10 Specialty Areas to Launch Your Career in Psychology

Ever heard the saying “jack of all trades but master of none”? Well, it applies to psychology too. Specialties in psychology mean psychologists can direct their learnings in one particular area and establish themselves as experts rather than generalists.


Since psychology has become an increasingly diversified field, with more and more specialty areas for psychologists – and clients – to choose from, you’ll want to narrow down and focus your efforts on particular areas of psychology, treatment populations, or mental health issues. 


Finding the right specialization can supercharge your career path, showing you where to concentrate your training or where to aim your marketing efforts to get more therapy clients if you decide to go the private practice route.


Our guide makes the decision easier for aspiring practitioners starting their psychology careers. Use our overview to understand the ecosystem of psychology specialties and choose one that fits your skills, interests, and ambitions.


Nuna is a practice management software for therapists that also matches you with clients who are a perfect fit – no matter what your specialty is. Try it, it’s free!


Specialties in psychology: the top 12 fields to choose from


Clinical psychology

Clinical psychology is the most popular area of specialization for psychologists according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The American Psychological Association (APA) provides the following definition: “clinical psychology is the psychological specialty that provides continuing and comprehensive mental and behavioral health care for individuals and families; consultation to agencies and communities; training, education and supervision; and research-based practice”. 


Clinical psychologists are highly trained specialists who diagnose and treat mental illness, often in clinical settings like hospitals or mental health centers but also in community settings, academic institutions, or private practice. Many clinical psychologists further specialize in subfields where they focus on treating particular mental disorders


A day in the life of a clinical psychologist is varied: they’ll interview patients, conduct diagnostic assessments, and provide psychotherapy to improve patient wellbeing


Aspiring clinical psychologists in the US usually need to get a PhD or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)  after their bachelor’s degree, though some countries offer master’s degrees in clinical psychology.  


Counseling psychology

Counseling psychologists focus on providing treatment to patients with mental health issues. 


Some of their work is similar to that of clinical psychologists: they assess, diagnose, and treat patients. However, they are less likely to perform clinical diagnostic tests, and they often treat less severe forms of mental illness than clinical psychologists


Counseling psychologists offer psychotherapy based on evidence-driven psychological principles. They work with individuals who need help dealing with emotional problems or general issues like life transitions, relationships, or career development. 


To become a counseling psychologist, you will need a bachelor’s degree followed by graduate studies (a master’s degree and/or doctoral degree). Many counseling psychologists work in private practice while others work in health care institutions or community clinics. 


If you’re starting out as a counseling psychologist, take a look at our guides on how to start an online therapy practice and mistakes to avoid when starting a counseling practice

Social psychology

Social psychologists conduct research to understand how people interact with one another, and how interpersonal environments affect individual and group behavior. 


They run research studies and analyze data according to psychological principles to provide insights into human behavior. Social psychologists often study behavioral change, personality theories, prejudice formation, why and how people form relationships, and group dynamics. 


Social psychologists can operate in universities but they are also popular in the corporate field for market research, as well as in civic institutions, architectural, and engineering companies. 


The path to becoming a social psychologist usually begins with a bachelor’s degree in psychology followed by further specialized study, typically a master’s degree, PhD, or PsyD

Organizational psychology

Organizational psychology (also known as industrial-organizational psychology) is a fast-growing specialty that focuses on the relationship between people and work. 


Organizational psychologists apply evidence-based psychological principles to the workplace to improve organizational structure, employee productivity and satisfaction, recruitment, and consumer behavior. 


As well as conducting generalized research on these topics, organizational psychologists engage in problem-solving to find solutions for common workplace issues like low motivation, bullying, or poor employee mental health. They typically work closely with management in corporate settings. 


Aspiring organizational psychologists should enroll in bachelor’s-level psychology programs followed by a master’s degree, and look for experience in the field. Some industrial-organizational psychologists choose to get a PhD, but industry experience is often more important. 


Developmental psychology

Developmental psychologists investigate how people grow and change across the lifespan


Developmental psychology aims to explain the process of human development and show how it can be optimized. Developmental psychologists are especially interested in behavioral changes, emotional development, learning and cognition, socialization, and deviations from standard behavioral or developmental patterns. 


Often, they focus on development in childhood, but developmental psychology can be applied across the entire lifespan, from newborn children to those in old age. 


Developmental psychologists with a PhD often work in academic institutions, while others are employed in school systems, government agencies, clinics, and childcare settings.


Educational psychology

Educational psychologists apply psychological principles (including principles drawn from developmental psychology) to study how people learn and improve teaching and learning practices. 


Educational psychologists design appropriate curriculums for each developmental stage and advise on best practices in teaching. Educational psychologists or school psychologists who work in educational settings may also diagnose childhood disorders (including ADHD, autism, and OCD) and treat children or adolescents whose mental health issues create problems with their school learning. Educational psychology is also concerned with learning and development in the family. 


