For the "undergraduate" portion of this answer, I have examined the
requirements for obtaining an undergraduate degree in Psychology at
Columbia College (of Columbia University: [ http://www.columbia.edu
]), NYU's College of Arts and Sciences ([ http://www.nyu.edu]), and
Georgetown University ([ http://www.georgetown.edu ]). All three of
these schools are high-caliber undergraduate institutions at
nationally recognized universities.
The following are links to web pages describing undergraduate
requirements for the 3 schools:
[ http://www.college.columbia.edu/students/academics/depts/psych.php?tab=ugrad ]
[ http://www.psych.nyu.edu/academics/courses/undergraduatecatalog.html ]
All 3 schools have the following requirements in common:
* An introductory course giving a high-level overview of the subject of psychology.
* A course in mathematical statistics. (Sometimes this is a
specialized course in statistics of psychology; other times, it is
given in the math or statistics department and is not specific to the
study of psychology.)
* A course in laboratory psych research.
After satisfying these introductory requirements, all three schools
break down their remaining courses into 3 groups, and require students
to take a few courses from each group in order to graduate with a
major in psychology. The schools break down their groupings
differently, and in the interest of showing you all the potential ways
of dividing the undergraduate study of psychology into subject
headers, I am listing the schools and their sub-groups here:
A) Perception & Cognition
B) Psychobiology and Neuroscience
C) Social, Personality, and Abnormal Psychology
A) Psychology as a Natural Science
B) Psychology as a Social Science
C) Laboratory/Experimental coursework
A) Conceptual and Developmental Foundations
B) Social and Personality
C) Cognitive and Biological Basis
If you've read this far, you're probably thinking to yourself "That's
all fine and nice, but what does all of that mean?" You asked for
"plain and simple language," so that's what I'm going to give you
All of the schools require some course in statistics and in laboratory
research. The two go hand-in-hand. One cannot do true scientific
research without learning how to understand the data that results from
a research project. An introductory statistics course may explain how
to design a good experiment, how to collect data, how confident you
can be that the data is worth something, etc. Probability usually
plays a part. We all know that if you flip a coin 10 times, you will
get an average of 5 heads and 5 tails. But this will not always
happen, and it is possible to get 10 heads and 0 tails. A good
probability and statistics course will teach you how to determine the
likelihood that flipping a coin 10 times will give you 0 heads and 10
tails, 4 heads and 6 tails, 5 heads and 5 tails, and 10 heads and 10
tails. This is important if you want to do any scientific
experimentation because you need to know how confident you can be in
the results from your experiment. How many times must you repeat the
experiment before you can be sure that you have got the right
Statistics is just a tool used by scientists, including psychologists,
to test their ideas.
While the 3 schools break down their sub-categories of psychology
differently, the basic idea is that psychology is both a natural
science and a social science.
Most people think of "natural" science as "true" science. The natural
science side of biology is very closely related to the study of
biology, but specializing in the brain and nervous system. Some
subjects covered in psychobiology and neuroscience include:
* Language and the brain. How does the brain process language?
* Behavioral neuroscience. How does memory work? Why do we feel
hungry? What is the biological basis of mental illness?
* Drugs and behavior. How do drugs change the chemistry of the brain
and affect behavior?
* Learning. How does the brain process information? How do we learn
things? Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
* Perception. How and why do we understand the world around us? How
does vision and hearing work?
(most of these taken from class descriptions at the 3 schools)
While the "natural" science component of psychology would deal with
specifically what drug to prescribe in order to treat the brain
chemistry origins of depression, the "social" science component would
examine what type of "talk" therapy might help a depressed person
recover from their illness. "Social" science psychology can be closely
linked to sociology and anthropology (which studies human culture).
Some subjects covered in social psychology would include:
* Personality. What is our sense of self? How do people relate to each
other? What are social causes of stress and anxiety?
