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What is a Clinical Psychologist?

A clinical psychologist is a psychologist who is a specialist in mental health. They have undertaken specialised training in the assessment, diagnosis, formulation, and psychological treatment of mental health, behavioural, and emotional disorders across the lifespan.


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Central to clinical psychology practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation, diagnosis, and psychotherapy. A clinical psychologist is able to assess the causes of psychological distress and then help develop a management or treatment plan for stabilisation or recovery. 


Typical work settings include hospitals, academia, private practice, and other healthcare or mental health facilities; those practicing a specialty may work for a private organisation, school, police department or the military.


While many in this field practice in medical settings, clinical psychologists are not medical doctors and do not prescribe medications; they use psychological therapies.

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Clinical psychologists have skills in the following areas:

Assessment and diagnosis

Clinical psychologists are trained in the assessment and diagnosis of mental illnesses and psychological problems. They understand the broad expanse of mental health issues and how they may occur at any age. They use psychological tests in order to assess issues and be more effective in understanding and treating those psychological distress.


Clinical psychologists use a range of techniques and therapies to treat mental health disorders. They hold particular skills to solve complex clinical psychology problems requiring individually-tailored treatment.


Research, teaching and evaluation are all integral to being a clinical psychologist. Research is often conducted on prevention, diagnosis, assessment and treatment. Clinical psychologists are able to perform research and collect data to enhance the understanding of clinical psychology.

Many clinical psychologists take on several different roles at the same time. They might spend part of their time at a public hospital and the rest seeing patients at their own private practice, in teaching, or undertaking research in a university.

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What is the difference between Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Counsellors?


Psychiatrists have a degree in medicine like a physician/medical doctor, followed by specialised training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, emotional disorders, and behavioural problems. While psychiatrists are not expected to provide psychotherapy, due to their scope of practice, many are able to provide very brief, supportive psychotherapy to their clients, depending upon their training history. They may more often choose to prescribe medication in the treatment of difficulties.


Holding Hands

Clinical Psychologists have completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then continued in graduate training in Clinical Psychology. They specialise in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness, emotional disorders, and behavioural issues. Clinical Psychologists work to help people understand the nature of difficulties they may be dealing with, develop insight and skills to minimise and manage the impact of issues, and may coordinate with other health service providers, including physicians. Clinical Psychologists are specifically trained and qualified in the development, research, and administration of specialised psychological tests used to assess elements of intelligence or achievement, personality characteristics, mental and emotional disorders, and/or the effects of brain injury.


Counsellors may have a range of backgrounds, and may have master’s or doctoral level degrees from counselling programs. However, individuals may otherwise refer to themselves as a ‘therapist’ or ‘counsellor’, but may or may not have training in the assessment or treatment of mental health issues. Clinical psychologists have traditionally studied disturbances in mental health, while counsellors’ earliest role was to provide vocational guidance and advice. Counsellors have frequently stressed the focus on a normal client population; that is, the research conducted and published in the professional literature is oriented toward people without serious or persistent mental illnesses. Today, though, the differences are more nuanced, and there are perhaps more similarities than differences.

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