Clinical psychology: definition and functions of the clinical psychologist
What is clinical psychology for? Everything about this branch of psychology.
Clinical psychology is a sub-discipline within psychology which studies all the elements involved in mental disorders and, more generally, the and, more generally, mental health.
Thus, clinical psychology carries out all the tasks of assessment, diagnosis, prevention and therapeutic intervention in people with some type of mental affectation or maladaptive behavior, with the aim of restoring psychological balance and eliminating all suffering.
Clinical psychology: a broad field
Psychologists working in the clinical field may have training in different schools, such as cognitivist, behavioral, psychoanalytic, humanistic, gestalt or systemic family therapy, among others.
What does a clinical psychologist do?
Clinical psychologists are the mental health professionals who are in charge of caring for those people who feel some kind of psychological distress. In this sense, clinical psychologists are in charge of diagnosing certain psychological disorders.ichnical psychologists are in charge of diagnosing certain psychological disordersThey then offer a personalized intervention through psychotherapy.
Although this is the main aspect in which they intervene, psychologists also participate in the field of research (for example, by contributing their knowledge in different scientific studies), in teaching (as professors in public or private institutions), and even in other minority fields such as sports psychology, school psychology or as experts in clinical and forensic psychology.
The beginning of clinical psychology: Witmer and Freud
If we turn to the History of Psychology manuals, it is usually pointed out that the beginning of what we know today as clinical psychology took place in the United States during the last years of the 19th century. At that time, a psychologist named Lightner Witmer (a disciple of Wilhelm Wundt) opened the first psychological clinic to treat people suffering from psychological problems at the University of Pennsylvania.
In Europe, the honor of being considered the precursor of clinical psychology usually goes to the illustrious Sigmund Freud. Although many academics tend to question the appropriateness of declaring Freud as one of the architects of clinical psychology (since psychoanalysis arouses a long controversy), the fact is that the Austrian was one of the first neurologists who approached the study and therapeutic intervention of people with psychological disorders..
Freud, as early as 1895, was dealing with advocates and detractors. His vision of therapeutic intervention and its theoretical bases were centered on three levels: study, direct therapeutic intervention and formulation of theories. This methodology founded the basic criteria of applied clinical psychology.
During the first decades of the 20th century, the field of clinical psychology focused on psychological assessment, but placed little emphasis on intervention methodologies.. It was after World War II when there was a boom in the revision of treatments, due to the high number of people who were psychologically damaged after the war.
As a result of this historical stage, the interest and the need to provide means to the field of clinical psychology becomes evident. Faculties of psychology were created and offices dedicated to the treatment of mental problems were opened. From the academic world to public institutions agree on the need to promote the study and clinical intervention, due to its positive effects on people's quality of life.
Confusion between clinical psychology and psychiatry
In our article "What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?" we explained the similarities and differences between these two disciplines. Of course, it is still a source of confusion to know the functions of these two professional fields.
The main similarity between clinical psychology and psychiatry is that they both pursue the same goals: to treat and mitigate psychological suffering. But the two professionals differ in their previous training: psychologists studied psychology and psychiatrists studied medicine. Another important difference is that psychiatrists are authorized to prescribe psychotropic drugs, while psychologists are not. In clinical practice, it is common for psychiatrists and psychologists to work together to treat patients who require multidisciplinary approaches.
Areas and applications of clinical psychology
Clinical psychology has been studied and refined throughout the 20th century and in recent years, and has been the subject of study by many practitioners and scholars of human behavior.
Since the early years with Wilhelm Wundt in his laboratory in Leipzig, in which he tried to find all the observable and measurable variables of behavior, clinical psychology has been spreading to become the branch "par excellence" among psychology graduates. In fact, and although psychology is developed in clearly differentiated branches (business, educational, forensic, social...), clinical psychology has always been the branch of psychology with the highest number of graduates, clinical psychology has always been the most popularly recognized branch of psychology..
However, there are multiple approaches and tools used by clinical psychology professionals, who work focusing on different fields of study according to different criteria, such as the following:
- Intervention in families
- Adult therapy
- Clinical child psychology
- Clinical neuropsychology
- Neuropsychological rehabilitation
- Care and intervention in certain disorders
In short, each clinical psychology professional can specialize in the field(s) in which he or she wishes to focus his or her practice. The people who may require therapeutic attention are varied: from children to the elderly, from people with underlying illnesses to healthy people, from people who have a strictly psychological problem to others whose condition is related to poor family or social dynamics.
In order to gain a better understanding of each psychological condition, clinical psychologists may specialize in different fields of psychology.. Through the knowledge and tools acquired, they will be able to offer more accurate diagnoses and treatments to their patients.
Many clinical psychologists have left us invaluable theories and teachings that have served as academic inspiration to build the knowledge of this discipline.
It could be rightly said that many of them were not psychologists by training, but psychiatrists. However, it is possible to consider them psychologists insofar as they were characters who contributed enormously to the theoretical and practical basis of clinical psychology.
- Sigmund Freud
- Lightner Witmer
- Carl Gustav Jung
- Fritz Perls
- Albert Ellis
- Aaron Beck
- Gradillas, V. (1998): Descriptive psychopathology. Signs, symptoms and features. Madrid: Pirámide.
- Lemos, S. (2000): Psicopatología general. Madrid: Síntesis.
- Vallejo-Riuloba, J. (1991): Clinical cases. Psiquiatría. Barcelona: Salvat.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)