How to Become a Clinical Psychologist


Updated April 16, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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Clinical psychologists address mental, emotional, and behavioral conditions in various settings, from professional practice to research. Most states require a doctorate in clinical psychology for licensure and independent practice. Learn what it takes to become a clinical psychologist in this guide.

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What Is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychologists help people across the lifespan and from diverse backgrounds address mental, emotional, and behavioral conditions. Some specialize in treating certain populations or practice areas. Students enrolled in graduate clinical psychology programs typically focus on one or more of these specialized populations or practice areas in child and adolescent psychology, geropsychology, forensic psychology, or neuropsychology.

Clinical psychologists pursue various professional roles in clinical practice, teaching, research, and administration. These professionals often practice in healthcare facilities, social service agencies, and community health centers. They also find employment in schools, private practice, veterans’ hospitals, correctional institutions, and, increasingly, in business fields such as marketing and human resources.

How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

Becoming a clinical psychologist requires 8-12 years of education and experience. While each state sets its requirements for licensure, the first step is to earn a bachelor's in psychology or a related field. You can continue your studies in a master's program, or depending on the school, you can enroll in a doctoral program directly after earning your bachelor's.

  1. 1

    Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    A bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field prepares you for graduate studies in clinical psychology. Most schools offer bachelor’s in general psychology, including concentrations or electives with a clinical focus.
  2. 2

    Consider a Master's Degree

    A master’s in clinical psychology provides advanced training in theory, research, and practice. You might also consider a combined doctoral program that enables bachelor degree-holders to earn their master’s and doctoral programs simultaneously.
  3. 3

    Earn a Doctoral Degree

    Most states require a Ph.D. or a Psy. D. to apply for psychologist licensure and practice independently. While both degrees can prepare you for licensure, the Ph.D. generally emphasizes scientific inquiry and research, while the Psy.D. emphasizes hands-on clinical training.
  4. 4

    Satisfy Internship and Supervised Clinical Requirements

    Most doctoral programs require students to complete several years of part-time practicum experience and one year of full-time internship. Most states require completion of 1-2 years of additional supervised practice at the postgraduate level for licensure. Because the number of mandated hours varies for each state, you should always check with the licensing board where you intend to practice to learn about current requirements.
  5. 5

    Pursue State Licensure

    Obtaining a license in most states requires a passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), the national exam for clinical psychology. Some states require performance standards exams, such as jurisprudence or ethics exams, in addition to the EPPP.

Clinical Psychologist Licensure

You must maintain your license by fulfilling continuing education (CE) credits and renewal requirements specific to your state board. Each licensing board establishes the length of the renewal period and the number and type of continuing education credits you need to complete during the renewal period. Renewal requires submitting an application, fees, and documentation of CE credits.

Licensed clinical psychologists looking to relocate should confirm licensure requirements in the state where they intend to practice. Some states have adopted license mobility or reciprocity agreements that allow clinical psychologists to practice in multiple states. Other states require professionals to apply for a new license.

Clinical Psychologist Outlook and Salaries

The employment outlook for licensed clinical psychologists is rising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for clinical and counseling psychologists to grow by 11% between 2022-2032, faster than the national average for all occupations.

Clinical psychologists also earn higher-than-average salaries. In 2023, these professionals made a median annual salary of $96,100, with the top 10% of earners making over $168,000 yearly.

The growing demand for clinical psychologists accompanies expanding opportunities for career advancement. Experienced clinicians may take administrative roles in healthcare or build their own private practices or consulting businesses.

Clinical Psychologist Salaries by Percentile
Annual Salary Percentile Annual Salary
10% $168,870
25% $129,020
Median (50%) $96,100
75% $66,050
90% $48,820
Source: BLS, 2023

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Clinical Psychologist

How many years does it take to become a clinical psychologist?

Becoming a clinical psychologist takes 8-12 years of education, plus 1-2 years of supervised internship and postdoctoral experience working under a licensed psychologist. The exact requirement for supervised experience depends on each state's regulations, and the time spent in school depends on your program's pace and whether you attend part-time or full-time.

How hard is it to become a clinical psychologist?

It can be hard to become a clinical psychologist because of the amount of education and fieldwork required. Depending on your state's requirements, you must earn a doctorate and complete 1-2 years of supervised postdoctoral experience. Sometimes, people ask how to become a clinical psychologist without earning a doctorate, but this is not possible; every state requires you to earn a doctorate.

What is the hardest part of being a clinical psychologist?

The hardest part of being a clinical psychologist can be working with people experiencing psychological difficulties, the need to adhere to demanding regulations and ethical codes, compassion fatigue, or the risk of verbal or even physical violence. The challenges vary by job and workplace type. For example, a psychologist in private practice can set their hours but must handle the business aspects of managing a practice.

Do clinical psychologists get paid well?

Although salaries vary based on geographic region, employer, and experience, many clinical psychologists earn over $95,000 yearly. Clinical psychologists earn a median salary of $96,100. The highest 10% of earners in clinical psychology make $168,870 or more annually.

Page last reviewed on April 10, 2024

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