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The Diversity of Psychology

Updated on March 23, 2011

The Diversity of Psychology

 The Diverse Nature of Psychology

The discipline of psychology attempts to explain, predict, and describe varying aspects of human functioning and also, to help change and optimize the lives of others. Noting that psychology focuses on a range of behavior using scientific methods, psychology has advanced as science, further classified by subfields of specialty. The unique diversity of the discipline allows psychologists the ability to expand in areas of explanation, assessment, and diagnoses. Through a multifaceted perspective, psychological principles are applied to many areas of human functioning. This paper will discuss the discipline of psychology, the subfields of psychology, the importance of diversity, and the practical applications of psychological principles.

The Discipline of Psychology

Psychology is the “scientific study of behavior and mental processes” (Feldman, 2010, p. 4). The phrases behavior and mental processes encompass a vast diversity of human functioning; however, psychologists attempt to describe, predict and explain human behavior and mental processes as well as helping to change and optimize the lives of individuals (Feldman, 2010). Beginning with the early philosophical days, psychology has been rapidly advancing as an independent discipline of study. The two main principles that justify psychology as an independent discipline is that psychology focuses on the full range of human and nonhuman behavior with the techniques of science, and the applications that derive from this knowledge are scientifically based (Stanovich, 2010). 

The main defining feature of psychology is that it is a data-based scientific study of behavior, in which each step to greater knowledge has contributed to advancements in the development of sound theories within. Three important features related to the science include (a) the use of systematic empiricism, (b) the production of public knowledge, and (c) the examination of solvable problems (Stanovich, 2010). Psychology attempts to understand and explain psychological phenomenon using empirical techniques to advance scientifically. According to Stanovich (2010), “science advances by positing theories to account for particular phenomena in the world, by deriving prediction from these theories, by testing the prediction empirically, and by modifying the theories based on the tests” (p. 12). As the study of psychology progresses, it has further advanced into a diverse field critical to the appreciation of the nature of the discipline.  

The Subfields of Psychology

The importance of psychological diversity is that it allows for psychologists to focus on behavior in a variety of ways. According to Stanovich (2010), the APA has defined 54 different divisions of psychology with each representing a particular area of research and study or a particular area of practice. Some of the major divisions of psychology are clinical psychology, psychotherapy, forensic psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, and environmental psychology (Feldman, 2010).

Clinical psychology focuses on the "assessment, treatment, and understanding of psychological and behavioral problems and disorders" (Plante, 2005, p. 7). Clinical psychology attempts to use the principles of psychology to understand, predict, and treat many different intellectual, emotional, biological, psychological, social, and behavioral aspects of human functioning (Plante, 2005). In addition, clinical psychologists will use scientific methods and research measures to approach the diversity of human problems. Clinical psychologists can be employed in a variety of settings including: colleges and universities, private practices, hospitals, clinics, schools, and businesses.

Forensic psychology specializes in using theories of human behavior in the legal systems of operation. According to Plante (2005), forensic psychology is defined as “the application of psychology to legal issues” (p. 21). Forensic psychologists are usually trained as a clinical or counseling psychologist used for conducting psychological evaluations and providing testimonies in court proceedings. A forensic psychologist may be subpoenaed to court to provide professional evaluation, assessments, or diagnostic information pertinent to the case at hand. Industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology is concerned with the psychology of the workplace and individuals within (Feldman, 2010). An I/O psychologist may be employed to address employee concerns, productivity concerns, or to assist with employee selection processes. Some of the main roles may include research, consultations, and development of training and policy procedures (Plante, 2005). One major difference in the profession of an I/O psychologist is that the main focus is usually not on addressing clinical or abnormal problems instead they are more concerned with the organizational operations and the well-being of the employees within the workplace (Plante, 2005). With all the major categories of specialty within the discipline, many see the diversity as reflecting a fundamental strength.


Even though psychology is encompassed with diversity of content and perspectives, the wide and diverse set of investigations is “critical to an appreciation of the nature of the discipline” (Stanovich, 2010, p. 3). Psychological knowledge is obtained through scientific methods used to assess, treat, and counsel; furthermore, to solve and understand a wide variety of human functioning. Each subfield of psychological study offers an array of approaches focused on the complexities behind behavior. The debate regarding unity in the discipline has raised great criticism; however, as stated by Viney (2004):

A “theory of everything” is the grand dream of many physicists, though we are reminded that such a theory is a misnomer, because as noted by Stephen Hawking (1993), a theory of everything will still not tell us “that Sinead O’Conner will be at the top of the hit parade this week, or that Madonna will be on the cover of Cosmopolitan.” (p. 1276).

Diversity in the study allows psychologists to have a broader array of speculation, as most times, behavior cannot be solely justified on a limited set of explanations. According to Stanovich (2010), the science of psychology contributes to human fulfillment by “widening the sphere of knowledge” (p. 8). Psychology remains an extremely broad field, encompassing a diversity of approaches to the study of behavior and mental processes aimed at developing knowledge and experience with research practices and empirical methods to continue advancing the study. Without the concept of diversity, psychologists would be limited to such knowledge; moreover, forcing important behavioral factors to be discredited. As put by Viney (2004), “methods and content differ from island to island, but each work zone enjoys some degree of coherence and intelligibility” (p. 1276).

Practical Applications

The theories and knowledge of psychology can be applied to many different disciplines of study. In personality studies, many psychologists will use psychological testing to gain insight into the personality of an individual or group (Feldman, 2010). The use of personality testing has increased to analyze a variety of individual patterns of behavior. According to Plante (2005), personality testing is useful in clarifying diagnosis, treatment considerations, problematic patterns and symptoms, and interpersonal dynamics. In the field of clinical psychology, many psychologists will use personality tests to assess a range of personality and psychological functioning.

In behavioral theories of psychology, the basic principles of psychological theories and knowledge can be applied to a diversity of human functioning. The principles regarding classical and operant conditioning have been successful applied to a variety of human problems: treatment of autistic children, the treatment of alcoholism and obesity, the management of residents in psychiatric hospitals, the treatment of phobias, and many more (Stanovich, 2010). Through the scientific methods employed by psychologists, the main principles of the two classic behavioral theories derived from laboratory experimentation allowing the researchers to specify the relationship between environmental factors and behavior simultaneously (Stanovich, 2010).

Concluding Summary

Psychology is a scientific study of behavior and mental processes. The discipline is divided into a variety of subfields, each focusing on specific areas of psychological functioning. The diversity of the discipline allows psychologists a broader array of speculation to advance in areas of understanding, prediction, explanation, and intervention measures. Psychological principles can be applied to a wide variety of human functioning including clinical diagnosis, personality measures, legal operations, phobia treatments, and many more. The discipline of psychology focuses on behavior and mental processes advancing the field with scientific techniques to help optimize the lives of others.



Feldman, R. S. (2010). Psychology and your life. New York: McGraw-Hill Company.

Plante, T. G. (2005). Contemporary clinical psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Stanovich, K. (2010). How to think straight about psychology (9th ed.). Boston:

Pearson/Allyn Bacon.

Viney, W. (2004). Pluralism in the sciences is not easily dismissed. Journal of Clinical

Psychology, 60(12), 1275-1278. doi:10.1002/jclp.20073.


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