What is Clinical Psychology?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Clinical psychology is the practice-based arm of psychological studies and findings or the treatment of others as based on psychological theory. This may principally involve giving therapy and other treatments to individuals or groups. Some people would call it not different than psychotherapy. Yet it is slightly different for several reasons.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

First it is performed usually only by clinical psychologists, who usually possess a PhD or PsyD,. Other people are trained to perform therapy such as licensed clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, and licensed professional counselors, but they’re usually not called clinical psychologists. Second, it includes more than psychotherapy and may concern itself with things like educational testing or psychological assessment. There can be range in definitions and clinical psychologists may work in more than one field. For example, a person working in clinical psychology might teach, supervise doctoral candidates, and work as a psychotherapist.

In the practice of psychotherapy, not all people in clinical psychology base their work on the same theoretical findings or work with the same patient base. Psychologists could draw from one or more of the many schools of thought that exist when deciding how to conduct therapy. There is no standard “therapy” form and great difference exists in approach.

Psychologists can treat a wide variety of patients or specialize and work with certain groups. People can become predominantly child and adolescent psychologists, couples or family therapists, or work most with individuals. Sometimes a clinical psychologist may have specific specialization in treating one group of people, such as those suffering from a particular mental disorder or learning disorder like autism. As people progress in their careers, their choices and training can help decide in which areas of clinical psychology they’d like to work.

Clinical psychology can include testing and assessment, instead of providing therapy. Sometimes this is classed differently, but part of psychological research has been on the development of tests that can gauge a person’s abilities, or suggest learning or emotional disorders. Implementing this research by evaluating and diagnosing with a wide variety of tests without subsequently providing treatment is a clinical application of research. Psychologists who work in this manner would usually make suggestions for treatment if they didn’t provide it.

Those specializing in clinical psychology may work in many different settings. School psychologists practice with students, many psychologists work in private practice or in institutes for those with mental illness, and sometimes the work of forensic psychologists is also referred to as clinical practice. Many times psychologists work with other mental health professionals like social workers and psychiatrists, and may be part of mental health teams that provide different aspects of care for people. Other times they principally work only with clientele.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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