What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Do you enjoy learning about what makes people tick? Do you genuinely care about others? You may be the perfect fit for being a clinical psychologist!

Clinical psychologists are qualified professionals who are able to provide direct services to clients needing help with mental or behavioral issues, and are experts in psychometrics (or psychological measurement). They administer and interpret cognitive and personality tests, diagnose mental illnesses, create treatment plans, and conduct psychotherapy.

What does a Clinical Psychologist do?

Clinical psychology is the most common psychological specialty. A clinical psychologist works directly in the mental health field with patients. They may work with patients one-on-one or in a group setting, diagnosing and treating patients for various different mental disorders.

Clinical psychologists differ from other types of psychologists in that they specialize in abnormal psychology. While some clinical psychologists treat a variety of mental disorders and behaviors, others choose to focus on one specific disorder, such as schizophrenia, for example.

It is important to note that clinical psychologists typically do not prescribe medication. By law, only psychiatrists (who are physicians) are able to prescribe psychiatric medication (however, new legislation in a few US states is now allowing the prescribing of medication, which has sparked a heated debate). While psychologists and psychiatrists may both work in the mental health field, they perform very different roles.

A clinical psychologist working with a patient.

A clinical psychologist's goal is to help their client identify their psychological, emotional, or behavioral issues, and then assist the client by defining goals and a plan of action to help them achieve personal, social, educational and vocational development.

Clinical psychologists use the most up-to-date version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA) to guide and confirm their diagnosis, as well as their treatment plans.

Clinical psychologists must tailor their treatment plans to each individual patient, as different people have different problems, and respond best to different forms of therapy. Even two people with the same issue may respond very differently to treatment and recovery plans.

In order to develop valid and reliable ways to measure how well specific treatments and interventions are working, assessment research in clinical psychology is involved. Therefore, a large part of a clinical psychologist's job involves assessments and the development of valid and reliable tests.

Assessments can be done by interviewing individuals, looking at medical records, and conducting clinical observations. Testing can be done in the form of intelligence and achievement tests, vocational tests, or other tests designed to measure aptitude and skill levels.

By taking a such a comprehensive assessment approach, clinical psychologists are able to decide on the most effective and appropriate psychological treatments and interventions for their clients.

Michael C. Roberts and Stephen S. Hardi state in their article, Research Methodology and Clinical Psychology: An Overview, "Measurement of treatment procedures, treatment integrity, behavioral changes, functional performance, objective measurements, perceptions of change, and satisfaction from a variety of sources, follow-up assessment, etc., are needed to establish the 'scientific credentials' of each therapeutic approach."

Duties and responsibilities of a clinical psychologist may include:

  • Interviewing clients in order to understand their requirements and needs
  • Identifying psychological, emotional or behavioral issues
  • Assessing the attitude, behavior and abilities of a client using psychological testing
  • Diagnosing psychological, emotional or behavioral disorders
  • Designing behavior modification programs after diagnosing the problem of the client
  • Devising, developing, and implementing therapy or treatment for individual clients
  • Incorporating different psychometric methods for improving a client's condition
  • Helping clients define goals and planning a course of action to achieve those goals
  • Monitoring client progress through regular therapy sessions or meetings
  • Observing, monitoring and testing the right therapy for its effectiveness
  • Maintaining accounts and keeping records of a client's progress
  • Working with social workers, nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, and psychiatrists
  • Communicating with relatives, parents or loved ones of the client
  • Offering guidance to the caregivers of the client
  • Teaching classes
  • Conducting research
  • Publishing research findings in industry journals

Are you suited to be a clinical psychologist?

Clinical psychologists have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also social, meaning they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if clinical psychologist is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Clinical Psychologist like?

Clinical psychologists find work in various mental health, medical, and social service settings. Many clinical psychologists are self-employed, working in their own private practice with clients. Others are partners with other mental health professionals in a practice.

Some clinical psychologists choose to work in mental health hospitals or group homes, such as eating behavior residential programs. Others find employment through government or charity-sponsored programs serving the community, or through university programs that serve the students and staff of that particular school.

Some clinical psychologists choose to focus only on conducting research in an academic environment. Some examples of research topics are: the efficacy and effectiveness of therapies; common change processes in therapy; developing or evaluating prevention programs; validity of assessment methods; developmental psychopathology; and developmental epidemiology.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist?

Psychology is a study of the human mind - of mental behaviours and psychological functions. Psychologists attempt to understand how the mind functions, how it responds to things, if it can be improved upon, and how it can be kept in a stable state.

