Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology that assesses, diagnoses, treats and helps prevent psychological, emotional, psychophysiological and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists provide many types of direct treatment to patients, while also providing indirect support through other roles, such as management, supervision, teaching, administration and advocacy.
Clinical psychologists are often confused with psychiatrists. But psychiatrists, unlike psychologists, go to medical school and become medical doctors who can prescribe and administer pharmaceutical drugs.
Psychiatrists specialize in treating patients with psychiatric disorders, but they are equipped to also treat medical disorders. Few clinical psychologists can administer drugs and none of them can treat patients medically.
Clinical psychology is the largest branch of psychology, and it can be broken down into two basic areas—clinical psychology and counseling psychology—though the two of them are sometimes considered to be separate branches of psychology.
Clinical psychologists usually work in a hospital, mental hospital, clinic or other health care institution, so they normally treat patients with full-blown psychological disorders. Most clinical psychologists are capable of treating all types of patients, though they sometimes do specialize to an extent. A few of them eventually open their own private practice.
Counseling psychologists specialize in counseling clients who suffer from psychological problems that aren’t serious enough to require institutionalization. Counseling psychologists normally open their own private practice, though they sometimes work in an institution at first to build up experience.
Many counseling psychologists specialize in a certain type of counseling, such as marriage counseling, group therapy or substance abuse counseling. Others specialize in treating clients of a certain age range, like children, adolescents or the elderly. Others specialize in treating a specific occupation, like sports psychologists, who only counsel athletes.
Clinical and counseling psychologists can also be classified by the schools of thought they subcribe to, such as analytical (Jungian), psychoanalytical (Freudian), humanistic (Maslow), cognitive, Adlerian or behavioral.
Clinical Psychology Degrees
Some students choose to start out by getting an associate degree in psychology at a two-year community college in order to keep all their options open as to a career choice. A degree in psychology is useful for numerous jobs, from advertising to politics, so an associate degree in psychology affords students an opportunity to switch fields without missing a beat. And an associate degree in psychology is enough to qualify for jobs in certain entry-level positions.
Some schools offer bachelor’s degrees in clinical psychology, and quite a few allow students to get a bachelor’s in general psychology with a concentration or minor in clinical psychology, which is almost as good.
Most clinical psychologists choose a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, but some of those who plan to perform research in their jobs choose a Bachelor of Science because of the extra lab courses.
Here are typical undergraduate subjects for students of clinical psychology:
- Experimental psychology
- Abnormal psychology
- Physiological psychology
- Social psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Cognition and learning
- Neurodevelopmental disorders
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Behavioral analysis
- Human heredity and development
- Calculus and physics
- History and systems of psychology
- Child psychopathology
- Health psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Psychological research
- Writing in abnormal psychology
- Deviant behavior
Some jobs in clinical psychology only require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but full-fledged clinical or counseling psychologists need a doctorate degree in clinical psychology.
There are three types of doctorates: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) and Doctor of Education (EdD). The PhD is the best for researchers, the PsyD is the best for therapists, and the EdD is intended mainly for teachers. You might be required to complete a dissertation as well as an internship prior to graduation.
The certification for clinical psychologists is usually provided by the American Board of Clinical Psychology (ABCP), under the supervision of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP)
Clinical psychology offers a wide variety of specialties to choose from. Clinical psychologists are needed in just about every town or city, and they can work in school systems, hospitals, clinics, mental hospitals, court systems, correctional institutions, law enforcement agencies, military bases, counseling centers or governmental agencies.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, the estimated 2021 median annual wage for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $81,040, while the mean hourly wage was $42.04.