Do not get confused – general psychology is not another newly discovered subset of psychology, it is in fact another term used to identify the field of psychology in general. The difference between general psychology and clinical psychology is that general psychology is the study of mental behaviors and psychological functions. Whereas clinical psychology is not merely a scientific study, but a step further and deals with the assessment and then treatment of mental illnesses.
Now let us expand on each discipline. Psychologists attempt to understand the human mind – how it functions, how it responds, how it can be improved and how it can be kept stable. Psychologists study concepts such as human perception, emotion, personality, behavior, relationships, attention, motivation, cognition and so on. Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe look to psychologists for their mental and emotional problems.
Related Reading: How to Start a Career in Clinical Psychology
In simple terms, the application of the principles and concepts of psychology is known as clinical psychology. The purpose of clinical psychologists is to use scientific methods and principles of psychology to treat those who are suffering from psychological issues or problems. Clinical psychologists have the experience and background to conduct psychological tests, research, consultation and treatment. The objective of most clinical psychologists is to suggest a correction course of action or treatment to improve the mental well-being of their patients.
There are many different fields of psychology such as evolutionary, developmental, abnormal, clinical, social, cognitive, educational etc. So the work environment really depends on what sub-field of psychology you end up choosing for your career. But in most cases you will be busy with improving the lives of patients through either counseling, psychological testing, developing programs, developing quantitative and qualitative research programs, and so on.
For instance, you may have to provide counseling to children who are victims of child abuse or domestic violence – in which case you will be spending time with children and visiting households. General psychologists also deal with thousands of employees who are suffering from work stress. At times may visit an office to give a small presentation on coping with stress. So the work environment really depends on the direction you take in general psychology.
Now for a clinical psychologist the work environment is almost predefined. A clinical psychologist often finds work in medical centers, clinics, hospitals, multinational corporations, academic institutes and similar areas. The general job duties for clinical psychologists may include, treating psychological disorders, conducting drug trials, developing programs to treat and prevent social disorders, and diagnosing patients.
As a clinical psychologist, you may have to consult with doctors and other psychologists with respect to a case, trial, research or patient. As you gain experience after working on many cases, a clinical psychologist may teach relevant courses in universities or provide consultation services to large multinationals.
The Road to Get There
To call yourself a general psychologist you must first possess an undergraduate degree from a reputed program. However with just an undergraduate degree in psychology, you may only land entry level jobs such as a lab assistant, teachers assistant, research assistant or a general assistant to a senior psychologist. None the less, it is a start.
Working your way up the ladder would require experience and high education such as a master’s degree or a doctorate. Having a master’s degree under your belt may allow you to develop a niche within the field of general psychology. A doctorate to complement a master’s degree would grant you significant bargaining power in the labor market for top positions in your field. In each case, you need to be ready to put in the hours to study and the sacrifices that come with it.
In the initial academic years, the education for nearly all psychologists is the same. Clinical psychology is actually a field that you can specialize in during a regular psychology degree. With an undergraduate focus in clinical psychology, you can go on to do a master’s or a doctorate degree in clinical psychology. It also requires spending hundreds of hours in clinics and assisting senior psychologists to get adequate experience.
Which One Should You Select?
Practicing as a general psychologist is great for those who wish to get a thorough feel of the industry and build a solid foundation for the coming years. It also serves as a stepping stone for a specialization in the future. Those that wish to stay involved in research can also stick to the career of a general psychologist.
On the other hand, if you are a fan of working with patients, collaborating with medical professionals, and being in direct charge of the mental health and development of an individual, then you may find the role of a clinical psychologist quite rewarding.