5 Differences Between Clinical and Developmental Psychology

difference between clinical and developmental psychology

5 Ways Clinical and Developmental Psychology are Different

  • Specialty
  • Education
  • Area of Research
  • Work Environment
  • Salaries

Developmental psychology is an exciting and rewarding specialty within the field of psychology. However, if you are considering a career in the developmental field, it’s important to understand the difference between developmental and clinical psychology. Even though there is some overlap between the two fields, both approach psychology in a unique way, influencing the type of preparation a student will need. Below are five ways that clinical and developmental psychology are different.


Although both forms of psychology focus on the mental well-being of the patient, the focus is slightly different in each specialty. In a clinical approach, the psychologist is attempting to address the mental, emotional, cognitive or behavioral disorders induced by stress or trauma. Trauma is the result of a distressing event that creates long-term, harmful effects on an individual’s sense of well-being. In a developmental approach, the psychologist focuses on the growth and development of an individual. The psychologist is concerned with the mastery of developmental milestones that will lead to an independent and fulfilling life.


To pursue a career in the clinical field, a student will need to first acquire basic skills with a bachelor’s degree. However, a master’s degree is required to attain a deeper knowledge that will lead to gainful employment. Many students continue on to a Ph.D. within their specialized interest. Students who want to pursue a career in the developmental field can begin with a bachelor’s degree. Although a master’s degree is not required, it does make it easier to move into a graduate program where students can pursue either a Ph.D. or a PsyD. A Ph.D. helps prepare a student for further research or a career in academia, whereas a PsyD allows students to provide counseling services to patients and their families.

Areas of Research

There are also differences in the areas of research each field pursues. In the clinical field, researchers focus on pathological conditions, that is the study of mental disorders, such as those found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM). However, the developmental field focuses more on vocational and minority/cross-cultural studies, seeking to understand the influence of both nature and nurture. That is, it seeks to determine to what extent behavior is related to genetics or to the environment.

Work Environment

Place of employment is where you may see the most overlap between the two fields. Clinical based psychologists might find themselves working in corporations, public, or private practice. Those in the developmental field may also be employed in public or private practice, including schools, hospitals, mental health facilities, substance abuse programs, etc. The main difference between the two is that developmental psychologists are more often involved with counseling and clinical psychologists are more often found in hospitals or clinical settings


Salaries within the two fields are comparable. The average wage for clinical psychologists is about $70, 580 while the average wage for a developmental psychologist is $71, 871. The main difference is the method of advancement. There is heavy competition within the clinical field, so earning a doctoral degree is a great way to distinguish yourself. On the other hand, the developmental field offers fewer opportunities for skill-based advancement. Instead, pay is determined more by location and years of experience.

Both clinical and developmental psychology are rewarding career fields. However, it is important to consider your long-term goals early in your academic career to set yourself up for success.

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