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Major Differences Between Clinical Psychologist & Health Psychologist

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Although health psychology is a sub-specialty of clinical psychology, differences between the two types of psychologists exist. While clinical psychologists are found primarily in counseling centers or mental hospitals, health psychologists work in more diverse settings, such as public health agencies and pain management centers. In addition, clinical psychologists work more independently, treating clients on a one-on-one basis. Health psychologists are often found as part of teams conducting research for application in clinical, community, and governmental settings.


Clinical psychologists differ from health psychologists in terms of the overall training. While doctoral degrees are required for both types of psychologists, the core curriculum is different. Clinical psychology places more emphasis on the practitioner model of psychology, training students to practice psychology in a variety of settings. While health psychology programs can train psychologists to work as practitioners, more emphasis is placed on conducting research. During a doctoral program, clinical psychologists take core curriculum classes related to personality psychology, emotional states, abnormal behavior, stress, and positive psychology. A health psychologist's training emphasizes more biological knowledge, understanding the intersection of biology and behaviors. Classes that a health psychologist might take include topics on physiological psychology, disease processes, and bio-behavioral models of illness.

Treatment Approaches

While clinical psychologists focus on reducing symptoms of mental health disorders, health psychologists' treatment approaches rely more on teaching coping mechanisms. Clinical psychologists employ a variety of therapy techniques, depending on the client. Treatment options include marriage and family therapy--working with couples and families to improve relationships. Other therapies clinical psychologists use include cognitive and behavior therapy---helping a person modify his thinking processes and behaviors to bring about positive change. Health psychologists teach clients coping strategies, such as relaxation therapies, stress management and biofeedback.


Research by clinical psychologists focuses on the theory and practice of the field and documents the empirical strength of clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists also research mental illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. Research in health psychology focuses on specific diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and chronic pain. Health psychologists research how cultural, psychological, and social factors affect these problems. This specialization also focuses on developing healthy lifestyles to prevent illness.


Health psychologists develop programs and treatment plans to combat a variety of diseases and unhealthy lifestyles. Issues in which health psychologists get involved include creating programs to help people stop smoking, lose weight, stay physically active, and manage stress. On the other hand, clinical psychologists primarily work with and treat mental illnesses. This type of psychologist may develop treatment plans to alleviate symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), major depression, and other mental health problems.


Matthew Schieltz has been a freelance web writer since August 2006, and has experience writing a variety of informational articles, how-to guides, website and e-book content for organizations such as Demand Studios. Schieltz holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He plans to pursue graduate school in clinical psychology.

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