Clinical psychology is a branch of psychology that deals with the investigation and treatment of disabilities and mental illnesses. Pomerantz (2011) elaborates that clinical psychology incorporates science, theory and clinical knowledge. Clinical psychology was first defined by Lightner Witmer as the study of individuals by observation or experimentation with the intention of promoting change (Pomerantz, 2011). Carr (2012) also affirms that clinical psychologists are concerned with the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of psychological or mental disorders. According to Pomerantz (2011), “clinical psychologists do not prescribe medications” to patients with mental disorders like other health care professionals such as physicians; he says that “they rather use psychological and clinical intervention techniques such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy to treat illnesses” (Pomerantz, 2011). The main purpose of clinical psychology is to facilitate gaining a deeper understanding of psychologically-based illnesses or dysfunctions hence promoting prevention and treatment of the conditions (Plante, 2011). Thus, clinical psychology aims at promoting subjective well-being and personal development among individuals. According to Pomerantz (2011), clinical psychologists are mainly involved in psychological assessment and psychotherapy activities. However, Plante (2011) adds that clinical psychologists may also be involved in research, teaching, the provision of consultation services and forensic testimony as well as the development of intervention and treatment programs for patients among other duties. Clinical psychologists are mainly involved in the provision of psychotherapy, psychological testing, and diagnosis of mental illnesses (Pomerantz, 2011). In fact, clinical psychology is regulated in many countries as a health care profession. Thus, in order to understand the importance of clinical psychology, it is crucial to learn its history and nature, the role of research and statistics in this branch of psychology as well as the differences between this and other mental health professions.
History and Evolving Nature of Clinical Psychology
Clinical psychology is believed to have begun in the mid-1890s. The first psychological clinic was opened at the University of Pennsylvania by Lightner Witmer in 1896 (Reisman, 2007). During the first half of the twentieth century, clinical psychology was focused on psychological assessment with little attention given to the treatment of mental illnesses (Reisman, 2007). However, the focus of clinical psychology changed during the late 1940s when World War II resulted in an increased need for more trained clinicians. As a consequence, new models of clinical psychology, namely the practitioner model and scholar model, emerged.
According to Reisman (2007), clinical psychology was a profession dominated by males during its early years of development. For example, only thirteen percent of members of the American Psychological Association (APA) were women between 1915 and 1920 (Reisman, 2007). However, a gradual increase in the number of female clinical psychologists was observed between 1920 and 1970 when women took approximately 20-24 percent of APA membership. By 1996, more than half of the members of the American Psychological Association were women (Reisman, 2007). Apparently, this symbolized a significant change in the field of clinical psychology from male to female dominance.
Clinical psychology was initially concerned with research and assessment. During the World War I, the reputation of clinical psychologists increased rapidly after the development of two intelligence tests, namely the Army Alpha and Army Beta, which dealt with testing verbal and non-verbal skills respectively among large groups of military recruits (Reisman, 2007). The first treatment in a psychological clinic was conducted by Lightner Witmer who treated a boy will spelling difficulties (Reisman, 2007). The successful treatment of the boy led to the establishment of a psychological clinic at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896 (Reisman, 2007). The clinic mainly focused on treating children with learning disabilities. By 1914, approximately twenty-six similar clinics were established in various parts of the United States. The University of Pennsylvania was also the first university in the world to provide degree programs in clinical psychology (Reisman, 2007).
In 1919, the American Psychological Association (APA) developed a section on clinical psychology to provide certifications for clinical psychologists. However, the section only lasted for a few years until 1927 (Reisman, 2007). The APA recreated another section of clinical psychology called “The Society of Clinical Psychology” which has remained as the leading organization in the field of clinical psychology today.
