Psychological terms

Below is a list of terms relating to the different areas of psychology.  You may find our other useful terms and related professions web pages helpful. 


The science of mind and behaviour. A professional practitioner, a teacher, an academic or a researcher in this scientific discipline can be called a psychologist.  Psychologists attempt to understand the role of mental functions in both individuals and groups, while also exploring the physiological and neurobiological processes that underlie certain functions and behaviours.

Psychologists explore such concepts as perception, cognition, attention, emotion, phenomenology motivation, brain functioning, personality, behaviour, and relationships. Psychology incorporates methodological and theoretical approaches from the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.

Psychological knowledge is applied to understanding and solving problems in many different spheres of human activity, including the assessment and treatment of mental health problems. Psychologists are involved in a wide variety of settings from clinical, counselling, and education; to university psychology departments (undertaking scientific research on a wide range of topics related to mental processes and social behaviour and/or teaching such knowledge to students); to industrial and organizational settings, and in other areas such as human development and aging, sports, health, the media, law, and forensics.

Psychologists work all around us in places such as hospitals, schools, prisons, workplaces and local authorities.There are seven areas of psychology that are recognised by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the regulatory body for practitioner psychologists in the UK.  These include the following:

Clinical psychology

Clinical psychology aims to reduce psychological distress and to enhance and promote psychological wellbeing. They deal with mental and physical health problems including anxiety, depression, relationship problems, addictions and relationships. Clinical psychologists work with both adults and children, so if you are looking for a 'child psychologist' you may well want someone with a clinical background.

More information about clinical psychology

Counselling psychology

Counselling psychology aims to work with clients to examine mental health issues and explore the underlying problems that may have caused them. They work across a diverse range of problems, such as bereavement, past and present relationships, mental health issues and disorders. If you are looking for someone to examine the wider causes of a particular problem, a counselling psychologist may be for you. Counselling psychologists work with both adults and children, so if you are looking for a 'child psychologist' you may well want someone with a counselling background.

More information about counselling psychology

Educational psychology

Educational psychology is concerned with helping children and young people experiencing problems that can hinder their chance of learning. Many work within the local education authority system. They deal with difficulties in learning and social adjustment, so if you are looking for a ‘child psychologist' then an educational psychologist may be able to help.

More information about educational psychology

Forensic psychology

Forensic psychology deals with the psychological aspects of legal processes, including applying theory to criminal investigations, understanding psychological problems associated with criminal behaviour, and the treatment of criminals. Sometimes people speak about a 'criminal psychologist', 'legal psychologist', 'criminologist' or a 'profiler'; but very often it may be they want to speak to a forensic psychologist.

More information about forensic psychology

Health psychology

Health psychology promotes changes in people’s attitudes, behaviour and thinking about health and illness. They help people to cope with illness and unpleasant medical treatments. They also deal with topics such as stopping smoking, skin care in the sun and promoting safer-sex to promote good health and prevent illness.

More information about health psychology


Neuropsychology looks at the relationship between the brain and its neuropsychological function, dealing with topics such as vision, memory and smell. Taste and the biological basis for conditions like depression. Psychologists within this field also help with the assessment and rehabilitation of people with brain injury or other neurological disease such as strokes, dementia, tumours and degenerative brain diseases.

More information about neuropsychology

Occupational psychology

Occupational psychology helps organisations to get the best from its workforce and improve the job satisfaction of individual employees. This can involve topics such as how to motivate staff, recruit the best people for the job, help individuals gain new skills, plan careers, or cope with redundancy. Occupational psychologists may also design or use psychological tests, as a way of measuring people’s suitability for a particular role.

More information about occupational psychology

Sport and exercise psychology

Sport psychology aims to work with participants in both team and individual sports and from amateur to elite levels of competition. Exercise psychology is primarily concerned with the application of psychology to increase exercise participation and motivational levels in the general public. Some psychologists work in both fields.

More information about sport and exercise psychology

Teachers and researchers in psychology

Teachers and researchers in psychology will be involved in teaching and conducting research in an academic institution, such as a university department of psychology. Some combine this role with practising in one of the other fields of psychology discussed above.

More about teaching or research in psychology

Practitioner psychologist

One of the professional titles that is restricted by law (together with ‘registered psychologist’, ‘clinical psychologist’, ‘counselling psychologist’, ‘educational psychologist’, ‘forensic psychologist’, ‘health psychologist’, ‘occupational psychologist’ and ‘sport and exercise psychologist’).  It is an offence to use any of these titles unless you are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the statutory regulator for practitioner psychologists in the UK.

Psychological testing/psychometric testing

Psychometrics refers to psychological measurement using tests, or the methodology that underlies these tests and their development.

Psychological testing is an assessment procedure designed to provide objective measures of one or more psychological characteristics. The important feature of psychological tests is that they produce measures obtained under standardised assessment conditions which have known reliability and validity (i.e. they provide a reliable and appropriate way of comparing a person’s performance against that of others).

Psychological tests are used in many walks of life to assess ability, personality and behaviour, for example, as part of the selection process for job interviews, or to assess children in schools or offenders in prisons.

There are two main types of psychological test – those that measure ability, aptitude or attainment and those designed to assess personal qualities such as personality, beliefs, values or interests, motivation or drive.

For more information on psychological testing, visit our Psychological Testing Centre (PTC).