Clinical Psychologist vs Psychologist: Breaking Down the Differences

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on September 5, 2023
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Mental health is complex and intricate, with various medical professionals working together to ensure comprehensive care. Two such professionals are psychologists and clinical psychologists.

At first glance, you may think they’re the same, but there’s a subtle yet significant difference between them. Let’s delve into this fascinating world of psychology and understand these differences more clearly.

The Online Mental Health Review Team, with its rich blend of mental health professionals and seasoned writers, is perfectly positioned to address this subject.

Our shared proficiency in psychology, clinical psychology, and mental health awareness enables us to assist our readers in making informed decisions about their mental health challenges or organizational capabilities.

Let’s break down the differences!

The Core Concept of Psychology and The Role of a Psychologist

At its heart, psychology is the scientific study of human behavior and mental processes. It seeks to understand how we think, feel, and act.

A psychologist, therefore, is a professional who studies and interprets human behavior and mental illnesses, helping individuals manage and overcome challenges related to their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Let’s delve into some key responsibilities of a psychologist:

  • Assessment and diagnosis: Psychologists use various techniques to evaluate mental health conditions and diagnose disorders.
  • Psychotherapy: They provide treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), to individuals, couples, or groups.
  • Research: Psychologists conduct research to uncover patterns in behavior and thought, contributing to broader understanding in the field.
  • Consultation: They offer expert advice to other healthcare providers, schools, organizations, or individuals on psychological matters.
  • Teaching: Many psychologists are involved in teaching psychology courses at universities or conducting workshops and training sessions.

Types of psychologists

Understanding the different types of psychologists may help in finding the proper help. Here’s a brief overview:

  • Clinical Psychologists: They diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, often providing psychotherapy.
  • Counseling Psychologists: They focus on helping people deal with life issues, such as career transitions, stress management, and relationship problems.
  • Developmental Psychologists: They study human growth and development throughout the lifespan.
  • Forensic Psychologists: They apply psychological principles to legal issues, often working in the criminal justice system.
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologists apply psychology to the workplace to improve productivity and employee satisfaction.
  • Social Psychologists: They study how the presence of others influences individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Exploring the Specialized World of Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is a specialized area within the broad field of psychology. It focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

A clinical psychologist, therefore, is a registered psychologist who works specifically with individuals experiencing psychological distress or dysfunction.

  • Clinical psychologists are trained to use various therapeutic techniques, and their work often involves more severe mental health disorders.
  • They may specialize in areas like child and adolescent mental health, adult mental health, learning disabilities, older people, and the mental health field of psychology.
  • Unlike general psychologists, clinical psychologists often work in mental health clinics, hospitals, and private practice.

Similarities Between Psychologists and Clinical Psychologists

Understanding the different roles in mental illness and health care can be like untangling a knot, but don’t worry; we’re here to help.

Let’s look at the common ground between psychologists and clinical psychologists:

  • Education: According to the American Psychological Association, psychologists and clinical psychologists typically hold a doctoral degree in psychology.
  • Psychotherapy: They both provide psychotherapy, using various therapeutic techniques to help individuals cope with life challenges.
  • Assessment: They are trained to administer and interpret psychological tests and reviews.
  • Research: Both are often studied to contribute to the broader understanding of human behavior and mental processes.
  • Ethical Standards: They adhere to the same professional and ethical guidelines the American Psychological Association (APA) outlined.

Remember, while they have many similarities, the key differences lie in their areas of specialty and the populations they serve.

Education, Training, and Licensing: Distinguishing Between the Two

The educational pathway for psychologists and clinical psychologists starts with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

However, the journey diverges at the undergraduate degree and postgraduate level.

  • A general psychologist typically holds a master’s degree in psychology. They can conduct research and offer counseling services for emotional disorders but prescribe medication.
  • On the other hand, a clinical psychologist usually has a medical school and holds a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in clinical psychology. This extensive education and a one-year internship prepare them to diagnose mental health disorders and provide psychotherapy. However, like general psychologists, they cannot prescribe medication.

When to Seek Help: Psychologist vs Clinical Psychologist

What is the difference between a Clinical Psychologist and a Counselling Psychologist? | FAQ-1
  1. A psychologist can be a great resource when facing challenges that cause stress, anxiety, or sadness. They can help you navigate these difficulties and equip you with coping strategies.
  2. However, if you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder, such as major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or an eating disorder, a clinical psychologist would be a more appropriate choice.

Can a psychologist or clinical psychologist prescribe medication?

Knowing the roles and limitations of medical doctors and your care providers is relevant here too. Let’s discuss whether psychologists and clinical psychologists can prescribe medication:

  • General Psychologists: Typically, they cannot prescribe medication as their training focuses on providing therapy, counseling, and psychological testing.
  • Clinical Psychologists: Generally, they do not have prescribing rights, focusing instead on psychotherapy and behavioral intervention.
  • Prescription Privileges: In a few U.S. states, properly trained psychologists can prescribe certain medications after completing specific medical training.
  • Collaborative Care: Psychologists often work in tandem with psychiatrists or other medical doctors who can prescribe medication when necessary.

Choosing Between Psychologist and Clinical Psychologist Career Paths

Becoming a psychologist and a clinical psychologist can be a pivotal decision in your career journey. Let’s explore some factors that might influence your decision:

  • Foundation of Training: Both psychologists and clinical psychologists share a similar training foundation, but clinical psychologists have additional postgraduate qualifications.
  • Focus of Practice: While psychologists often work with healthier populations, clinical psychologists typically focus on treating specific mental disorders.
  • Career Specialization: Some clinical psychologists treat chronic illnesses like obesity or diabetes.
  • Degree Requirements: The type of degree you pursue can determine your career path, so consider whether a general psychology degree or a specialized clinical psychology degree aligns better with your career goals.
  • Personal Goals & Needs: Ultimately, your choice should align with your career goals and the populations you wish to serve.

Remember, whether you choose to become a psychologist or a clinical psychologist, both paths offer an opportunity to impact the lives of others significantly.

Psychologist vs. Clinical Psychologist Conclusion:

In essence, all clinical psychologists are psychologists, but not all are clinical psychologists. Both play crucial roles in promoting mental health and well-being as marriage and family therapists. Still, they differ in their focus, training, and the severity of the cases they handle.

Whether you see a psychologist or a clinical psychologist, remember that taking a step toward addressing your mental health problems is an act of courage. After all, mental health, like physical health, is a vital part of our overall well-being.

We hope this article has shed light on the differences between psychologists and the clinical training of psychologists. Do you have any questions or thoughts on this topic? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Additional Reading

For more distinctions between various mental health jobs/terms, please see our articles covering: counselor vs therapist and salary comparison, psychiatrist vs psychologist (depression), therapist vs psychologist, depression, LPC vs PsyD, counseling versus coaching, mentors vs sponsors, psychotherapy vs CBT, therapy quiz, trauma coach vs therapist, therapist vs life coaches, hospital vs psych ward, and psychologist vs social worker.

If You’re In An Emergency:

In an emergency, it’s crucial to understand that waiting for an online therapy session may not be the safest option. Immediate help is necessary if you’re experiencing thoughts of self-harm or harming others – don’t delay calling 911. If suicidal thoughts are present, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7 at your service simply by dialing 988.

Call the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 800-662-HELP (4357) for those struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse disorders.

This line provides free, confidential assistance around the clock every day of the year, guiding individuals to the appropriate treatment resources and providing valuable information.

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