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Social Psychology vs Clinical Psychology

Similar goals but different approaches?

By:
Yelnur Shildibekov, PhD
|
Reviewed by:
Alexander Tokarev, PhD
Social vs Clinical Psychology – PSYCULATOR
Shvets production | pexels.com

Both social and clinical psychology share a focus on understanding human behavior and mental processes, albeit from different perspectives: Social psychology examines how social interactions and societal factors influence individuals, while clinical psychology addresses mental health and behavioral disorders.

Understanding Social Psychology

Social psychology examines how social contexts, including our surroundings, social norms, and relationships, impact our feelings, thoughts, and behavior. The research in the social psychology field started in 1935 with Carl Murchison's work on social norms and compliance and saw significant growth post-World War II, continuing to develop through the 1950s and beyond.

What Qualities Should a Social Psychologist Have?

As a social psychologist, you should have a set of essential skills and competencies, such as the following:

  • Empathy: When you work as a social psychologist, establishing a trusting relationship with clients is essential. A high level of empathy allows you to understand and explain social interactions and their effects on one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
  • Effective communication: Effective communication skills are essential for professionals in social psychology. Clear and effective communication helps avoid misunderstandings, minimize conflicts, ensure trust, and foster collaboration with clients. Respect in communication ensues a productive dialogue.
  • Strong analytical abilities: Social psychologists rely on previous research. They need to be adept at analyzing data and drawing conclusions from past research in order to understand their clients’ problems thoroughly.
  • Research skills: Staying well-informed about ongoing research is essential when you work as a social psychologist, as it allows you to determine which theories are relevant to your clients and offer personalized services.

Examining social interactions and societal norms offers a deep understanding of individual psychology. Studying how individuals engage with each other and the impact of social norms on these interactions can reveal much about a person's mental state.

Exploring Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is the field that focuses on understanding, diagnosing, and treating mental health disorders, with the goal of preventing and relieving psychologically-based distress and improving a person’s overall well-being.

Clinical psychology emerged in 1896 with the opening of the first psychology clinic at the University of Pennsylvania. However, its significance grew markedly after World War II due to the high number of soldiers experiencing "shell shock," now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This branch of psychology involves integrating various psychological principles to develop customized mental health treatments for individuals facing diverse mental health challenges.

What Qualities Should a Clinical Psychologist Have?

As a clinical psychologist, you might need the following vital skills:

  • Effective communication skills: Speaking with and understanding people is essential to a clinical psychologist's work. Clear and honest communication helps clinical psychologists understand the roots of client's problems and devise effective treatment strategies.
  • Empathy: It's usual for people dealing with mental health issues to be cautious or distrustful. This emotion is sometimes so strong that it becomes a significant component of their condition. Clinical psychologists must be extremely empathic in order to provide emotional assistance and comfort for their clients.
  • Sharp analytical skills: As a clinical psychologist, your role involves extensive interaction with clients to collect information, which is then analyzed with knowledge from various psychology areas. This process requires significant analytical skills to offer personalized treatment.
  • Research expertise: Clinical psychology is supported by a large amount of both quantitative and qualitative research, and a wealth of information from several psychology domains, including developmental and social psychology as examples. Proficiency in research skills is critical for achieving success as a clinical psychologist.

Related: Pros and Cons of being a Clinical Psychologist - a very rewarding yet challenging career path

5 Ways in Which Social and Clinical Psychology Differ

While both are branches of psychology, there is more than one significant difference between social psychology and clinical psychology.

Here are five key differences of Social Psychology vs clinical psychology:

1. Objectives

The primary focus of social psychology is on how an individual's environment impacts their feelings, thoughts, cognition, and behaviors. This branch of psychology examines how social interactions, group dynamics, and societal standards shape a person's psychological experiences. For instance, social psychology aims to discover how external factors such as peer pressure, cultural background, and social media influence an individual's mental processes and actions.

