How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

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Updated January 30, 2023 · 3 Min Read

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Learn how to become a clinical psychologist. Discover what a psychologist does, the steps to licensure, educational requirements, and salary expectations.

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A career as a clinical psychologist can be very rewarding. Clinical psychologists work directly with clients in a clinical setting, like a hospital, outpatient clinic, treatment facility, or private practice. Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental illness.

Dive into how to become a clinical psychologist, and find out about salaries and job duties. Also, you can check out our top picks for the best clinical psychologist programs.

What Is Clinical Psychology?

A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional licensed to perform various psychological tests to diagnose and treat mental illness. You must have a master's or doctoral degree in psychology and­­ clinical experience to qualify for licensure. Each state regulates the specific licensure mandates.

Typical job duties include seeing clients on an individual, family, or group basis and performing psychological testing. Clinical psychologists also diagnose and treat (e.g., providing therapy) mental and behavioral disorders.

Psychologists record the client's social interactions and cognitive and emotional processes to formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan. Clinical psychologists do not prescribe medication.

The work setting for a clinical psychologist often includes treatment facilities (e.g., alcohol and drug rehab centers), psychiatric hospital units, or a private practice setting.

Clinical Psychology Salaries

Average Salaries by Year
Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
$56,000 (Payscale, January 2023) $86,000 (Payscale, January 2023) $122,000 (Payscale, January 2023)
$47,010, (BLS, May 2021) $82,510 (BLS, May 2021) $167,460 (BLS, May 2021) 6%, (BLS)

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How Do I Become a Clinical Psychologist?

There are several steps­ to becoming a clinical psychologist, including completing a bachelor's, then a master's and doctoral degree in psychology, getting experience, and achieving board certification and licensure.

Education for Clinical Psychologists

The education requirements to become a clinical psychologist include an undergraduate degree and a doctorate. However, in many cases, learners also complete a master's degree. Most students spend between 8-12 years earning their degrees before licensure.

You don't need to major in psychology during your undergraduate years to become a psychologist. Most doctoral programs ask for a bachelor's degree in any discipline from an accredited institution, among other requirements, including a minimum GPA and recommendation letters. Each program's requirements differ slightly.

During your doctoral studies, you may complete a dissertation. You choose a topic of interest to you and conduct an independent research project with the help of your professors. Upon completion, it may be submitted for publication. You then appear before a board of professionals to defend your research.

Preprofessional Experience for Clinical Psychologists

Once you have completed your doctorate, many states require supervised clinical hours to qualify for licensure. To do so, you will have to complete a postdoctoral psychology fellowship.

The number of hours needed varies by state. You can use the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards' interactive map to learn about requirements in your state. Typically, graduates spend 1-2 years at their postdoctoral fellowship.

Licensure for Clinical Psychologists

The final hurdle before licensure is passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). The test has 225 multiple-choice questions in eight content areas. You are given about four hours to complete the exam. To pass, you must answer about 70% of the questions correctly. The exam fee is typically $450.

Board Certification for Clinical Psychologists

The American Board of Professional Psychology offers certifications for licensed psychologists in 15 specialty areas. Prospective psychologists are not required to practice clinical psychology, but some choose to pursue certification to show advanced competency in a specific area. Specialties include forensic psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology, among others.

In 2017, about 4% of licensed psychologists in the U.S. were board certified. About one-third of those received certification in clinical psychology, according to the American Psychological Association. Board certification requires completing certain educational, training, and experience requirements, including an exam.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Clinical Psychologist

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

It takes 6-10 years to become a clinical psychologist, depending on whether you are a part-time or full-time student and what type of degree you have when you begin your master's program.

What is the quickest way to become a clinical psychologist?

The quickest way to b­­­­ecome a clinical psychologist is to enroll in an accelerated or competency-based undergraduate program. These programs usually take around 2.5 years to complete. Another option to shorten the time it takes to become a clinical psychologist is to enroll in a dual-degree program that combines an undergraduate degree with a master's program.

How hard is it to become a clinical psychologist?

Becoming a clinical psychologist is often considered hard work. There are many years of education involved and a steep learning curve that includes classroom plus hands-on experience. But if you like helping people, the rewards will likely offset these challenges.

Do clinical psychologists get paid well?

Yes, according to Payscale in January 2023, clinical psychologists get paid well with an average salary of $85,500 per year.

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

Clinical psychologists evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They help people deal with problems ranging from acute issues to severe, chronic conditions. Depending on the client's need, they employ a variety of approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy.

Clinical psychologists may work with individuals, families, or groups. Often, a psychologist specializes in a particular demographic, such as teens, women, or the LGBTQ+ community.

Professionals can work in hospitals, clinics, health centers, schools, or prisons. Many choose to start their own private practice. While clinical psychologists spend much of their time providing one-on-one therapy to clients, they also perform other duties, depending on their specialty and where they work.

Some psychologists perform research, which involves developing hypotheses and collecting data. Others perform lab experiments or use naturalistic observation. Psychologists also commonly administer questionnaires, clinical studies, or surveys.

Skills and Competencies

To succeed as a psychologist, you must have a deep level of empathy, active listening skills, and a strong moral compass. However, psychologists commonly experience compassion fatigue, which can lead to becoming numb to your clients' feelings. Before the pandemic, about 20-60% of mental health practitioners experienced burnout.

Psychologists are especially vulnerable to this because they are highly empathetic, which makes them more vulnerable to emotional pain. In this way, the natural selflessness and compassion you possess as a therapist may erode your ability to help clients if you don't practice self-care.

In recent years, stigma around mental health professionals seeking therapy has decreased. Having the self-awareness and humility to seek help is crucial to maintaining your own mental health and capacity to help others.


Page last reviewed January 25, 2023

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