Clinical psychology is a branch of psychology that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses and behavioral disorders. It has a rich history that dates back to the late 1800s, when it first emerged as a distinct field. In this article, we will explore the question – who invented clinical psychology?

The Early Years of Clinical Psychology

The origins of clinical psychology can be traced back to the work of pioneers such as Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud. Wilhelm Wundt, a German psychologist, is widely considered to be the father of experimental psychology.

He founded the first laboratory dedicated to psychological research in 1879 at the University of Leipzig in Germany. His work laid the foundation for modern-day clinical psychology.

Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, was another influential figure in the early years of clinical psychology. His theories on the unconscious mind and psychosexual development have had a profound impact on modern-day psychotherapy.

The Emergence of Clinical Psychology

The emergence of clinical psychology as a distinct field can be traced back to Lightner Witmer, an American psychologist who founded the first psychological clinic at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896. Witmer’s clinic focused on diagnosing and treating children with learning disabilities.

Witmer is credited with coining the term “clinical psychology” in 1907. He defined it as “the study of individuals, by observation or experimentation, with the intention of promoting change.”

The Development of Clinical Psychology

Over time, clinical psychology evolved into a more specialized field that focused on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses and behavioral disorders. During World War II, clinical psychologists played an important role in helping soldiers cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues.

In the years following World War II, clinical psychology continued to develop as a field. The American Psychological Association (APA) established a division for clinical psychology in 1945, which helped to promote the professionalization of the field.

The Modern Era of Clinical Psychology

Today, clinical psychology is a well-established and respected field that continues to evolve and grow. Clinical psychologists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, and academic institutions.

Advances in technology and research have led to new approaches to diagnosis and treatment, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based therapies.


In conclusion, while there were many pioneers who contributed to the development of clinical psychology over the years, Lightner Witmer is credited with inventing the field as we know it today. His groundbreaking work at the University of Pennsylvania laid the foundation for modern-day clinical psychology and helped to establish it as a distinct field within psychology.