Clinical psychology: definition and functions of the clinical psychologist

Clinical psychology is a sub-discipline of psychology which studies all the elements involved in mental disorders and, more generically, mental health.

Thus, clinical psychology performs all the tasks of assessment, diagnosis, prevention and therapeutic intervention in people with a certain type of mental illness or maladaptive behavior, in order to restore psychological balance and eliminate all suffering.

Clinical psychology: a vast field

Psychologists working in the clinical field may have training in different schools, such as Cognitivist, Behaviorist, Psychoanalyst, Humanist, Gestalt, or Systemic Family Therapy, among others.

What does a clinical psychologist do?

Clinical psychologists are mental health professionals responsible for caring for those people who experience some form of psychological distress. In this sense, Iyou clinical psychologists are in charge of diagnosing certain psychological disorders, 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, contributing their knowledge in different scientific studies), in teaching (working as professors in public institutions or private).), And even in other minority fields such as sports psychology, school psychology or as experts in clinical and forensic psychology.

The Beginnings of Clinical Psychology: Witmer and Freud

If we turn to the history of psychology textbooks, we often find that the beginning of what we today call clinical psychology occurred in the United States during the last years of the 19th century. At this time, a psychologist called Lightner witmer (Disciple of Wilhelm Wundt) opens the first psychological clinic to treat people affected by psychological problems, at the University of Pennsylvania.

In Europe, the honor of being considered the forerunner of clinical psychology often goes to the illustrious Sigmund Freud. Although many scholars often question the advisability of declaring Freud as one of the architects of clinical psychology (since psychoanalysis is the subject of a long controversy), the truth is that the Austrian was one of the first neurologists to approach the study and therapeutic intervention of people with psychological disorders.

Freud, from 1895, came up against defenders and detractors. His vision of therapeutic intervention and its theoretical bases have focused on three levels: study, direct therapeutic intervention and formulation of theories. This methodology founded the basic criteria of applied clinical psychology.

twentieth century

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the field of clinical psychology focuses on psychological assessment, but places little emphasis on intervention methodologies. It was after the Second World War that the revision of treatments was in full swing, due to the high number of people who suffered psychological harm after the war.

As a result of this historic step, the interest and the need to provide resources in the field of clinical psychology becomes evident. Faculties of psychology are emerging and consultations and offices are opened to deal with mental health problems. Universities and public institutions agree on the need to promote clinical study and intervention, for 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 explain the similarities and differences between these two disciplines. Of course, it is still confusing to know the functions of these two professional fields.

The main similarity between clinical psychology and psychiatry is that both pursue the same goals: treat and alleviate psychological suffering. But the two professionals differ in their previous training: psychologists studied psychology and psychiatrists, medicine. Another important difference is that psychiatrists are empowered to prescribe psychotropic drugs, unlike psychologists. In clinical practice, it is common for psychiatrists and psychologists to work together to treat patients who require multidisciplinary approaches.

Fields 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 human behavior professionals and academics.

From the first years with Wilhelm Wundt in his laboratory in Leipzig, where he tried to find all observable and measurable variables of behavior, clinical psychology spread to become the branch “par excellence” among graduates or graduates in psychology. Indeed, and although psychology is developing in clearly differentiated branches (business, educational, forensic, social …), clinical psychology has always been the most recognized branch.

However, there are multiple approaches and tools used by professionals in clinical psychology, which work by 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
  • Attention and intervention in certain disorders
  • Evaluation
  • Psycho oncology

In short, each professional in clinical psychology can specialize in whatever (or these) area (s) they wish to focus on in their professional practice. People who may need therapeutic care are varied: from children to the elderly, from people with underlying diseases to healthy people, from people who have a strictly psychological problem, to others whose condition is linked to poor family or social dynamics.

In order to better understand each psychological deficiency, clinical psychologists can specialize in different areas. Thanks to the knowledge and tools acquired, they will be able to offer more precise diagnoses and treatments to their patients.

eminent personalities

Many clinical psychologists have left us with invaluable theories and lessons that have served as academic inspiration to develop knowledge in this discipline.

It is fair to say that many of them were not trained psychologists, but psychiatrists. However, it is possible to consider them as psychologists as they are characters who have contributed immensely to the theoretical and practical basis of clinical psychology.

  • Sigmund freud
  • Lightner witmer
  • Carl Gustav Jung
  • Fritz Perls
  • Albert Ellis
  • Aaron Beck

Bibliographical references:

  • Gradillas, V. (1998): descriptive psychopathology. Signs, symptoms and characteristics. Madrid: Pyramid.
  • Lemos, S. (2000): General psychopathology. Madrid: Synthesis.
  • Vallejo-Riuloba, J. (1991): Clinical cases. Psychiatry. Barcelona: saved.

Leave a Comment