In addition to have many different schools of thought, psychology can also be broken down into many different types. The most helpful way to break down this discipline is into Academic Psychology, and the various subfields under that, Professional Psychology, and Popular Psychology. Each of these categories approaches psychology from a different angle and perspective.
Academic psychology is the core, the basis, for the field of psychology. This is the type of psychology that has traditionally been researched and studied in academic settings. The work done on academic psychology has allowed the speed of more nuanced and specific psychology. Common focuses under academic psychology are abnormal psychology, biological, cognitive, developmental, personality and social psychologies.
For example, abnormal psychology deals with the study of mental, emotional, and behavioral aberrations. When many people think of psychology this is the category that likely comes to mind. Abnormal psychology focuses on naming, describing, preventing, and diagnosing various psychological disorders like schizophrenia, personality disorders, and other issues of mental faculties.
This type of psychology covers the topics that actually have a specific career path. Psychologists in this category are generally less interested in research and much more interested in applying the findings of others' research to specific situations. Professional psychologists generally see patients or clients and try to help them with a wide array of issues. Sometimes that is addressing mental disorders but other psychologists focus on helping athletes, employees, or other professionals perform at the top of their ability. The common branches of professional psychology include, but are by no means limited to, clinical, counseling, educational, forensic, health, occupational and sports psychology.
Clinical psychologists are much more interested in the practical application that their academic colleagues discover. Essentially, clinical psychologists focus on integrating science, theory and practice to bring real world assistance to people facing a multitude of mental, behavioral, or emotional issues. Unlike psychiatrists, clinical psychologists are unable to prescribe medication. Therefore, most clinical psychologists rely on talk therapy to assist their patients. If it appears that a patient would benefit from medication, clinical psychologists will work hand in hand with a psychiatrist to address the medical issues at hand.
Lastly, popular psychology covers the topics that may lack the academic reputation of the previously mentioned forms. However, the topics that popular psychology have covered over time have provided valuable insights into human behavior and thought. However, one must be wary when investigating popular psychology because many people who are not qualified to write about or research these topics feel that they are. Common subfields of popular psychology include, child psychology, evolutionary psychology, military psychology, paranormal psychology, prison psychology, psychology of music, risk and transpersonal psychology.
Popular psychology aims to apply the principles and research developed by academic psychologists to more specific topics and situations. For example, music psychology focuses on answering the questions, “Why do humans spend so much time, effort and money on musical activities?” While this may seem like an unnecessarily specific question, it has ramifications that extend far beyond the curiosity of psychologists. The answers developed by music psychologists are of interest to anthropologists, philosophers, and anybody interested in researching and understanding the human quest for meaningful leisure.
Other popular psychology topics, like prison psychology, have the very real-world aim of making the prison system more effective. Prison psychologists work with prisoners, administrative staff, and prison designers to try to bring all these separate parts together into a coherent system that meets the goals of the prison system. Improving prisoner rehabilitation and lowering the rate at which released prisoners end up back in prison are some of the underlying goals that this branch of psychology tries to address.