Cross-Cultural Psychology and General Psychology: What is the Difference?


The practice of psychology can vary in many forms to provide services to a plethora of different mentally ill populations. The broadest of psychological fields is general psychology, and a subset of the field discussed is cross-cultural psychology, which also is coupled with the descriptive term, “international psychology”. A discussion of the two is paramount to understand the skills required to service multiple populations, and the different specialties that make the understanding of this essential when analyzing the type of professional who is best for your therapeutic treatment.

Scope of Practice

General psychology is essentially the study of basic principles, problems and methods that are the hub of this particular science. The general education that underlies this study involves human development, emotions, learning, motivation, senses, perceptions, memory, thinking, processing, and intelligence. A general psychology program focuses on human behaviors coupled with behavioral disorders. This form is usually the study in a generalist sense, prior to any ability to being able to specialize in a specific subset of psychology. One example of these subsets is the expanding field of cross-cultural psychology.

Related: Difference Between General Psychology and Clinical Psychology

Cross-Cultural psychology is the study of human behavior and mental processes, while paying particular attention to an individual’s diverse cultural conditions. Typically, it is a branch of psychology that looks as how cultural factors influence human behavior. Teams of cultural psychologists are typically an interdisciplinary forum of psychologists, sociologists, and other researchers who investigate the relationships between culture and behavior, and how they interact with one another. It focuses on the important cross-cultural issues, such as acculturation, family values, ethnic group comparisons, and how they ultimate relate to facets of an individual such as gender differences, and personality.

General psychologists typically focus their practices on a generalist, basic level, focusing on the therapeutic intervention of the mentally ill population. They essentially tailor the treatment of their clientele on basic mental illness, enlisting the basic foundational skills acquired in their training with no deeper analytics. This process is much different then the practice of cross-cultural psychology.

Psychologists who focus on cross-cultural interventions typically focus their practice to ethnic populations. Furthermore, they realize the asset and values of an individual’s culture to their ultimate well-being and personality, further affecting their emotional well-being, ideologies and perceptions, judgment, and their essential willingness to accept and apply the therapeutic intervention to their daily lives. This differs with general psychology, as in cross-cultural psychology the clinician ultimately focuses on an individual’s culture and upbringing, analyzes the differences across the broad spectrum of the mentally ill population.

These facets of psychology differ not only in acquired skillsets and ranges of thinking, but within the types of environments they practice in, which is an essential component of understanding when researching treatment facilities.

Physicality of Practice

General psychologists typically engage in private practice. They have their own practices with their own clientele and make and keep their own appointments. This is extremely common across the psychological spectrum, much different than in cross-cultural psychology however, where these clinicians work in a myriad of environments.

Related: Difference Between General Psychology and Social Psychology

Psychologists with a specialty in cross-cultural analysis not only work in private practice, but also can work in agencies with a large ethnic clientele performing psychological studies and assessments, as well as in a post-graduate educational institution performing a myriad of research studies and engaging their knowledge in that regard. Furthermore, these types of psychologists can and sometimes do work abroad, an indicator of why cross-cultural psychology is also deemed international psychology, to study and assess different populations in different countries, and either provide them assessments there and/or come back and use what they learn abroad and take that in their practice with the same populations who chose to migrate to America.

All in all, cross cultural psychology seems to have a myriad more educational sub-sets, and seems to have more options as opposed to the typical private practice avenue that general psychologists undergo. The same can be said about salary and job growth.

Salary and Career Prospects

Speaking in the perspective of private practice, the salary and employment aspects of a generalist psychologist and cross-cultural psychologist are typically alike. They are currently trending strong job growth. Jobs for general and cross-cultural psychologists are projected to increase by just a little less than half, which is aligned with projected salary growth in the same decade. Furthermore, the mean salary for general and cross- cultural psychologists in private practice was $73,000 in 2011, increasing largely for cross-cultural psychologists who chose to work at a post-graduate educational institution. This ultimately shows that although psychology is indeed highly specialized, whatever subset one decides to pursue, or if they chose to focus on a more generalized practice, there are definitely excellent job and salary prospects to look forward to.


For starters, while general psychologists typically focus on a broad spectrum of the study, and not one particular subset, there are other specific specialties that a clinician may pursue based on interest or need. Cross-cultural psychology is one of those specialties in which a professional focuses on the culture within their population and the myriad of ways that one’s culture can affect their well-being, upbringing, and ultimate reception to therapeutic intervention.

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