The differences between clinical psychology and health psychology

Clinical psychology and health psychology are two different disciplines in the field of psychology. Although we can sometimes confuse them for their similarities, they do have some differences that are worth knowing.

What can a clinical psychologist work on? And one of health? Do they have the same skills? Can both diagnose? In this article, we will resolve these and other doubts related to the differences between clinical psychology and health psychology.

    Differences between clinical psychology and health psychology

    There are notable differences between clinical psychology and health psychology; in fact, they are two disciplines which, although they nourish and interact, are independent and well differentiated.

    We will analyze the most important differences between one and the other: among other questions, we will answer the following: do they both treat the same thing? What are your goals? What do they focus on over and over again? At the professional level, what is each character responsible for?


    The objectives of these two disciplines are quite different; while clinical psychology seeks to identify and apply psychological principles to prevent and treat the person’s psychological problems, Health psychology aims to maintain health, prevent and treat disease, as well as identify the different causes of disease.

    In other words, to fully understand the differences between clinical psychology and health psychology, we must stick to the basic idea that clinical psychology is more concerned with treating illness once it has arisen ( or rather the disorder). includes his diagnosis), while health psychology focuses more on disease prevention and health promotion.

    In addition, health psychology also aims to improve the health system and promote the formation of health policy. So, in this sense, it would cover a larger system than the patient himself, more typical of clinical psychology (again in general terms).

    What is each doing?

    Some authors have also commented on the differences between clinical psychology and health psychology; for example, in 1991, Marí Pérez established that health psychology deals with psychological problems that can have physiological consequencesWhile clinical psychology deals with the psychological issues themselves.

    Regarding health psychology, a nuance: the reverse case also occurs; that is, health psychology also focuses on the psychological consequences that can trigger certain health or physiological problems.

    Here they would also come into play the pathological behavior of the person (Actions taken by people when they present symptoms of illness), as well as the patient’s interaction with the health system at the institutional level.

    Areas of intervention

    The latter that we have explained is in line with the opinion of another author, Santacreu (1991), who considers that the psychology of health focuses on health (in its promotion), as well as on the prevention of disease, and also includes the body (somatically and psychologically) in relation to its social, family and health environment (in this context).

    Clinical psychology, on the other hand, focuses more on illness and “healing”., And understands or treats the body on an individual level (psychological and somatic as well). This is not to say that it does not take into account the context and family relationships, but rather that it is treated in a more individual way and that health psychology deals rather with the health “system” in which the person. dive.

      What are each focusing on?

      On the other hand, health psychology focuses on all those components or aspects associated with physical health and illness, at the cognitive, emotional and behavioral level. In other words, that is to say it emphasizes a person’s physical health and illness, as well as taking charge of their physical health (Which is actually related to mental health).

      The main concern of clinical psychology, however, is assess, predict and relieve mental disorders (That is, disorders associated with mental health, such as depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, or schizophrenic disorder).

      Academic and professional field: PIR or MGS?

      Academically and professionally, there are also differences between clinical psychology and health psychology.

      On the one hand, to be a clinical psychologist and practice as such in Spain, after studying the degree in psychology, you must pass the PIR (Resident Internal Psychologist). The PIR consists of an exam which allows you to obtain a place as a resident, thanks to 4 years of specialized training in health in a hospital (which includes rotations for the different units).

      After 4 years of PIR residency in a hospital, one is already a specialist psychologist in clinical psychology (PECPC), also called a clinical psychologist, and can work both in the field of public health (for example in hospitals) and private ( for example in mental health centers).

      However, the health psychologist would be more equivalent to the General Master in Health (MGS); this master’s degree can be completed after completing the four-year degree in psychology. It provides the professional skills to practice as a health psychologist, which primarily includes health promotion through psychological intervention or therapy; technically (or legally), however, they cannot diagnose (which clinical psychologists can do).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Official College of Psychologists of Spain (1997). Report on the definition of the field of clinical and health psychology. Application framework. Training of professionals. Madrid. Secretary of State.
      • Pérez, M. (1991). Medicine, health psychology and clinical psychology. Journal of Health Psychology, (3) 1, 2144.
      • Rodríguez-Marín, J. (1998). Health psychology and clinical psychology. Articles by the psychologist, 69.
      • Santacreu, J. (1991). Clinical psychology and health psychology. Journal of Health Psychology, (3) 1, 320.

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