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Branches of Psychology


As an applied science and an academic field, psychology involves studying behavior and mind. The word “psychology” is derived from a combination of Greek words “psyche,” which means soul, spirit and breath, and “logia,” which means studying something. The main objective of psychology is observation aimed at understanding groups and individuals through the development of general principles as well as investigation of particular cases. There is no doubt that human mind is mysterious and multifaceted. It is astounding how psychologists embark on studying the mind, which appears to be very sophisticated, abstract and intricate. This is further associated with the fact that concepts studied by psychologists such as perceptions, dreams, memories, emotions, cognition, behavior, personality, motivation, intelligence and attention among others cannot be physically observed as in the case of a heart or skin condition. Experts in the field of psychology maintain that the approach taken by psychology is similar to the approach adopted by other sciences. Just like other sciences, experiments in psychology are designed for confirming or refuting expectations and theories. Psychology suggests that human behavior is often used to indicate the functioning of the mind due to the fact that direct observation of the mind is impossible; nevertheless, thoughts, feelings and actions depend on the functioning of mind. Psychology consists of various subfields and uses diverse approaches in studying behavior and mental functions. Since its foundation, psychology has turned into an extremely diverse academic field and has become an applied science. The scope of behavioral science ranges from social sciences to natural sciences. Some psychologists are more interested in the relationship between biology and behavior, while others are more concerned with the relationship between social sciences and psychology. Still others focus on the behavior of organizations, whereas some other psychologists focus on the behavior of animals. Given this broad scope of psychology, the goal of this paper is to explore the branches of this science. There are several subfields of psychology. The primary branches of psychology explored in this paper include clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, developmental psychology, health psychology, forensic psychology, occupational psychology, neuropsychology, and social psychology.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology involves incorporating clinical practice, theory and science in psychology with the main objective of understanding, predicting, and relieving physiological dysfunction in order to enhance personal development and behavioral wellbeing. Clinical psychology is focused on behavioral, social, psychological, biological, emotional and intellectual aspects associated with human performance throughout the various stages of human development in terms of diverse socio-economic settings and cultures. Such branches as psychotherapy and psychological assessment are of great significance for clinical psychology. Nevertheless, clinical psychologists can also be involved in other fields such as forensic evidence and research among others. Essentially, clinical psychology is characterized by extensiveness and enhancement of skill and knowledge in diverse fields outside and within the scope of psychology. Weiten has outlined the theoretical and scientific knowledge relevant to clinical psychology, which includes understanding diagnostic issues and psychopathology; understanding mental health problems by drawing upon distinct understanding of psychopathology; assessment, which involves synthesizing and enriching personality test information with supplementary assessment tools; consultation with other behavioral and healthcare practitioners and organizations with respect to violence, suicide and psychopathology; and engaging in the review of research, methods and knowledge concerning the unique aspects of clinical psychology. Clinical psychology is often considered and regulated as a healthcare practice.

Clinical psychology is continually growing and is likely to become a robust academic discipline and professional field. Clinical psychologists provide diverse services such as administering and interpreting psychological testing and assessment; performing psychological research; consulting with other practitioners in other settings such as businesses and schools; developing treatment and prevention programs; offering expert testimony; and providing mental treatment. Clinical psychologists work with groups, families and individuals in diverse settings such as non-profit organizations, businesses, schools, metal health institutions, hospitals and private practice settings. In addition, clinical psychologists specialize in numerous fields, which include sport psychology, mental disorders, school psychology, organizational psychology, child psychopathology, medical psychology, health psychology, forensic psychology and family therapy.

