24 Aug 2016

So You Wanna Be a Psychologist? 10 Major Branches of Psychology That You Should Know

Whenever the fateful words of “Psychology student” are uttered, one would reap the inevitable response of “So what am I thinking?” or “Can you read my mind?”. It is a banality that no Psychology major will ever be able to dodge (#verytruestory) (#askanypsychologystudent).

P/S: Really, you’re all safe – we can’t read your mind because we are not trained to analyse people at first glance.

Beyond mind reading, psychics, out of body experiences, recovered memories and lie detection (please flush these pseudosciences out of your Psychology-related schemas), Psychology is actually by definition, the study of mind and behaviour.

So what is Psychology? While most people would associate Psychology with a comfy couch, a pair of listening ears or a hypnotic pendulum, the world of Psychology is in fact so vast that there’s a slew of Psychology specialties packed under the umbrella.

After all, the human experience is a multifaceted one, because no single study can ever fathom the incredible depths of our behaviour, thoughts and emotions. As an effort to unmask the fuzzy sketch behind Psychology, here are 10 of the most widely-known fields of Psychology.

#1. Addiction Psychology

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As the specialty name hints, this area of Psychology utilises psychological research and theories to counsel, diagnose and treat individuals who are plagued by addictions. If you are a retired boozer and a changed man who now pledges to assist peeps who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, this one is for you!

Focus: Substance abuse counsellors focus in helping individuals to overcome their vices (read: physical, mental and emotional reliance on drugs or substance).

#2. Child Psychology

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According to The American Academy of Paediatrics (read: an association dedicated to the health and well-being of infants all the way to young adults), children after the age of two should watch no more than two hours of TV per day and none before that age.

The notion that childhood marks a crucial phase for the well-being of later development life is not just a “folk tale” that vibrates across your eardrum. In fact, experts in the realm of child Psychology have been tirelessly hovering over the study of the mind and behaviour of children, from prenatal development through adolescence in terms of physical, mental, emotional as well as social development.

Focus: Child psychologists typically work with children and their primary caregivers in order to research, assess and possibly treat developmental issues. Possible clients include children with mental, emotional or social problems such as violent children, autistic children or those who have been abused.

#3. Biopsychology

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If human anatomy piques your curiosity but you disregard donning a white lab coat, biopsychology could be right up your alley. Also known as behavioural neuroscience or biological psychology, this area takes an in-depth glance at human behaviours from a strictly biological vantage point.

Think along the lines of how neurotransmitters, brain circuitry, cardiovascular system or nervous system interact with human behaviour. A classic example? Lack of serotonin and norepinephrine could increase your susceptibility towards clinical depression.

Focus: Biopsychologists often scrutinise at how biological processes interact with emotions, cognitions and other mental processes.

#4. Cognitive Psychology

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The term cognitive comes from the Latin word, cognoscere, which means “to know”. Essentially, cognitive psychology revolves around the science of “knowing”, covering how people think, learn and remember.

Cognitive psychology can play a huge role in solving real-world problems and understanding the behaviour of others. Take for instance the blazing debate on the reliability of eyewitness testimony (yes, those folks on CSI who are obliged to shell out descriptions at trials for a robbery or murder scene that they’ve unfortunately witnessed).

Although juries tend to rely (relatively) heavily on eyewitness testimony as a legit source of information, cognitive psychology has been contending otherwise. The uncritical acceptance of eyewitness accounts may rise from a famed misconception of how memory works.

Many of us believe that our memory works like a video recorder with our mind recording events and on cue, playing back on precise replica. Unfortunately, psychologists have found that our memories are actually reconstructed rather than played back each time we attempt to recall. This inaccuracy in recalling ultimately lend a hand to the imminent flaw in eyewitness testimony.

Focus: Cognitive psychologists dive into the human thought process by exploring how individuals process and store information, particularly in regards to areas like language, learning, decision-making, deductive reasoning and problem-solving.

#5. Counselling Psychology

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As one of the most paramount areas within Psychology, counselling can be framed as a specialty that applies psychological concepts to people and their everyday lives.

From stress management, coping with negative events, relationship dysfunctions, career advice and self-esteem issues to addressing mental disorders, counselling ultimately strives to improve interpersonal functioning throughout life by boosting social and emotional health.

Focus: Counsellors are set out to help others in better understanding themselves through an intense series of “talking and listening therapy”. It’s a facilitative process whereby individuals come to terms with their thoughts and emotions by connecting the dots between past events and their current patterns of behaviour.

