Clinical Psychology

Clinical Psychology consists of the incorporation of psychological theory, scientific research, and clinical practice into a field that focuses on both prevention and treatment plans for psychological illnesses and dysfunctions. This field is generally considered to have officially started with Lightner Witmer’s opening of the first psychological clinic at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896. The field has developed since then into four main areas of study: Psychodynamic, Humanistic, Behavioral and Cognitive Behavioral, and Systems or Family Therapy.


Although clinical psychology officially began in 1896, from the mid-1800s, psychology was a fully-developed field of scientific research that was being conducted in university laboratories. Some in the field called for a real-world application of research, but until Witmer treated a young boy for trouble with spelling and then started his clinic, it was not done. And once Witmer had established his clinic for the treatment of children with learning disabilities, the field was slow to catch up; by the year 1914, about twenty-six similar clinics had opened around the country. During World War I, the field of clinical psychology developed intelligence tests for the Army that were used to examine groups of potential military recruits. Clinical psychologists also became of use during World War II, when soldiers would come back from fighting with symptoms of what is now called PTSD, which was then called “shell shock”. Female psychologists were given a chance to help communities cope with war-time stresses. And after the war, the Veterans Administration helped set up programs to train more clinical psychologists who could help treat returning veterans. Since those post-war days, and the development of clinical psychology in academia and university programs, this branch of psychology has become a popular career field and academia research topic.

The Four Branches

All clinical psychologists can give and interpret psychological assessments, research psychological topics, consult for outside or collaborative cases, administer prevention and treatment programs, or teach. However, these are the four main categories of clinical psychology research and treatment.

  1. 1) Psychodynamic: This branch stemmed from the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud and focuses on the unconscious mind and the conscious techniques to retain control over it.
  2. 2) Humanistic: It developed in the 1950’s after the techniques of Carl Rogers. The goal is for the subject not to be fragmented into partial personalities, but to form a whole person.
  3. 3) Behavioral/Cognitive Behavioral: Behavioral comes from the idea that our environment affects the way we think and feel, and feeds back off of our behavior. Cognitive Behavioral relies on the theorem that how we think, feel, and act, interact in a complex relationship.
  4. 4) System/Family Therapy: This field focuses on the interpersonal interactions between both couple and family units with the aim of promoting health through them.

The field of clinical psychology attempts to combine psychological research, treatment methods, case studies, and classic theory to achieve better mental health for people in many areas of distress or illness.

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