What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychologists are experts in mental health. They have undertaken highly specialised training in the diagnosis and psychological treatment of mental, behavioural and emotional disorders.  Clinical psychology is a science-based profession which integrates theory and clinical practice to understand, prevent, and relieve psychologically based distress or dysfunction.

What does a clinical psychologist do?

A clinical psychologist is able to assess your symptoms of psychological distress. Central to practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation and psychotherapy.  A clinical psychologist is able to make a diagnosis and work with you to develop a management plan for your treatment and recovery. Clinical psychologists do not prescribe medication, rather they use psychological techniques, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy to treat you.

While clinical psychology is focused on the assessment and evidence-based treatment of mental illness, clinical psychologists also work in private practice offering short-term and long-term outpatient services to clients who need help coping with all forms of psychological distress. Some clinical psychologists work in other settings, performing research, teaching university courses 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 and how to diagnose and treat it.
  • Psychological tests in order to assess your problem and be more effective in understanding and treating patients
  • 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 dietingMemory problems
  • 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
  • Behaviour problems in children and adolescents

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
  • 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 and other ways you can help yourself get better.
  • 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

It’s up to you whether you agree to have treatment.

 What training does a clinical psychologist have?

A qualified clinical Psychologist has either a Masters or a Doctoral degree and receives one of the highest levels of education of all health care professionals, spending an average of eight years in education and training specifically in psychology. First they do an accredited undergraduate degree in psychology and then either a two-year Master’s degree or a three-year Doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Following their university training they then undertake registrar training for up to two years, overseen by the Psychology Board of Australia, to gain  endorsement as a clinical psychologist.  In Australia psychology is a regulated health profession under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency in partnership with the Psychology Board of Australia, however, not all clinical psychologists hold these qualifications. Only members of ACPA are guaranteed to have undertaken this training.

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 and in private consulting rooms.

Clinical psychologists may also work in government departments, schools, research centres and universities.

Many clinical psychologists take on a few 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 or teaching or undertaking research in a University.


  • 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.