As mentioned earlier, assessment involves a crucial aspect of clinical psychology practice. According to Mangal, about 91 percent of psychologists use assessment, which is often conducted with the main aim of making insight into the psychological issues and developing hypothesis regarding behavioral problems. As a result, assessment plays a crucial role in clarifying the diagnosis of an individual as well as assisting in treatment planning. Some of the methods used for collecting information include observing behavior, reviewing previous records, performing clinical interviews, and undertaking formal tests. There are numerous assessment instruments but only a handful has been established to have high reliability and construct validity. Reliability refers to internal consistency whereas construct validity deals with ensuring that the test really measures what it is supposed to. These assessments can be categorized into clinical interviews, neuropsychological tests, personality tests, and achievement and intelligence tests. Neuropsychological tests are utilized in assessing the cognitive functioning of an individual including its interrelation with his or her behavior. Personality tests are used for describing behavioral patterns, feelings, and thoughts. Achievement and intelligence tests are used for evaluating a number of aspects associated with cognitive functioning (Intelligence Quotient) such as visual perception, logical reasoning, attention, working memory and general knowledge among others.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology focuses on studying internal mental functioning and such aspects as language, learning, memory and problem solving. Essentially, cognitive psychology is focused on studying the ways of how individuals learn, remember, communicate, perceive and think. There is a distinct interrelation between cognitive psychology and other academic disciplines including linguistics, philosophy, and neuroscience. Such issues as acquisition, processing and storing of information by individuals are of central importance to cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology is often considered the study of intelligence. Some of the concepts studied by cognitive psychology include thinking, creativity, problem solving, perception, memory, language utilization and attention. In addition, the practical applications associated with research in cognitive psychology include designing educational programs in order to enhance learning, increasing decision-making accuracy, and enhancing memory among others. The broad applications of research in cognitive psychology can be attributed to the fact that a significant portion of the work in cognitive psychology has been integrated in numerous academic disciplines such as economics, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, personality psychology, social psychology, and educational psychology.

It is imperative to note that cognitive psychology belongs to the category of basic psychological science with cognitive psychologists focusing on mental processes that have certain impact on human behavior patterns, which include attention, memory, perception, language, and metacognition among others. Attention refers to a state characterized by focused awareness related to existing perpetual information. Attention is mainly aimed at identifying and filtering irrelevant information in order to facilitate the distribution of data to relevant to mental processes. With respect to memory, there are two types of it, which include long-term and short-term memory. Long-term memory involves storing information for relatively longer periods whereas short-term memory implies memorizing that lasts for approximately 20-30 seconds. Perception is associated with cognitive processes and physical sensory processes used for the interpretation of these senses. In other words, perception refers to the manner in which people comprehend the world surrounding them via interpreting stimuli. With respect to language, cognitive psychology focuses on a number of concepts such as the acquisition of language, components associated with language formation, and relationship between language and behavior such as mood. Metacognition refers to a person’s thoughts. In particular, metacognition deals with an individual’s ability to employ cognitive strategies, understanding of one’s capabilities regarding specific mental tasks, and the effectiveness of an individual in performing specific tasks. A significant amount of research on metacognition in terms of cognitive psychology is focused on the application of the concept in educational settings such as increasing the metacognitive abilities of a learner, which is supposed to have a profound impact on learning patterns.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology falls into the category of basic psychological science. It deals with studying regular changes experienced by individuals at various stages of the lives. Initially, developmental psychology was focused on young children and infants; however, its scope of study has been expanded and is now focused on the entire lifespan including adults and teenagers. Developmental psychology places emphasis on any psychological variable studied in the course of the life of an individual such as formation of identities, self-concept, personality and emotions. Language acquisition, moral views, problem solving and motor skills are also included into this category. In addition, developmental psychology also explores and compares intrinsic mental structures with experiential learning. For instance, newborns are often believed to have a language acquisition device, which is an inherent capability to learn language. In this respect, a developmental psychologist deals with how the language acquisition device works in relation to the development of the newborn via experience and interrelation between the two. Fundamentally, developmental psychology is focused on the interaction between environmental variables and a person’s features of character, as well as the resulting impact on development. According to Comer and Gould, developmental psychology is intersected with numerous branches of psychology and such fields as linguistics.

