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Clinical Psychology vs. Clinical Psychiatry

Do you know the difference between psychology and psychiatry? Do you know what clinical psychology is? This article helps define psychology vs. psychiatry and offers information on when and why you may wish to seek a clinical psychologist. Also find where to find a clinical psychologist.

Psychology is the study of human behavior and the science of the mind, and a psychologist is a mental health professional with an advanced degree who practices within this field. Psychologists who wish to practice must have a master's degree or doctoral degree from an accredited institution, must have completed a specified period of fieldwork, and also must have passed the licensing examination given by the state in which they live and work.

There are quite a few different areas in which psychologists work, and clinical psychology is the area in which most psychologists practice. Clinical psychology involves the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health disorders.

Because the names are so similar, people sometimes confuse clinical psychology and clinical psychiatry. One key difference is that psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD's), who have attended medical school and completed the residency, internship, and licensing procedures that are required to practice medicine. Psychologists are not doctors, but social scientists.

As doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medications, such as anti-depressants, Ritalin, and other pharmaceuticals used in the treatment of patients with behavior disorders. Since they are not doctors, psychologists cannot prescribe medications. Sometimes psychologists and psychiatrists work in teams, with the psychiatrist overseeing the patient's prescriptions and checking in occasionally, while the therapeutic interactions primarily take place between the patient and the clinical psychologist.

Most clinical psychologists are members of a practice through which they see patients. This practice may be a:

  • private office
  • hospital
  • rehab center
  • wilderness therapy setting or other type of outdoor treatment center
  • residential treatment center
  • mental health center or
  • crisis counseling service.

Clinical psychologists do not all practice, however. Some teach at colleges and universities and others carry out research.

The types of treatment that clinical psychologists offer may range from individual therapy to group therapy to family therapy. Therapeutic techniques include:

as well as other approaches. CBT, and the therapies derived from it, are often used successfully in treating behavior disorders.

Clinical psychology takes on the treatment of a wide range of disorders including behavior disorders, sometimes called behavioral disorders, as defined by both the ICD-10 ((International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision) and the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision), which classify behavior disorders somewhat differently. 

The types of disorders that may be referred to as behavior disorders and are often treated by a clinical psychologist include:

  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Conduct Disorder (CD)
  • other disruptive behavior disorders
  • Antisocial Behavior
  • Behavioral and mental disorders that arise from the use of psychoactive substances
  • Eating disorders, including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and other eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Post-partum depression
  • Personality disorders
  • Disorders involving impulse control, including pathological stealing, gambling, or fire setting
  • Munchausen syndrome

Related Article: Find a Therapist >>

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