What is Clinical Psychology?

Examination of Clinical Psychology

An Introduction to Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is a growing field of research with its roots in general psychological theory. Clinical psychology is a school of psychology that concentrates its efforts into the treatment of mental illnesses. The field of clinical psychology emerged around the end of the 19th century. Although psychology existed prior to this period it was largely theoretical and there was little application of these theories. Starting with John B. Watson, an animal psychologist, expanded the field of psychology in 1913 by defining psychology (Goodwin, 2008 ). In his work published in the scientific journal, Psychology Review, Watson defined psychology as a natural science whose goal was to study behavior (Goodwin, 2008 ). Until this point, the intent of making psychology an experimental science had been diminished by the emphasis in the importance of introspection, as introspection is an internal phenomenon that cannot be replicated or evaluated. Watson’s ideas were shared by many psychologists, and soon a movement was formed called behaviorism, of which Watson is considered the founder. Behaviorism combines elements of philosophy, theory and methodology and relies on the idea that all behaviors are learned through conditioning. Behaviorism could be utilized to manipulate and control behavior and thus gave birth to clinical psychology.

In the later part of the 19th century, psychology evolved to become more centered on the fact that it was a science that could be measured as an observer rather than as an introspective study. This new psychology intended to exist as a legitimate science without the historic connotations of metaphysics and the paranormal with which it had often been associated (Benjamin, Briant, Campbell, Luttrell, & Holtz, 1997). The first laboratory of psychology in the United States was founded in 1883 by G. Stanley Hall at Clark University which gave way to new ways of thinking about psychology as a real science and validated its ability to be measured.

During this period, researchers such as Freud would emerge and apply their theories of psychology to mental issues afflicting people (Goodwin, 2008 ). Clinical psychology would become a field that applied theories and sought to test treatments in the hopes of solving mental issues. The field continues this function today as well as being steeped in research.

Research is a large area of clinical psychology. The importance of research in this field cannot be understated due to the fact that a large area of psychology is still theoretical. This theory is due to the fact that the function and mapping of the mind are still largely unknown. The human brain is tremendously complex in its function and structure. The knowledge of the human brain has until recently been limited by virtue of the sensitive nature of the organ. Researchers have been limited to understanding the brain through study of damage and disease which reflect loss of cognitive functions. The development of technologies such as the Magnetic Resonance Imager (MRI) has opened a new window on brain research (Goodwin, 2008 ). Devices such as the MRI allow researchers to study the brain and its functions using imagery. This noninvasive means of studying the brain has led to the ability to correlate brain function and structure with behavior. The correlation of behavior and function has provided a great deal of knowledge concerning the importance of the different areas of the brain. For these reasons, research is needed in clinical psychology in order to determine how theories of the brain correspond with the actual anatomy.

Research is also needed to create therapies. When researchers develop new methods of counseling and or other forms of treatment, the success of these methods need to be quantified. By using research, treatment plans can be devised the utilize the most effective practices for specific cases (Goodwin, 2008 ).

One of the most important aspects of research in clinical psychology is statistics. Statistics are necessary to psychological research for a number of reasons. Most importantly psychologists use data collected during the research process to create meaningful information concerning populations and mental illnesses (Aron, Aron, & Coups, 2009). Just like other branches of science, psychologists form hypotheses and research questions. These questions need to have a method of testing and statistics provides the means for interpreting results. For example, if a researcher wants to correlate the number of people who have bipolar disorder with the age of onset of the illness, they will need to conduct interviews and ask individuals questions. Typically, research will include a number of questions designed to gain many different points of information, e.g., age, race, occupation, etc. Statistics provides the mathematical method of organizing and comparing this data (Aron, Aron, & Coups, 2009). For example, when comparing the number of people who have bipolar disorder with the age of onset, may reveal that certain aspects of the population may acquire the illness with a higher degree of prevalence than other groups. Statistics can further organize and show this data in more useful manner such as providing the percentages of populations and the risk factors for different population groups. For these reasons statistics are vital to clinical psychology.

Clinical psychology crosses into many other disciplines such as psychiatry and social work. While a field such as psychiatry is dissimilar in the fact it seeks to solve psychological issues with the use of medicine, it still utilizes the research and therapies that are present in clinical psychology in order to augment pharmacological treatments. The research in clinical psychology and its treatments are often applied in a multidisciplinary manner crossing into other fields such as school psychology and social work. These fields while focused with a different purpose such as dealing school problems or social issues such as poverty, still benefit from clinical psychology due to the fact that many problems encountered in these fields require treatments. As a result of this multidisciplinary approach, clinical psychology will continue to grow and expand in research and treatments.


Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Coups, E. (2009). Statistics for psychology (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Benjamin, L. T., Briant, W. H., Campbell, C., Luttrell, J., & Holtz, C. (1997). Between Psoriasis and Ptarmigan: American encyclopedia portrayals of psychology, 1880–1940. Review of General Psychology , 1 (1), 1089–2680.

Goodwin, C. J. (2008 ). A history of modern psychology (3 ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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Triola Vincent. Wed, Jun 02, 2021. What is Clinical Psychology? Retrieved from

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