Psychology Branches and Future Career Perspectives

Abstract

The paper discusses such branches of psychological science as biopsychology, cognitive neuropsychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, geropsychology, industrial-organizational psychology, social psychology, experimental psychology, and forensic psychology. The paper covers the main concepts, differences, advantages, and disadvantages of each branch. The prospects for the future career in each of these branches are also covered. These prospects include levels of education, job opportunities, and average incomes. The paper provides the personal response that outlines and analyses the three branches of psychology.

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Biopsychology

According to Greene (2013), “biopsychology studies the physiological correlates of behavior, i.e. those changes in psychological systems that occur whenever behavior changes” (p. 3). Thus, this branch of psychology is interested in the study of a range of factors that influence human behavior, e.g. genetics, social experiences, or hormones. Biopsychology is closely connected with cognitive neuropsychology, as it concentrates its attention on individual cognitive processes such as memory, attention, emotion, and motivation (Greene, 2013; Kuther & Morgan, 2012).

Apart from cognitive neuropsychology, biopsychology intersects with neuroanatomy, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, pharmacology, and computer technology (Wickens, 2009). Biopsychologists usually work in the research and academic settings, since the primary aim of this branch is to develop the theoretical basis for the applied science.

Depending on the level of education, a student may choose to work in various settings. At the beginning of the career, a bachelor’s degree in psychology allows gaining basic skills as a science, psychiatric, clinical laboratory, and pharmacy technician. The technicians’ task is to assist scientists in their research: make sure that the laboratory has the necessary equipment for experiments and record various data in the course of those experiments. The salary is relatively low, as it accounts for $27,705 per year, however, science assistance provides a good opportunity for the application of general knowledge that students obtained during their studies and studying the practical aspects of their future specialty area (Kuther & Morgan, 2012).

With a graduate degree, a range of job opportunities becomes more diverse. According to Kuther and Morgan (2012), a master’s degree makes it possible to work in teaching and research spheres, and a doctoral degree allows for the applied work (p. 93). It should be noted, though, that if science technicians are always needed, biopsychology researchers and academicians might wait for work for a prolonged period of time, since the conduction of laboratory experiments is rather expensive and necessary equipment is hard to obtain. However, according to Kuther and Morgan (2012), the average annual income of successful and in-demand biopsychologists starts at $80,000, “with a rise to six figures expected in a short period of time” (p. 93).

Cognitive Neuropsychology

Cognitive neuropsychology is a branch of psychology that studies human mind as the information processor (Kuther & Morgan, 2012). Cognitive psychologists investigate various processes of the human mind, such as understanding and producing language, recognizing objects and people, storing information in memory and subsequently being able to retrieve it (Coltheart, 2015). As Coltheart (2015) states, cognitive neurologists also interested in “higher-level cognitive processes, such as reasoning and problem solving, the formation of beliefs about the world and about other people” (p. 3).

Although cognitive neuropsychology is closely connected with various branches of psychology, especially neuropsychology, it is important to differentiate this branch from others (American Psychological Association, n.d.a). For example, while neuropsychology deals with the human brain, cognitive neuropsychology deals with the human mind (Coltheart, 2015). Similar to biopsychologists, cognitive psychologists are involved in research activity and are employed by universities, pharmaceutical companies, and research institutes (Kuther & Morgan, 2012).

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They theorize the systems by which cognitive activities are performed by proposing “modularly-organized functional architecture” for those systems (Coltheart, 2015, p. 20). This architecture eventually allows for help in case of serious mental disorder.

At the beginning of the career, a future cognitive neurologist, so as a future biopsychologist, may learn how to apply the general knowledge that was obtained during the course of the bachelor program, by working as a science, psychiatric, clinical laboratory, and pharmacy technician. Those who continue their education and obtain a master’s or doctoral degree may participate in human performance research. Teaching and academic settings also welcome the master’s and doctoral degree holders (The American Psychological Association, n.d.a).

