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Clinical psychology is a branch of psychology that emerged from experimental psychology in the late 19th century. It deals with the evaluation and treatment of mental disorders, psychiatric conditions, and abnormal behaviors as medical conditions that affect people in society. Clinical psychology interfaces widely with other fields of psychology because it integrates theory, science, and practice in assessing and treating diverse psychological conditions.
Thus, clinical psychologists employ theoretical and scientific evidence to carry out practical psychological assessment and treatment of patients, with the view of enhancing emotional, intellectual, psychological, behavioral, and social well being of patients. Baker, McFall, and Shoham (2008) assert that the basic objective of clinical psychology is to generate evidence-based knowledge and apply it to improve mental and behavioral health (p.68).
Hence, clinical psychology seeks to integrate theoretical and scientific knowledge in a bid to promote human health across the lifespan. To examine clinical psychology, this essay explores its historical evolution, its role in research, and its relationship with other psychological disciplines.
History and Evolution of Clinical Psychology
Clinical psychology emerged from the early work of experimental psychology pioneered by Wilhelm Wundt, which dealt with practical assessment and treatment of mental conditions. Wilhelm Wundt, in 1879, established the first psychological laboratory where he demonstrated that scientific experiments could effectively analyze psychological conditions and give inferences that are critical in the treatment of mental conditions.
In 1896, a student of Wilhelm Wundt, Lightner Witmer, “opened the first psychological clinic where he treated mental conditions of children with learning disabilities” (Zigler & Glick, 2001, p.17). Lightner Witmer coined the term ‘clinical psychology’ and defined it as an assessment of individuals through experimental observation with a view of enhancing their mental and behavioral health.
The field of clinical psychology expanded in that, by 1914, there were 26 clinics across the United States, which mainly dealt with children with learning abilities. During the First World War, clinical psychologists played an integral role in assessing the intelligence of recruits who were to be part of the military.
Due to the overwhelming nature of casualties in the Second World War, clinical psychologists expanded their role to include treatment of mental disorders, since many soldiers began to suffer from the posttraumatic stress disorder. After the Second World War, clinical psychology became an integral field of health practice that deals with the assessment and treatment of diverse psychological conditions and transforming the lives of many patients.
Research and Statistics in Clinical Psychology
Clinical psychology deals with the experimental observation of individuals and offers evidence-based treatment to patients with mental conditions. In essence, clinical psychology aims at not only alleviating suffering but also transforming the lives of patients. Since clinical psychology seeks to integrate theory and scientific evidence in experiments, it involves carrying out research, formulating a hypothesis, and analyzing research findings to draw inferences.
Thus, research and statistical techniques are central to clinical psychology. Treat, and Weersing (2009) argue that, clinical psychology entails experimental observation of an individual by noting various constructs, which require statistical analysis to interpret research findings (p.10).
This means that clinical psychology is research-oriented psychology that demands formulation of hypothesis and theoretical models, designing of research methodology, doing an experimental observation, and statistical analysis of results using various tests.
Clinical Psychology and Related Disciplines
Clinical psychology is quite different from other psychological disciplines such as counseling, social work, psychiatry, and school psychology because it deals with assessment, treatment, and promotion of mental health. Unlike psychiatry and counseling that seek to help patients recover from their mental conditions, clinical psychology aims at not only alleviating the suffering that emanates from mental conditions but also improving the intellectual abilities of patients.
This means that clinical psychology plays a vital role in promoting the development of mental and behavioral health of patients with mental disabilities. Duckworth, Steen, and Seligman (2005) argue that patients with mental conditions need to achieve overall improvement of health than just alleviate pain and suffering, which does not empower them to conquer their weaknesses and improve their strengths (p.630).
Thus, counseling and psychiatry do not go beyond the alleviation of pain and suffering in patients. Another difference is that, while counseling, psychiatry, social work, and school psychology have their basis in theoretical knowledge, clinical psychology focuses on evidence-based knowledge through experimental observation.
Clinical psychologists carry out empirical studies of patients and assess their conditions before administering a customized treatment that suits them. Hence, clinical psychology is a kind of experimental psychotherapy that treats and transforms the mental and behavioral health of patients.
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Wilhelm Wundt, the pioneer of experimental psychology, set the pace for the development of clinical psychology in the late 19th century. His student, Lightner Witmer, applied experimental psychology in the assessment and treatment of children with learning disabilities and realized that clinical psychology was effective in the treatment of some mental conditions.
During the First and Second World War, clinical psychology expanded to become an integral part of health; it helped soldiers to cope with posttraumatic stress disorder. Given that clinical psychology deals with abstract variables and constructs, extensive research skills and statistical analysis tests become central in interpretation and generalization of clinical research findings.
Use of research techniques and statistical tools in experimental studies and promotion of mental and behavioral health differentiate clinical psychology from other psychological fields such as counseling, psychiatry, social work, and school psychology. Thus, clinical psychology seeks to alleviate and transform mental and behavioral health of patients through experimental assessment and treatment.
Baker, T., McFall, R., & Shoham, V. (2008). Current Status and Future Prospects of Clinical Psychology towards a Scientifically Principled Approach to Mental and Behavioral Health Care. Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 9(2), 67-107.
Duckworth, A., & Steen, T., & Seligman, M. (2005). Positive Psychology in Clinical Practice. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 629-651.
Treat, T., & Weersing, V. (2009). Clinical Psychology. Journal of Statistics and Behavioural Science, 14(6), 1-13.
Zigler, E., & Glick, M. (2001). The Clinical Psychologist. American Psychological Association, 54(4), 1-28.