Applied psychology is the application of psychological principles to solve problems of the human experience, including the workplace, health, product design, law and more.
For example, a 2017 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found leaders should be smart, but not too smart. Above average intelligence was related to good leadership, but the relationship was not linear. The ideal leader was 1.2 standard deviations higher than their team. After that peak IQ, the relationship between leadership and IQ became negative.
The study, titled “Can Super Smart Leaders Suffer From too Much of a Good Thing? The Curvilinear Effect of Intelligence on Perceived Leadership Behavior,” tackles a well-researched topic, leadership, in a way that provides practical uses.
John Antonakis, one of the authors of the study, says this research can be applied in assessing managerial candidates to determine if they have the proper IQ fit to lead a team.
This study is just one example of how applied psychology research focuses on improving real world issues. Let’s get a more detailed definition of applied psychology.
What is Applied Psychology?
There are effectively two types of psychology. The first is typically called experimental psychology, and focuses mainly on research. The second, applied psychology, puts that research to work to identify and design solutions for individuals and organizations. Applied psychology wouldn’t exist if it were not for the foundation provided by experimental psychology.
Students and professionals in applied psychology must be able to identify, understand and develop practical solutions for clients. This requires a strong background in theories and practices, historical trends and ethical behaviors.
Florida Tech psychology professor Natalie Fala thinks it’s important for students to consider how to apply what they learn about psychology, the research and the literature, in a “meaningful way” and to “integrate that material.” She says,
“I think it’s also important to realize that psychology very much is a science, and how can we apply the science of psychology to everyday life? That might be in a clinical setting. It might be in a business setting. It might be in a courtroom. So, I really like to get students to consider how to practically apply the field both in their studies and in the real world.”
If you’re studying psychology in school, or beginning your career, it’s important to consider your feelings about experimental psychology vs. applied psychology. If you’re more comfortable working with people and organizations, applied psychology is probably the best path for you. If you’re geared more toward research, you might pursue another avenue in the psychology field.
Branches of Applied Psychology
There are many branches of applied psychology, including the following:
- Clinical psychology: Clinical psychologists work directly with patients to diagnose and treat mental and behavioral issues, such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders. Clinical psychologists can specialize in a number of populations, from young children to the elderly, and work in a variety of contexts.
- Industrial and organizational psychology (I/O psychology): Professionals in this field use psychology techniques and strategies to help companies become more productive. Typically, an I/O psychologist will look at employees’ competencies and job responsibilities. I/O psychology can be used to help with hiring, employee productivity, performance management, training and organizational culture.
- Forensic psychology: Forensic psychologists use their training and skills to support the justice system. A forensic psychologist might help determine if a suspect is capable to stand trial. He or she may also deal with issues of child custody and workplace discrimination. It’s important that forensic psychologists be able to serve as a credible witness in court proceedings.
- Sports psychology: Sports psychologists don’t sit on the sidelines — they’re part of the game! A sports psychologist must be familiar with the mechanics of sports and nutrition so they can help athletes and teams reach peak performance. He or she plays a large role in team development and individual player rehabilitation.
Additional examples of applied psychology can include applications related to consumer, education, military and political behaviors.
Career Paths in Applied Psychology
The outlook for people seeking psychology careers is bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics* says there were 166,600 psychologist jobs in 2016, and that number is expected to rise 14% from 2016 to 2026 — faster than the average for all occupations. In May 2018, the annual median pay for psychologists was $79,010. Psychologists typically need a doctoral-level degree; however, a master’s degree can be sufficient depending on the field. Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology can be the foundation for pursuing advanced degrees. In addition, certain positions may require a clinical license or certification. Researching the credential requirements for your state is essential to your success. Here are a few career paths in this field:
Clinical psychologist: This is one of the most popular career choices in the mental health field. Clinical psychologists serve individuals, couples and families.
Detective: These law enforcement officers often use psychology as they investigate the facts after a crime has been committed.
Child custody worker: Child custody workers assess parents’ abilities to care for their children. This occupation can be emotionally draining, and professionals will need to make sure they don’t experience compassion fatigue.
Probation officer: These officers monitor and provide counseling to people who have committed a crime. Just like with child custody workers, compassion fatigue can be an issue.
Forensic psychologist: As stated above, a forensic psychologist aids the justice system to make sure people are represented fairly.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists, on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm (visited July 31, 2019).
National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. Degree and/or certificate program options do not guarantee career or salary outcomes. Students should conduct independent research for specific employment information.