North Wales Management School - Wrexham University

What is clinical psychology?

Posted on: February 20, 2023
Psychologist interviewing patient using checkboard

Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology that focuses primarily on mental and behavioural health. It aims to better understand, prevent, and assess mental illnesses, and typically provides treatment in the form of psychotherapy, often called talking therapy, to both reduce psychological distress and ensure psychological well-being.

What does a clinical psychologist do?

Clinical psychologists help people manage challenges with their mental health. Common problems treated by clinical psychologists include:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Addiction.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Relationship issues, such as those within families or partnerships.
  • Psychosis.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Neurological disorders.
  • Personality disorders.

 A clinical psychologist’s work may take place in a number of different areas, including through:

  • Practice. Clinical psychologists often work directly with patients – including individuals, couples, families, and other groups – to help address a wide range of mental health challenges. They commonly assess patients through a mixture of interviews, psychometric tests, and direct observation to diagnose any issues and recommend treatments. It’s worth noting that clinical psychologists are not medical doctors or psychiatrists, so they cannot prescribe medication, such as antidepressants, to their patients. Instead, they work in partnership with other health professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to provide consultation, advice, and to help establish and maintain successful treatment plan formulation.
  • Research. Psychological research plays a huge role in advancing people’s understanding of psychological disorders and issues, as well as advancing the treatment options that are available to people. Applied research adds to the evidence base of practice and helps ensure that clinical psychologists are using the most effective treatment options available.
  • Consultancy. Clinical psychologists may also work with health agencies and community groups to advise on healthcare policies, audits, and services. They may assist in developing awareness campaigns, training programmes, care programmes, and so on.

What is the difference between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist?

In the United Kingdom, there are several key differences between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist:

  • Education. Technically speaking, a psychologist can be anyone who has completed an accredited undergraduate honours degree in psychology – in the UK, accreditation of psychology courses is done through the British Psychological Society (BPS). Many psychologists will go on to apply for Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) with the British Psychological Society, as well. A clinical psychologist, however, completes further specialised training, including three years of PhD training to obtain a doctorate in clinical psychology.
  • Regulation. Clinical psychology is regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), while there is no formal regulatory body for general psychologists. 
  • Practice. A clinical psychologist works directly with patients who suffer from mental illnesses, working to diagnose and treat their conditions and improve their quality of life through psychotherapy. A general psychologist is not qualified to do this work.

It’s worth noting that there are other speciality areas of psychology as well, including:

  • Counselling, which focuses on patient wellbeing and resilience.
  • Occupational psychology, which supports employers and employees in workplace environments.
  • Forensic psychology, which supports the criminal justice system.
  • Educational psychology, which explores children and adolescents’ development.
  • Neuropsychology, which focuses on conditions caused by brain injuries.
  • Health psychology, which promotes healthy behaviours and wellbeing at a community level, and works to help balance health inequalities between different populations. 

Types of psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a significant part of a clinical psychologist’s job. Psychotherapy techniques and interventions allow a clinical psychologist to develop a working bond with their patients and clients, explore their psychological concerns, and then encourage them to develop new ways to think, feel, and behave. 

There are several psychotherapies to choose from, and a clinical psychologist may apply one or several in their line of work.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behaviour therapy, or CBT, is one of the most popular forms of psychotherapy. Through CBT, a clinical psychologist can help an individual identify their negative or unhealthy thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and replace them with positive, healthy ones. This technique can also be used to develop better, more constructive behaviours.

CBT can be very effective in helping people to reframe situations and scenarios in order to make them easier to manage and cope with. It’s used to help treat a wide range of mental health challenges, including:

  • panic attacks
  • bipolar disorder
  • hoarding
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • perinatal mental health problems
  • phobias
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • schizoaffective disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • self-harming
  • sleep problems
  • stress.

Psychodynamic therapy

Clinical psychologists use their psychodynamic therapy competencies to help people explore and examine the roots of their psychological issues. By interrogating how patterns of behaviour or damaging thoughts originated, people gain better awareness and insight into how they think and behave, and develop more effective tools for dealing with conflicts or challenges in their lives and their relationships.

According to research published by the American Psychological Association (APA), psychodynamic therapy is particularly effective in treating depression, anxiety, and stress-related physical ailments – and in fact, the benefits of psychodynamic therapy continue to grow after treatment has ended.

Psychoanalyst therapy

Psychoanalyst therapy considers the unconscious mind and how it influences a person’s conscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Individuals who work with a clinical psychologist who is trained in psychoanalysis are encouraged to say whatever thoughts are in their minds, and then together with their therapist, they search for hidden meanings or patterns they might not have been aware of, and discuss how these thoughts may be influencing and contributing to the individual’s current problems and challenges.

Careers in clinical psychology

Clinical psychology offers a variety of career options. According to the NHS, clinical psychologists often go on to develop specialities in different areas of psychology, or in different psychological therapies.

Clinical psychologists may work in hospitals and health services, local clinics and health centres, in community mental health teams, in social services, schools, and prisons, or within private healthcare providers. Or they may apply their background in clinical psychology in other areas, such as research or even business.

What is the salary of a clinical psychologist?

If working within the NHS, clinical psychologists are paid according to the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scale. This means that as clinicians’ experience and professional development grows, so too does their pay:

  • Training clinical psychologists are paid at band 6 (£32,206).
  • Trained clinical psychologists are paid at band 7 (£40,057) to start, moving into bands 8a (£47,126) and band 8b (£63,862) as they progress through their careers.
  • Consultant-level clinical psychologists are paid between bands 8c (£65,664) and 8d (£90,387).
  • Heads of psychology services are typically paid at band 9 (£93,735 to £108,075).

Learn more about clinical psychology

Learn human psychology and how to apply it effectively in the workplace with the 100% online MSc Psychology degree at North Wales Management School, part of Wrexham University. 

One of the key modules on this flexible, part-time postgraduate programme is in clinical psychology. You will explore the main aspects of the discipline of clinical psychology, gaining an introduction to psychopathology and common conditions encountered in clinical practice. A critical stance is taken on perspectives on psychopathology and treatment, with discussion of the lived experience.

For further information about tuition fees or eligibility (including information about entry requirements as well as English language and IELTS requirements) please visit the University website.