What Is Clinical Psychology?

Clinical psychology is a diverse profession; however, we believe the themes below are currently key to how the profession presents itself. The key assertions are that the profession:

  • • Is scientific
  • • Offers evidence-based psychological therapies (alongside a range of other roles)
  • • Believes psychiatric diagnosis is problematic
  • • Incorporates social context, particularly through the use of formulation

Clinical psychology claims to “apply scientific knowledge about human behaviour to ameliorate psychological problems” (DCP, 1996, p. 3) and advocates a scientist-practitioner model. This model expects clinical psychologists to have knowledge both in terms of academic research and also of clinical work with clients, in which they are expected to work as scientists, forming and testing hypotheses, undertaking interventions and evaluating progress. Whilst the reflective practitioner has become an important component of clinical psychology (see Lavender, 2003), the idea of science is a key claim in its bid for legitimacy.

Clinical psychologists state that they can perform a wide range of roles and functions, such as therapy to individuals (and to a lesser extent families), supervising, training, research, consultation and advising on organisations and systems, and in general, they note their ability to offer a range of input to various levels of an organisation (DCP, 2014). There has been significant investment in psychological therapies by government, and whilst many working in such services are not clinical psychologists, the profession has been keen to demonstrate that clinical psychologists can offer “effective psychological interventions and therapies”, which “can contribute not only by improving the health and well-being of individuals but also the health of the nation through employability, productivity and social inclusion” (DCP, 2014, p. 2). There are a vast number of forms of therapy, though cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most widely promoted. Competence in

CBT and one other therapy is now an essential criterion for clinical training. The emphasis placed on therapy is intertwined with the profession’s assertion of being scientific.

Clinical psychology has highlighted the need to ensure that the social context is an area of focus in clinical practice and has criticised psychiatric diagnosis for reducing people to individual problems (DCP, 2013). The profession has advocated the use of formulation as an alternative to diagnosis, and good practice guidelines emphasise the need to integrate societal factors, such as social inequality and power, into formulations (DCP, 2011). Furthermore, accreditation criteria for clinical psychology doctorate programmes require trainees to include social and cultural factors in their formulations (BPS, 2010).

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