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25 July 2014
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You are here: BBC Science > Human Body & Mind > The Mind > Psychology - an overview

Clinical Psychology

  • Work with a wide range of clients
  • Develop psychological formulations for people in distress
  • Explore psychological explanations and interventions
  • Training

Work with a wide range of clients

Clinical Psychologists work with a range of people including adults and older children with psychiatric problems, and those with learning disabilities. They specialise in difficulties such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsess ional behaviour and psychosis.

Develop psychological formulations for people in distress

Clinical psychologists, unlike psychiatrists, do not have a medical background, and for this reason they do not diagnose illnesses or prescribe medication. Instead, they try to understand people's difficulties in the context of their background, life events and the sense that they have made of their experiences.

On this basis, they work with clients and teams to develop psychological formulations for people in distress. A formulation is a concise summary of why a person has developed their difficulties, and draws on psychological theory and evidence. For example, a formulation may show that a client's low mood may be a response to having a critical or dominating parent, or to a period of unresolved grief following a major bereavement.

The formulation provides an agreed starting point for the psychologist and the client, and indicates the most helpful intervention or way forward.

Explore psychological explanations and interventions

Because of their training, many clinical psychologists are sceptical about the view that psychiatric symptoms are the result of genetic inheritance or biochemical abnormalities. For example, there is an increasing amount of evidence that hearing voices can often be a reaction to trauma.

For this reason, psychologists don't tend to think of hallucinations merely as symptoms of 'schizophrenia.' They argue that some form of 'talking treatment', perhaps in combination with medication, is the best way forward even in the severer forms of mental distress.

Clinical psychologists are all trained in cognitive-behavioural therapy, or CBT, which looks at the thoughts and feelings that may lead people to feel depressed or anxious or behave in unusual ways. Psychologists often draw from other therapies as well, and work closely with other professionals offering help with such issues as physical healthcare, employment, education, relationship problems, and drug and alcohol problems.

Training

Clinical psychologists have a first degree in psychology followed by a 3 year post-graduate course which trains them to apply the science of psychology to individuals, teams and organisations.


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