#6. Clinical Psychology

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Now this is a specialisation that has surely travelled through your ear gate before. Generally, clinical psychology peeks into the causes, diagnosis and treatment of abnormal behaviours, psychiatric problems as well as mental and emotional disorders. Some of the mental health issues include learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and on the heavier scale of the spectrum, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or schizophrenia.

Focus: Clinical Psychologists are at the helm of analysing, identifying, treating and preventing mental disorders and issues. But do not mistake them for psychiatrists as they can’t prescribe medical treatment. They may take up the role of therapists for individuals experiencing psychological crises or psychiatric disorders and are normally spotted in academic settings, private practices, hospitals or other clinical centres.

#7. Educational Psychology

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Have you ever sat down and pondered on the infinite of possibilities if only you were given the power to upgrade your brain’s bandwidth? Before you think it’s just a far-fetched idea rooted in science fiction, educational psychologists have actually been knuckling down on understanding how people learn for decades.

Taking into various considerations such as motivation, intelligence, personality and cognition, psychologists juggle around these factors in order to better comprehend their roles in enhancing the learning process.

Focus: Educational psychologists muse on proactive approach in improving educational experiences for people of all learning styles. They strive to understand how individuals are capable of learning in educational settings and more notably, identify gifted and disabled learners while trying to drill down to the root of the problem in hopes of tackling issues during the early stages.

#8. Forensic Psychology

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All thanks to our culture’s growing infatuation with all-matters-criminal (yes, the all famous Criminal Mind), there has been a boom for forensic psychology programmes. While the media’s depiction remains fixated on the all-knowing psychic and the clairvoyance to tap into criminal minds, the real experts are (of course) not gifted with a sixth sense.

Generally, forensic psychology entails the binding of psychological concepts within the legal system. Think of it as an expertise that helps the judicial system by breaking down psychological concepts to court and law enforcement personnel along with psychological advice and assessment.

Focus: Forensic Psychologists lend their skills to insurance claim cases, child custody disputes, child abuse accusations, psychological assessment of criminals, evaluation of witness credibility, criminal profiling as well as other legal disputes in need of a psychological perspective.
Did You Know: In many cases, people working within forensic psychology are not necessarily “forensic psychologists” per se. They can be clinical psychologists, school psychologists or counsellors who lend their psychological expertise to provide testimony, analysis or recommendations in legal/criminal cases.

#9. Industrial and Organisational Psychology

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Often coined as “I/O Psychology”, this field of Psychology basically wraps up the notion of office psychology. A scientific examination of human behaviour in relation to the work setting, I/O psychology seeks to boost productivity and efficiency in the workplace while maximising the well-being of employees. Subjects such as worker attitudes, employee behaviours and motivations as well as leadership are among the routines.

Focus: The pursue of industrial and organisational psychology is arguably one of the most lucrative careers paths in the realm of Psychology. Typically hired by leading companies and corporations, I/O psychologists delve into the how-and-why of workers by constantly churning out new approaches to hike up productivity in a workplace environment in order to keep them efficient, healthy and competent.

#10. Social Psychology

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Has it ever struck you why Internet trolls and keyboard warriors still exist, since they literally live just for the sole purpose of irking the entire nation of netizens? Well, according to social psychology, the infuriating phenomena is tied to the online disinhibition effect – the fact that anonymity frees us from the obligation of social norms.

Such is the intriguing nature of social psychology as it examines how the human mind is affected by others – real or imagined – through group behaviour, social perception, leadership, nonverbal behaviour, conformity, aggression, why people act a certain way with others, why people bear prejudices and how certain attitudes exist.

Focus: Generally, social psychologists put the study of social factors – perception and interaction – under the microscope. They also spend a considerable amount of time researching and analysing how people build up attitudes toward others and when these are harmful (take for example the case of prejudice) and provide insight into approaches to alter them.
Did You Know: A bulk of social psychologists actually work in an academic setting (where they teach and conduct research), while some venture into advertising agencies (where they pick up consumer behaviours) and business agencies (where they tackle a variety of problems in organisation and management).

Now before you plunge headfirst into a Psychology programme and righteously declare yourself as a “Psychologist-to-be”, bear in mind that specialisations are only feasible on a post-graduate level (read: master’s degree or doctoral degree). While a bachelor’s degree fills you in with the fundamentals of psychology, a master’s degree is usually where all the fun begins!

If you’ve been mulling over the prospect of being a professionally trained mind-reader diving into a Psychology course, here’s our comprehensive guide to studying Psychology in Malaysia (yes, and to convince your parents that a Psychology major can lead to a multitude of career paths).

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