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How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

Written by Rachel Schneider

What is Clinical Psychology?

Clinical psychology broadly refers to the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders. Clinical psychologists may provide general psychological treatment or work with a specific patient group, disorder, or condition. With many specialties falling under this domain, clinical psychology is the profession's largest subfield.

Typical work settings include hospitals, schools, or private practices. While many clinical psychologists work in medical settings, they are not considered medical doctors and most states do not allow them to prescribe medications. Read on to explore how to become a clinical psychologist and how to excel in the field.

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

Many general clinical psychologists work in healthcare or mental health facilities, while those practicing a specialty may work for a private organization, school, police department, or the military. Good clinical psychologists should demonstrate the following:

Skills and Competencies

  • Strong Analytical Skills
  • Scientific Reasoning
  • Problem-Solving
  • Strong Communication and Observation
  • Trustworthiness
  • Data Analysis
  • Empathy
  • Patience

Areas of Expertise in the Clinical Psychology Field

  • Health Psychology

    Health psychologists study the behavioral attributes of mental and physical health in adult patients.

    Focus Areas
    • Illness
    • Injury
    • Harmful behavior
    • Worrisome thoughts/beliefs
    • Stress

    Health psychologists often have a biopsychosocial approach when treating patients, incorporating an extensive understanding of how biological and social factors can impact psychological health.

    Common Job Titles
    • Health Psychologist
    • Research Psychologist
    • Counseling Health Psychologist
  • Child Psychology

    Professionals in this area work with patients from infancy to adolescence, focusing on methods of psychological assessment specifically designed for young patients.

    Common Issues Treated
    • Learning disabilities
    • Anger management
    • Anxiety
    • Developmental disorders
    • Emotional/physical abuse

    Consistent, ongoing treatment includes a variety of psychotherapy and behavioral modification methods to improve symptoms. Child psychologists typically work closely with parents and teachers to incorporate collaborative therapy for patients.

    Common Job Titles
    • Child Psychologist
    • Child/Adolescent Therapist
    • Licensed Counseling Psychologist
    • Attending Psychologist – Children and Adolescents
    • School Psychologist – Children and Adolescents
  • Neuropsychology

    Neuropsychologists study how psychological behavior is affected by brain function and anatomy.

    Common Issues Treated
    • Learning disabilities
    • Traumatic brain injury
    • Stroke
    • Alzheimer's disease
    • Parkinson's disease

    This experimental topic examines the progress and symptoms of common neurological disorders to develop treatments and advance further research.

    Common Job Titles
    • Neuropsychologist
    • Neuropsychology Research Specialist
    • Neuropsychology Specialist
  • Geropsychology

    Geriatric psychologists specialize in the mental well-being and the all-around physical, emotional and social health of older adults.

    Common Issues Treated
    • Depression
    • Cognitive function
    • Illness
    • Chronic illness

    In older patients with progressive conditions such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, geropsychologists and neuropsychologists often experience overlap in terms of effective psychological evaluation and treatment methods.

    Common Job Titles
    • Geropsychologist
    • Geriatric Psychologist

Clinical Psychology By the Numbers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an above-average job growth rate of 14% for psychologists between 2018 and 2028. Employment levels for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists continue to grow because of the greater demand for psychological services within hospitals, schools, mental health centers, and social service agencies.

Candidates who hold a doctoral or education specialist degree with postdoctoral work experience the best job opportunities among clinical, counseling, and school psychologists. In 2018, psychologists earned a median annual salary of $79,010. Salary figures further break down in the field by the type of psychology.

Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists experience annual median wages of $87,450, industrial-organizational psychologists earn about $111,150, and all other psychologists earn $98,230.

How Do I Become a Clinical Psychologist?

While degree-seekers can explore many paths to become a clinical psychologist, students need a master's to enter the field. Learners looking to practice general psychological therapy may choose to study clinical psychology basics, while others may select a specialty and continue their education with a specific focus. Psychologists often need a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to advance to the top of the industry or work in private practice. Aspiring clinical psychologists should strongly consider completing an internship or practicum during their program.

Keep reading to explore the start-to-finish journey of entering the clinical psychology workforce. You can choose the stage that best matches your situation.

I'm an Undergraduate or Have Completed My Undergraduate

  • Declare as a psychology major.

    The following will likely be a part of your foundational courses:

    • Intro to Psychology
    • Behavioral Psychology
    • Cognitive Psychology
    • Biological Psychology
    • Social Psychology
    • Statistical Methods
    • Psychology Seminar
  • Consider a specialty.

