What is Applied Psychology?

What is Applied Psychology?

Applied psychology refers to the entire discipline that includes all fields of psychological studies that use research-based findings to address and resolve behavioral issues. The range of this discipline is so diverse that some specializations engage in extensive laboratory research while others are involved in field studies to create assistive programs for certain populations.

Two Types of Psychology

The question of what is applied psychology begins with differentiating it from another type of psychology. The website verywellmind.com says that psychology can be divided into two arenas. The first is research, and the second is practice. One of the problems with a succinct definition of applied psychology is that the two areas often overlap. Although the American Psychological Association has a “general psychology” division, people who investigate that designation find that it is an area that encourages psychologists to “ incorporate multiple perspectives from psychology’s subdivisions” into their areas of expertise. There is no generalist psychological research area. Rather, scientists direct their study to investigate the psychology of a specific behavior. In clinical psychology, for instance, scientists research psychological disorders and ways to accurately assess them. They develop tests, or tools that are used by clinicians to diagnose these disorders in their patients. The development of the test, however, is arguably an application of the research. Additionally, clinicians record data that is used to validate research findings.

Still, the research psychologist spends much of his time on pure research, and the clinical psychologist spends a lot of time in direct contact with people. It is a bit like researching a cow and finding that the cow gives milk. The knowledge is useless to humans unless someone actually milks the cow and uses the milk. What is applied psychology and what is not applied psychology is not quite that simplistic, but that is a good starting point.
Reiterating the thought that there is only directed psychological research, the way is open for innumerable varieties of study and, therefore, of related application. From training a dog to selling a product, there is no area of life that does not involve applied psychology.

To understand the breadth and depth of this discipline, here are some of the most popular specializations.

Clinical Psychology

What is Applied Psychology?

Clinical psychologists are involved in the diagnoses, prevention and treatment of emotional and behavioral dysfunctions. The focus of the clinical psychologist is on personal development and achieving optimum well-being. Psychological assessments, psychotherapy and neuropsychology are under the purview of clinical psychologists. They may also end up as academics and researchers. Clinical psychologists do not usually issue prescriptions for symptom management.

Careers in Clinical Psychology

Although some careers in clinical psychology require doctoral degrees, others require only master’s or even bachelor’s degrees. People who want to become clinical psychologists hold doctoral degrees, and usually have specializations. Teaching clinical psychologists work as professors in colleges and universities. Clinical psychologists also work as behavioral psychologists in settings where the clients are individuals or groups who struggle with behaviors that interfere with their lives. They help people overcome addictions and deal with other negative behaviors. Again, to become a clinical psychologist, people must complete doctoral degrees, but they can work as mental health counselors if they have master’s-level degrees.

Educational Psychology

This field of psychology studies how humans learn and how the educational environment can address the needs of students with different abilities. The goal is to develop client-centered interventions that would address specific needs. Educational psychology includes the psychology of teaching. It draws from the principles of the science of cognition and behavior-based research specific to learning environments.

Someone working in educational psychology would not have to teach, however. There is also a need for people who can use the principles of learning and behavior to design curriculum and create learning materials using other media to facilitate teaching special populations such as people with autism or cognitive delays and even adult learners.

Organizational Psychology

Also known as industrial psychology, this field specializes in workplace dynamics with the goal of optimizing communication and inter-relationships. The goal is to enhance efficiency while building a positive and productive work environment. Employee selection, performance assessment and workplace motivation are some of the traditional tasks of the organizational psychologist.

I/O psychologists are employed by organizations to help them identify “talent.” For instance, companies generally look for intelligent people to put in positions of leadership. However, an article in Psychology Today cited a psychological study that indicated people can actually be too smart to be good leaders. People who were only a few percentage points above average intelligence made excellent leader material, but the leadership/intelligence relationship was not linear. In other words, as intelligence rose, leadership ability didn’t necessarily follow suit. That information is important for corporations scouring the ranks of Mensa for new managers.

I/O psychologists also help build procedures to develop the new workers, to “on-board” employees and assimilate them into the company culture and to design individualized training programs for them. These psychologists also help companies address corporate change with employees and assist older employees with learning technology.

Sports Psychology

What is Applied Psychology?

With the national obsession with various sports and the central figures of these tournaments, sports psychology is another field that bears consideration. This field of specialization focuses on the impact of psychology on performance in different athletic endeavors especially in high stakes, high pressure competitions. Working with athletes, parents, coaches and teams, sports psychologists teach motivational techniques such as positive self-talk, visualization and goal setting.

Additionally, the US military is recognizing the impact of sports psychology on training and conditioning soldiers for combat and the pressure of dissimilar people living in close quarters. Helping soldiers understand stress management, visualization, relaxation techniques and other disciplines utilized in sports psychology may lower the incidence of PTSD in the military.

