Clinical therapy does not have one unique definition. It can refer to any practice with patients that has a therapeutic element and is a treatment aimed at lessening or curing a disease or improving health. Therapies can be physical, psychological, or pharmaceutical and provided the therapy relates to direct work with patients, it’s considered clinical.
The context in which the term clinical therapy might most be used is in psychological therapy or counseling. Psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and licensed clinical social workers are all said to be practicing a clinical form of therapy when they work with patients. Actually the studies that teach these specialists their work and how to work with patients are a part of the knowledge that makes up their clinical practice. It’s a combination of actual practice and understanding how to proceed with work that defines clinical.
This matter is further complicated by the fact that therapists may enter the workforce with different orientations in psychology. Not all practicing therapists believe in the same therapeutic treatments or methods. This means that clinical therapy undertaken with various counselors can mean quite different types of treatment, psychoanalytic versus cognitive behavioral, for example. However, there is some agreed upon types of knowledge, like what the illnesses are that might affect the human mind, even if treatment for these illness is different.
Mental health treatment is only one example of clinical forms of therapy. In the British National Health Service, the term tends to apply to occupational, speech and physical therapy. Diet counseling and any other services that tend toward rehabilitating the body after injury could be considered the practice of clinical therapy. Truly in most settings, any form of therapy being pursued with patients, is thus clinical
One example that suggests the broad range of this term is pharmacology or drug therapy. In clinical drug therapy, doctors or others use their pharmacological knowledge directly as it applies to patients, in order to cure or remediate illnesses or conditions. Such therapy might be very short in duration: for instance, taking three days worth of Zithromax® to treat an infection. Others may need lifelong treatment with medications and part of this treatment will be occasionally assessing how well medications are working and whether there exists any problems with longterm use. Studies on drugs inform how they are used in clinical settings.
In most cases, clinical therapy or clinical therapist could apply to the practice of mental health counseling or counselors. Yet the term is very broad, and can be used in many different settings. It’s perhaps easiest to understand the definition when thinking of the term as patient directed and related to the care of patients, in virtually any medical or allied health environment.