What is a Clinical Psychologist?

When embarking on your therapy journey the first step is to find a therapist.  But with so many different types of therapists out there, how do you know which to choose?

It can feel overwhelming for some to make an informed decision when it comes to selecting a therapist.  This article aims to help you understand more about Clinical Psychologists; their training, experiences and specialism, so that you can make an informed decision about your therapy. 

Academic training

According to the British Psychological Society (BPS), “Clinical Psychologists aim to reduce psychological distress and to enhance the promotion of psychological wellbeing”.  Academically, Clinical Psychologists will have a minimum of an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.  During the Doctorate they will undertake a number of placements which will provide the necessary qualification and experience to work with a wide variety of people and presentations or difficulties.  The training route to become a qualified Clinical Psychologist takes a minimum of 7 years and during this time they receive training in a number of different therapeutic approaches.  The core training of Clinical Psychologists emphasises the importance of ‘formulation’; a process which helps to make sense of the difficulties being faced and how to overcome them.

Rejecting a one-size-fits-all approach

The Division of Clinical Psychology states that a ‘formulation’ is a way of describing problems and identifying solutions to them.  It is a collaborative process between you and your Clinical Psychologist to understand the reasons why you are feeling the way you do.  These reasons might include; loss; past difficulties and experiences that have affected you; or difficult periods of change at home, with family and friends or at work or school.  A ‘formulation’ is like a jigsaw puzzle – together with your Clinical Psychologist you work out how the different aspects of your life fit together.  This process helps you to understand and make sense of why things feel difficult.  A formulation then helps to inform and guide the therapy process.  As Clinical Psychologists are trained in many different therapies, the package of care you receive will be personalised to your specific needs and individually tailored to ensure your goals for therapy are achieved.  This is what sets Clinical Psychologists apart from many other types of therapists. 

Why choose a Clinical Psychologist?

Many Clinical Psychologists have backgrounds that involve working in the NHS.  As such, they prioritise adherence to National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance and evidence-based practice.  Clinical Psychologists have an in-depth understanding of psychological research and theory and are adept at incorporating this knowledge into the understanding and treatment of mental health difficulties.  Due to their experience in NHS settings, Clinical Psychologists are able to work effectively with complex difficulties.  Clinical Psychologists not only provide talking therapy, but also assessment and diagnosis of a wide range of difficulties including neurodevelopmental conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) and cognitive difficulties.  They also provide supervision, training and consultation to other professionals and organisations. 

What is the difference between a Clinical Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

While both professions use the title ‘Doctor’, a Clinical Psychologist is a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, whereas a Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has specialised in Psychiatry and mental health.  A Psychiatrist is able to assess and diagnose mental health difficulties and can prescribe medication as part of the treatment plan.  Some Psychiatrists have undertaken additional training enabling them to offer some therapies, but, it is widely regarded that talking therapy falls within the remit of Clinical Psychology.

How can I find out more?

There is a wealth of information on the British Psychological Society website (www.bps.org.uk).

When choosing your therapist, always ensure that they are registered with a professional body such as the HCPC.  A therapist should always be happy to answer any questions you have about their level of training and experience.  Unlike the title ‘Psychologist’, the titles of Practitioner Psychologist and Clinical Psychologist are protected titles and can only be used by a therapist with the correct training, experience and qualifications.