology include, child psychology, evolutionary psychology, military psychology, paranormal psychology, prison psychology, psychology of music, risk and transpersonal psychology.
The psychology of risk, for example, takes a look at why people partake in certain risky behaviors. Psychologists apply research and theories developed by academics to better understand this aspect of human behavior. Often, risk psychologists will do work that overlaps with economics and even biology as the human brain is studied in correlation with level of risk taken. This is a field of psychology that has grown in popularity and relevance over the last several years and many large universities now offer courses on understanding the psychology behind risk.