Clinical Psychology/Psychologists

Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illness, abnormal behavior and psychiatric problems. This field integrates the science of psychology with the treatment of complex human problems, making it an exciting career choice for people who are looking for a challenging and rewarding field.

American psychologist Lightner Witmer first introduced the term in a 1907 paper. Witmer, a former student of Wilhelm Wundt, defined clinical psychology as "the study of individuals, by observation or experimentation, with the intention of promoting change."1 Today, clinical psychology is one of the most popular subfields within psychology.

Clinical Psychology Education

In the U.S., clinical psychologists usually have a doctorate in psychology and receive training in clinical settings. The educational requirements to work in clinical psychology are quite rigorous, and most clinical psychologists spend between four to six years in graduate school after earning a bachelor's degree.2

There are two different types of degrees available in clinical psychology - a Ph.D. and a Psy.D. Generally speaking, Ph.D. program are centered on research, while Psy.D. programs are practice-oriented. Some students may also find graduate programs that offer a terminal master's degree in clinical psychology.

Before choosing a clinical psychology program, students should always check to be sure that the program is accredited by the American Psychological Association. After completing an accredited graduate training program, prospective clinical psychologists must also complete a period of supervised training and an examination. Specific licensure requirements vary by state, so students should always check with their state's licensing board to learn more.

U.K. students can pursue a doctorate level degree in clinical psychology (D.Clin.Psychol. or Clin.Psy.D.) through programs sponsored by the National Health Service. These programs are generally very competitive and are focused on both research and practice. Students interested in enrolling in one of these program must have an undergraduate degree in a psychology program approved by the British Psychological Society in addition to experience requirements.

Clinical Psychology Work Settings and Job Roles

Clinical psychologists often work in medical settings, private practice or in academic positions at universities and colleges. Some clinical psychologists work directly with clients, often those who suffer from severe psychiatric disorders.

Some of the job roles performed by those working in clinical psychology include:
  • Assessment and diagnosis of psychological disorders
  • Treatment of psychological disorders
  • Offering testimony in legal settings
  • Teaching
  • Conducting research
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Creating and administering program to treat and prevent social problems

Other clinical psychologists may work in private therapeutic settings offering short-term and long-term outpatient services to clients who need help coping with psychological distress. Some clinical psychologists work in other settings, often performing research, teaching university-level courses and offering consultation services.

Clinical psychologists often work in hospitals, private practice or academic settings. Clinicians are trained in a range of techniques and theoretical approaches. Some specialize in treating certain psychological disorders, while others work with clients suffering from a wide variety of problems. Clinical psychologists treat some of the most severe psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

In addition to working with clients, clinical psychologists have to keep detailed records of client assessment, diagnosis, therapeutic goals and treatment notes. These records help clinicians and clients track progress and are often needed for billing and insurance purposes

How Much Do Clinical Psychologists Typically Earn?:

According to the APA Research Office, in 2001 the average salary for a licensed clinical psychologist was $72,000. Of the psychologists surveyed, 65% worked in private practice, 19% worked in medical settings and 2% worked in some other human services setting. Learn more about the typical salaries for clinical psychologists.

The U. S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that employment in psychology is expected to grow faster than the average. The rising need for qualified mental health care professionals will contribute to a demand for clinical psychologists.

Approaches to Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologists who work as psychotherapists often utilize different treatment approaches when working with clients. While some clinicians focus on a very specific treatment outlook, many use what is referred to as an eclectic approach. This involves drawing on different theoretical methods to develop the best treatment plan for each individual client.

Some of the major theoretical perspectives within clinical psychology include:

  • Psychodynamic Approach: This perspective grew out of the work of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who believed that the unconscious mind played an important role in our behavior. Psychologists who utilize this perspective may use techniques such as free association to investigate a client's underlying, unconscious motivations.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Perspective: This approach to clinical psychology developed from the behavioral and cognitive schools of thought. Clinical psychologists using this perspective will look at how a client's feelings, behaviors and thoughts interact. Cognitive-behavioral therapy often focus on changing thoughts and behaviors that contribute to psychological distress.

  • Humanistic Perspective: This approach to clinical psychology grew out of the work of humanist thinkers such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. This perspective looks at the client more holistically and is focused on such things as self-actualization and helping people realize their full potential.

What Type of Degree Do Clinical Psychologists Need?:

While some individuals find work with a master’s degree, most positions require a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Some graduate programs accepts applicants with undergraduate degrees in other disciplines, but most encourage students to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology before pursuing graduate study in clinical psychology.There are two major training models for doctoral degrees.

The traditional Ph.D. in Psychology (or Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) emphasizes the role of the research and science. The Psy.D. degree (Doctor of Psychology) is primarily focused on clinical and practitioner work. Psy.D. programs are attractive to many students because they typically take approximately a year less time to complete than a Ph.D. On the other hand, Ph.D. programs tend to provide better funding of graduate students.

Is a Career in Clinical Psychology Right for Me?:

Clinical psychologists need to have excellent communication skills. It is also important to be creative when developing treatment plans and approaches. Before you decide on a career in clinical psychology, contact local human services providers about volunteer opportunities that may be available. Clinical psychology can be both a demanding and deeply rewarding field and volunteer experiences can help you decide if a career in clinical psychology is right for you.

Benefits of a Career in Clinical Psychology

  • Helping people overcome problems can be extremely rewarding.
  • Differing client needs and challenges allow clinicians to search for creative solutions.
  • Opportunities for self-employment.

Downsides of a Career in Clinical Psychology

  • Insurance companies require that clinicians keep extensive client records, so there is a considerable amount of paperwork.
  • There is a risk of burnout due to the demanding nature of therapy.
  • Clinical psychologists often work long hours with clients who can be demanding, argumentative, or unstable.


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