What is a Clinical Psychologist?

The title ‘Clinical Psychologist’ is a protected term in the UK, which means it can only be used by psychologists who have successfully completed an accredited NHS doctoral training programme. Training as a Clinical Psychologist involves completion of an undergraduate psychology degree followed by a period of years spent developing relevant clinical and research experience. Post graduate applicants can then apply for a three-year NHS doctoral training programme. Training as a Clinical Psychologist therefore usually takes eight years or more and leads to the attainment of a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.


Clinical Psychologists apply psychological theory to help people understand and make sense of what they are experiencing, to support the person to help reduce psychological distress and to achieve their goals. Clinical Psychologists are trained to assess and treat a wide range of psychological health difficulties and draw on multiple evidence-based theoretical models and psychological approaches in their work. This involves taking into account a range of biopsychosocial factors that can contribute to psychological distress and poor health and exploring the interplay between these factors which may serve to maintain and prolong the distress the person is experiencing. By making sense of these factors, understanding one's thoughts, emotions, physiology and behaviour and through the engagement with evidence-based psychological interventions with an experienced Clinical Psychologist, improved mental health and wellbeing can be achieved.


Clinical Psychologists are also equipped with the skills to apply psychological theory to working effectively with teams and organisations to support the development and maintenance of a healthy and productive workforce where experiences of high stress and other health problems can create difficulties for the individual and the organisation. Clinical Psychologists are the only type of practitioner psychologist whose training is funded by the NHS. 


What is the difference between a Clinical Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?


Clinical Psychologists often work with Psychiatrists to achieve the best outcomes for the people they see. While Clinical Psychologists draw on psychological theory to guide their work, Psychiatrists draw predominantly on medical theory. Psychiatrists initially train for five years as a medical doctor, before completing two foundation years in a hospital and then specialising in psychiatry. As a medical doctor, Psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe medication. While Psychiatrists also consider psychological and social factors, treatment often involves the prescription of medication and a predominance to understanding clinical presentations using diagnostic criteria. Generally, individuals are more likely to feel better and achieve their goals when psychological, social and medical factors are all given due consideration within a person-centred treatment plan.