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When most people think of psychologists, they will picture a clinical psychologist. One third of all working psychologists fit into this category, working in a variety of health care settings. Clinical psychologists work in social services, mental health wards in hospitals, community centers, and private practices. The field of clinical psychology uses a variety of approaches. Psychologists observe patient behaviors, administer psychometric tests, and conduct interviews, before determining diagnosis and treatment.

What is Clinical Psychology?

The definition of this branch of psychology is that it is the specialization involved with the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal behavior and mental illness. Unlike counseling psychologists, who work with patients who may simply need guidance or advice, clinical psychologists work with those who need treatment. They help treat patients who suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and neurological disorders, among others.

Theoretical Approaches to Treatment

There are several different approaches that clinical psychologists can take to treat their patients. These include the following:

  • Cognitive Therapy: This approach uses a patient's feelings and thoughts as the basis for treatment, which are studied through a series of talk therapy sessions. After identifying potentially harmful thought patterns, the psychologist works with the patient to change these patterns to help ease psychological problems.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: With an emphasis on the unconscious mind and the role it plays in human behavior, this is a classical approach using the theories of Freud and Jung.
  • Humanistic Perspective: Based on the theories of Abraham Maslow, this approach uses a holistic viewpoint of the patient, focusing on ways to help patients realize their full human potential.

Education Requirements

To work in the field of clinical psychology, professionals will need to have a Master's degree in Psychology. Many will have a doctorate degree, and go through clinical training in a hospital or private practice setting. Most successful clinical psychologists will spend anywhere from 7-10 years earning their undergraduate and graduate degrees to practice in this field. The best programs are those that are accredited by the American Psychological Association, leading to a supervised training period and licensure examination. Because each state has different regulations, it's best to research these before enrolling in any program.

Typical Work Settings for Clinical Psychologists

There are many different settings that clinical psychologists work in. This includes medical and academic settings, for example. Retirement homes, halfway houses, and private clinics will also hire clinical psychologists as staff members. Many clinical psychologists also work in their own private practices, seeing their own clients and setting their own hours. Although many psychologists work directly with clients who suffer from psychiatric disorders, not all clinical psychologists will offer therapy. Some may also work in government offices, helping form public policy. The following roles are examples of job functions that clinical psychologists may be called upon to provide:

  • Diagnosing mental illness
  • Assessing the psychological state of patients
  • Treating mental disorders
  • Treating drug and alcohol abuse and addiction
  • Administering social welfare programs
  • Laboratory research administration
  • Teaching psychology students

Because clinical psychology can be such a broad field, there are psychologists who perform a variety of these tasks as part of their jobs. It's not necessary for a clinical psychologist to only stick to one job function. Many clinical psychologists teach university courses while also seeing their own patients in a private practice, or will testify in court from time to time while working full-time in a hospital. The best clinical psychologists will be skilled with reading social cues, so that they can effectively communicate with their patients. Clinical psychologists must also be able to handle stressful situations and stay level-headed, as every day in this profession is different.

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