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Choosing an Area of Specialization for your Psychology Degree

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Published on: 10/30/2018
Last Updated: 05/22/2023
6 minute read

Part of any graduate program in psychology is choosing a degree specialization or emphasis area. Choosing an area of emphasis cannot only further direct your studies to help your career training line up with your personal and professional aspirations, but it can also help you narrow your options as you look at different graduate psychology programs. If you are unsure what area of psychology you’d like to specialize in, explore your options by learning more about a few common psychology specialties below.

Choosing a career in Psychology

Clinical Psychology is a broad, comprehensive and inclusive branch of psychology that addresses the behavioral and mental health issues of individuals and families from a wide variety of backgrounds, groups, and communities. Clinical psychology specialization areas integrates skills from a variety of disciplines, both within and outside of the field of psychology. From a very broad perspective, clinical psychologists provide care for their clients by assessing, diagnosing and treating mental health issues.

Students within the field of clinical psychology have the ability to further direct their studies by choosing an area of specialization for their degree. If you’re looking at clinical psychology graduate programs but are still unsure what you want to specialize in, below are a number of common emphases available in many clinical psychology programs.

Health Psychology studies the relationship between physical and mental health, specifically exploring psychological and behavioral reactions as it relates to health and illness. This branch of psychology combines a number of disciplines: clinical psychology, behavioral medicine, public health, sport psychology, social psychology, disease prevention and health promotion. Health psychologists help patients cope with the emotional and mental side effects of health problems, from treating individuals and families for psychological distress surrounding the diagnosis of an illness to helping patients successfully adjust to a new health care regime that might involve drastic changes in diet, sleep, medication or personal habits. Health psychologists work in a variety of settings, including private practice, social work, community mental health facilities, and behavioral medicine settings.

If you have an interest in health care, illness, and how physical health affects mental health, the field of health psychology could be a good choice for your studies. Health Psychology specializations are available in the following Alliant Doctorate in Clinical Psychology graduate programsFresno PhDLos Angeles PhDSan Diego PhDSan Francisco PhDFresno PsyDLos Angeles PsyD, Sacramento PsyD, San Diego PsyDSan Francisco PsyD.

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Multicultural Psychology studies behavior in settings where people of different cultural backgrounds interact. Cultural differences encompass a wide variety of factors, including differences in religion and spirituality, gender, age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class and even family history or geography. Multicultural psychologists work to enhance the psychological well-being of historically underserved, stigmatized and oppressed groups, with special attention paid to the cultural and sociopolitical context of the individuals, families, and communities. Multicultural psychologists can work in a wide variety of settings, from hospitals and mental health clinics to community-based agencies or university counseling centers.

The field of multicultural psychology is a good choice for students with a passion for helping disenfranchised groups of people, or who have an interest in exploring—and reconciling those with—different worldviews, belief systems, and means of problem-solving. Multicultural Psychology specializations are available in a number of Alliant Doctorate in Psychology programs. The Doctorate in Psychology programs in San Francisco offer some more in-depth studies in specific groups within Multicultural Psychology, including LGBT Psychology and Gender Studies.

Forensic Psychology: A relatively new branch of psychology, forensic psychology studies the application of psychology to issues of the law and legal system. Forensic psychologists not only must have an education in clinical psychology, but they also require a background in forensics and law. Additional skills learned in a forensic psychology program include preparing testimonies and reports; how to appropriately present your qualifications in the courtroom; the persuasive presentation of psychological science to a judge, jury, or within an amicus brief; and how to face cross-examination.

The field of forensic psychology is a good choice for students interested in the law and the legal system, criminal psychology and forensic studies. If you are interested in providing expert testimony in court, a specialization in forensic psychology could match your career choices. Forensic Psychology specializations are available in a number of Alliant Doctorate in Psychology programs.

Family, Couple and Child Psychology: A number of specializations within clinical psychology focus on work with families, couples, adults and children. Some of the specific specializations available at Alliant include:

Ecosystemic Child Psychology is a particular branch of child psychology that considers the role of diverse systems in creating and remedying individual and social problems in children. Psychological interventions are planned within the context of the client’s familial, peer, educational, medical, legal, cultural and historical systems. The Ecosystemic Child Psychology specialization is available in some of Alliant’s Clinical Psychology programs.

Family/Child and Couple Clinical Psychology studies families, couples and individuals from a systemic perspective. Students in this program develop skills in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of relationship systems. The Family/Child and Couple specialization is available in some of Alliant’s Clinical Psychology programs.

Family/Child Psychology: This emphasis is for students interested in the evaluating, treating and research of children and families. Specific issues within this specialization include family violence, child abuse and neglect, adolescent development, child obesity and early childhood. The Family/Child Psychology specialization is available in some of Alliant’s Clinical Psychology programs.

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Outside of clinical psychology, some other specialized areas of psychology include:

Educational Psychology is the study of how humans learn. Educational psychologists study and research the social and psychological processes of learning to improve learning through better curriculum design, classroom management, and assessment. Educational psychology is a good fit for those students who are interested in furthering learning and education—both their own and that of others. This field of psychology is also good for those who enjoy working in an academic or school setting and enjoy working with children.

At Alliant, the Educational Psychology program is housed in the California School of Education.

Gerontology is the study of aging. Gerontologists work with individuals and families to help them cope with the mental and physical aspects of aging. Gerontologists work in nursing homes and clinics, among other settings. This branch of psychology is a good fit for psychology students with a passion for the elderly and the aging.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology is a branch of psychology that studies human behavior in the workplace. Industrial-organizational psychologists focus on helping organizations increase productivity and boost employee morale. They may also design training programs and create systems for assessing the effectiveness of employees.

This area of psychology is ideal for those wanting to work in a corporate environment in positions in human resources, consulting, and management. Alliant offers several programs within the field of organizational psychology, including: Master’s in Organizational Psychology (Los Angeles, Fresno, San Diego), PhD in Organizational Psychology (Los Angeles, San Diego), PsyD in Organization Development (Fresno).

Choosing a psychology graduate program

If you have interest in any of these areas of psychology and wish to learn more, we encourage you to contact us. We’ll connect you with an admissions counselor who can share more information about the California School of Professional Psychology’s programs.

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