What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychology.

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 to work in a challenging and rewarding field.


Early influences on the field of clinical psychology include the work of the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. He was one of the first to focus on the idea that mental illness was something that could be treated by talking with the patient, and it was the development of his talk therapy approach that is often cited as the earliest scientific use of clinical psychology.

American psychologist Lightner Witmer opened the first psychological clinic in 1896 with a specific focus on helping children who had learning disabilities. It was also Witmer who first introduced the term “clinical psychology” 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.

Evolution During the World Wars.

Clinical psychology became more established during the period of World War I as practitioners demonstrated the usefulness of psychological assessments. In 1917, the American Association of Clinical Psychology was established, although it was replaced just two years later with the establishment of the American Psychological Association (APA).

During World War II, clinical psychologists were called upon to help treat what was then known as shell shock, now referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Changes in Focus.

While the early focus in clinical psychology had been largely on science and research, graduate programs began adding additional emphasis on psychotherapy. In clinical psychology Ph.D. programs, this approach is today referred to as the scientist-practitioner or Boulder Model. Later, the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree option emerged, which placed a greater emphasis on professional practice rather than research. This practice-oriented doctorate degree in clinical psychology is known as the practitioner-scholar, or Vail model.

The field has continued to grow tremendously, and the demand for clinical psychologists today remains strong.


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 Freud’s work; he believed that the unconscious mind plays an important role in our behavior. Psychologists who utilize psychoanalytic therapy 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 (CBT) often focuses 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.


Clinical psychologists work in a variety of settings (hospitals, clinics, private practice, universities, schools, etc.) and in many capacities. All of them require these professionals to draw on their expertise in special ways and for different purposes.

Some of the job roles performed by those working in clinical psychology can include:

▪️Assessment and diagnosis of psychological disorders, such as in a medical setting.

▪️Treatment of psychological disorders, including drug and alcohol addiction.

▪️Offering testimony in legal settings.

▪️Teaching, often at the university level.

▪️Conducting research.

▪️Creating and administering programs to treat and prevent social problems.

Some clinical psychologists may focus on one of these or provide several of these services. For example, someone may work directly with clients who are admitted to a hospital for psychological disorders, while also running a private therapeutic office that offers short-term and long-term outpatient services to those who need help coping with psychological distress.

What does a clinical psychologist do?

Central to clinical psychology practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation, diagnosis, and psychotherapy. A clinical psychologist can assess the causes of psychological distress within the context of the history of the problems and contributing factors, such as genetic predisposition, social and family influences, and psychological coping styles. A clinical psychologist can help develop a management or treatment plan for stabilisation or recovery. Clinical psychologists do not prescribe medication; they use psychological therapies.

Clinical psychologists have specific skills that they employ in their work, including:

▪️Understanding the broad expanse of mental health issues and how they may occur at any age.

▪️An extensive knowledge of mental illness assessment, diagnosis and treatment.

▪️Psychological tests in order to assess problems and be more effective in understanding and treating those suffering psychological distress.

▪️Consulting with a variety of other health professionals and organisations about behaviour, emotions, and severe mental distress.

▪️Being able to perform research and collect data to enhance the understanding of clinical psychology.

How can a clinical psychologist help?

Common reasons why someone might see a clinical psychologist include:

▪️Problems in adjusting to major life changes, stress or trauma.

▪️Anxiety, worry or fear.

▪️Depressed or low mood, or suicidal thinking.

▪️Thoughts of hurting other people or hurting yourself on purpose.

▪️Too much energy, being unable to sleep, wind down or relax.

▪️Obsessional thinking.

▪️Feeling on edge or jumpy.

▪️Problems with alcohol or drug use.

▪️Problem gambling, gaming or other addictive behaviours.

▪️Problems around body image, eating, or dieting.

▪️Poor concentration and attention; hyperactivity.

▪️Insomnia and other sleep problems.

▪️Conditions that start in childhood such as autism, intellectual disability, ADHD, learning difficulties or childhood anxiety or depression.

▪️Behaviour problems in children and adolescence.

A clinical psychologist can be of particular help when a condition:

▪️Is complex or difficult to diagnose.

▪️Involves suicidal ideas or plans.

▪️Isn’t responding to standard treatment through your GP or a general psychologist.

As part of their work, a clinical psychologist may:

▪️Help you to manage a long-term mental health condition.

▪️Provide advice about lifestyle changes to help manage psychological distress.

▪️Work with you individually, or with you and your partner, family, or carers.

▪️Provide second opinions and advice to other mental health professionals.

▪️Liaise with your GP to facilitate a referral to other health professionals, such as a psychiatrist, speech pathologist, or Occupational Therapist.

Reference :

Kendra Cherry (13-03-2019), “Clinical Psychology History, Approaches, and Careers”،

What is a Clinical Psychologist?/

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