* Social psychology. Why are we attracted to other people? Why do we
help others? Why are we greedy? What causes somebody to be a Democrat
instead of a Republican? How do we choose a leader?
* Organizational psychology. How do people work together in groups and
in the workplace? How do we motivate people? What is the best way to
train a new employee?
* Developmental psychology. How do we progress from infant to toddler
to child to adult? What changes in our perception of the world? How do
our desires change as we grow and mature into adults?
* Abnormal behavior. What defines normal? What are types of abnormal
social behavior? What causes them? How do we treat them?
(most of these taken from class descriptions at the 3 schools)
Some of the schools define a 3rd category of psychology called
"cognitive." This appears to fall partway between the natural and
social categories of psychology and deals with subjects found in both,
such as memory, thinking, decision making, sensory perception, and
perception of the world around us.
NYU's course guide also gives a brief description of various areas of
study within psychology:
"Experimental cognitive psychologists focus on perception, memory,
attention, language, and thinking.
Behavioral and physiological psychologists focus on environmental and
biological contributions to behavior.
Clinical psychologists look at emotions, stress, relationships, and
disruptions of normal psychological functioning.
Community psychologists consider the broader social context for
healthy development and functioning.
Experimental social psychologists determine how social beliefs,
attitudes, and decisions are formed and maintained.
Organizational psychologists examine the utility of psychological
theories in real world contexts."
This description of the different sub-areas of psychology is a good
jumping-off point to begin describing graduate degrees in psychology.
A web page available at Rider University nicely summarizes the options
available for the study of psychology at the graduate level. [
"There are several types of graduate programs in psychology, the most
common ones being: experimental, developmental, social, biopsychology,
cognitive, clinical, counseling, school, and organizational psychology
(also known as industrial-organizational psychology, or simply "IO") .
These last four (clinical, counseling, school, and IO) are considered
by the American Psychological Association (APA) to be the four
distinct areas of applied psychology."
When you imagine a psychologist with a couch, you're thinking of the
stereotype of somebody with a degree in applied psychology. The
reality of the field is much broader than just one-on-one counseling
in a private office, however applied psychologists usually work with
people rather than experimentation on animals or exploring abstract
ideas about how the brain processes information.
This same page at [ http://www.rider.edu/%7Esuler/gradschl.html#counseling
] describes all the different paths to getting an advanced degree
which allows one to practice counseling psychology and psychotherapy.
Most of these are doctorate programs, but it is possible for somebody
with a Master's degree in psychology (or in a field like social work)
to be a psychotherapist.
There are too many degrees listed for me to list all subjects that
somebody in these programs might study, but browse the web page I
referenced to read about the different types of degrees and what they
specialize in. Here, I will just give a quick summary:
* Ed. D. or Ph. D. Counseling psychology -- these people specialize in
helping people talk through problems. They may need some experience in
experimental psychology to obtain the degree.
* Ph. D. Clinical psychology -- a combination of experimental research
* Psy. D. Clinical psychology -- similar to counseling psychology
* MSW Clinical social work -- this is a master's degree in counseling
* Ph. D. or Ed. D. School psychology -- specializes in counseling and
testing in a school setting
* M.D. Psychiatry -- a medical doctor who specializes in biological
methods of curing mental illness
* Industrial psychology (this can be a master's or a doctoral degree)
-- psychology of organizations. frequently employed by companies to
provide advice on the psychology of work settings and management
The web page does not mention a standard academic degree in psychology
(the experimental, developmental, social, and biopsychology areas
described above). These tend to be more advanced versions of the
undergraduate degrees that I have already discussed, though the
classroom work is at a much more advanced level, and the majority of
the degree is probably spent doing research into a very specialized
area of the subject.
I hope this has provided you with an overview of the different
subjects and headings that a student of psychology must become
familiar with. Feel free to ask for clarification if needed.
I did not use a specific search strategy to obtain this information.
Instead, I browsed the web pages of some university psychology
programs that I was familiar with in order to summarize the most