Usually, a master’s degree is the minimum qualification required to be an educational psychologist or school psychologist, though many practitioners also choose to pursue a doctoral degree


Forensic psychology

Forensic psychologists work at the intersection of psychology and law, considering issues in the criminal justice system from a psychological perspective. 


Forensic psychologists conduct research on topics like jury selection, courtroom dynamics, and prison rehabilitation. They also play an important role during trials, evaluating the mental state of defendants and their fitness to stand trial. 


Forensic psychologists may provide expertise to help a judge to make decisions around the psychological damage sustained by a victim or which parent should be granted custody of a child. Some forensic psychologists work directly in prisons or law enforcement settings, counseling inmates, while others help victims of crimes to recover their well-being


Forensic psychologists usually have a master’s degree in a clinical, counseling, experimental, or social psychology. Many also hold degrees in law, though this is not always necessary – plenty of graduates find opportunities to gain legal knowledge in their bachelor’s degree or master’s degree or through work experience. 



Neuropsychology (or psychobiology) is a psychological subfield in which clinicians investigate the link between the brain and nervous system and behavior. 


Neuropsychologists conduct important research that explains how actions, cognition, and psychological states are affected by the central nervous system (and vice versa). They also diagnose and treat specific neurological impairments like Alzheimer’s diseases, epilepsy, and autism as well as patients recovering from brain injuries


Many clinical neuropsychologists work directly with patients who experience dysfunctions of the central nervous system to improve their functioning through cognitive retraining among other psychological techniques. 


To become a neuropsychologist, you’ll need to start with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, psychology, pre-med, or biology, and continue with graduate studies. It’s possible to work as a neuropsychologist with a master’s degree, but most aspiring neuropsychologists acquire a PhD


Behavioral and cognitive psychology


Behavioral and cognitive psychology is a joint specialization whose practitioners make connections between people’s feelings and the way they behave. 


Behavioral and cognitive psychologists help individuals and groups to maintain positive behavior patterns and discourage problematic behaviors using techniques like applied behavior analysis, cognitive-behavioral therapy, social learning theories, and emotional processing theories. 


The subfield of behavioral and cognitive psychology is based on an experiment-clinical approach. Some behavioral and cognitive psychologists conduct experiments and research to better understand human behavior and cognitive patterns, while others treat clients through a combination of behavioral and cognitive interventions. 


Usually, behavioral and cognitive psychologists will need to earn a PhD or PsyD, though in some locations you may be able to practice cognitive-behavioral therapy as a counselor with a master’s degree in psychology. 

Health psychology

Health psychologists help patients to improve their mental and physical health. 


Research in health psychology focuses on how health-related behaviors are affected by  cognitions, emotions, social interactions, and memory. They also study psychological factors in treatment and recovery from physical illness. 


Applied health psychologists design and lead programs based on psychological principles to help people to lose weight, stop smoking, and improve physical fitness. 


Health psychologists may work in medical settings like hospitals or clinics, private practice, or in government agencies where they work to improve public health policy and health systems. 


To work in this subfield, after your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to get a master’s degree focused on health psychology. Most health psychologists then progress to doctoral studies. 

Choosing the right specialties in psychology

Working in psychology is an exciting career path with a broad range of specialties to suit your interests and needs. 


To home in on the right subfield for you, think about: 

  • Where your interests lie
  • What your skill-set is
  • How much graduate study you’re willing to do
  • How much money you can make
  • How many jobs are available in each field in your region


Talking to people who work in each field and getting as much experience as possible will also help you to understand which specialties are right for you – and which aren’t. 


Remember, you can always refer a client to another therapist if their issues are outside your specialty area


With some careful research, you can find a specialization that matches your needs and strengths to start building your expertise and reputation. 


Frequently asked questions about specialties in psychology


How many specialties are there in psychology?

The APA officially recognizes 17 specialties in professional psychology, including clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and forensic psychology.  New subfields are developing all the time, so the list keeps expanding. 


Which field of psychology pays the most?

The top-paying fields of psychology include industrial-organizational psychology, forensic psychology, neuropsychology, and engineering psychology, though salaries depend on region and whether you work for a public institution or private company. 

What field of psychology has the most jobs?

Clinical psychology has the most jobs of all the fields of psychology, in part because it’s so versatile – you can work in clinics, hospitals, corporate settings, and private practice. Specialties like school psychology, sports psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology are predicted to become more in demand and offer more jobs in the coming years. 


Nuna is a practice management software for therapists that also matches you with clients who are a perfect fit – no matter what your specialty is. Try it, it’s free!


We're the team behind Nuna. Nuna is an all-in-one solution for mental healthcare professionals around the world. We help you save time and connect with new clients to run your practice. To join, visit expert.holanuna.com and get started for free!

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