A crucial subject in development psychology refers to the relationship existing between the influence of environmental factors and innateness with respect to a specific aspect of development. This issue is often known as nurture versus nature, or empiricism versus nativism. For nativists, development processes are innate and influenced by the genes of the organism. On the other hand, empiricists maintain that environmental factors influence the development processes. Recently, developmental scientists have refrained from embracing these polarized positions regarding the majority of developmental aspects; instead, they have embarked on exploring the relationship between environmental variables and innate factors affecting the development, which is particularly the subject of focus in terms of the emergent field of evolutionary developmental psychology. Innateness has been found to be predominant in the acquisition of language; however, the issue of debate is related to whether particular properties associated with human language are determined by genetics or can be acquired via learning. In this respect, empiricists maintain that the language input device provides the needed information to facilitate learning of a language; thus, language acquisition of babies takes place via statistical learning. The nativists argue that the language input device is yet to be developed in babies to facilitate the acquisition of language.


Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology is a psychological science that focuses on studying the impacts of psychological adjustments in the course of evolution of human behavior. In the same way, biologists study sexual selection or natural selection in the course of evolution, while evolutionary psychology associates psychological concepts with the same line of thinking. For instance, in evolutionary psychology, it is assumed that such concepts as memory and language are functional outcomes associated with natural selection. A number of evolutionary psychologists have also posited that individuals are born with a language learning capacity, which suggests that language learning is an automatic process although not in the case of writing or reading. Simply stated, evolutionary psychologists assume that one’s language learning ability is inherited whereas the ability to write and read is not. This implies that language learning occurs automatically whereas writing and reading must be taught. For instance, an individual born in a French-speaking town is likely to be able to speak French by the time he or she attains 20 years of age; nevertheless, if he or she is not taught to read and write, he or she will remain illiterate. The underlying assumption is that a person automatically acquires the language that surrounds him or her, which is not the case for writing and reading. In addition, evolutionary psychologists argue that traits common for all cultures across the globe constitute good contenders for adaptation based on evolution such as the abilities to deduce the emotions of others and distinguish non-kin from kin, the ability to collaborate with other people, and preference and recognition of healthier mates. Evolutionary psychologists have documented positive tests of their theoretical assertions on various topics such as parental investment, perceived beauty, patterns of marriage, intelligence, and infanticide among others. The underlying supposition in evolutionary psychology is that psychological traits in humans facilitate adaptation to circumstances for the purpose of survival in the environment. The findings and theories associated with evolutionary psychology have been applied in various disciplines such as literature, psychiatry, management, law, health, environment and economics among others.

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is referred to applied psychology. It deals with the application of psychological concepts to law and criminal investigation. Forensic psychologists apply psychology as a science in the context of the civil courts and criminal justice system. It involves comprehending the criminal law in pertinent jurisdictions to facilitate interaction with legal practitioners such as lawyers and judges. Essentially, forensic psychology involves the interrelation of the justice system and psychology. Forensic psychologists are required to understand the basic legal principles, especially with respect to expert witness testimony as well as the particular content area of practice such as discrimination at the workplace, child visitation, and child custody among others. A crucial aspect associated with forensic psychology is the capability to offer testimony in the court of justice as an expert witness, integration of the psychological concepts and findings into the case, and provision of comprehensible information to legal practitioners. Moreover, for a forensic psychologist to provide credible evidence, it is imperative for him or her to be well informed of the standards, rules and philosophy adopted by the judicial system. Forensic psychologists can practice in various settings including academic research, consultancy to law enforcement, correctional psychology, evaluation of civil and criminal cases, expert witnessing, providing treatment to people in civil and criminal cases, and trial consultation. The service of forensic psychologists is supposed to offer recommendations for sentencing and treatment (psychological intervention), evaluation of future risks and the credibility of witnesses, offering training and criminal profiles to law enforcement officers.