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is the field of specialization that focuses on personal and interpersonal issues with emphasis on emotional, social, educational organizational issues. This service covers all ages, which is apt considering that some of the client situations involve personal and family crises and physical, mental and emotional trauma. The wellness approach ensures that the psychologist and the client work toward resolving the issues. Treatment sessions are limited to a short-term schedule. These applied psychologists may deal with issues concerning social concerns, school, career and family issues, health problems and various types of stress management.

One thing that differentiates these psychologists from psychiatrists is that they address areas of current function and don’t ordinarily delve into the client’s past to look for patterns and causative incidents. They deal with stress management and other such issues and not with mental health disorders. They may counsel someone in the area of addictions or even career issues sometimes handled by “life coaches.”

Featured Programs

In fact, the APA lists 54 divisions of psychology. One of these is the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. This branch has existed for some time, though not recognized as a psychology branch. The ancient discovery of a “golden mean ratio” that was psychologically pleasing was applied to art composition. The “old masters” created their masterpieces with this in mind. Today, this branch of applied psychology helps visual artists, musical performers, poets, dancers and others understand how their art impacts audiences. Another psychological specialty noted by the American Psychological Association is Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology. This branch of applied psychology uses psychological principles and research to create safer infrastructure, build ergonomic living environments and improve technology among other goals. Another newcomer to the APA divisions has emerged: Peace Psychology. This is the application of psychological theory and research to promote “ nonviolent conflict resolution,” reconciliation and other pathways to peace. It is especially important in view of recent global cultural unrest. As noted above, there is really no area of life that does not involve applied psychology.

Down to Specifics

What is Applied Psychology?

In spite of the number of applied psychology branches, when they hear the term “psychology,” most people still envision a professional in an office doing counseling. Even within those specializations, and the plethora of others that is out there, there are jobs that look nothing like a stereotypical psychologist. To give an idea of the variety of applied psychology jobs that are available, here are some listings from Indeed.com.


The Department of Defense has an opening for something called an interdisciplinary. The professional oversees projects and research on matters that impact military personnel and their families. Responsibilities include overseeing and assisting in the development of survey content and research projects that will identify obstacles and problems in the lives of military families and create programs to address them.

I/O Psychologist at Amazon

The professional in this job studies ways to onboard new employees, to individualize their educational development and to “design programs to identify characteristics of performance and potential.” Tge job has several perks including the opportunity for global travel.

Cognitive Performance Specialist

This job is through Patriot Enterprises L.L.C. but involves a contract they have with the Department of Defense. They need someone to assess the problems associated with stresses such as garrison living, physical and mental resilience and other aspects of training soldiers for combat. The professional would work with individuals and with groups teaching skills such as goal -setting and visualization while implementing strategies from sports psychology and physical exercise. This listing, and others like it, are for someone who can facilitate “holistic health and wellness programs.”

Conciliation Specialist

This person would work for the US Department of Justice in Detroit, Michigan. The position is listed under the Community Relations Service, which it calls America’s Peacemaker, and would involve mediation and facilitating discussions surrounding issues of race, religion, gender identity, disabilities and other factors. The professional would also assess the potential for conflict in communities and lead projects and initiatives that would lead to peaceful solutions.

AI Researcher

This position is with a tech company that is developing artificial intelligence software. It involves applying psychological methods to improving AI programs. The company wants someone who can help their products “emulate human interaction based on an emotional context model.”

These jobs, and many others, are listed under “Applied Psychologist.”

Academic and Career Track for Applied Psychologists

A four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology is the typical starting point for someone focused on a career in this field of psychology. Some universities offer Applied Psychology as a major while other colleges have a customized track so that the student earns an undergraduate degree in this field. In many cases, a master’s degree in psychology or social work may be required to earn the credentials to work in this field. Some degree-granting institutions offer a master’s in Applied Psychology, and some fields of specialization may require post-graduate studies and verified internship as part of the credentialing requirements.

Credentialing for Applied Psychology

In addition to undergraduate degree programs and master’s programs in psychology, many positions require doctoral (Ph.D.) or professional degrees. The difference between the designations is that the Ph.D. usually concentrates on research and making contributions to the broad field on knowledge in a profession, while a professional degree, while still a doctorate, is intended for people who want to work in the application of that knowledge. While that goes to the core of applied psychology, both degrees will allow people to work in this field. Many educational sites contend that a doctoral degree enables professionals to earn 50 percent more than does a master’s degree, and a study noted on the APA website says that the highest percentage of employed psychologists have doctoral degrees.

Certification is also offered by associations for each specialization. For instance, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology offers certification for those professionals. Certification is not mandatory, and some professionals believe it is not even necessary, but many psychologists seek certification to add credibility to their degrees.

Of course, salaries for professionals who work in applied psychology vary with the specialization and with the geographical and industrial areas where they are employed. Someone who works for the government may not earn as much as an in-house sport psychologist for a professional football team, for instance. Still, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a median salary of $80,370 for psychologists of all types. Many psychologists make over $100,000 per year.

Applied psychologists can look forward to an interesting career that may involve different workplace environments. Jobs for psychologists are expected to grow faster than the national average in the next 10 years according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Related Resources: