While clinical psychology is itself a career specialization for psychologists, the multitude of options available to practicing clinicians allows further specialization to suit individual interests. Clinical psychologists may have clinical or research interests on a specific group of people, such as children or couples, or perhaps interests in a specific mental condition like Parkinson’s disease. In these and in other cases, sub-specializations within clinical psychology can be pursued. The following career specializations serve as only a few examples of the options available to clinical psychologists.
- Clinical Health Psychology: Health psychologists focus on the ways mental and behavioral issues affect individual health. Clinicians who specialize in health psychology work with patients to help them understand how issues such as smoking, drinking, inactivity and chronic stress may cause or exacerbate physical problems like obesity or the development of disease. Through testing and face-to-face interviews, a clinical health psychologist develops a patient diagnosis and designs a proper course of treatment. Clinical health psychologists may work in hospitals, substance abuse centers or schools.
- Clinical Neuropsychology: Neuropsychologists study the relationship between human behavior and the brain. Often focusing on degenerative mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease, clinical neuropsychologists develop and implement treatment plans to help those with cognitive problems maintain an adequate quality of life. A clinical neuropsychologist does not function as a psychiatrist, and does not tend to use medication to address disease. Rather, a clinical neuropsychologist designs research studies and behavioral suggestions to examine and improve a patient’s motor skills, memory, perception and social functioning. Clinical neuropsychologists often work in hospitals or mental health clinics.
- Clinical Geropsychology: Geropsychologists are clinicians who focus on the development of mental and emotional issues through aging. In a clinical setting, a geropsychologist provides support to those struggling with issues of mortality, caregiving or the death of family or friends. Through individual discussion and research observation, clinical geropsychologists diagnose any issues in the elderly demographic and help design treatment plans to help patients maintain a positive mental outlook and lifestyle. Clinical geropsychologists may work in hospitals, hospices, assisted living facilities or senior service centers.
These options are only a sampling of the paths available to clinical psychologists. A clinical psychologist may wish to add specialization in people of a particular ethnic group, sexual orientation or lifestyle, for example, and the field of clinical psychology can accommodate these and other interests. Regardless of interests, education is crucial to those wishing to enter into both clinical psychology and the broader field of psychology in general.
A career as a psychologist requires a doctoral degree and state licensure to practice. Through doctoral programs, students develop their particular interests and gain the skills and qualifications necessary to practice in a specific state. In addition to being required for state licensure, doctoral programs allow clinical experience and, in the case of the Ph.D., significant opportunities to conduct original research. If you are interested in one of the clinical psychology specializations mentioned above, or if you wish to explore another area of study within the field of clinical psychology, education is an excellent way to start on the path of this rewarding career.