Psychologists study various concepts such as behaviour, emotion, relationships, human perception, cognition, personality, attention, and motivation. Many people all over the world look to psychologists when it comes to understanding mental and emotional problems.

Clinical psychologists are able to take things a step further by being interactive and helping their clients with their mental health. This is done by way of consultations, assessments, psychological testings, and treatments.

By using the scientific methods and principles of psychology, clinical psychologists are able to understand how to best treat those who are suffering from psychological issues or problems. The goal of clinical psychologists is to offer the client a corrective course of action or a specific treatment that can improve their mental well-being.

In regards to the difference in education between the two professions, a psychologist needs to complete a four year university-based psychology degree. To be a registered psychologist one needs to complete an undergraduate degree plus two years of supervised clinical experience.

A clinical psychologist, on the other hand, needs to complete an undergraduate degree in psychology, a two-year master's degree, and then another two years of supervised clinical training. Clinical psychologists also need to keep up with continuing education on an annual basis. Clinical psychologists who have completed a PhD, or a Doctorate of Clinical Psychology, can use the title of 'doctor'.

A clinical psychologist listening to a client.

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What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist?

Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists often work in tandem to treat their patient's symptoms from both a behavioural and clinical standpoint. They share a common goal - the desire to help people feel better. The fields of psychology and psychiatry are both essential in offering treatment for improving mental and emotional health.

After seeing a family doctor for a referral, a patient might meet regularly with a clinical psychologist to address behavioural patterns. That clinical psychologist may refer the patient to a psychiatrist who is able to prescribe and monitor medication.

Because clinical psychologists and psychiatrists often work together for the well-being of the client, their job descriptions may overlap somewhat. While they both work in the mental health field, they perform very different roles (particularly in the type of treatment they administer). Each profession also requires different educational paths.

The Role Of A Clinical Psychologist
Clinical psychologists conduct psychological tests, focus primarily on psychotherapy, and often treat both emotional and mental suffering with behavioural intervention (behavioural intervention involves having patients replace problematic behaviours with more positive ones).

Clinical psychologists tailor their treatment plans to each individual patient, as different people have different problems, and respond best to different forms of therapy. Even two people with the same problem may respond very differently to treatment and recovery plans. Clinical psychologists do not typically prescribe medication.

In terms of education, a clinical psychologist must complete four years of university, a two-year master's degree, and a further two years of supervised clinical training. Graduate school provides aspiring clinical psychologists with extensive preparation for a career in psychology by teaching students how to diagnose mental and emotional disorders in a variety of situations.

Throughout their years of education, students study personality development, the history of psychological problems, and the science of psychological research.

The Role Of A Psychiatrist
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are dedicated to providing the best treatment and care for people with mental disorders.

Because psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, they are able to prescribe medications. They spend a significant portion of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment. Medication in psychiatry is used when counseling and therapy fail to produce noticeable results.

As doctors, psychiatrists understand the ins and outs of the body as well as the mind. Their training - four years of medical school followed by four years of psychiatric residency - allows them to diagnose basic and complex psychiatric conditions which include: psychosis; affective disorders; anxiety disorders; and behavioural disorders.

They are also able to deliver psychotherapy, and to administer somatic therapies. Some psychiatrists specialize in liaison psychiatry, childhood and adolescent psychiatry, or forensic psychiatry.

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What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a psychotherapist?

There is often a bit of confusion when it comes to what a clinical psychologist does and what a psychotherapist does. This confusion has even led to individuals that are seeking help to making an appointment with the wrong professional.

Clinical psychologists have a very specific profession. They can either work as researchers in an academic setting, or become therapists and work with clients in a clinical or private setting. Being a psychotherapist, on the other hand, can involve various things as it's more of an umbrella term and can be used broadly.

To clarify, all clinical psychologists and other psychology professionals can put themselves under the term of psychotherapist, as it is a title given to any professional who provides therapy for clients.

The term psychotherapy can be used by various practitioners - for example, psychologists, psychotherapists, licensed clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals who have had further specialist training in psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy can be conducted one-on-one, in groups, with couples, and with families. This type of therapy helps people overcome their relationship issues, stress, emotional problems, or unwanted habits. Psychotherapy typically involves delving into verbal and non-verbal communication rather than using medications or physical interventions.

Different approaches in psychotherapy may include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy
- Arts and play therapy
- Psychoanalytic therapy
- Experiential constructivist therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Hypno-psychotherapy
- Systemic and family psychotherapy
- Humanistic and integrative psychotherapy

When it comes to education, both clinical psychologists and psychotherapists have educational requirements that need to be met before becoming licensed or certified. For both professions, an undergraduate degree is required.

