How does clinical psychology differ from non-clinical psychology?

September 27, 2018

How are clinical and non-clinical psychology different?

Clinical psychology involves working directly with human subjects and requires licensure. Non-clinical psychology draws on insights and knowledge from psychology, but practitioners do not interact directly with clients.

Bethany Lohr, PhD, Faculty Chair in Capella University’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, provides insight into the differences between clinical and non-clinical psychology, and what education to pursue licensure look like for each.

Q. What are the main differences between clinical and non-clinical psychology?

A. In general, the main differences between clinical and non-clinical psychology is clinical psychology’s work with clients—and how the practitioner works with a client. Clinical psychology often leans toward licensure eligibility and individuals working directly with clients in a variety of settings (e.g., outpatient clinics, hospitals, community mental health, etc.). Non-clinical psychology trained individuals might work in a variety of settings including research, higher education, consulting, business, and government. Interestingly, individuals trained in clinical psychology often work in all of those settings as well.

As such, students in a clinical psychology program participate in face-to-face residencies and perhaps have supervised clinical field training in preparation for possible state licensure upon graduation. One must have a license in order to see patients. Non-clinical psychology students, on the other hand, participate in research to study how the mind works, the development of humans throughout their lives, and how changing conditions in communities might affect different populations.

Q. Is clinical psychology the same as counseling psychology?

A. Clinical psychology and counseling psychology both typically lead to licensure eligibility and focus on working with clients. From a very basic perspective, individuals trained in clinical psychology tend to work with individuals with more severe levels of psychopathology while individuals trained in counseling psychology focus on changes over the lifespan.

Q. How do the education and training differ for clinical and non-clinical psychology?

A. Both clinical and non-clinical psychology will generally have an overlapping group of core courses such as multicultural issues, ethics, biological basis of behavior, lifespan development, statistics, and research methods. Clinical psychology typically includes a number of courses focused on psychotherapy, psychological testing, and clinical application of skills as well as practicum and internship. Non-clinical psychology would typically include additional courses focused on research skills as well as courses specific to one’s area of focus (e.g., further courses in industrial and organizational psychology if one had that specialization).

Wondering which career in psychology is right for you? Here’s a handy guide to psychology-related careers.

Q. Which psychology graduates can hold the title of “psychologist”?

A. In general, having a license to practice psychology at the doctoral level is associated with being able to use the term psychologist, but it is variable from state to state. Most licenses in psychology tie to clinically oriented fields (e.g., clinical, school, counseling) but some tie to industrial and organizational psychology. Some states are very restrictive with the use of “psychologist” and some are not as restrictive.

Q. What career paths should people explore when they’re interested in clinical psychology and non-clinical psychology?

A.  With a degree in clinical psychology, students are trained to work with patients and clients in addition to being able to achieve careers in teaching, research, and administration. Often, professionals with a clinical psychology degree will serve in a variety of these roles simultaneously (e.g. teach at a university while running a private practice or working in a clinical setting seeing clients/patients).

Non-clinical programs are related more closely to careers in research, higher education, leadership, administration, or consulting. A clinical program career path is more closely related to positions in a behavioral health setting such as a hospital, outpatient clinic, or community mental health center. There is often overlap between the career paths. For example, a non-clinical psychology trained individual might serve as an administrator in a hospital setting or a clinical psychology trained individual might work in higher education and research.

Capella offers master’s degree programs in both clinical and non-clinical psychology.

Clinical psychology programs include:

Non-clinical psychology programs include:

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