What is a Clinical Psychologist?

A clinical psychologist is a psychologist who is an expert in mental health. They have undertaken highly specialised training in the assessment, diagnosis, formulation, and psychological treatment of mental health, behavioural, and emotional disorders across the lifespan.  Clinical psychologists are the only psychologists to have this advanced level of education and training in mental health. Education and training of clinical psychologists takes eight years.

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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.

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

General psychologists do not undertake advanced education and training to specialise in an endorsed area of specialised practice.

What does a clinical psychologist do?

Central to clinical psychology practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation, diagnosis, and psychotherapy. A clinical psychologist is able to 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
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A clinical psychologist can be of particular help if your mental health condition:

  • Is complex or difficult to diagnose
  • Involves suicidal ideas or plans
  • Isn’t responding to standard treatment through your GP (family doctor).

As part of their work, a clinical psychologist can:

  • 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

A clinical psychologist will only suggest treatments that are proven to be safe and effective (i.e. that are evidence based).

They will explain:

  • Why they recommend the treatment
  • How it works
  • How long it might take
  • How much it costs
What training does a clinical psychologist have?

A clinical psychologist undertakes eight years of education and training to become endorsed by the Psychology Board of Australia. This is the highest level of training in the assessment, formulation, diagnosis, and psychological treatment of mental health problems of any profession. Doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Following their university education and training they undertake registrar training for up to two years to gain endorsement as a clinical psychologist.

However, not all clinical psychologists hold these qualifications. Only members of ACPA are guaranteed to have undertaken this training.

In Australia psychology is a regulated health profession under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency via the Psychology Board of Australia.

If you wish to learn more about a specific psychologist’s or clinical psychologist’s qualifications, go to:

www.psychologyboard.gov.au and search the Registers of Practitioners by the psychologist’s name, state and the profession of psychology; click on View Details to view their qualifications and to determine if they are endorsed as a clinical psychologist.

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.

Remember

  • Clinical psychologists are experts in mental health
  • They keep up-to-date with the latest research to improve clinical practice
  • Their training means they understand complex mental health conditions
  • A referral from your GP (Mental Health Care Plan) or a letter from your paediatrician allows you to claim a Medicare rebate
  • You can find a clinical psychologist near you by using the ‘Find a clinical psychologist’ tab on this website.