    • Focus your studies. Seek out a niche in the field if you have settled on clinical psychology.
    • Meet with professors in your school who are working in your area of interest. Grad schools are impressed if you are already thinking about your thesis at this stage in the game.
  • Take the GRE.

    • Find out what the minimum scores for admittance are at your school.
    • Re-take practice tests at least a few times.
    • Consider a paid GRE prep course if your scores are low.
    • When registering for a test date, be sure to allow time to retake the test if you're not satisfied with your results the first time.
  • Get reference letters.

    • Keep in contact with a few professors by going to office hours, participating in class and making an effort to distinguish yourself. Building networking skills now may secure your admission later.
    • If you're re-entering school after a break or are not close with your instructors, don't hesitate to approach them; be open to casually chatting about your interests, goals and extracurricular activities.
  • Choose a graduate school.

    • Our psychology database can help you research the top graduate clinical psychology programs. Your choice of school directly affects your post-graduation employment. Select a school well-known for its clinical psychology alumni network and career placement services.

I'm Pursuing a Graduate Degree

  • Come up with a thesis.

    • The framework of your early career starts here. Hopefully you've pinned down your research subject, but if not, quickly identify your topic at this stage.
    • Consult your professors to help transform a broad idea into a more focused hypothesis.
  • Find an internship.

    • Apply for an internship before you graduate so that you can be working while in school. The right internship could lead to a job immediately after school and provide further networking opportunities to build your resume.
  • Network with professors and professionals in the field.

    • Networking is typically the most promising part of the job search.
    • Seek out your school's career services staff to build your interview skills. Strong networking and interview knowhow will serve you well when applying for jobs.

I Have a Master's or PhD

  • Refine your resume and keep it current.

    • Update your resume often so it contains relevant information and maintains a professional appearance.
    • Ask trusted individuals you know to proofread your resume and give suggestions.
    • Always note the latest activity on your resume so potential employers can see recent experience and skills.
  • Start sending out job applications.

    • Don't delay—the application process takes time. You will reap the rewards later for being consistent and methodical.
    • Write customized cover letters for each position you apply for.
    • Use LinkedIn to locate contacts within each organization and reach out to them. This can give you an edge come interview time.
  • Prepare for interviews.

    • Conduct a mock job interview with friends.
    • Research the company you are interviewing for. Prepare to be able to describe what they do briefly but accurately.
    • Dress appropriately, conduct yourself professionally and bring hard copies of your resume and cover letter.
  • You're now a clinical psychologist.

    • Pat yourself on the back! Ideally, if you have followed the guidelines above, you will have secured your first industry job.
    • Don't stop looking for career-building opportunities. Stay current on recent research, and look for the chance to further your education and increase your income.

Licensure for Clinical Psychologists

Licensing requirements vary by state, although all candidates should consider general points as they prepare for licensure. Individuals interested in starting the licensing process can begin by reviewing the requirements of their state's specific licensing board.

State licensing boards typically require candidates to hold a minimum of a doctoral degree in psychology from a regionally accredited college or university. Some states also require the psychology program to hold accreditation from the American Psychological Association or another related programmatic accrediting agency.

Across the nation, all states require applicants to complete and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology to demonstrate their competencies in core psychology areas, including social and biological bases of behavior, assessment, and diagnosis.

Along with the educational criteria and exam requirement, candidates for psychology licensure must complete a specific amount of supervised clinical hours, determined by their state's licensing board.

Psychology Internship Opportunities

Students often find that clinical psychologist education requirements include an internship or practicum component. Requirements vary depending on learners' degree level and school. Clinical psychology programs might require more in-depth internship or practicum requirements due to their clinical focus.

Practicums and internships provide learners with in-the-field experience that allows students to relate their coursework to the psychology field. However, the experiences differ in terms of the scope of work students can perform. Learners pursuing internship opportunities focus on independent work. They report to a supervisor but do not often work under their direct supervision.

In practicums, learners work closely with psychology professionals, watching them complete tasks in counseling patients and recommending appropriate treatment plans. In these experiences, much of the work focuses more on observation and less on independent activities.

The length of time these components require varies depending on the college or university, although they typically exceed 1,000 hours. Internships and practicums are not usually paid experiences. Instead, students receive educational credits. Use this resource to learn more about internship organizations and information for psychology students.

Find a Clinical Psychology Degree Program Near Me

Aspiring clinical psychologists can use the following database to aid in their search for the right program. Users can filter results through a variety of factors, such as location, degree level, and campus type to ensure their results line up with their goals and needs.

School Degree Levels State