Health Psychology

Health psychology is a branch of applied psychology that focuses on studying how behavior, social factors and biology affect health and state of illness. It is also known as medical psychology or behavioral medicine. Whereas doctors are tasked with treating diseases, medical psychologists rather deal with the individuals experiencing this or that illness. Especially in terms of their background and socioeconomic condition, behaviors are likely to affect the illness and the biological factors associated with the disease. Psychological factors have been established to have a direct impact on health outcomes. For instance, particular behaviors such as excessive substance abuse can be detrimental to health whereas other behaviors such as physical exercises can improve health condition. Medical psychology is mainly aimed at enhancing the overall state of health of a patient through evaluating the disease in the realm of bio-psychosocial variables, which include the social and psychological aspects associated with illness rather than relying solely on biomedical factors associated with certain illness. Other objectives of medical psychology include exploring the contextual and behavioral factors that influence health, preventing disease, understanding the impacts of disease, performing critical evaluation of health policies, conduction research, and communicating with patients and teaching them. Medical psychology considers health to be not only an outcome of biological processes but also an outcome of social and behavioral processes. Medical psychologists often work together with other medical practitioners in healthcare settings.


Neuropsychology is a psychological science that deals with studying brain functioning and structure and their relation to particular behaviors and physiological processes. The primary aim of neuropsychology is to understand the relationship between brain functioning and cognition and human behavior. In addition, neuropsychology is focused on diagnosing and treating cognitive and behavioral impacts associated with neurological disorders. Neuropsychologists often utilize neuropsychological evaluation to measure the extent of potential behavioral issues after a diagnosed or doubted injury of the brain. After diagnosis, patients can receive individualized cognitive remediation, which is a treatment that seeks to help the patients to function with the identified cognitive deficits. Some of the tools and methods used in neuropsychology include experimental tasks, electrophysiology, brain scans and standardized neuropsychological tests.

Occupational Psychology

Occupational psychology deals with studying the work performance of employees and understanding the functioning of organizations as well as the behavior of groups and individuals. The goal of occupational psychology is to enhance organizational effectiveness as well as the employee job satisfaction. The methods used by organizational psychologists include observational studies, experiments and surveys, which may be either quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative methods involve the use of statistics and psychometrics whereas qualitative methods used in organizational psychology include observation, case studies, focus groups and content analysis among others. Some of the areas of practice of organizational psychologists include performing job analyses, selecting and recruiting personnel, performance management, psychometrics, individual assessment, occupational wellbeing and health, workplace violence, workplace aggression and bullying, workplace motivation, job stress, organizational culture, workplace safety and health, group behavior, employee commitment and satisfaction, leadership, organizational change and development, and innovation among others.

Social Psychology

Social psychology uses scientific techniques in order to understand and explain the influence of other people’s presence (implied, imagined or actual) on the thoughts, behavior and feelings of people. Social psychologists study such concepts as leadership, prejudice, aggression, conformity, social perception and group behavior among others. Social psychologists assume that social interaction and social perception play a crucial role and affect behavior. In other words, social psychology deals with studying the impact of social variables on behavior. In addition, social psychology is perceived to an academic discipline that addresses the gap existing between sociology and psychology. Social psychology focuses on intrapersonal and interpersonal concepts. Intrapersonal concepts explored in social psychology include attitude, persuasion, social cognition and self-concept. Intrapersonal concepts studied by social psychologists include group dynamics, social influence and interpersonal attraction. Social psychologists employ a number of methods such as experimental, observational and correlational methods.


It is evident that the field psychology as a broad academic discipline with numerous subfields is currently under discussion. Moreover, it is imperative to note that this paper focused only on the main branches of psychology rather than performing a comprehensive discussion concerning the branches of this science. The branches of psychology can be categorized into two groups including psychological science and applied psychology. Regardless of the classification, it is evident that the various branches overlap other branches and are related to other fields outside of psychology such as education, linguistics, sports, law, politics, neuroscience, medicine, and sociology among others. Moreover, although psychology is a diverse field of study, there are still discovered new subfields of this science.

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