Clinical psychology integrates science, theory and practice to address psychological problems. It is the largest of many subfields in psychology. The main focus of clinical psychology is the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.


Clinical psychology is concerned with the diagnosis, assessment and treatment of mental illness. Most clinical psychologists work with clients in a variety of settings and treat clients with various forms of therapy.



A clinical psychologist most often has a doctoral degree. The degree could be a Doctor of Psychology, known as a PsyD, or a Doctor of Philosophy, called a PhD. The difference between the two lies in the focus of the education and training. A PsyD will have a more clinical focus, allowing students to work directly with clients in the field and conduct both assessments and therapy. A PhD student will spend more time conducting actual scientific research than performing therapy. Whether you choose a PsyD or a PhD, you should expect to be in school from 4 to 7 years in order to complete your degree.

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It is important to consider whether or not a program is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) prior to enrolling in any school, college or university. Once you have completed all of your educational requirements, there is still a mandatory internship required before you can obtain state licensure.

Work Settings

A clinical psychologist may work in a variety of places. While many clinical psychologists work in private practices, some also work in university settings, hospital settings, medical schools, correctional facilities and forensic settings, Veteran’s Administrations and the military, child and family services, and community mental health centers. Some clinical psychologists also work in public service, substance abuse and addiction centers, as well as with social services and even rehabilitation programs.

Professional Practice

A clinical psychologist could work with young children, adolescents, adults and geriatrics. Some may conduct individual therapy on a one-on-one basis, while others facilitate group therapy and work with a number of clients at the same time. Some clinical psychologists also work with couples and families in treatment as well.

In addition to individual and group therapy, clinical psychologists also perform a variety of cognitive and personality assessments. They can administer, score, interpret and write psychological reports that may be used for a variety of purposes including treatment planning, educational placement and for forensic purposes. Clinical psychologists develop prevention and treatment programs, guide research on an endless amount of topics, and both teach and conduct research in university settings.

Approaches to Therapy

approach to therapy

Some of the most common theories followed by clinical psychologists include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, humanistic therapy and even combined and integrated choices. Cognitive behavioral psychologists look at the relationship between our thoughts and our feelings and behaviors. Psychodynamic psychologists focus on the unconscious motives and conflicts that drive our behaviors. Humanistic psychologists work to help clients reach their full potential by addressing basic and more advanced human needs. Many psychologists also integrate approaches and use a combined plan when working with clients as well.

Subfields of Clinical Psychology

The APA currently lists 56 separate divisions or subfields. Some examples of subfields include sports psychology, school psychology, substance abuse counseling, as well as trauma psychology, developmental psychology and psychology of religion. Aspiring psychologists can choose any subfield that most interests them, allowing them to pursue a personally fulfilling career.

Learning Outcomes

After the lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define clinical psychology
  • Describe the education necessary to become a clinical psychologist
  • Discuss the work setting of clinical psychologists
  • Consider the types of practices a clinical psychologist may have
  • Recall the variety of therapeutic approaches a clinical psychologist may use
  • Recognize the many subfields of clinical psychology