Apart from human performance research and teaching settings, cognitive neuropsychologists might try to find themselves in human-computer interaction spheres, software development, and organizational psychology (The American Psychological Association, n.d.a). According to the American Psychological Association (n.d.a), “brain science and cognitive psychologists working as industrial and organizational psychologists earned more than $114,040 a year on average” as of 2010 and those who “employed at universities averaged $76,090 in 2009” (para. 10).

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is both a branch of psychology and healthcare profession. As a branch of psychology it studies the ways how to “understand, assess, treat and prevent psychological problems, and also to find out how widespread psychological problems are” (Carr, 2012, p. 2). The results of this scientific discipline help to plan services for whole populations, as well as evaluate individual cases. As a healthcare profession, clinical psychology uses clinical judgment to apply knowledge that was obtained from the scientific discipline of clinical psychology in clinical practice with patients (Carr, 2012).

In other words, clinical psychologists may work in the research sphere and directly with patients, theorizing and applying treatment strategies and solutions to such issues as mental and physical health problems, intellectual disability, physical disability, and adjustment to major life transitions.

Working settings for clinical psychologists include primary care, community mental health teams, hospitals, disability services, older adult services, family services, and specialist services. Holders of a graduate degree in clinical psychology are trained in a range of techniques and theoretical approaches to provide the professional help to a large number of client groups, as well as consultancy to colleagues in their researches (Carr, 2012).

The specialty opportunities for clinical psychologists are diverse indeed: some of them “specialize in treating those with chronic illnesses such as obesity or diabetes; others specialize in treating people with specific psychological disorders, such as anxiety, schizophrenia or depression” (American Psychological Association, n.d.b, para. 5). Students may apply for a doctoral degree program with only a bachelor’s degree, but it is advisable to obtain a master’s degree first. For these specialties, the undergraduates may choose such courses as biopsychology, psychopathology, and independent study of psychology (American Public University System, n.d.).

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According to the American Psychological Association (n.d.b), private practice of clinical psychology “requires a doctoral degree and a state license” (para. 9). Although the average salaries in the sphere of clinical psychology vary depending on the level of the education, work setting, and experience of the practitioner, the median annual salary of clinical psychologists in 2011, as the American Psychological Association (n.d.b) states, was $67,800 (para.12).

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is a branch of psychology that studies “meanings, beliefs, context and processes that are constructed both within and between people and which affect the psychological well-being of the person” (Orlans & Van Scoyoc, 2008, p. 18). In other words, counseling psychology helps people “improve their well-being across the lifespan” (Kuther & Morgan, 2012, p. 21). Counseling psychologists attempt to develop models of practice and research that seek to interpret and negotiate between perceptions and worldviews without the assumption that one way of experiencing is superior to the others (American Psychological Association, n.d.b, n.d.c).

Counseling psychology aims to “recognize social context and … to work always in ways that empower rather than control and also demonstrate high standards of anti-discriminatory practice appropriate to the pluralistic nature of society today” (Orlans & Van Scoyoc, 2008, p. 19).

Counseling psychologists work with individuals of all ages: children with behavioral issues, adolescents with educational and career considerations, adults with family difficulties and job stress, and middle and old-aged persons with retirement crisis. Counseling is possible for groups, such as couples and families, because it helps to balance the interaction of group members. Counseling psychologists work with various organizations as well, helping to provide “a work environment in which people can succeed” and “enhance the ability of organizations to increase productivity and effectiveness” (American Psychological Association, n.d.c, para. 5).

As in other professional spheres, the successful and profitable career in counseling psychology requires a doctoral degree. A counseling psychologist makes the same path as all specialists in other spheres: obtains an undergraduate degree in general psychology, works as an assistant of a practicing counseling psychologist, after that they obtain a master’s degree and then a doctorate one. However, according to the American Psychological Association (n.d.c), “psychology programs exist for students interested in entering a more intensive graduate doctoral program immediately following undergraduate studies” (para. 3).

