A counseling psychologist is a professional who helps clients deal with the stressors of daily life. The word counseling comes from the Latin word “consulere,” meaning advising. Counseling psychologists focus more on giving their clients advice and guidance.
On the other end, a clinical psychologist is the one who diagnoses and treats clients with a particular mental illness or disorder, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. They utilize various assessments and diagnostic tests to identify specific conditions. But can clinical psychologist do counseling?
Though counseling and clinical psychology involve different approaches to treating clients, and these practitioners deal with patients with varying degrees of severity, they have similar aims. Many clinical psychologists find that their work responsibilities overlap with those of both counselors, who give advice, and clinicians, who evaluate and diagnose mental illness. So, yes, a clinical psychologist can, and often will, do counseling.
The History of Clinical Psychology
The word clinical comes from the Greek word “kline,” meaning bed. When clinical psychology emerged, psychologists were visiting patients in bed in a mental asylum. This began with the opening of the first psychological laboratory by Wilhelm Wundt in 1879. Back then, the treatments for mental distress used approaches such as a combination of religious, magical, and medical treatments.
As the field progressed, the specific study of the various forms of mental illness was being conducted in the fields of psychiatry and neurology. Yet, by the end of the 19th century, with Sigmund Freud stepping into the scene, the scientific study of psychology was becoming well-established in university laboratories.
A former student of Wundt, Lightner Witmer was head of one of these university laboratories at the University of Pennsylvania. He had significant success treating a young boy with a learning disability, and the first psychological clinic opened at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896. Then, ten years later, Witmer found the first journal in the emerging field of clinical psychology called “The Psychological Clinic.” Thus, the term clinical psychology was born and was defined as the study of individuals by observation or experimentation with the intention of promoting change.
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Why Have Clinical Psychologists Started Doing Counseling?
As both clinical psychology and counseling progressed, clinicians found their jobs often overlapped and intertwined. Once psychological science started becoming applicable to the real-life problems of mental illness and learning disabilities, psychological clinics began to change their methods to offer a more holistic treatment approach, and psychologists started to practice psychotherapy. Before this, only psychiatrists performed psychotherapy.
In a nutshell, both clinical psychologists and counselors work with individuals, families, and sometimes even groups. They each also try to provide an open, collaborative environment for their clients to talk about and process their life experiences and emotions. So while a person may have a doctoral degree to practice clinical psychology, they will also counsel the patients they diagnose.
What a Typical Day for a Clinical Psychologist Can Look Like
Dr. Rafie is a pain psychologist with the Bay Area Pain & Wellness Center. She states in an interview with Online Education that she initially got into the field of clinical psychology because she is inspired by helping others become the best version of themselves that they can be. Being a psychologist allows her to support and help patients move toward increased insight, motivation, and change.
Dr. Rafie’s workday involves leading group psychotherapy and individual sessions, being involved in interdisciplinary team meetings, having consultations with providers, interpreting psychodiagnostic assessments, and documenting and reviewing patient charts.
She says the essential skills for a psychologist are to be intelligent and considerate and to be an active listener while providing a supportive and therapeutic environment so that change can occur. At the same time, she mentioned that it is necessary to confront challenging behaviors, set boundaries, and be comfortable with teaching new coping skills to patients to help them with their struggles.
Basically, if a clinical psychologist is seeing patients regularly and is not just working in an institution providing assessments and testing, then that person is most likely providing counseling in some sort of manner after having assessed and diagnosed the problem the patient is facing.
How Do Clinical Psychologists Treat Patients
After providing assessments or tests that evaluate things such as intellectual skills, cognitive strengths and weaknesses, vocational preferences, or personality characteristics, the psychologists will utilize an array of evidence-based treatments to help people improve their quality of life. They will mostly use talk therapy, also referred to as counseling, and build a relationship with the patient allowing them to express their thoughts and feelings.
If the psychologist thinks the patient would benefit from medication, they will either refer them to a psychiatrist or their primary care physician. They will usually maintain a relationship with the medication-prescribing doctor so that together they can work toward what is best for the client.
Some types of therapy the psychologist will use are:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of talk therapy that works to help patients see how their thoughts affect their emotions and behavior. It can be beneficial in treating things such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The goal is to help patients understand the connection between their thoughts and actions and to help them unlearn negative thoughts and behaviors and develop healthier thinking patterns and habits.
Hopefully, over time, the patient will learn better ways to cope with stress, pain, and difficult situations.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. It has a primary goal of teaching the patient how to live in the moment and develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate their disturbing emotions and help improve how they relate with others.
In its early stages, it was used to help treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) but has been adjusted to help people who struggle with emotional regulation or are presenting with self-destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, cutting, and substance abuse.
DBT utilizes group therapy, individual therapy, and phone coaching sessions so the patient can receive guidance at the moment.
IPT is a psychotherapy that helps patients find relief from their distress by focusing on interpersonal functioning and relationships. It centers more on what’s going on in the present and not events in the past, such as trauma and developmental issues.
There is typically a specified timeframe, such as 12 to 16 weeks of therapy, where they will address relationships the client is currently in, focusing on their communication skills to improve social support and interpersonal functioning.
IPT operates on the premise that one of the critical ways we understand ourselves is by observing how we interact with others. Our interactions can show us where we need healing.
With humanistic therapy, the psychologist focuses on the person as an individual with exceptional potential and abilities instead of seeking to discover what’s wrong with the person. It is more focused on helping the person overcome obstacles through personal growth.
It is based on the idea that all people are innately good. It takes a more holistic view of the whole person and not just a single area of the patient’s life. By stressing a person’s unique skills and positive characteristics, the psychologist works to encourage the patient to heal and find fulfillment in life.
Psychodynamic therapy is based on the premise that by helping a patient gain a deeper understanding of their emotions and other mental processes, they will then be able to make better choices about their lives.
It is rooted in psychoanalytic theory but is less intensive and not as long as traditional psychoanalysis.
Not unlike regular counseling, it is a form of talk therapy coming from the belief that if a person talks to a professional about their problems, it can help them find relief and discover possible solutions.
Common Reasons a Person Would See a Psychologist
A person will see a psychologist for various problems and conditions, some of which overlap with that of a counselor. Problems such as:
- Substance abuse disorders
- Anger management issues
- Body dysmorphic disorder
- Managing chronic illness
- Family and relationship problems
- Eating disorders
- Gambling issues
- Gender dysphoria
- Hoarding disorder
- Managing grief and loss
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Postpartum depression
- Sleep problems
- Stress management
- Self-esteem issues
- Unhealthy habits
So, yes, you can find a clinical psychologist working for a hospital or organization where they are conducting screenings, tests, and training sessions. And you can find them working as researchers developing studies on the influence of habits and thought patterns of individuals, families, or society. But you can also find a clinical psychologist engaging in counseling after diagnosing clients who come to them looking for help and advice on how to live a happier and more meaningful life.
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Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers on Medium.com/@alexandra_creates where she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.