8 Types of Psychology with Real-World Perspective

Explore Psychology

The study of psychology can be personally and professionally rewarding. Concentrations in this field offer diverse opportunities to learn about people and how they interact with others in the workplace, in relationships and when facing health, financial and other life challenges. Let’s take a look at eight types of psychology, with real-world perspective from some of the psychology faculty at Southern New Hampshire University.


Abnormal psychologists focus on the origins and constructs of mental illness and look at unusual patterns of behaviors, emotions and thoughts. They are involved in assessment, diagnoses and clinical treatment of mental disorders.

“When most people think about abnormal behavior, they think in terms of the extremes, of unusual and shocking examples with a sensational allure,” said Dr. Nanette Mongelluzzo, an adjunct instructor of graduate psychology. But, she added, “abnormal simply means 'away from the normal.' Culture, belief systems, family or origin, religion and other societal norms affect the interpretation of normal and abnormal. Abnormal psychology is a specialization within the field of psychology, and it's based on the study of normal psychology, normal adjustment, societal interactions, group interactions, roles that are expected, personal maturity and so on. Most psychotherapists and clinical mental health professionals would agree that abnormal psychology studies and addresses deviations from the norm.”

Mongelluzzo said that, with an advanced degree, career choices include clinical social worker, clinical or research psychologist, criminal profiler, licensed professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, developmental/school psychologist and forensic psychologist. Clinical psychologists are also employed or serve as advisors in many areas of government, prison systems, the military, educational institutions, and on teams with other professionals working for organizations as diverse as sports, media and international human rights organizations.


This field concentrates on the relationship between biology and behavior, and especially the role that the brain and neurotransmitters play in controlling and regulating behavior. Biopsychologists want to know how biological changes lead to changes in behavior.

Though many biopsychologists work in academic and private research labs, adjunct psychology instructor Dr. Shaun Cook said their understanding of how brain processes work can lead to jobs in marketing, education, technology companies or even politics. He added that biopsychologists design and test new drugs for pharmaceutical companies, help treat people with damaged nervous systems in hospitals and clinics, facilitate a higher quality of resident life in retirement and assisted living facilities, and may work in zoos to observe animal behaviors from a physiological basis.

Biological psychologists also study "behavior-changing brain lesions, chemical responses in the brain and brain-related genetics," according to the American Psychological Association. Biopsychology is also sometimes referred to as physiological psychology or psychobiology, according to the APA.


Social psychologists study what people think and feel, and how our behavior is impacted by others. They look at group membership, prejudice and discrimination, attitudes and persuasion, social impacts on self-esteem and other areas.

Many social psychologists work in academia as researchers and professors, but applied career opportunities exist in marketing, industrial-organizational psychology, evaluation and consulting, as well as other fields, according to Amanda Scott, adjunct instructor and psychology team lead. In addition to teaching online, Scott is a part owner of a consulting firm: “We focus both on traditional market research and on survey research in support of class action litigation to measure the experiences people have had and to quantify them for court.”


Cognitive psychology looks at the mental processes that relate to thinking, memory and language and makes findings about those processes by observing behavior, according to APA. Current research has focused on information processing theories developed in computer science and artificial intelligence, APA reports.

According to the APA, most psychologists working in brain science and cognition work in academic settings where they teach, conduct research or both. Their expertise is invaluable in growth areas such as human-computer interaction, software development and organizational psychology and as consultants throughout the private sector. Many cognitive psychologists work directly with clients and patients in a wide variety of private practice and clinical settings; others serve in positions within government, private research centers and treatment facilities, and even as expert witnesses for court cases.


"This area promotes research and the application of scientific knowledge to educational, childcare, policy and related areas. Developmental psychologists study how people grow and adapt (physically and psychologically) from conception to death, and conduct research to understand and support people to reach their full potential," said Dr. Jay Greiner, adjunct instructor of psychology. "Developmental psychologists work with people of all ages to understand and support their growth, including gerontology and working with the aging baby boomer population. (In their work with young children), they flag developmental delays and serious health conditions, and assist with interventions to help children get back on track to normal development." Developmental psychologists may work as counselors, childcare workers and managers, child and adolescent therapists and teachers too, Dr. Greiner added.

"Developmental psychologists play an integral role in designing, evaluating and implementing cross-cultural approaches to human life in many settings," said Dr. Nickolas H. Dominello, associate dean of social sciences. "Focusing on cognitive, physical, social and personality factors, developmental psychologists often work in academia, health care or education."


This is the study of personality and how it varies among individuals. Personality psychologists and researchers rely on research and theories related to personality traits, evolution, biology, humanism, behavior and social learning to determine what makes a person unique. Understanding how personality develops, and its similarities as well as variances among individuals, is key. Personality psychologists assess, diagnose and treat personality disorders that negatively impact a person's quality of life.

“I focus on personality factors related to work and school success,” said Jeral Kirwan, adjunct instructor of psychology. “My recent research has looked at personality characteristics and dispositions of online learners and educators, and how those factors relate to communication, performance and satisfaction.” Personality psychologists may specialize in fields as diverse as conflict resolution, leadership development, research, human resources, marketing, teaching, public policy analysis and other areas.


"Forensic psychology has been called 'the intersection of law and psychology,' and it’s a field in which psychologists (who are most commonly licensed) apply their psychosocial knowledge to civil and criminal law," said adjunct faculty member Kathy Edwards.

Forensic psychologists generally hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree, yet many careers are open for master’s level clinicians as well, said Edwards. "Typical careers involve conducting forensic assessments for the courts system – such as a person's competency to stand trial or in custody assessments," she said, "but opportunities exist in police psychology, prison psychology and consulting, for example as an expert witness."

Dr. Joel Fick, is an adjunct psychology instructor and also provides individual and group therapy for male inmates dealing with mental health and medical issues. He conducts suicide assessments and mental health evaluations for inmates, and is developing a behavior management plan for staff, especially for complex, progressive medical conditions, such as dementia.

“I started my work in forensics by working with adolescents in the juvenile justice system and it eventually led to developing expertise in forensic psychology,” he said. “I recommend that students be open to trying a variety of experiences: I never planned on working in a prison but it has been an amazing experience with continual learning opportunities.”


According to The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, this branch of psychology is the scientific study of working and it has critical relevance to individuals, businesses and society. It applies research to issues facing individuals, teams and organizations, and examines employee well-being and attitude, employee-employer relationships and the entire breadth of workplace behavior. Many industrial-organizational psychologists teach in academia and/or conduct research. Graduates with a degree in IOP may work as a career or executive coach, human resource generalist or manager, organizational performance manager, talent acquisition manager, employee efficiency expert, mergers and acquisition specialist/consultant, training specialist, or pursue other related opportunities.

“I truly wanted to expand my knowledge base on the issues that face employees every day in their interactions with employers,” said Dr. Thomas MacCarty, associate dean of social sciences. “IOP is, in my opinion, one of the most important subfields of psychology as the clear majority of us work close to 30% of our lives.”


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Pete Davies is an assistant vice president of product marketing at SNHU. Follow him on Twitter @daviespete or connect on LinkedIn.

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