1.3 Psychologists at Work

Learning Objectives

  1. List the types of careers open to people with degrees in psychology.

Psychologists at work

The Canadian Psychological Association (2018) has some suggestions for career opportunities for students with undergraduate degrees such as addictions counsellor, correctional officer, daycare worker, market research analyst, technical writer, child care worker, customs agent, government researcher, and so on. Psychologists with PhD degrees engage in a variety of professional practices. Many psychologists work in higher education at universities and colleges where they teach, conduct research, or do both. Psychologists are also employed in organizations and industries where they apply the results of psychological research to a diverse array of situations; these include, for example, workplace satisfaction and productivity, athletic performance, business, military applications, prisons, and other forensic settings. Finally, psychologists work in applied clinical settings where they diagnose and treat mental disorders and provide mental health services. Clinical psychologists sometimes do similar work to psychiatrists, but psychiatrists are medical doctors, with an MD rather than a PhD, who have specialized training in psychiatry and, unlike clinical psychologists, can prescribe medication.

The many disciplines of psychology

Psychology is not one discipline but a collection of many subdisciplines that all adhere to the scientific method and that work together and exchange knowledge to form a coherent discipline (Yang & Chiu, 2009). Because the field of psychology is so broad, students may wonder which areas are most suitable for their interests and which types of careers might be available to them. The table below will help you consider the answers to these questions. Note that most of these careers require a PhD and that psychologists in all areas conduct research and teach in colleges and universities.


Table 1.3. Some career paths in psychology
Psychology Field Description Career Opportunities
Biopsychology and neuroscience This field examines the physiological bases of behaviour in animals and humans by studying the functioning of different brain areas and the effects of hormones and neurotransmitters on behaviour. Most biopsychologists work in academic or purely research settings — for instance, at universities, for the federal government, and in private research labs.
Clinical and counselling psychology These are the largest fields of psychology. The focus is on the assessment, diagnosis, causes, and treatment of mental disorders. Clinical and counselling psychologists provide therapy to patients with the goal of improving their life experiences. They work in hospitals, schools, social agencies, and private practice. Because the demand for this career is high, entry to academic programs is highly competitive.
Cognitive psychology This field uses sophisticated research methods, including reaction time and brain imaging, to study memory, language, and thinking of humans. Cognitive psychologists work primarily in academic settings, although some, such as those who specialize in human-computer interactions, consult for businesses.
Developmental psychology These psychologists conduct research on the cognitive, emotional, and social changes that occur across the lifespan. Many developmental psychologists work in academic settings, although others work in schools and community agencies to help improve and evaluate the effectiveness of intervention programs designed to help children at risk.
Forensic psychology These psychologists apply psychological principles to understand the behaviour of judges, lawyers, courtroom juries, and others in the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists work in the criminal justice system. They may testify in court and may provide information about the reliability of eyewitness testimony and jury selection.
Health psychology These psychologists are concerned with understanding how biology, behaviour, and the social situation influence health and illness. Health psychologists work with medical professionals in clinical settings to promote better health, conduct research, and teach at universities.
Industrial-organizational and environmental psychology This field applies psychology to the workplace with the goal of improving the performance and wellbeing of employees. There are a wide variety of career opportunities for these psychologists, who generally work in businesses. They help select employees, evaluate employee performance, and examine the effects of different working conditions on behaviour. They may also work to design equipment and environments that improve employee performance and reduce accidents.
Personality psychology These psychologists study people and the differences among them. The goal is to develop theories that explain the psychological processes of individuals and to focus on individual differences. Most personality psychologists work in academic settings, but the skills of personality psychologists are also in demand in business — for instance, in advertising and marketing. PhD programs in personality psychology are often connected with programs in social psychology.
School and educational psychology This field studies how people learn in school, the effectiveness of school programs, and the psychology of teaching. School psychologists work in elementary and secondary schools or school district offices with students, teachers, parents, and administrators. They may assess children’s psychological and learning problems and develop programs to minimize the impact of these problems.
Social and cross-cultural psychology This field examines people’s interactions with other people. Topics of study include conformity, group behaviour, leadership, attitudes, and personal perception. Many social and cross-cultural psychologists work in academic settings as well as in marketing, advertising, organizational, systems design, and other applied psychology fields.
Sports psychology This field studies the psychological aspects of sports behaviour. The goal is to understand the psychological factors that influence performance in sports, including the role of exercise and team interactions. Sports psychologists work in academic settings, gyms, schools, professional sports teams, and other areas where sports are practised.


Key Takeaways

  • Psychologists work in diverse fields.
  • Psychology encompasses a variety of sub-fields.



Exercises and Critical Thinking

  1. Can you think of any personal examples of how psychology might be useful at work? If you are considering a career in psychology, what steps might you take to talk to an advisor or someone working in the field?


Canadian Psychological Association. (2018). Careers in and related to psychology. Retrieved from https://www.cpa.ca/students/career/careersinpsychology

Yang, Y.-J., & Chiu, C.-Y. (2009). Mapping the structure and dynamics of psychological knowledge: Forty years of APA journal citations (1970–2009). Review of General Psychology, 13(4), 349–356.


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