Clinical psychology is an integration of science, theory and clinical knowledge for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration. In many countries, clinical psychology is a regulated mental health profession.

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The field is often considered to have begun in 1896 with the opening of the first psychological clinic at the University of Pennsylvania by Lightner Witmer. In the first half of the 20th century, clinical psychology was focused on psychological assessment, with little attention given to treatment. This changed after the 1940s when World War II resulted in the need for a large increase in the number of trained clinicians. Since that time, three main educational models have developed in the USA--the Ph.D. Clinical Science model (heavily focused on research), the Ph.D. science-practitioner model (integrating research and practice), and the Psy.D. practitioner-scholar model (focusing on clinical practice). In the UK the Clinical Psychology Doctorate falls between the latter two of these models, whilst in much of mainland Europe the training is at masters level and predominantly psychotherapeutic. Clinical psychologists are expert in providing psychotherapy, and generally train within four primary theoretical orientations--psychodynamic, humanistic, behavior therapy/ cognitive behavioral, and systems or family therapy.



The earliest recorded approaches assess and treat mental distress were a combination of religious, magical and/or medical perspectives. Early examples of such physicians included Patañjali, Padmasambhava, Rhazes, Avicenna, and Rumi. In the early 19th century, one approach to study mental conditions and behavior was using phrenology, the study of personality by examining the shape of the skull. Other popular treatments at that time included the study of the shape of the face (physiognomy) and Mesmer"s treatment for mental conditions using magnets (mesmerism). Spiritualism and Phineas Quimby"s "mental healing" were also popular.

While the scientific community eventually came to reject all of these methods for treating mental illness, academic psychologists also were not concerned with serious forms of mental illness. The study of mental illness was already being done in the developing fields of psychiatry and neurology within the asylum movement. It was not until the end of the 19th century, around the time when Sigmund Freud was first developing his "talking cure" in Vienna, that the first scientific application of clinical psychology began.

Early clinical psychology

By the second half of the 1800s, the scientific study of psychology was becoming well established in university laboratories. Although there were a few scattered voices calling for an applied psychology, the general field looked down upon this idea and insisted on "pure" science as the only respectable practice. This changed when Lightner Witmer (1867-1956), a past student of Wundt and head of the psychology department at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed to treat a young boy who had trouble with spelling. His successful treatment was soon to lead to Witmer"s opening of the first psychological clinic at Penn in 1896, dedicated to helping children with learning disabilities. Ten years later in 1907, Witmer was to found the first journal of this new field, The Psychological Clinic, where he coined the term "clinical psychology", defined as "the study of individuals, by observation or experimentation, with the intention of promoting change". The field was slow to follow Witmer"s example, but by 1914, there were 26 similar clinics in the U.S.

Even as clinical psychology was growing, working with issues of serious mental distress remained the domain of psychiatrists and neurologists. However, clinical psychologists continued to make inroads into this area due to their increasing skill at psychological assessment. Psychologists" reputation as assessment experts became solidified during World War I with the development of two intelligence tests, Army Alpha and Army Beta (testing verbal and nonverbal skills, respectively), which could be used with large groups of recruits. Due in large part to the success of these tests, assessment was to become the core discipline of clinical psychology for the next quarter century, when another war would propel the field into treatment.

Early professional organizations

The field began to organize under the name "clinical psychology" in 1917 with the founding of the American Association of Clinical Psychology. This only lasted until 1919, after which the American Psychological Association (founded by G. Stanley Hall in 1892) developed a section on Clinical Psychology, which offered certification until 1927. Growth in the field was slow for the next few years when various unconnected psychological organizations came together as the American Association of Applied Psychology in 1930, which would act as the primary forum for psychologists until after World War II when the APA reorganized. In 1945, the APA created what is now called Division 12, its division of clinical psychology, which remains a leading organization in the field. Psychological societies and associations in other English-speaking countries developed similar divisions, including in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

World War II and the integration of treatment

When World War II broke out, the military once again called upon clinical psychologists. As soldiers began to return from combat, psychologists started to notice symptoms of psychological trauma labeled "shell shock" (eventually to be termed posttraumatic stress disorder) that were best treated as soon as possible. Because physicians (including psychiatrists) were over-extended in treating bodily injuries, psychologists were called to help treat this condition. At the same time, female psychologists (who were excluded from the war effort) formed the National Council of Women Psychologists with the purpose of helping communities deal with the stresses of war and giving young mothers advice on child rearing. After the war, the Veterans Administration in the U.S. made an enormous investment to set up programs to train doctoral-level clinical psychologists to help treat the thousands of veterans needing care. As a consequence, the U.S. went from having no formal university programs in clinical psychology in 1946 to over half of all Ph.D.s in psychology in 1950 being awarded in clinical psychology.

WWII helped bring dramatic changes to clinical psychology, not just in America but internationally as well. Graduate education in psychology began adding psychotherapy to the science and research focus based on the 1947 scientist-practitioner model, known today as the Boulder Model, for Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology. Clinical psychology in Britain developed much like in the U.S. after WWII, specifically within the context of the National Health Service with qualifications, standards, and salaries managed by the British Psychological Society.

Development of the Doctor of Psychology degree

By the 1960s, psychotherapy had become imbedded within clinical psychology, but for many the Ph.D. educational model did not offer the necessary training for those interested in practice rather than research. There was a growing argument that said the field of psychology in the U.S. had developed to a degree warranting explicit training in clinical practice. The concept of a practice-oriented degree was debated in 1965 and narrowly gained approval for a pilot program at the University of Illinois starting in 1968. Several other similar programs were instituted soon after, and in 1973, at the Vail Conference on Professional Training in Psychology, the practitioner-scholar model of clinical psychology--or Vail Model--resulting in the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree was recognized. Although training would continue to include research skills and a scientific understanding of psychology, the intent would be to produce highly trained professionals, similar to programs in medicine, dentistry, and law. The first program explicitly based on the Psy.D. model was instituted at Rutgers University. Today, about half of all American graduate students in clinical psychology are enrolled in Psy.D. programs.

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A changing profession

Since the 1970s, clinical psychology has continued growing into a robust profession and academic field of study. Although the exact number of practicing clinical psychologists is unknown, it is estimated that between 1974 and 1990, the number in the U.S. grew from 20,000 to 63,000. Clinical psychologists continue to be experts in assessment and psychotherapy while expanding their focus to address issues of gerontology, sports, and the criminal justice system to name a few. One important field is health psychology, the fastest-growing employment setting for clinical psychologists in the past decade. Other major changes include the impact of managed care on mental health care; an increasing realization of the importance of knowledge relating to multicultural and diverse populations; and emerging privileges to prescribe psychotropic medication.