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Clinical Psychologist vs. Research Psychologist: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Psychologists study human behavior and mental processes, and they can work in a variety of settings. Two common positions in this field are clinical psychologist and research psychologist. Both roles are important in the field of psychology, but they have different duties. In this article, we compare and contrast clinical psychologists and research psychologists, including job duties, work settings and salary information.

What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical Psychologists diagnose and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. They work with patients to understand the root of their issues and help them develop coping mechanisms to manage their symptoms. Clinical Psychologists conduct psychological evaluations, provide therapy and administer psychological testing. They work in a variety of settings, such as private practices, hospitals, clinics and government agencies. Clinical Psychologists often specialize in a particular area, such as child psychology, geriatric psychology or forensic psychology.

What is a Research Psychologist?

Research Psychologists conduct scientific studies on human behavior. They design experiments, collect data and analyze results to better understand why people think, feel and behave the way they do. Research Psychologists work in a variety of settings, including colleges and universities, government agencies, private companies and nonprofit organizations. They often specialize in a particular area, such as social psychology, developmental psychology or cognitive psychology. Research Psychologists typically have a Ph.D. in Psychology and are members of the American Psychological Association.

Clinical Psychologist vs. Research Psychologist

Here are the main differences between a clinical psychologist and a research psychologist.

Job Duties

Although both types of psychologists help people address and overcome mental health issues, the way they go about doing so can differ. A clinical psychologist works one-on-one with patients to identify the source of their problems and devise solutions for them to use in their daily lives. A research psychologist conducts studies on large groups of people or specific subjects to gain a better understanding of human behavior and how it relates to psychology.

The job duties of each type of psychologist also differ because of the nature of their work. For example, a clinical psychologist might create treatment plans for their patients and guide them through therapy sessions, while a research psychologist might develop hypotheses before running experiments and analyze data after doing so.

Job Requirements

To become a clinical psychologist, you need to have a doctorate in psychology. This typically takes about five to seven years to complete after earning a bachelor’s degree. During your doctoral program, you will likely take classes on topics like psychopathology and psychological assessment, as well as complete a supervised internship. After completing your doctorate, you will need to obtain licensure from the state in which you plan to practice.

If you want to become a research psychologist, you also need to have a doctorate in psychology. However, your coursework will focus more on research methods and statistics. You might also complete a dissertation based on your original research. Once you have earned your doctorate, you can pursue jobs in academia or research organizations.

Work Environment

Clinical and research psychologists may work in different environments depending on their specialty. Clinical psychologists often work in hospitals, clinics or private practices where they can provide therapy to patients. Research psychologists typically work in laboratories or universities where they conduct experiments and analyze data.

Clinical psychologists may also work with law enforcement officials to help evaluate criminal defendants. They may also work with parole officers to help rehabilitate criminals who have been released from prison.


Both clinical psychologists and research psychologists use critical-thinking skills to analyze data and make conclusions. They also both need excellent communication skills to interact with patients or research subjects, as well as colleagues. However, their day-to-day responsibilities differ, which requires different skillsets.

A clinical psychologist uses diagnostic skills to assess patients and determine a course of treatment. They also need counseling skills to provide therapy to patients. A research psychologist does not typically work directly with patients. Instead, they use research skills to design and conduct studies, as well as analyze data. They may also use writing skills to publish their findings in academic journals.


The average salary for a clinical psychologist is $97,497 per year, while the average salary for a research psychologist is $98,382 per year. The average salary for both positions may vary depending on the location of the job, the level of experience and the type of employer.


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