Applied Psychology

Here are five areas you can pursue with a degree in applied psychology

Nov 05, 2019
Applied Psychology

Because it involves the delivery of mental health therapies, rather than mainly research or administrative functions, many are attracted to applied psychology.

Applied psychology is a field of study that focuses on employing scientific methods to identify solutions to issues caused by atypical human behaviour. So, where psychology normally refers to theory-driven science, applied psychology is motivated more by a desire to solve practical problems in a “real-world” scenario.

Here, five fascinating areas of applied psychology:

1. Health Psychology

For years, we’ve known about the dangers of smoking, and that we should eat less and move more. But in the end, what motivates us to put down the doughnut and hit the treadmill, or carefully follow a doctor’s instructions about medications and follow-up visits?

Health psychology explores those motivations in the pursuit of getting people to embrace health promotion and illness prevention. This specialty area examines how biological, social and psychological factors influence the choices we make about our health.

How is it applied?

Helping people make choices that have a positive impact on their health – and the wellbeing of their families, the workforce and their communities – is at the heart of this dynamic field. Health psychology studies the factors that allow people to be healthy, recover from an illness or cope with a chronic condition. Experts in health psychology work in the intersection of health and behaviour and are in demand as a part of integrated healthcare delivery teams, working with other doctors to provide whole-person healthcare and efficient ways of preventing disease and disorder before they manifest.

2. Organisational Psychology

Also known as industrial psychologists, focus on workplace dynamics and how they affect employees. They may make recommendations about how to improve employee morale and performance, and about how the company can improve their hiring processes, or develop training programmes to secure staff who have desirable traits and skills that suit their workplace.
Many organisational psychologists work within the industry and then eventually move into a consultancy role. Other roles for an organisational psychologist includes promoting employee wellness, finding the right people for particular work and finding creative ways to benefit both employers and employees to increase productivity.

How is it applied?

In their efforts to improve a business’s structure and performance, organisational psychologists might analyse trends and perform research to determine the relationship between psychological characteristics, employee performance and organisational success. They might also create leadership or training programmes to assist current employees with developing new skills, advising changes to improve performance and motivation based on the results. They could assist businesses with reorganising employees into positions that best utilise their talents and determine whether gaps in skill exist in the current workforce.

3. Forensic Psychology

Contrary to what popular TV shows have us believe, experts in forensic psychology don’t run around with guns arresting people. They don’t fly on private jets, and they don’t do criminal profiling. In reality, forensic psychologists work with courts and attorneys to provide expert testimony on the mental state of accused persons, custody disputes as well as to create and lead intervention or diversion programmes.

How is it applied?

Psychologists with forensic experience focus on the psychological principles that relate to criminal investigations and the law. The job encompasses a wide range of responsibilities including child abuse investigations, expert testimony in mental health cases, criminal behaviour evaluations and competency studies. Law enforcement agencies use forensic psychologists regularly to analyse crime scenes and interpret the behaviour of suspects.

4. Sports Psychology

The application of psychology to sport is a relatively new field, which is rapidly developing and expanding. This branch of psychology is concerned with understanding the behaviour, mental processes, and wellbeing of people who are involved in sport and exercise.

Practitioners typically specialise in either the sport or exercise branches of the field, and they practice in a variety of settings, from hospitals, clinics and physical rehabilitation centres, to gyms, high schools and universities. Some may work in private practice or provide contracted consulting services to clients in other settings. Professionals in this area are often employed as part of a team of specialists, assembled from a variety of disciplines to maximise health and wellness among athletes, coaches, teams, fitness professionals and more.

How is it applied?

Those who practice applied sport psychology focus on the link between athletic performance and the athlete’s state of mind. This includes a variety of topics such as motivation to achieve, the impact of injuries, counselling techniques with athletes, youth sports and performance enhancements. Specific skills are taught to improve athletic performance, including positive internal talk, visualisation, goal setting and imagery. Sport psychologists commonly work with athletes, parents, coaches and students.

5. Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology combines several different disciplines related to theory, science and practice. These are the types of psychologists that most people think of when they hear the term “psychologist”. In addition to performing research, these psychologists work in the field with patients, usually focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of longer term mental illness in hospitals and other settings that offer psychiatric services.

How is it applied?

Clinical psychologists work closely with their patients to diagnose and address a gamut of mental, emotional and psychological problems. In some cases they work one-on-one with individuals; in others, their skills are applied to groups or families with common needs. Interviewing and assessing patients are often first steps; they then design and implement appropriate treatment plans for both acute and chronic conditions.

Create your own fulfilling career in Applied Psychology

In today’s world, behavioural and mental health issues present significant challenges for individuals, families, businesses and communities. There are many opportunities for students pursuing a degree in applied psychology in the fields of health, business, sports, academia, government and numerous other industries and institutions.

Why not kickstart your career with a degree in psychology from the South African College of Applied Psychology? SACAP’s Bachelor of Applied Social Science is a three-year course that incorporates essential “work-ready” counselling and communication skills and serves as the springboard for a career in applied psychology. To find out more, enquire now.

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