Unlike the MAP kinase (MAPK) cascade that phosphorylates p38 on the activation loop, T cell receptor (TCR) signaling results in phosphorylation on Tyr-323 (pY323, alternative pathway). Using mice expressing p38α and p38β with Y323F substitutions, we show that alternatively but not MAPK cascade-activated p38 up-regulates the transcription factors NFATc1 and IRF4, which are required for proliferation and cytokine production. Conversely, activation of p38 with UV or osmotic shock mitigated TCR-mediated activation by phosphorylation and cytoplasmic retention of NFATc1. Notably, UVB treatment of human psoriatic lesions reduced skin-infiltrating p38 pY323(+) T cell IRF4 and IL-17 production. Thus, distinct mechanisms of p38 activation converge on NFATc1 with opposing effects on T cell immunity, which may underlie the beneficial effect of phototherapy on psoriasis.