Want a Career in Psychology? Here Are 10 Specializations to Consider

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Category: Careers

By Matt Rowley
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Psychology is the study of the human mind. While many people think of lying on a couch and talking about feelings when they think of psychology, that’s just one of dozens of different psychology specializations.

As you think about your future plans, consider exploring some of these 10 careers in psychology. Whether you’re interested in working with children, adults, athletes, businesses, criminals or products – and everything in between – there is a career for you.

1. Addiction Psychology

Addiction is a serious disease involving a number of factors, including psychology. As the opioid crisis continues in the U.S., the need for addiction counselors is increasing.

Individuals pursuing careers in psychology focused on addiction have several paths to choose. Some offer clinical or counseling psychology services focused on treating underlying mental or emotional disorders – like anxiety and depression – to help control addiction. Others provide cognitive behavioral therapies to help change bad habits, or they focus more on research and understanding the specific brain processes associated with addiction with an eye toward improving therapies and preventing future relapses or developing addictions.

2. Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is what many people picture when they think of psychology. These professionals are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and disabilities.

Some clinical psychologists choose to specialize in a specific area, such as helping patients with chronic diseases, while others opt to work with specific populations like children or seniors. They can work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, nursing homes and even the military or police stations. Others opt to go into private practice.

Every state requires clinical psychologists to hold at least a master’s degree to be licensed to practice, but many opt to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $76,990 in May 2018.

3. Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Industrial-organizational psychology – also known as I/O psychology – is actually two related specialties devoted to supporting healthy and productive workplaces. Industrial psychology looks at the relationship between individuals and the workplace, including, but not limited to, hiring processes, workplace safety, training, and evaluation processes. Organizational psychology looks at the workplace as a whole and how it effects individual behavior. For example, organizational psychologists evaluate workplace policies and procedures and how they impact individuals and groups.

Understanding the psychology of the workplace can lead to significant improvements in morale, productivity, and employee satisfaction, so many companies hire I/O psychologists – either in permanent positions or in consulting roles – to evaluate their organization. I/O psychologists might also help with writing policies, provide counseling to employees, assist with handling grievances, and develop more effective screening processes for new employees.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for industrial-organizational psychologists was $97,260 in May 2018.

Related: Stress in the Word of Industrial Hygiene: Is It Understood?

4. Forensic Psychology

One of the best ways to solve and prevent crime is to understand the minds of criminals, and that’s what forensic psychologists help law enforcement officers to do. Typically employed by law enforcement agencies or working as a consultant, forensic psychologists strive to understand criminals and provide insights and information that can help with investigations and prosecution.

Forensic psychologists are experts about why people commit crimes, what types of people commit crimes, and how to prevent people from committing crimes. They may be called in to offer expert testimony in criminal cases, help interpret evidence, or even assist with the evaluation or rehabilitation of criminals before they are released from custody.

Most forensic psychologists have master’s and doctorate degrees and knowledge and experience in law enforcement or criminal justice in addition to psychology. According to PayScale, the average salary for forensic psychologists was $68,576 in February 2020.

5. Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is very similar to clinical psychology in that it focuses on identifying and treating mental and emotional problems; however, the primary difference is that counseling psychologists typically work with patients who are trying to navigate the stress and challenges of life, while clinical psychologists tend to work with individuals with more severe disorders. Counseling psychologists provide a sounding board for individuals who need support, encouragement and help developing coping skills for managing challenging relationships, issues with their careers, and changing destructive behaviors.

Opportunities for counseling psychologists are abundant, and they can be found in a range of organizations like hospitals, schools, businesses, mental health clinics and nonprofit organizations. Private practice is also an option. As mentioned above, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $76,990 in May 2018.

6. Child Psychology

Child psychology is different than psychology for adults. Understanding how children develop emotionally and mentally can help parents, doctors and teachers to better support their well-being. It’s a fast-growing field, as psychologists look at milestones and child development, evaluate social skills and behavior, and look for ways to support better mental and emotional development. While some child psychologists are essentially counseling psychologists, serving as a sounding board for troubled kids and helping them develop better coping skills, others are more involved with helping children with autism or other developmental delays, dealing with abuse or trauma, or other mental issues.

Because children don’t always have the language or communication skills to adequately express their feelings, child psychologists are skilled in specific techniques for working with children. They often work in schools and hospitals, although some are also in private practice or employed by child welfare agencies. PayScale reported an average annual salary of $69,366 for these professionals in February 2020.

7. Experimental Psychology

The field of psychology is constantly evolving, and much of that growth is due to experimental psychology. Experimental psychologists use the scientific method to conduct experiments designed to answer questions about how the mind works and why people behave the way they do. These research-based careers in psychology involve designing and conducting studies, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting the findings so they can be reviewed and applied to future research for improved understanding.

While most psychologists in this fast-growing specialty are employed in academia, there are additional opportunities within law enforcement, nonprofit and community agencies, and government agencies. A license is required to practice experimental psychology, which means holding at least a master’s degree, although most have a Ph.D.

8. Social Psychology

Why do people behave the way they do around others, and how do groups influence an individual’s behavior? Those are some of the questions that social psychologists aim to answer through their study of how people relate to each other.

This specialization is often viewed as the intersection of psychology and sociology, as it combines facets of both; however, unlike sociology, which focuses on group behavior, social psychology is strictly focused on how the presence of other people – or lack of other people – influences individual behavior and thoughts. The findings of social psychologists have been used to better understand social issues like bullying and prejudice, domestic violence and family dynamics, and responses to community health issues.

Although most social psychologists are involved in research, organizations like schools, nonprofit and community agencies, and government agencies also offer careers in social psychology.

9. Engineering Psychology

Have you ever thought about the products you use every day and how they’ve been designed? How about the design of buildings or public areas and how they influence your behavior? Engineering psychologists thinks about these things all the time. Their primary goal is to make products easier and safer to use by examining how people use, perceive and are influenced by the things we are surrounded by every day.

Driven in large part by the development of technology and growth in consumerism, engineering psychology is a growing field. These psychologists work closely with product developers, software engineers and other engineers to ensure products are developed with the end user in mind. They combine knowledge of human behavior, demographics and various disciplines of psychology to create useful, attractive products that will be used correctly.

10. Sports Psychology

Although careers in sports psychology generally involve working with athletes and coaches to help them maximize their performance, an increasing number of business people, politicians and performing artists are turning to sports psychology for help developing better skills for managing stress and competition. Sports psychologists examine how individuals are affected by sports and how they can improve their mindset to excel, and they help them learn coping skills to manage the stress and anxiety of competition. Some sports psychologists opt for a research route instead of counseling, devoting their work to understanding how sports effects people and the athletic mindset.

Regardless of the specialization, sports psychology is a growing field. The most common employers are hospitals and schools, and the average annual salary was $75,000 according to PayScale in February 2020.


The first step toward many of these types of psychology careers is a bachelor’s degree. At Columbia Southern University, we offer an online Bachelor of Science in psychology, and our Career Services team offers resources to students and alumni to help them get the most out of their investment in education.

For more information about our online degree programs, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu.

Columbia Southern University does not guarantee that students or those who pursue these careers will earn the specific salaries listed.

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