What is a Clinical Psychologist?

A clinical psychologist is a psychologist who is an expert in mental health. They have undertaken highly specialised APAC-accredited training in the assessment, diagnosis, formulation, and psychological treatment of mental health, behavioural, and emotional disorders across the lifespan. The education and training of clinical psychologists takes eight years.

Clinical psychology is a science-based profession that integrates theory and clinical practice to understand, prevent, and relieve psychological problems or disorders whether they are mild, moderate, severe, chronic, or complex.


A clinical psychologist's training

Training in clinical psychology is at minimum an 8-year requirement. Students firstly undertake a 4-year Honours degree in psychology covering the scientific foundations of psychology. Students then progress to a 2-3 year accredited post-graduate degree, focussed on the assessment, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders. This study is then followed by a 1-2 year registrar program overseen by the Psychology Board of Australia. We know of no other health professional who undertakes this length and level of accredited training in psychological practice in mental health.


A clinical psychologist’s specialised training is recognised by the National Law

The additional training of clinical psychologists is recognised under the National Law.

Further, the general register of psychologists records when a clinical psychologist has undergone accredited post-graduate training to receive an Area of Practice Endorsement (AoPE). According to the Psychology Board of Australia an AoPE is a legal mechanism under the National Law which identifies practitioners who have an additional qualification and advanced supervised practice. The advanced, specialised training required for an AoPE occurs primarily within a 2-year Masters degree leading to registration in which the AoPE competencies are addressed. 

The competencies required within the additional qualification and advanced supervised practice for clinical psychologists are outlined on the AHPRA website and within the Accreditation Standards for Psychology published by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council.


Clinical psychologists use their knowledge of psychology and mental health for the assessment, diagnosis, formulation, treatment, and prevention of psychological problems and mental illness across the lifespan. They research psychological problems and use their psychological knowledge to develop scientifically based approaches to improve mental health and wellbeing.”   Source: AHPRA 


What is a general psychologist? And how are they different to a clinical psychologist?

General psychologists undertake six years of training, which includes a 4-year Honours degree addressing the scientific foundations of psychology, and a further 2 years of training which may involve either a 2-year internship or a 1-year Master degree plus 1-year internship. In both pathways, general registration competencies are addressed. (Psychology Board General competencies) and in the Accreditation Standards for Psychology. 

However, general psychologists do not undertake accredited education and training to specialise in an endorsed area of specialised practice.


Are there other types of psychologists?

Other than clinical psychologists, psychologists may have advanced levels of education and training specialising in areas such as clinical neuropsychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, organisational psychology, educational and developmental psychology, sport and exercise psychology, community psychology or counselling psychology. These areas of specialisation are recognised via endorsement by the Psychology Board of Australia.


What does a clinical psychologist do?

Central to clinical psychology practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation, diagnosis, and psychotherapy. A clinical psychologist can assess the causes of psychological distress within the context of the history of the problems and contributing factors, such as genetic predisposition, social and family influences, and psychological coping styles. A clinical psychologist can help develop a management or treatment plan for stabilisation or recovery. Clinical psychologists do not prescribe medication; they use psychological therapies. 

Clinical psychologists work in both public mental health services and private practice offering both short-term and long-term outpatient services to those who need help coping with all forms of psychological distress. Some clinical psychologists work in other settings, performing research, teaching university courses, providing supervision, and offering consultation services.

Clinical psychologists have specific skills that they employ in their work, including:

  • Understanding the broad expanse of mental health issues and how they may occur at any age.
  • An extensive knowledge of mental illness assessment, diagnosis and treatment.
  • Psychological tests in order to assess problems and be more effective in understanding and treating those suffering psychological distress.
  • Consulting with a variety of other health professionals and organisations about behaviour, emotions, and severe mental distress.
  • Being able to perform research and collect data to enhance the understanding of clinical psychology.


How can a clinical psychologist help?

Common reasons why someone might see a clinical psychologist include:

  • Problems in adjusting to major life changes, stress or trauma
  • Anxiety, worry or fear.
  • Depressed or low mood, or suicidal thinking.
  • Thoughts of hurting other people or hurting yourself on purpose.
  • Too much energy, being unable to sleep, wind down or relax.
  • Obsessional thinking.
  • Feeling on edge or jumpy.
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use.
  • Problem gambling, gaming or other addictive behaviours.
  • Problems around body image, eating, or dieting.
  • Poor concentration and attention; hyperactivity.
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems.
  • Conditions that start in childhood such as autism, intellectual disability, ADHD, learning difficulties or childhood anxiety or depression.
  • Behaviour problems in children and adolescence.


A clinical psychologist can be of particular help when a condition:

  • Is complex or difficult to diagnose.
  • Involves suicidal ideas or plans.
  • Isn’t responding to standard treatment through your GP or another mental health professional. 


As part of their work, a clinical psychologist may:

  • Help you to manage a long-term mental health condition.
  • Provide advice about lifestyle changes to help manage psychological distress.
  • Work with you individually, or with you and your partner, family, or carers.
  • Provide second opinions and advice to other mental health professionals.
  • Liaise with your GP to facilitate a referral to other health professionals, such as a psychiatrist, speech pathologist, or Occupational Therapist.


What can a clinical psychologist provide?

A clinical psychologist can provide and recommend a range of treatments, including:

  • Psychological therapy (psychotherapy or talking therapy).
  • Psychological testing to gain a better understanding of how you are functioning.
  • Practical advice about eating, sleeping, exercise, and other ways to manage side effects of mental health problems.
  • Information about your condition, which can help you to understand your symptoms and treatments.


Where do clinical psychologists work?

Clinical psychologists work in public hospitals, community mental health services, non-Government mental health services, and in private consulting rooms. Clinical psychologists may also work in government departments, schools, research centres, and in universities. Many clinical psychologists take on several different roles at the same time. They might spend part of their time at a public hospital and the rest seeing patients at their own private practice, in teaching, or undertaking research in a university.


How can I see a clinical psychologist?

A referral from your GP (Mental Health Care Plan) or a letter from your paediatrician allows you to claim a Medicare rebate if you see a clinical psychologist.

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