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Specialties within Psychology

To give you some idea of the broad range of interests and activities within the field of psychology, the following table lists different specialties. Percentages are approximate and vary widely in different countries.

Title of Specialty Typical Profes­sional Activities %
Clinical Psychology Therapy, research, teaching, writing, helping people with behavioral or mental disorders 47%
Counseling Psychology Helping people with problems of everyday life (such as marital problems, school problems, family crises) 11%
Cognitive Psychology Teaching and research on human information processing such as perception, language, and memory 10%
Educational Psychology Teaching and research at colleges and universities 10%
School Psychology and Psychometrics Testing and diagnosing gifted and learning disabled students, mostly in school settings 8%
Social Psychology Teaching and research about social influences on individuals 8%
Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Teaching, research, or working with business and industry 6%
Community Psychology Activities to benefit the community 4%
Developmental Psychology, including Child Psychology, Adolescent Psychology, the Psych­ology of Aging The study of development from concep­tion to death 4%
Physiological Psychology, Psychobiology, Neuropsychology Biological Approaches to Psychology 4%
Human Factors Psychology and Engineering Psychology Theory and research about interactions between humans and tools, equip­ment, and systems 3%
Health Psychology, Behavioral Medicine Psychology relating to health and medicine 3%
Comparative and Animal Psychology Analysis of animal behavior and compari­son of different species 3%
Forensic Psychology, Prison Psychology, Psychology and the Law Psychology involved with the legal system, prisons, and court system 3%
Methodologists and Statistical Consultants Experts on research methods and analyzing data 3%

The boundaries between these sub-disciplines are fluid. A develop­mental psychologist might also be a clinical psychologist. A forensic psychologist is usually a clinical psychologist first, specializing in forensic psychology later. This is also why the percentages add up to more than 100%.

The undergraduate (bachelor's) degree in psychology is very useful because it is flexible. Students with a psychology degree may obtain graduate degrees in fields like business, law, and social work in addition to psychology.

Psychology majors who elect not to attend graduate school go to work in other fields. For example, a degree in psychology may help with upward mobility to a managerial or supervisory position within a business.

To be employed as a psychologist, a person must earn a graduate degree. In the field of psychology, there are three common graduate degrees: the Masters degree (MA or MS), the Doctor of Psychology degree (PsyD) and the PhD in Psychology degree (PhD). By convention, these degrees are written without punctuation, although all are abbreviations

The PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree is clinically-oriented. It is specifically for people entering psychology as a helping profession. By contrast, the PhD in Psychology (Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) is a research-oriented degree, and a PhD student must do original research documented in a PhD dissertation.

What is the difference between a PsyD and a PhD?

A PhD in Clinical Psychology requires both a research dissertation and supervised clinical experience, while the PsyD requires only the clinical training. For this reason a clinical PhD may require an extra year for a total of five years of graduate school.

The PsyD is a therapy-oriented degree so the research requirement is absent. Most students finish the degree in four years.

The starting salary for a PsyD is likely to be higher than that of a Masters degree holder but lower than that of a PhD. Research expertise is valued in academia, so many universities will hire only PhD psychologists for faculty positions.

Many clinical psychologists do not work in a clinic such as a mental health clinic or school clinic, nor do they always do therapy. A third of all clinical psych­ologists are employed in academic settings. A third work in hospitals or clinics. A sixth have private practices. The rest do things like consulting for business and industry.

One thing every psychology student should know is that psychologists are not the same as psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are MDs. Most clinical psychologists are PhDs or PsyDs. Psychiatrists go through medical school, like any medical doctor, then they specialize in psychiatry the way other MDs specialize in cardiology or internal medicine.

Psychologists do not go through medical school; they go to graduate programs in psychology. One important consequence is that psychiatrists can prescribe drugs, while psychologists in the United States cannot except in a small number of states.

In most states of the U.S., psychologists who work at mental health centers maintain professional ties with one or more psychiatrists. The psychiatrists visit the clinic periodically and prescribe medications when necessary.

What are differences between psychologists and psychiatrists? How do they often cooperate at mental health centers?

Psychology majors often make erroneous assumptions about the discipline. For example, many students are unaware that a PhD is required for many entry positions in psychology.

Masters degree holders can usually find work in a psychological clinic or other group setting. They typically do not work as independent therapists or professors.

Students tend to overestimate minority participation in psychology, which is still rather low in the United States, around 8% by some esti­mates. Minority students who obtain a PhD may find several schools competing for their services, because most psychology departments value diversity.

Finally, students tended to over­estimate salaries in the field. As of 2017 a salary of $45,000 would be average for a Masters degree holder starting out in a rural mental health clinic. $55,000 might be a starting salary for new PhD hired by a medium sized state university, higher if the specialty is clinical psychology and the school must compete with private clinical practices for young PhDs.

What are some common erroneous assumptions of psychology majors?

Salaries vary with geographical location and the prestige of the hiring institution. If the cost of living is twice as high (for example, in culturally desirable cities) salaries will also be twice as high, but those jobs are harder to get because more people compete for them.

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