Clinical Psychology Specialties

Instructor: Nicole Gaines

Nicole is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a master's degree in counseling.

Clinical psychologists work closely to help people deal with mental illnesses and behavioral problems. In this lesson, we'll learn more about clinical psychologists, their various specialties and what they do in their daily routines.

What Is a Clinical Psychologist?

Imagine a client laying on a chaise lounge, talking about his or her childhood as you sit in a chair and scribble notes on a pad of paper. This is what people typically envision when they imagine a clinical psychologist. But clinical psychologists do much more than just scribble notes to pass the time as clients talk--they assess mental and behavioral issues to help clients work through their problems.

Clinical psychology is the most common branch of psychology (the study of how people act, think and feel), and it's concerned with assessing, diagnosing and treating mental illness and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists do so by utilizing psychotherapy, which is the application of methods that help clients address and overcome their problems.

There are a wide variety of psychotherapy methods, though you may be familiar with some of the most common: psychodynamic, humanistic and cognitive behavioral therapies. The cool thing about being a clinical psychologist is that you get to pick which theory, or even mix of theories, to use in a specific situation--which ones will best benefit the client and produce the desired results.

Specialties of Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologists often work with groups of clients.
group therapy

As a general clinical psychologist, you will likely work in an office or hospital setting, providing psychotherapy to individuals, couples, groups and families with mental illnesses or relationship problems. However, there are many specialties of clinical psychology in which you might choose to work, some of which take you out of the clinical setting. We'll discuss these specialties in the following sections:

Forensic Psychology

Do you enjoy clinical psychology but also have a passion for justice? Forensic psychology blends forensics and psychology together to address legal matters, applying the scientific principles and practices of psychology to solve legal issues. Many forensic psychologists work as expert witnesses in court cases involving criminal insanity pleas, child custody and discrimination issues, among others. But you could also work in this specialty as a criminal profiler, academic researcher, law enforcement consultant, correctional psychologist, violence-risk assessor or one of the many other roles these psychologists play in law enforcement.

Clinical Child Psychology

If you like helping and working with children, then clinical child psychology might be a great fit for you. Clinical child psychology focuses on assessing, diagnosing and treating adolescents, children, toddlers and infants. The specialty relies on a strong understanding of developmental psychology and the biological, psychological and social problems of younger people. As a clinical child psychologist, you would work closely with parents, teachers and other important figures in the child's life to develop a treatment plan aimed at improving the child's mental health and overall quality of life.

Health Psychology

As a clinical psychologist, you may often find that physical health problems affect a client's mental health. A health psychologist teaches people how to cope with their physical handicaps or improve poor physical health in order to lessen their mental health problems. Additionally, this specialty addresses how mental health can affect a person's physical health--for example, a person with major depression may experience drastic weight gain as an effect of the mood disorder. Creating a treatment plan focused on health and well-being is essential for your client to adopt a healthier, more positive lifestyle.

Clinical Neuropsychology

Are you interested in the brain and how it works? Clinical neuropsychology is the specialty of clinical psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. Clinical neuropsychologists often assist clients with traumatic brain injuries, tumors, dementia and other problems regarding cognitive functioning, including people who have experienced stroke. Due to the nature of the specialty, these professionals typically work in a hospital setting.


With the number of elderly increasing dramatically, the need for specialists who provide psychological services to older populations is growing as well. Geropsychology is the specialty of clinical psychology concerned with treating elderly clients and their families and helping them cope with end-of-life decisions, loss of independence and self care. As a geropsychologist, you would generally work in nursing or retirement homes and consult with clients' families and care providers to come up with the best mental health care plan.

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