5 Differences Between Social Psychology and Clinical Psychology

difference between social and clinical psychology

5 Ways in Which Social and Clinical Psychology Differ

  • Objectives
  • Subjects
  • Focus Points
  • Types of Patients
  • Findings

While general psychology, which is also known as clinical psychology, has been around for centuries, many new practicians are turning to sub-areas of forensic and social psychology. The reason why is the fact that they want to research unique and unexplored topics. In the eyes of someone who has no relevant knowledge here, however, both of these disciplines may sound pretty similar. So, what are some of the most common differences?

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The first way in which clinical and social psychology differ relates to the objectives of each field. For someone who works in the social area, according to Simply Psychology, the goal is to analyze how emotions and behaviors are affected by surroundings. That means that the goal is to figure out how someone’s environment changes them. With clinical psychology, however, the objective is to determine why someone behaves or feels a certain way. In other words, this discipline simply wants to break down the patient’s thought process without paying much attention to the external factors.


Both types of psychology here focus on a relatively similar group of subjects. It is important to note, however, that social discipline is a lot broader. While clinical psychology tends to only analyze the actual patient, the social counterpart will also focus on people who are involved in the patient’s life. For instance, when a high school student is undergoing clinical treatment, the specialist will inquire about the student’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, behaviors, and more. If they happen to go to a social expert for treatment, the conversation will also include the student’s friends and surroundings.

Points of Focus

The next difference boils down to the focus points of these two fields. This is arguably the most difficult distinction. For social psychology, the focus can fall on the actions of someone else, a situation that the patient was recently involved in, and many other external influences. Clinical psychologists are more concerned with the inner-workings of the patient’s mind. To that end, their focus points are oftentimes someone’s feelings, expectations, goals, recent moods, and more. It is important to note that these are not mutually exclusive. Just because a clinical professional prioritizes the internal influences does not mean that they will not ask about other events in someone’s life.

Types of Patients

Unlike the aforementioned, one of the easiest ways to separate the two disciplines at hand is to look at the common types of patients that each of them works with. Given that clinical psychology has been around for a lot of years, it has had a lot more time to evolve. Due to that, many folks who seek clinical treatment are usually going to be high-priority, previously institutionalized patients. Their issues will commonly be much more severe. Social experts, however, tend to work alongside a much broader category of patients whose conditions range from completely harmless or barely noticeable to moderately concerning.


Finally, the types of conclusions that present themselves in clinical and social spheres of psychology showcase a clear-cut disconnect. This comes as no surprise when one considers that fact that the objectives and focal points are different. For social psychology, the findings tend to be much more versatile. Consider, for instance, that same high school student that was mentioned earlier. A social expert could discover that he or she has issues related to their friends, family, social activities, grades, and many other factors. Someone who works on the clinical side of things, on the other hand, will simply look for a mental diagnosis that fits the symptoms.

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As mentioned, none of the items of this list are mutually exclusive. Just because social psychology is more likely to focus on multiple focal points and external factors does not mean that clinical psychology will not do the same from time to time.

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