Practically all departments of psychology in colleges and universities provide their students with the opportunity to take these graduate programs. The salaries of specialists in the sphere of counseling psychology differ as in the others. The average income of a counseling psychologist depends on the level of education, working experience, type of organization in which they work (state or private), its size, and geographical location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical psychologists are expected to earn an annual salary that is as high as $70,000 (Learn How to Become, 2016).

Geropsychology

Geropsychology is a branch of psychology that studies psychological and behavioral aspects of aging. It is connected with such fields of knowledge as neuropsychology, rehabilitation psychology, and end-of-life care. Like many other branches of psychology, geropsychology may be classified into scientific and applied. As a scientific discipline, geropsychology aims to investigate the age-related changes withing the biopsychological framework and differentiate between normal changes that are associated with age” and deviational changes that are “driven by age-related diseases” (Molinari, 2011, p. 16).

Applied geropsychology attempts to employ the results of this investigation in improving the lives of older adults. Geropsychologists’ task is to render clinical and counseling help to older adults. To provide such help, geropsychologists use the knowledge and skills that they obtained in related sub-disciplines. Molinari (2011) states that it is very important to know how to render direct services, environmental and community interventions, because “older adults become more dependent on the supports available in their environments” and a professional geropsychologist should know how to assist them, their families and their communities (p. 14).

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Although the psychologists specializing in the care for the elderly have the option of obtaining a degree program at the doctorate level, it is not obligatory. Those who want to become geropsychologists may “take classes in adult development and aging”, “get the experience in cognitive and neuropsychological assessment”, or “seek for cross-disciplinary degree certificates in geriatrics” (American Psychological Association, n.d.d, para. 15).

The information concerning the average income of a geropsychologist differs from source to source. According to Online Psychology Degree (2016), “the average salary for this type of specialization can go as high as $99,000” (para. 5). The American Psychological Association (n.d.d), however, reports that “average salaries are $56,714 in a government research organization; $59,000 in a private research organization; and $70,200 for working in a VA hospital with 5 to 9 years of experience, according to APA’s 2001 salary data” (para. 18).

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Industrial and organization psychology are often merged into one specialty. However, there is a difference between these two branches of psychological science. While industrial psychology studies the behavior of an individual as well as how he cooperates with other individuals in work settings, organizational psychology studies the interaction of individuals in groups in order to provide more productive and efficient workflow (Kuther & Morgan, 2012).

Industrial-organizational psychology intersects with other branches because it implements the scientific knowledge of such spheres as cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, health psychology, etc. For example, the results of analysis of cognitive activities that is performed within the framework of cognitive psychology may be used in industrial-organizational psychology for the selection and placement of employees, performance evaluation, and training of employees (Kuther & Morgan, 2012).

Industrial-organizational psychologists may work in business and teaching settings. Their task is to examine, analyze, and assess the abilities, behavior, and interaction of people that work or study together in order to develop a plan that will provide the efficient workflow of a company or educational process. The average income of industrial-organizational psychologists depends on the level of their education, working experience, and setting in which they work. Those specialists that obtained a master’s degree earn $65,000 a year; and those who obtained a doctoral degree receive approximately $80,000 a year (Kuther & Morgan, 2012). It should be stressed, though, that as usual, private sector employment offers $100,000 of annual income (Kuther & Morgan, 2012).

Social Psychology

Social psychology studies how the behavior of people is influenced by the presence or opinion of others and considers such factors as the influence of social approval, subjective interpretation of social messages, decision-making patterns, etc (Kuther & Morgan, 2012). DeLamater, Myers, and Collett (2014) state that social psychologists have five major concerns in their research: “the impact that one individual has on another, the impact that a group has on the individual, the impact that separate individuals have in the group, impacts that social context and social structure have on groups and individuals” (p. 58).