Clinical psychologists major in psychology at the undergraduate degree level and then move on to take clinical psychology programs at the doctorate level. They are also required to complete clinical placements and a research thesis as well. After graduation, they can seek licensure in their state, as requirements for licensure can differ between states.

Psychotherapists, on the other hand, are not required to have an undergraduate education based in psychology, as psychotherapy training doesn't start until the graduate level. Therefore, as long as the student comes from a professional background, they will be eligible to train as a psychotherapist. Becoming a psychotherapist requires a graduate education, mandatory applied practice, and certification in certain states.

Medical psychotherapists are fully-qualified physicians who have qualified in psychiatry and have then decided to undertake another three to four-years of specialist training in psychotherapy. These specialized physicians are trained and educated in performing psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with psychiatric illnesses.

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What are some sub-specialties for Clinical Psychologists?

Child Psychology
Professionals in this specialty work with patients in infancy, childhood, and adolescence. They apply scientific methods designed to understand the cognitive functions and emotional needs of their young patients. Among the common issues they treat are learning disabilities, anger management, developmental disorders, and emotional and physical abuse.

Health Psychology
Health psychologists take a biopsychosocial approach when treating patients. They identify and examine how biological and social factors can impact psychological health. Their focus areas include illness, injury, harmful behavior, worrisome thoughts and beliefs, and stress.

Neuropsychologists study how psychological behavior is affected by brain and central nervous system function and anatomy. Much of their work involves diagnosing and treating traumatic brain injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and learning disabilities.

Geropsychologists specialize in the mental wellbeing and the all-round physical, emotional, and social health of older adults. They commonly treat depression, cognitive dysfunction, and chronic illness. When working with older patients with progressive conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, geropsychologists and neuropsychologists typically collaborate to complete psychological evaluations and determine treatment methods.

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What are Clinical Psychologists like?

Based on our pool of users, clinical psychologists tend to be predominately artistic people. Worth noting is that also based on our sample of Sokanu users, clinical psychologists are as investigative and almost as social as they are artistic.

Each of these traits is reflective of their work, which demands capacities to investigate and study their patients’ cases; to be social and comfortable interacting with personalities of all kinds; and to be creative, imaginative, and indeed artistic when looking for solutions to disorders and dilemmas based in science.

Should I become a Clinical Psychologist?

The work of navigating the human mind and finding solutions for individuals battling mental, social, and emotional afflictions is at best challenging and rewarding and at worst daunting. The decision to take on such an important and delicate vocation should not be made without careful consideration of its demands.

At a basic level, clinical psychologists should demonstrate competence in the following areas:

Without doubt, the ability to convey information, impressions, and ideas is vital when dealing with patients and in research settings.

Active Listening
Many disorders and problems are complex and not easily communicated, particularly when patients themselves do not understand what is going on. The capacity to pay attention, listen intently, and read between the lines is imperative to reach a diagnosis and determine the appropriate course of action.

Social Perception
Patients’ internal ‘data’ – their feelings and emotions – may sometimes be accessible only through thoughtful observation of non-verbal cues. While patients cannot always accurately or clearly express what is wrong, their behavior may provide clues to the factors affecting them. Clinical psychologists must be empathetic and perceptive to these clues.

Critical thinking
Well-reasoned and logical thinking is the foundation both of patient care and of research. Diagnosing patients, developing treatment plans, designing experiments, and interpreting results all rely on the ability to examine problems from different perspectives and consider alternatives.

High-Order Analysis
Sometimes, facts and information appear unrelated or random. Accomplished clinical psychologists are skilled at sorting through data to detect possible patterns and relevance.

When introducing new or complex concepts to patients or colleagues, clinical psychologists need to be able to explain not just the ‘what,’ but also the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of an issue.

Putting patients’ interests first may require that clinical psychologists convince them of ideas with which they initially disagree. This may involve finding creative solutions when traditional approaches fail. The dedicated psychologist is first and foremost a patient advocate.

Sound Judgement
Clinical psychologists invariably face dilemmas. Not all circumstances are simple, straightforward, or dichotomous. In fact, most of them are not and require carefully considered decisions informed by clinical knowledge and compassion.

Scientific Reasoning
Even outside of the research realm, the work of clinical psychologists is rooted in scientific principles and concepts. The mastery of these doctrines and the skill to apply them to patient treatment are crucial to practising in the field.

Clinical Psychologists are also known as:
Licensed Clinical Psychologist Mental Health Psychologist