What is Clinical Psychopharmacology?

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  • Written By: Margo Upson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2019
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Psychopharmacology is the study of how psychotropic medications affect the mind. Clinical psychopharmacology is the use of these medications in a clinical setting to treat mental illnesses by changing the patient's thoughts, mood, and behavior. It is most often studied by psychologists as a way to offer more treatment options to their patients.

Clinical psychopharmacology is practiced by psychologists who have chosen to take the extra courses, most often in the form of a master's degree, needed to become certified to write prescriptions for their patients. These prescriptions are used to treat conditions like depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental conditions that respond well to drug therapy in addition to traditional therapy. This advanced degree allows a psychologist to use medications as part of their treatment of mental disorders, allowing for faster recovery and a more complete treatment for the patient.

There is a difference between being a psychiatrist and being certified in clinical psychopharmacology. A psychiatrist attended school first as a medical doctor, and then took additional training in psychology. Clinical psychopharmacology programs are most often taken by psychologists who are interested in being able to prescribe medications for their patients; something than most psychologists cannot do. A degree program in clinical psychopharmacology usually lasts two years. Typical courses include neuroscience, ethics, and pharmacy and psychopharmacology courses.


Psychologists are not the only professionals who benefit from studying clinical psychopharmacology. Nurse practitioners, APRNs (advanced practice nurse practitioners), physician's assistants and pharmacists are encouraged to study this program through any number of universities that offer it. Other professionals involved in mental health or patient care may also find this program useful. Many colleges offer a separate program for these professionals, with an extra course or two in psychological disorders, usually in addition to the other courses.

Clinical psychopharmacology may also be studied by physicians who wish to treat patients for psychological disorders. Doctors who study advanced psychopharmacology, either through a degree program, continuing medical education, or intense self-study, can take a licensing exam to become a certified clinical psychopharmicologist. The exam is very intensive, and has to be retaken every five years, but it allows physicians to diagnose and treat psychological disorders as part of their practice.

The use of medications as treatment for psychological disorders requires medical professionals to know more than just which medications are used for which disorders. Psychologists and physicians must also know how the drug interacts with the body, and why that interaction helps to treat the disorder. It is a complicated practice, and one that requires careful study, but can help medical professionals to better meet the needs of their patients.


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