What is the Difference Between Organizational Psychology and General Psychology?


The psychology field consists of a wide variety of specialty areas (i.e. geriatric, organizational, sports, health, family, individual, group, couples, spiritual, pediatric, etc.). In fact, most psychologists work with diverse populations (i.e. racial, religious, cultural, class, economic levels, personalities, etc.). Some psychologists work in organizations, while others work in private practices, skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes), social service agencies, and/or educational/research institutions.

Regardless of the specialty, all psychologists hold a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) from a graduate school. They also have licenses and certifications in their chosen fields. Truth-be-told, with all of the variety, trying to understand the differences between the specialties can get quite confusing. Lucky for you, I am here to help you understand the mesmerizing, but overwhelming branches of psychology.

One of the main differences between organizational psychology and general psychology is that organizational psychology focuses on the workplace (organizations). It evaluates workplace practices and processes, employee work performances, and employee mental/emotional health. While general psychology primarily focuses on human thought processes and behaviors. Moreover, general psychologists treat a variety of psychological disorders and mental illnesses, while organizational psychologists provide counseling and coaching services to employees.

Organizational Psychology

Organizational psychology, also referred to as industrial psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology, is the study of workplace practices. In other words, this type of psychology typically occurs in organizations (i.e. companies, agencies and businesses). Some organizations employ Employee Assistance Program Counselors (EAP), who counsel employees with issues that can affect their job performance and mental/emotional well-beings.

Related: Becoming an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist

These mental health professionals also refer employees to outside services, if needed. Organizational psychologists, in general, focus on the emotional well-beings of employees. For instance, if an employee is experiencing problems at home that appear to be affecting his or her work performance, an organizational psychologist will meet with that individual, and help him or her resolve the issues, so that he or she can be more productive at work.

These psychologists help organizations achieve the following initiatives: improving workplace processes, increasing productivity and quality scores, ensuring fairness and equality in the workplace, strengthening upper management and employee relationships, and monitoring the psychological well-beings of company employees. Organizational psychologists may provide these services with individual employees, groups of employees, and/or with the organization, as a whole. These professionals use a variety of psychological strategies, approaches, techniques, and methods to implement changes within the organizations.

The primary tasks of an organizational psychologist are: assessing workplace practices, talking with employees, “diagnosing” workplace problems, developing solutions, and implementing those changes. It can take up to seven (7) years to complete a doctoral program in organizational psychology. It is important to note that some colleges/universities offer organizational psychology graduate programs (master’s programs), which is important because some organizations will hire individuals with just a master’s degree, and a license/certification. Once an individual has completed a doctoral program, and acquired the necessary licenses and certifications, he or she will be able to seek employment as organizational psychologist.

General Psychology

General psychology, on the other hand, is the study of human thought processes and behaviors. General psychologists provide counseling services to diverse populations with a variety of psychological and mental health issues (i.e. cognitive and behavioral problems and disorders). These mental health professionals usually do not specialize in a certain area of psychology; rather they examine, explore, evaluate, diagnosis, and treat a myriad of issues. A general psychologist uses many different psychological approaches, methods, and techniques (i.e. behavioral studies, psychological assessments, statistics) to research, evaluate, and treat clients.

Related: What is the Difference Between General Psychology and Clinical Psychology?

Moreover, they venture into many areas of psychology like: cognitive psychology, child psychology, developmental psychology, experimental psychology, personality psychology, social psychology, health psychology, forensic psychology, environmental psychology, and psychopharmacology. It is important to note that many technical, community, and traditional colleges/universities also offer associate, bachelor and master degrees in general psychology. Also, even if an individual earns an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree in general psychology, it does not mean that he or she is qualified to call himself or herself a psychologist.

In fact, only an individual, who has earned a doctorate (i.e. Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in psychology, and acquired a license/certification in his or her chosen field, is allowed to provide psychological services to patients, and/or clients. A master’s degree and a license/certification in general psychology will allow an individual to call himself or herself a therapist, marriage and family therapist, or psychotherapist, while an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and a license/certification in general psychology will only allow him or her to be referred to as a counselor. It typically takes 2 years to complete a general psychology associate’s program, 4 years to complete a bachelor’s program, 2.5 to 3 years to complete a graduate program (master’s program), and up to 7 years to complete a doctoral program.

Education and Salary Comparison

An organizational psychologist must earn at least a master’s degree in the field (although most employers prefer a doctorate). Also, he or she must have a license or certification in the field to provide counseling services to employees. On the other hand, a general psychologist can hold an associate’s, bachelor’s, and/or master’s degree in general psychology, although he or she will not be able to call himself or herself a general psychologist, without a doctorate and license/certification.

Altogether it can take up to 13.5 years (bachelor (4), master (2.5), and doctorate (7)) to become an organizational psychologist. Furthermore, organizational psychologists typically earn higher salaries than general psychologist or those with an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in general psychology. As of May 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, industrial-organizational psychologists typically earn between $51,000 and 197,000, per year, on average, while general psychologists typically earn between $45,000 and $132,000, per year, on average.

Organizational psychologists earn more because organizational psychology is considered a specialty field, while general psychology is not. On the other hand, because general psychology is more “general” in nature, there are more opportunities for employment. Why? Well, people with general psychology degrees are able to enter a variety of industries (i.e. social services, education, research, business, etc.) Organizational psychologist jobs, on the other hand, are often limited to organizations.

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