In general, a degree in social psychology is quite universal. Bachelor’s degree holders may find a job in management and education services. Master’s and doctoral degrees broaden employment opportunity list to management, teaching, training, business consulting, and scientific services (Kuther & Morgan, 2012). The average income of social psychologists depends on the level of education, working experience, and type of organization in which they work. According to Kuther and Morgan (2012), the average annual income of social psychologists approximates to $85,000 (p. 139).

Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychology is the branch of psychology in which external behavior and internal processes of the different stages of human development are studied through the experimental method in the controlled environment (Sharma & Sharma, 2006). Experimental psychologists can complete researches to understand various human behaviors. Conducting an investigation, they may observe the behavior of human subjects or animals. Experimental psychologists are interested not only in the study of human behavior but also different psychological phenomena such as human cognitive processes and personalities (Kuther & Morgan, 2012).

Experimental psychologists can work in a wide range of settings, such as the state and private businesses, research centers, and universities. According to the American Psychological Association (n.d.e), they may contribute to different subfields, “using scientific research to provide insights that improve teaching and learning, create safer workplaces, and promote healthy child development” (para. 3).

Traditionally, the path to the career in experimental psychology starts with a bachelor’s degree. Since this branch of psychology “lives” by experiments and various researches (mostly quantitative in nature), Math skills and a strong knowledge how to collect and analyze data are crucial in becoming an experimental psychologist (American Psychological Association, n.d.e). After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, the specialist may choose to work in a laboratory under the leadership of more educated professional or continue education and obtain a master’s and doctoral degree. As of 2009, the average annual salary for doctoral-level experimental psychologists started from $76,090 to $116,343 depending on the psychologist’s position (American Psychological Association, n.d.e, para. 8).

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is a branch of psychology that applies “psychological research, methods, theory, and practice to a task faced by the legal system” (Fulero & Wrightsman, 2008). As Huss (2013) states, a forensic psychologist may “evaluate a defendant for insanity”, “attempt to restore the competency of the defendant”, “assess psychopathy in an individual”, etc (p. 13). Forensic psychologists work in different settings, such as jails, prisons, state hospitals, state and federal government agencies, law enforcement agencies, community clinics, private practice, colleges, and universities (Huss, 2013).

At the beginning of the career, a future forensic psychologist should obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a special focus on criminology or forensics (Careers in Psychology, n.d.). After that, one may start working as a forensic science technician. Although this job offers much of the paperwork, it allows delving deeper into the specialty (Occupational Outlook Handbook, n.d.). Further education presupposes obtaining master’s and doctoral degrees. The average income of doctoral degree holders is approximately $110,000, while those who obtained a master’s degree may count on $78,000 (Kuther & Morgan, 2012). Since forensic psychology is a rapidly developed sphere of psychology, the specialists may expect higher salaries in the future.

Future Perspectives

With the help of RIASEC spectrum (U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, 2000a), I found that my strongest work-related interests are investigative and social. With such results, for my current and future job zones I can choose from the following range of employments: emergency medical technician, medical and clinical laboratory technician, funeral attendant, forensic science technician, clinical psychologist, and counseling psychologist (U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, 2000b, 2000c, 2000d).

Forensic Psychology

Subjective advantages

The career in forensic psychology seems to be an attractive choice: it provides job options in both state organizations and private practice, it is promising regarding salaries, and it is prestigious. However, I do not particularly like the idea of working in the legal sector. For this reason, I put this option on the third place of my possible career choices.

Further education

The possibility to work as a forensic science technician having only a bachelor’s degree is rather convenient. I may try myself as a psychologist in forensics without spending too much time for education and decide whether it is interesting or not. If I like this sphere of psychology, I will probably try to obtain a master’s degree.

Job considerations

Forensic assistance in court is a challenging and responsible task. The decision concerning the sanity of a defendant, for example, may determine the fate of a person and their relatives. Teaching forensic psychology attracts me more as it corresponds to my social work-related interest.

