Applied Psychology vs. Clinical Psychology: What's the Difference?

What is applied psychology and clinical psychology? Learn the main differences between applied psychology and clinical psychology in this article. Find out which career options are available for applied psychology and what career options are available for clinical psychology in today's job market.

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17 January 2018 - By Saint Leo University
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What is Applied Psychology and Clinical Psychology?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychology as "the scientific study of the behavior of individuals and their mental processes." Put another way, it's the study of how people's brains work, giving us a greater understanding of the processes behind their many behaviors. Applied psychology and clinical psychology are two fields of study within the psychology track that are offered at Saint Leo University. 
Once you earn a psychology degree from Saint Leo University, you can actually take a couple of different career routes. You can choose to follow a career within applied psychology, or you can elect to take the clinical psychology route. So, what are the main differences here?

Applied Psychology vs Clinical Psychology

What is applied psychology? Applied psychology involves taking known psychological theories and principles to solve problems being experienced within other areas or fields. For instance, if a business has a high staff turnover rate, they may ask a person trained in applied psychology to assist them with figuring out why they struggle with retaining employees. Or, if a coach is having a hard time with an athlete who is more than capable of performing but is "getting in their own way," someone trained in applied psychology may be brought in to help the athlete move past his or her mental hurdles, improving performance on the field or court.

Clinical psychology, on the other hand, is what most people think of when they think of someone working in the psychology field. That's because this type of psychology involves working one-on-one with individuals or families to help them achieve a higher level of mental health. It is the therapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist who works directly with the person or family unit to discover what may be going on mentally, preparing a treatment plan to help them rectify issues with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and any of the other recognized mental disorders so that they can live a happier, more satisfying life.

Applied Psychology Careers

As we've already discussed, applied psychology requires using what we know about human behavior and brain processes to help other professional areas achieve higher results and/or meet their objectives. Therefore, this particular type of psychology includes careers in:

  • Industrial Organizational Psychology – Help companies overcome management and employee issues, consumer issues, hiring and retention problems, work-related stress concerns, job satisfaction issues, and more.
  • Forensic Psychology – Forensic psychology involves the analysis of those involved in the legal system. It often includes evaluating crime scenes and evidence to provide law enforcement with a better understanding of why someone would commit a particular crime or even who may have committed it, giving them an idea of where to focus their efforts when tracking down leads. This information can also help in court, when trying to explain to a judge or jury why the defendant likely committed the crime.
  • Sports Psychology – This type of psychology is focused on helping athletes achieve higher levels of performance while playing sports or engaging in any other physical activity. They often do this via mental exercises designed to get these individuals "in the zone" so they're the best athlete they can be physically.
  • Engineering Psychology – This form of applied psychology is as its name suggests – a mix between engineering and psychology. Very Well explains it rather well in stating that "engineering psychology is an applied subfield that focuses on improving and adapting technology, equipment, and work environments to enhance human behavior and capabilities."
  • Educational Psychology – If you work within the educational psychology realm, you will spend your days helping students achieve higher outcomes. This form of psychology can be used for students of all ages, and it can also be used in a number of different situations, such as when a student is gifted or has a diagnosed learning disability.

Career Options in Clinical Psychology

Because clinical psychology is more aligned with working directly with individuals with mental health issues, professionals working in this field are often found in very different settings than when compared with those working in applied psychology. The two most common settings are:

  • Private Practice – An individual working in a private psychology practice sees patients in his or her own office. Depending on your area of specialty, you may work with adults or children, and you may tend solely to individuals, couples, or families. Individuals working in private practice also typically specialize in certain areas of mental health, such as working primarily with patients who have suffered sexual abuse, those struggling with anxiety or depression, or couples having marital issues.
  • Psychiatric Facilities – If you choose the clinical psychology path, you may find that you enjoy working in a psychiatric facility instead, providing services to the patients they choose to serve. This may include working in a behavioral health clinic that caters to patients on an outpatient basis, or it could involve an inpatient facility where the patients stay on-site.

Saint Leo Offers Programs in Psychology

Get the lowdown on Saint Leo University's bachelor's and master's programs in psychology to learn if starting or advancing your career in this field is the right move for you.