Research Areas of Emphasis in Professional Psychology: Past and Current Trends

Article excerpt

Since professional psychology is a multifaceted and evolving field, examining trends and the emphasis that topical issues receive in the literature can provide a candid view on areas of concern to the profession. This study addresses the question: Where has professional psychology been and where is it going? This inquiry used a content analysis methodology, based on a bibliometric approach (see Nederhof, 2006), to gauge the extent of topical emphasis in the field over the past 2 decades. To that end, articles in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, for years 2012-2005 and 2002-1995, were categorized and the aggregated data compared between these 2 time frames based on main topic. The analysis indicated that the major areas of increasing emphasis in recent years are: Evidence-based treatments, veterans/ active military, multicultural and ethical issues, and natural disasters. This seems, in part, to reflect a) accountability in health care/mental health practice and b) the presence of wars and disasters in the national consciousness over the past decade. Areas of decreasing emphasis were: Graduate/internship training and education, managed care issues, and professional role. In addition, several topical areas have maintained equivocal emphasis over the past 2 decades, i.e., forensic, health, and child psychology, suicide, chronic pain, rural practice, and interpersonal violence. These findings provide a barometer on the diverse range of topics which have been emphasized or deemphasized over time. The perplexing issue is a) whether the published research in professional psychology reflects the issues and concerns of practicing psychologists in the field, and b) which issues will remain fundamental to practice and at the forefront of published research, despite the perennial challenges of an evolving profession.

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Fowler and Newman (2006) highlighted several keen perspectives on the status of the field of professional psychology and offered a glimpse into the key trends in the field into the 21st century. It would be informative to obtain an objective view on both retrospective and prospective developments in the field and determine areas of emphasis as reflected in the literature. One approach to gauge such trends in professional psychology is to examine key bibliometric sources regarding where the field has been and where it is going (Kenkel, 2006; Norcross et al., 2002; Piotrowski & Keller, 1992; Schui & Krampen, 2010).

Content analysis methodologies have been applied to the scholarly and professional literature in order to address the evolution and devolvement of scholarly areas or topics of interest (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998). Indeed, studies, based on content analysis, have been reported during the nascent years in the development of professional psychology; for example, on such issues like professional competency and continuing education (Vitulano & Copeland, 1980) and applications of I/O psychology (Meltzer, 1973). Later, Weaver et al. (1997) conducted a topic-specific systematic review across 8 APA journals. More recently, content analysis has been used to study trends on multi-racial issues covered in counseling journals (Edwards & Pedrotti, 2008). The purpose of the current study is to: a) identify the major topical areas of research coverage in professional psychology, and b) to determine any shifts in emphasis across these areas over time.

Conceptual Framework and Study Design

Historically, the field of professional psychology encompassed the general areas of clinical and counseling psychology, with emphases in assessment, therapy, and program planning, but over the past 30 years has embraced adjunctive and specialty fields like organizational, forensic, and child psychology, as well as neuropsychology. It would be of interest to examine the specific areas within the field of professional psychology that have received the most scholarly interest in the recent past and determine the areas that are currently being emphasized. …