Clinical Psychology

Subjective advantages

I like the idea that clinical psychology has developed scientific and applied spheres of professional activities. It corresponds to my interests in investigations and social help. A wide range of employment opportunities and respectable salaries make this sphere of psychology even more attractive. I do not see any disadvantages in the career of a clinical psychologist.

Further education

If I choose clinical psychology as my future career, I will try to obtain a master’s degree first. This will allow me to find a good job, and after that, I will understand what is more interesting for me: science or practice. In the former case, I will consider a doctoral program.

Job considerations

Among a wide range of jobs in clinical psychology, I am attracted to hospital psychologist. The observations made during the working routine will provide a good basis for the scientific work.

Counseling Psychology

Subjective advantages

As in clinical psychology, counseling psychology combines scientific and practical activities, offers good salaries and a wide range of employment opportunities.

Further education

Master’s degree remains my preference. I believe it is rational in terms of making a decision whether I like science or its application more.

Job considerations

For the career in counseling psychology, I will choose private practice. Working with individuals, groups, and even organizations seems to be rather interesting; it does not interfere with scientific activity and allows earning the considerable income.

Conclusion

In these six weeks, I learned the subjects of scientific interest of eight branches of psychology: biopsychology, cognitive neuropsychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, geropsychology, industrial-organizational psychology, social psychology, experimental psychology, and forensic psychology. This course helped me to assess the advantages and disadvantages of each of these branches. I also discovered my work-related interests that will undoubtedly facilitate the choice of my future career. I find it useful that we studied not only theoretical side of the issue but also received a full understanding of currency and actual demand for these branches.

References

American Psychological Association. (n.d.a). A career in cognitive psychology. Web.

American Psychological Association. (n.d.b). Pursuing a career in clinical or counseling psychology. Web.

American Psychological Association. (n.d.c). Counseling psychology. Web.

American Psychological Association. (n.d.d). Postgrad growth areas: Geropsychology. Web.

American Psychological Association. (n.d.e). Pursuing a career in experimental psychology. Web.

American Public University System. (n.d.). Undergraduate course descriptions. Web.

Carr, A. (2012). Clinical psychology: An introduction. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Careers in Psychology. (n.d.). Forensic psychology careers. Web.

Coltheart, M. (2015). Assumptions and methods in cognitive neuropsychology. In B. Rapp (Ed.), Handbook of cognitive neuropsychology: What deficits reveal about the human mind (pp. 3-22). Hove, United Kingdom: Psychology Press.

DeLamater, J., Myers, D., & Collett, J. (2014). Social Psychology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Fulero, S., & Wrightsman, L. S. (2008). Forensic psychology. San Francisco, CA: Cengage Learning.

Greene, S. (2013). Principles of biopsychology. Hove, United Kingdom: Psychology Press.

Huss, M. (2013). Forensic psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Kuther, T. L., & Morgan, R. D. (2012). Careers in psychology: Opportunities in a changing world (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Cengage Learning.

Learn How to Become. (2016). What does a clinical psychologist do? Web.

Molinari, V. (2011). Specialty competencies in geropsychology. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Occupational Outlook Handbook. (n.d.). Forensic Science Technicians. Web.

Online Psychology Degree. (2016). How to become a professional geropsychologist. Web.

Orlans, V., & Van Scoyoc, S. (2008). A short introduction to counselling psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sharma, R. N., & Sharma, R. (2006). Experimental psychology. New Delhi, India: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors

U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. (2000a). O*NET Interest Profiler Instrument. Web.

U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. (2000b). O*NET Interest Profiler Score Report. Web.

U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. (2000c). O*NET Interest Profiler Occupations Master List. Web.

U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. (2000d). O*NET Occupations combined list. Web.

Wickens, A. (2009). Introduction to biopsychology. New York City, NY: Pearson Education.

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