Experimental Methods in Psychology

By Gustav Levine; Stanley Parkinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Clinical Psychology: The Research Problems Encountered, and Procedures Used, in Treatment Outcome Research

Clinical psychology is the subspecialty that offers assistance to people with psychological problems. It is clearly an applied discipline. But it has had the unhappy task of being called to fulfill its mission before an adequate set of therapeutic methods has been fully developed. It had its start as a recognized subdiscipline during World War II (circa 1940). Psychologists were used by the military for the purpose of testing people, as well as for counseling. Initially there was little in the way of theory or technique that these early clinical psychologists could call upon, other than the various psychoanalytic approaches. They were in a position similar to that of physicians in the early years of medicine: It was possible that they were in danger of hurting their patients as well as helping them, because they had no independent assessments of the efficacy of the techniques they used.

Their task was made harder by the somewhat vague nature of the problems that were recognized as needing treatment (e.g., various forms of neurosis). In recent years the situation has improved through the development of therapeutic techniques that target more specific problems, with measurable symptoms, such as phobias, debilitating test anxiety, or lack of assertiveness. We can, for example, measure how close a person will come to a phobic object, before and after therapy, or check whether he or she is willing to touch the object. Debilitating test anxiety can be measured both physiologi-

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