Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illness, abnormal behavior and psychiatric problems. Clinical psychology is an integration of science, theory and clinical knowledge for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration.
The field is often considered to have begun in 1896 with the opening of the first psychological clinic at the University of Pennsylvania by Lightner Witmer. In the first half of the 20th century, clinical psychology was focused on psychological assessment, with little attention given to treatment. This changed after the 1940s when World War II resulted in the need for a large increase in the number of trained clinicians. Since that time, two main educational models have developed-the Ph.D. scientist-practitioner model (focusing on research) and the Psy.D. practitioner-scholar model (focusing on clinical practice). Clinical psychologists are now considered experts in providing psychotherapy, psychological testing, and in diagnosing mental illness. They generally train within four primary theoretical orientations-psychodynamic, humanistic, behavior therapy/cognitive behavioral, and systems or family therapy.
Approaches to Clinical Psychology
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.
Major theoretical perspectives within clinical psychology:
Psychodynamic Approach: This perspective grew out of the work of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who believed that the unconscious mind played an important role in our behavior. Psychologists who utilize this perspective 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 often focus 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 and helping people realize their full potential.
In practice, clinical psychologists may work with individuals, couples, families, or groups in a variety of settings, including private practices, hospitals, mental health organizations, schools, businesses, and non-profit agencies. Most clinical psychologists who engage in research and teaching do so within a college or university setting.
Clinical psychologists often work in medical settings, private practice or in academic positions at universities and colleges. Some clinical psychologists work directly with clients, often those who suffer from severe psychiatric disorders.
Other clinical psychologists may work in private therapeutic settings offering short-term and long-term outpatient services to clients who need help coping with psychological distress. Some clinical psychologists work in other settings, often performing research, teaching university-level courses and offering consultation services.
Clinical psychology is one of the most popular areas within psychology, but it is important to evaluate your interests before deciding if this career is right for you. If you enjoy working with people and are able to handle stress and conflict well, clinical psychology may be an excellent choice. Take the psychology career quiz to learn more about the specific careers that are best-suited to your personality and needs.
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