Clinical psychology, on the other hand, is concerned with understanding the underlying psychological or psychopathological mechanisms that govern a person's behavior, such as cognitive patterns, emotional reactions, and mental conditions[1]. While external causes are acknowledged, clinical psychology emphasizes the importance of internal psychological processes, affective states (i.e. emotions), and cognitive patterns.

Clinical psychology frequently adopts therapeutic procedures to treat mental health difficulties. The major purpose is to diagnose, treat, and prevent mental health illnesses, as well as to provide a more introspective and personalized approach to understanding human behavior.

2. Subjects

The distinction between social psychology and clinical psychology in terms of topic focus is important in understanding their different approaches. Social psychology studies people in the context of their social connections and interactions. This field explores how a person's behavior, attitudes, and perceptions are shaped by their relationships with others, group affiliations, and societal influences. It covers topics such as conformity, social influence, group dynamics, and the impact of social surroundings on individual psychology, focusing on the interaction between the person and their social environment.

In contrast, clinical psychology focuses on the patient's internal experiences - their thoughts, feelings, and actions. The main goal of this field is to understand the psychological causes of mental health problems. Clinical psychologists evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental health illnesses with a focus on the patient's internal psychological environment.

They use a variety of therapy strategies to treat specific mental health issues. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely used therapeutic approaches that clinical psychologists use to treat their patients[2].

3. Focus Points

Social Psychology vs clinical psychology have a significant difference in terms of their orientation toward understanding human behavior and mental processes. Social psychology is mostly concerned with the impact of other people's behaviors, group dynamics, social norms, and cultural factors on an individual's behavior and thinking[3]. This field is concerned with understanding how individuals perceive, are influenced by, and interact with others and also in the presence of others in their social environment.

Clinical psychology, on the other hand, takes a more introspective approach, focusing on the patient's own psychological state. It delves into the complexities of the human mind, focusing on emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that arise within the individual.

Clinical psychologists seek to understand, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders, examining factors such as cognitive processes, emotional regulation, psychological trauma, and behavioral patterns.

Related: What is Neuroticism in Psychology?

4. Types of Patients

Clinical psychology and social psychology study thoughts, feelings, and behavior, but they treat various patient populations depending on the severity and nature of mental health issues. Clinical psychology addresses more severe mental health issues, frequently with complicated psychiatric symptoms and a history of hospitalization. These may involve depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, requiring specialized therapeutic interventions together with long-term care and supervision.

In contrast, social psychology tends to work with a broader spectrum of individuals whose mental health disorders range from mild to moderately severe. This field often engages with people who are coping with everyday stress, social anxiety, adjustment issues, or mild mood disorders. It gives people techniques and knowledge to deal with challenging social situations more effectively.

5. Findings

Social psychology can lead to a variety of findings on family, social, and academic issues. Clinical psychology is mainly concerned with the symptom-based diagnosis of mental health disorders.

However, when considering the difference between clinical and social psychology, it is important to recognize that they often overlap in methods and approaches. Both social and clinical psychology use observational studies, experiments, interviews, and surveys to understand and address human behavior and mental processes.

A Future in Psychology

Although clinical psychology and social psychology have distinct approaches, both play crucial roles in improving mental health services. A bachelor's degree in psychology offers diverse career opportunities but is rather a starting point. While some graduates opt for further education to become licensed psychologists, others start working directly in related fields.

For instance, one path might involve becoming a school counselor, where entry-level positions earned a median salary of $56,310 in 2018. The Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (BLS) anticipates 8% job growth in this area by 2028.

Conclusion

Social psychology is a fairly new field of study, but it has already made a significant impact in helping psychologists understand how society shapes people's personalities, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Even though it has overlap with other areas of psychology, social psychology predominantly focuses on the social rather than clinical aspects of individuals’ psychological functioning.

Clinical psychology, on the other hand, focuses on diagnosing and treating mental health problems by using a wide range of therapeutic strategies and approaches.

FAQ

How Many Branches of Psychology Are There?

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How are Psychology and Sociology Different?

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