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According to Reisman (2007), clinical psychology has continued to grow since the 1970s. It is estimated that the number of clinical psychologists grew rapidly from twenty thousand to sixty-three thousand between 1974 and 1990 (Reisman, 2007). Consequently, this has led to the creation of more clinical psychology organizations and publication of more journals in the field. For instance, the first journal in the field of clinical psychology called The Psychological Clinic which was founded by Lightner Witmer in 1907 (Reisman, 2007). However, the growth and expansion of the field have seen the founding of more journals such as the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, British Journal of Clinical Psychology, Clinical Psychology Review, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and Journal of Clinical Child Psychology among others. In addition, clinical psychologists have also continued being experts in the assessment and treatment of mental illnesses. They have also expanded their focus to address challenges faced in fields such as sports, gerontology and criminal justice.
The Role of Research and Statistics in Clinical Psychology
Research and statistics play an important role in the field of clinical psychology. Firstly, research lays a strong foundation of knowledge that permits clinical psychologists gaining a deeper understanding of various phenomena of interest such as psychopathology, mental health and the relationship between psychological factors and mental health conditions. Secondly, research provides a body of evidence such as empirically validated methods of assessing people and their problems that guide clinical psychology practices. It also provides empirically supported methods that facilitate the prevention and treatment of mental health conditions. Thirdly, research facilitates the validation and establishment of reliability of psychological tests and assessment methods used in clinical psychology practices. Research also provides ideas for new directions and applications for the field of clinical psychology. Fourthly, research provides a link between clinical psychology and other behavioral, biological and social sciences. As a result, this aids in understanding the interrelation between clinical psychology and other fields.
Researchers in clinical psychology utilizes various statistical methods to analyze data collected during research studies. For example, multivariate statistics can be used with large samples in clinical psychology experiments to determine a given phenomenon. Statistical techniques also aid in the interpretation of findings of research studies in clinical psychology. Clinical psychology also utilizes various research techniques such as derivative research to establish the prevalence of human characteristics. Similarly, correlation research methods are also used to establish the relationship or association between two or more variables in clinical psychology. For instance, they help to determine the relations between genes and bipolar disorder among children. Researchers have also utilized experimental research techniques to establish possible causal relations between two or more variables during clinical psychology studies. According to Thomas and Hersen (2011), clinical psychologists are interested in determining the cause-and-effect relations among variables during clinical studies or in determining the effects of a specific form of treatment for mental diseases. Research has also aided in the discovery of new and more effective treatments such as therapies and medications for mental illnesses. Findings of research studies in clinical psychology have also been used to improve treatment for patients. The above-mentioned practices are based on appropriate research studies. Thus, statistics and research are essential in the field of clinical psychology.
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The Differences between Clinical Psychology and Other Mental Health Professions
Although clinical psychology is closely related to most mental health professions, there are slight differences between them. For example, clinical psychology concerns the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions, while social work deals with the provision of a wide range of services that aim at reducing or eliminating social problems faced by people. Social work also concerns the identification of causes and development of solutions to these social problems.
Psychiatry and clinical psychology are closely related to mental health professions. Psychiatry concerns the study, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental illnesses, whereas clinical psychology deals with the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions. Clinical psychology is a behavioral science that studies the conducts of individuals, while psychiatry is a medical specialty. In addition, psychiatrists are physicians hence can prescribe medications, while clinical psychologists are not physicians hence do not have such possibility.
Last but not least, school psychology is a branch of psychology that deals with the academic, social and emotional well-being of children and adolescents within learning environments (Smith, 2011). School psychologists usually work within school settings and focus mainly on helping students overcome various challenges they may face during learning. Moreover, school psychologists work with parents, teachers and other education professionals to help students attain success at school. They also work with teachers to help maximize teaching efficacy. On the other hand, clinical psychologists deal with the assessment and treatment of students suffering from mental health conditions. In the United Kingdom, school psychologists are also called educational psychologists.
To conclude, clinical psychology is a crucial branch of psychology that concerns the treatment and prevention of mental disorders. The history of this branch manifests that clinical psychology underwent a complicated way to its formation and adoption. Clinical psychologists utilize different research techniques in order to analyze the obtained data. Clinical psychology is closely interrelated with diverse mental health professions, although there are marked differences between them.
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