Clinical psychology is one of the largest specialties in the area of mental health. Clinical psychologists work in a variety of settings and focus on the diagnosis and treatment of patients through applied psychological methods, rather than through drug therapy. Most clinical psychologists do not have a medical degree and usually cannot prescribe medication to patients.
The demanding job of a clinical psychologist can take many forms. Some work in psychiatric hospitals, treating and observing the progress of patients with severe mental disorders that require continual supervision. Others specialize in the conditions associated with certain age groups, tending to focus their work around children, teenagers, or the elderly. These psychologists also work in the academic world as teachers and researchers. Through education and research, they not only bring new minds to the field but also can assist in the discovery of better and more efficient treatments as well as deeper understanding of psychological conditions.
Education for this field is extensive, and can take nearly a decade to complete. In addition to a four-year degree, a clinical psychologist typically needs a doctoral degree from an accredited program. Almost all psychologists possess either a PhD, or a Doctor of Psychology degree, also known as a PsyD. These programs must be certified by an overseeing board such as the American Psychological Association or British Psychological Society. After graduating with a four-year degree, a prospective psychologist may spend four to six years achieving their doctorate before being able to legally practice.
Many psychologists choose to work in a private practice, focusing on a specialty of interest to them. Some may choose to specialize in specific disorders, such as schizophrenia or eating disorders, while others may work as relationship counselors, trauma therapists, or addiction counselors. It is common for psychologists to set up practices with other medical or psychological professionals in order to offer in-house recommendations and create efficient teams to help patients deal with multi-faceted problems.
When visiting a clinical psychologist, early sessions will typically focus on diagnosis and observation. A psychologist may ask patients to undergo a variety of mental tests that can provide information about intelligence, personality, and behavior. Depending on the diagnosis and the psychologist's own personal preferences, treatment can begin once the initial assessment period is complete. There are a wide variety of methods to treat patients, and many modern psychologists choose to use a blend of different theories and techniques to help patients with complex issues.
Working as a clinical psychologist can be tremendously stressful, but also quite rewarding. In addition to being fairly financially rewarding, being able to see patients experience a higher quality of life due to treatment can be very personally fulfilling. Unfortunately, not all treatment is successful, and most psychologists will have clients who decline rather than improve. Despite the risks, the crucial importance of clinical work to mental health continues to be a heavy draw for ambitious students, causing psychology to be a consistently popular major for college and doctoral students.