We are in the midst of a number of major exams - SEA, CXC and CAPE. Since exam time is also a time of transition and thinking about future directions, this seemed an appropriate time to give some career information about psychology. The word ‘psychologist’ is generally associated with the idea of someone in an office listening to your problems. That image really belongs to the fields of clinical or counselling psychology. There are many branches of psychology which have nothing whatever to do with sitting in an office talking to clients. The American Psychological Association (APA) has more than 50 different divisions. According to the APA website, ‘Some represent subdisciplines of psychology, while others focus on topical areas, such as aging... or trauma.’ This allows psychologists working in different areas of the field to network with colleagues and to keep up with developments in their field of interest. Examples of these divisions include the study of peace, conflict and violence; clinical neuropsychology; developmental psychology; media psychology; addictions psychology; study of men and masculinity; military psychology; adult development and aging; the history of psychology and the study of aesthetics, creativity and the arts.
What accounts for the public’s focus on the clinical and counselling fields? These are two of the specialisations which bring the psychologist into closest contact with the public. Not only close contact, but intimately involved with the person’s life and behaviour. Counselling and clinical psychologists deal with disturbances in human behaviour, ranging from life’s normal difficulties and transitions to severe mental dysfunction. They receive special training in counselling and therapeutic techniques, so that they can better help people to work on dysfunctional behaviours. Industrial/organisational psychologists apply psychological principles to the study of organisational and workplace settings. To quote the APA website again, psychologists in this field do work in the following areas, among others: testing/assessment, leadership development, staffing, management, teams, compensation, workplace safety, diversity, and work-life balance. They are frequently part of an organisation’s staff or may be consulted to help the organisation deal with various issues.School psychologists are trained to conduct educational assessments and to diagnose problems which hamper a child’s ability to perform academically. They are able to recognise the test score patterns typical of different learning difficulties or disabilities.
An educational assessment will involve the administration of several different tests: IQ tests, which look at cognitive strengths and weaknesses; achievement tests, which look at how well a child is performing on school-related tasks; behaviour checklists to look for the presence of problematic behaviours; self-report questionnaires to look at how the child feels about him/herself and his/her life and projective tests which assess the child’s emotional state. Clinical psychologists are also trained in the administration of these tests as part of their training, and some counselling psychology programmes may also do this. The tests are very carefully protected, because they would of course become useless if they were publicly available. So they are available only through specific publishers, and purchasers have to produce proof of their qualifications before they can order them. The quick tests which can be taken on the Internet are not valid and will not be officially accepted anywhere as true measures of intellectual capacity.These are the areas of psychology which are most familiar in Trinidad and Tobago, but psychology is by no means limited to these. Those interested in psychology should explore the field thoroughly – the APA website listing all the different divisions is a good place to start. There is contact information for each division and for all the different sections of each division – there are eight sections in the Clinical Psychology division, for instance. And those who have been put off psychology because it seems to only be about clinical and counselling psychology should look again – there’s probably a focus for your area of interest.