What is Clinical Psychology? (An Overview)

In this blog we will discuss the question ‘What is Clinical Psychology?’ and elaborate on its role in the field of psychology. 

A branch of psychology, which focuses on providing mental and behavioural intervention for individuals is called Clinical psychology.

Professionals, known as clinical psychologists aim to diagnose, treat and research people with different mental disorders and or psychological issues. 

An American psychologist, Lightner Witmer in 1907 coined the term and defined clinical psychology as a study of individuals through observation and experimental methods. 

As history suggests, this branch of psychology began to spring during World War I when doctors used psychological tools to test patients.

Later, during World War II, clinical psychologists treated a number of patients who were suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

This is when the field of clinical psychology started to grow and, in the mid 1900s, was introduced as a proper degree in American universities. 

Clinical psychologists work in a variety of social settings for example, hospitals, schools, private clinics, offices etc.

Additionally, they don’t cater issues of a specific age group or mental disorder, instead treat and help people of all ages (ranging from children to elderly) and almost every kind of mental disorder (for example, Schizophrenia, Autism, Depression). 

Clinical psychology addresses, not only mental issues but health problems too. For instance, disabilities, deformities, social and intellectual maladjustment and or severe psychopathology. 

As mentioned earlier, clinical psychologists use a number of psychological tests and diagnostic tools to make assessments of an individual’s problem. They provide clinical services to individuals and or communities. 

Clinical Psychology is one the 19 subfileds of psychology. Others are for example, Health psychology, Psychophysiology etc.

Theoretical perspectives in Clinical psychology 

Clinical psychologists that work as psychotherapists use a number of different treatment approaches in order to plan a target treatment for treating specific patients.

Based on the individual’s severity and type of issue, they are helped using different treatment plans. 

Because the work of a clinical psychologist is very holistic, there are a number of approaches one can use to help clients. These are as follows: 

  • Cognitive-behavioral approach: 

It is one of the most highly used approaches when it comes to treating patients.

This perspective looks at how one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviour works together. 

People who believe in this approach claim that these three factors are interconnected, instability in either of these will affect the other two factors.

For example, if an individual is having negative thoughts, this will affect his emotions (he will feel sad or depressed) and later his behaviour will change (he will start mistreating people because of trust issues or negativity). 

A treatment method, which is based on this perspective is called CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy).

It is used with patients of almost all kinds of mental issues, as well as health issues.

The CBT is very effective because it targets one’s thought process, which in return changes an individual’s emotions and actions.

Patients are advised to use a thought diary in which they jot down all the negatively intrusive thoughts they have and then ponder over them, replacing them with positive ones. 

There are many practical uses of this approach for example, cognitive interviews or understanding a child’s behavior at school.

  • Psychodynamic approach: 

Freud, the father of psychology believed that the mind is divided into subconscious, unconscious and conscious parts.

He claims that the unconscious mind manages behaviour and feelings. Past experiences, stored in our unconscious mind influence actions and feelings. 

According to this approach, childhood experiences play a significant role in shaping one’s personality.

Conflicts in the psychosexual stage of development (as stated by Freud) modifies one’s personality and adult life.

Psychologists that use the psychodynamic approach treat patients with psychoanalytic therapy.

In this therapy, the patient literally speaks his heart out in front of the therapist. It is also called the ‘talking cure’.

One talks about his life events from childhood till present time. This is because of the association between childhood experiences and adult life according to the psychodynamic approach. 

A psychologist then identifies the underlying reasons in one’s life events that lead to the current mental issues faced. These reasons are then looked upon in more detail and the therapist tries to displace them with positive, neutral explanations. 

  • Humanistic approach: 

It looks at an individual as a whole. This approach claims that humans are innately good and that any deviation in this natural trait causes mental issues. 

Unlike the psychodynamic approach, humanistic approach claims that humans have free will. They practice autonomy in certain aspects of life which help them achieve goals in life. 

This perspective is holistic in terms of the way it sees people. According to them, humans have a personal agency through which they control their mental health. Other than this, they also take into account the environmental factors that add to one’s mental and emotional state. 

For example, society influences one’s thoughts, actions and emotions. At times, individuals are unable to get rid of these unpleasant feelings because of environmental pressure. 

A psychologist, using this approach, treats his patients with the help of methods such as self-actualization, client-centered therapy self-concept. 

Education Requirements for a Clinical psychologist

To become a clinical psychologist, one needs to have a bachelors and graduate degree in psychology, accompanied with an experience of working in a clinical setting. 

A bachelor’s degree is a four year programme in which one is taught the basic principles and concepts of psychology and other subjects related to it. After a student completes it, he is then required to gain a postgraduate degree in clinical psychology.

During this time, a student is given research projects to complete, so he can apply his abstract knowledge on to a specific sample. 

After one is done with his education, he needs to practice his psychological skills and enter the professional part of his life. 

Career Opportunities for a Clinical Psychologist 

A clinical psychologist practices in a number of social settings for example, hospitals, private clinics, schools etc. The capacity at which they need to work depends on the area they’re working in. 

One can even specialise in a specific area of interest in psychology after they gain considerable knowledge and practice as a therapist.

Apart from this, one can choose to work in multiple social settings, and not just one.

For example, an individual can work as a therapist in a university and alongside it, practice their profession in a personal clinical setting. 

The jobs/roles a clinical psychologist can perform in his career can be as follows: 

  • Assessing and diagnosing mental disorders in a clinical setting 
  • Treating those mental disorders 
  • Working in a court (offering testimony) 
  • Working in the armed forces 
  • Doing researches on advancement in the field of psychology and psychological disorders 
  • Working in an educational setup (as a teacher or academic counselor) 
  • Planning and arranging awareness programmes on different social/mental issues. 

Above, we have discussed the question ‘What is Clinical Psychology?’ and the life of a clinical psychologist (educational requirements, career opportunities and the type of work they need to perform). 

Titles to read 

by Geoffrey P. Kramer , Douglas A. Bernstein , et al.

by David H. Barlow

by Michael A. Sayette and John C. Norcross

by Susan Krauss Whitbourne

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q1) What is the role of a clinical psychologist? 

They talk to patients and identify their problems (emotional, behavioral or mental). They do so by the help of a number psychological tests and observations. 

Q2) What is an example of clinical psychology?

They diagnose, treat and research on different mental disorders. One can specialise in a specific area of interest in psychology, for example, child mental health. 

Q3) What is the difference between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist?

Psychologists study human nature and behaviour during their undergraduate degree. Whereas as a clinical psychologist also learns how to use different psychological tests and methods for therapy. 

Q4) What does clinical mean in psychology?

A clinical psychologist understands one’s mental and social issues, which they later treat by using a number of different and effective psychological treatments. 


  • https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-clinical-psychology-2795000
  • https://careersinpsychology.org/becoming-a-clinical-psychologist/
  • https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/clinical
  • https://www.britannica.com/science/clinical-psychology
  • www.link.springer.com

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