Roles of a Clinical Psychologist

Clinical Psychology: Science or Art?

The discipline of psychology is the study of behavior in general and has historically been viewed as a science because of its emphasis on research to support various hypothesis and treatments using the scientific method. However, clinical psychology is a branch of psychology that requires both research and application because it focuses on studying the behavior of individuals as they function within their life situation. Its aim is to understand, predict and control the behavior of individuals, and in order to be effective, clinical psychologists must master both the science of research and the art of skillfully applying evidence-based treatment techniques during sessions with patients.

Primary Functions of the Clinical Psychologist: Diagnosis, Research, and Therapy

The primary functions of clinical psychologists are diagnosis, research and therapy. They apply therapeutic techniques derived from psychological research into practice with clients to help them alter undesirable behavior. The clinical psychologist must select the appropriate techniques to use based on the client's presenting problem, assessment results and treatment goals.

Diagnosis: Diagnostic assessments are done to help the clinical psychologist to determine the origin of the client's problem. Interviews, observations and intelligence/projective tests are often used to gather information to aide in diagnosis. In some cases, the client may be referred to psychiatrists or general practitioners for medical evaluation if it is suspected that client may have an underlying medical condition or chemical imbalance that may require prescription medication.

Research: Clinical psychologists use the scientific method to test their hypothesis and as a foundation for statistical studies which are used to further refine their theories and treatments.

Therapy: Clinical psychologists use different types of evidence-based treatment techniques to help patients overcome their presenting problems. These techniques are typically applied in a one-on- one session with the client. This process is called therapy and comes in many different forms such as cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, self, behavior modification and object relations. The type of therapy used depends greatly on the training of the psychologist and the needs of the client.

Client Expectations

Successful therapy is the result of an effective partnership between psychologist and client: the psychologist is neither capable of enforcing nor solely responsible for the client's improvement. They are responsible for distributing the information, suggestions, and tools that the client can use to improve their life situation, but the application is ultimately up to the client. For this reason, many clinical psychologists distribute handouts that clearly explain the roles of both parties before beginning treatment.

Education and Licensing Requirements

In order to become a practicing clinical psychologist, students must complete both educational and licensing requirements. A doctoral degree is the minimal educational requirement for becoming a clinical psychologist, and takes anywhere from five to seven years (post bachelor's degree) to complete. In order to provide services to the public through private practice, clinical psychologists must be licensed according to the standards of the licensing board of the state in which they plan to practice. According to the American Psychological Association, the licensing process usually includes a background check, an exam and at least two years supervised professional experience.

Facts About Clinical Psychologists

Clinical psychologists cannot prescribe medication.
It is appropriate to use the title "Dr." to address a clinical psychologist.
Clinical psychologists can make psychological diagnosis.
Clinical psychologists must be licensed to provide services to the public in a private practice setting.
Clinical psychologists cannot "cure" symptoms, but they can provide clients with the information, tools, and skills they need to manage them.
Therapeutic treatment never includes sex. Clinical psychologists are health professionals who assess and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Most clinical psychologists are generalists, but some treat specific kinds of disorders like phobias and eating disorders, while others treat specific populations like men, minorities or senior citizens. For issues that lie outside their scope of practice, clinical psychologists refer clients to their networks which typically include psychiatrists, social workers and medical doctors. In order to practice they must poses a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and be licensed according to the standards of the state where they plan to practice.