Areas of Practice in Psychology

Practice in Psychology
Practice in Psychology

Clinical and Counseling Psychology

Probably the most well-known psychologists are clinical and counseling psychologists. Clinical psychologists tend to work with individuals with more severe mental health conditions. They assess, diagnose and treat using multiple modalities such as interviews, diagnostic tests, individual and group psychotherapy. Counseling psychologists focus more on the everyday life problems of individuals without serious or persistent mental illnesses. Please see for more information about the distinction between clinical and counseling psychologists.

School Psychology

School psychology is one of the fastest growing areas of practice in psychology. It is also one of the few areas in psychology where you can obtain a position before completing a doctoral degree. To obtain a position as a school psychologist in a public school, you need to obtain certification from the board of education in the state in which you want to be employed. While requirements vary between states, the most common requirement is for a specialist degree, which consists of 60 graduate credits, including a 1200 hour internship. This program can generally be completed in two to three years.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists,, in 2010, the average school psychologist salaries ranged from about $48,000 to $67,000, with some top salaries exceeding $100,000. As a school psychologist, I have found a wide variety in school district salaries for school psychologists. While most school districts pay school psychologists on a teacher salary schedule, a few pay school psychologists on an administrative pay scale, which is considerably higher. Also, some school districts pay school psychologists with a doctorate considerably higher than those with a specialist degree, while other school districts do not award a doctorate with a large pay differential.

What is the role of a school psychologist? School psychologists may play a number of roles, which tend to vary between school districts. Some of these roles include assessment of students with learning or behavioral difficulties, individual and group counseling, as well as crisis management. Assessment is generally viewed as the unique role of the school psychologist. The school psychologist conducts an assessment of IQ as well as emotional functioning in order to assess eligibility for special education as well as to determine appropriate educational interventions. School psychologists may also play a case management role, including writing the individual education plan, which includes the special education services as well as needed accommodations and modifications.

I have found that the role of a school psychologist varies greatly between school districts. In my former school district, my primary role was that of a case manager, with some assessment also involved. When I moved to my current position in a new school district, my role became more varied, involving assessment, counseling, consultation, and case management.


One important factor to consider when choosing a program is the level of accreditation. All colleges should be accredited by a US Department of education recognized accreditation agency, such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission and numerous other agencies. You can find information about accreditation and check on a college’s status at Accreditation ensures that the colleges have met a minimum level of quality established by the accrediting agency. This is a way you can be sure that you are not wasting your hard earned money and time on a diploma mill.

In addition to this basic accreditation, some graduate programs have earned program recognition from established psychological associations. For example, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) approves a number of programs as having met their extensive quality criteria. The list of approved programs can be found at

The advantage of the NASP approval is both in terms of an additional quality assurance measure as well the credibility with employers the designation affords graduates.  In addition, graduates of a NASP approved program are at an advantage when seeking the Nationally Certified School Psychology (NCSP) designation. Graduates of NASP approved program need only to verify their graduation and a passing score for the School Psychology Praxis, whereas graduates of a program which is not NASP approved need to prove that their coursework included courses in multiple specific areas. The NCSP is valuable both in terms of credibility with employers, and some school districts will pay an additional stipend to school psychologists with the NCSP designation. Additionally, some states will recognize bearers of the NCSP as automatically meeting criteria for certification, which is useful if you are considering a move between states at any point in your career.

Additional Practice Areas

There are numerous fields and subfields of psychology. It is likely that new subfields will emerge over time and that the description of existing fields will continue to change. We will touch on some of the major fields of practice today.

Industrial psychology involves promoting effective use of human resources through an efficient selection of employees, accurate appraisal of employee performance, and employee selection and training. By contrast, organizational psychology is focused on the individual employee, such as job stress, attitudes, and behaviors. Geriatric psychology involves the study of aging. Neuropsychologists and psychobiologists examine the relationship between physical systems and behavior, including the changes in neurotransmitters and the body as a whole which occur at the same time as a change in behavior. Forensic psychologists examine the relationship between law and psychology, including making a determination as to the sanity of a perpetrator for insanity pleas, as well as being alert to possible malingering or exaggeration of symptoms. Health psychologists apply principles of psychology to improving patient outcomes, such as devising strategies for increasing medication compliance and teaching patients effective ways to control pain. Consumer psychologists analyze the behavior of consumers in order to understand which factors play a role in forming the purchase decision. Rehabilitation psychologists help stroke and accident victims adjust to their new reality and reintegrate into society, and to the extent possible, their workplace. Social psychologists examine how a person’s attitudes and behaviors are shaped by interaction with other people. Educational psychologists study how effective learning and teaching takes place. They are more research-oriented than school psychologists and generally work in an academic or research setting. Developmental psychologists are interested in the cognitive, moral and emotional growth which occurs throughout the lifespan.

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