What Are the Differences Between Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapists often engage patients in talk therapy.
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  • Written By: Emily Daw
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 12 April 2014
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Clinical psychology and psychotherapy are both branches of the discipline of psychology. Unlike psychology research or some other types of psychology, clinical psychology and psychotherapy both focus directly on patients in order to improve their overall well-being. While practitioners of clinical psychology usually focus on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, psychotherapists treat clients with or without mental illnesses through counseling. Clinical psychology and psychotherapy also sometimes differ in the types of treatments they offer and in the types of degrees required of their practitioners.

Clinical psychologists often work in hospitals or mental health clinics in order to help diagnose and treat conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety disorders. They are not usually able to prescribe medications, but may work alongside psychiatrists or medical doctors who can. A clinical psychologist may meet with a client for several sessions in order to determine a course of treatment. Treatment may take a number of different forms, including cognitive behavioral therapy, but is generally limited in scope.


Psychotherapists, also sometimes called counseling psychologists, generally work with clients over a longer period of time in order to reach various goals that might or might not be related to a specific mental illness. They might help a client work through emotions relating to the loss of a loved one, family problems, or work-related stresses. Although they may employ cognitive behavioral strategies, psychotherapists frequently use what is known as talk therapy. In this type of therapy, the majority of treatment consists of simply talking through the problem in such a way that the client is able to discover solutions. A client with ongoing life stresses may remain in psychotherapy indefinitely, but may also stop therapy after gaining skills for dealing with problems.

Clinical psychology and psychotherapy do not always require the same type of education. A clinical psychologist is usually required to hold a Ph.D. in psychology or a Psy.D. Psychotherapists also often have one of these two degrees, but sometimes hold only a master's degree in psychology.


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