Clinical Psychologist

psychological counsel
If you have the desire to diagnose, understand and treat individuals dealing with psychological & psychopathological difficulties, then read on to learn about becoming a clinical psychologist.

Clinical Psychologists At a Glance

  • Degree Level Requirements: Ph.D. or Psy.D. (4 – 6+ years)
  • Licensure Requirements: Licensure is required to practice as a clinical psychologist. The Association of State and Licensing Boards outlines state-by-state requirements.
  • Specializations: Numerous specializations, such as by psychopathological disorder, treatment method or research area.
  • Median Annual Salaries: $66,810*
  • Job Outlook: 22% growth from 2010 to 2020**

Career & Job Description

In a nutshell, “clinical psychologists work to help people alleviate distress or improve their functioning” through diagnosis, treatment, research and/or consultation, according to Tara L. Kuther and Robert D. Morgan (in the fourth edition of their book Careers in Psychology: Opportunities in a Changing World, 2013).

“The field of Clinical Psychology integrates science, theory, and practice to understand, predict, and alleviate maladjustment, disability, and discomfort as well as to promote human adaptation, adjustment, and personal development,” states The Society of Clinical Psychology, a division of the APA (American Psychological Association). “Clinical Psychology focuses on the intellectual, emotional, biological, psychological, social, and behavioral aspects of human functioning across the life span, in varying cultures, and at all socioeconomic levels.”

“Clinical Psychology focuses on the intellectual, emotional, biological, psychological, social, and behavioral aspects of human functioning across the life span, in varying cultures, and at all socioeconomic levels.”

Clinical psychologists work in a variety of workplaces, including private practices, hospitals, correctional facilities, universities, schools, community mental health centers, family health centers, veteran’s medical clinics, rehabilitation clinics or for government, military or legal agencies.

How Clinical Psychologists Spend Their Time

  • Psychotherapy/Direct Interaction with Clients: ~34% of time
  • Assessments/Diagnosis: ~ 15% of time
  • Other functions include: research, supervising doctoral students or other mental health professionals, teaching, consulting, writing and administrative tasks.

Source: Careers in Psychology: Opportunities in a Changing World, (4th edition) by Tara L. Kuther and Robert D. Morgan (2013)

Clinical psychologists may fulfill on one, several or many of the following job duties:

  • Assessing and diagnosing mental/behavioral/emotional/psychological/developmental difficulties, from acute crises to chronic conditions, such as schizophrenia, a personality disorder or an intellectual disability.
  • Assessment and diagnosis activities may include conducting interviews, observing behavioral activities or administering and evaluating psychological tests. In fact, being trained to administer these specialized tests is something that distinguishes psychologists from other mental health service professionals.
  • Providing treatment in the form of psychotherapy (such as individual, group or family therapy), psychoanalysis, cognitive (such as CBT) or social training and more.
  • Working as part of team with physicians, psychiatrists and other healthcare and human service professionals for diagnostic and treatment purposes.
  • As a university professor, teaching and serving as a research supervisor to psychology students.
  • Developing and evaluating the effectiveness of programs run by a variety of agencies, such as a program for vets suffering from PTSD.
  • Conducting research for universities, social service or non-profit agencies, government or industry, such as evaluating the effectiveness of an established form of psychotherapy.
  • Acting as a consultant to agencies relevant to the clinical psychologist’s specialty, such as for a rehabilitation centre for survivors of a trauma.
  • Acting as an administrator of a mental health services/psychology department, agency or clinic.
  • In some jurisdictions, clinical psychologists have the authority to prescribe psychopharmaceuticals.

Specializations & Concentrations

Some clinical psychologists are generalists meaning they work in a variety of areas with a range of individuals. On the other hand, “Some clinical psychologists treat specific problems exclusively, such as phobias or clinical depression,” states the APA. “Others focus on specific populations — for instance, youths; families or couples; ethnic minority groups; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals; or older people.”

Examples of specializations relevant to clinical psychology include:

  • Gerontology
  • Children, Adolescents and/or Families
  • Healthcare
  • Neuropsychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Community Psychology
  • A specific emotional, mental or cognitive disorder/illness (from ADHD or learning disabilities to eating disorders, depression or a specific phobia).
  • Addictions
  • A specific form of psychotherapy or treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy.

The Educational Journey

To become a licensed clinical psychologist, in most cases you will require a doctoral degree— either a Doctor of Psychology (Ph.D.) in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). There are also relevant careers you can gain after you complete a Bachelor’s and/or Master’s degree.

Bachelor’s Degree

Complete a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Aim to select courses and field placements, when given the option, related to clinical psychology, such as abnormal psychology, psychopathology, psychological testing, developmental psychology, behavioral psychology, community mental health and neuropsychology. Some universities will offer the option to select a pre-clinical or clinical psychology concentration.

Relevant Careers

You can either apply for a Master’s degree program or seek employment after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree. Those who have an undergraduate degree are eligible for careers, related to clinical psychology, such as a case management aide, community support worker, psychological assistant, life skills counselor, rehabilitation advisor, entry-level social work positions, youth counselor, substance abuse counselors, research assistant, psychiatric technician, correctional treatment specialist and more. (Note that some of these positions may require a few more specialized courses and/or certification/licensure).

Master’s Degree

Complete a Master’s Degree by selecting either a Clinical Psychology program or a Psychology program that allows you to select “Clinical Psychology” as a concentration. Note that some universities offer joint Master-Ph.D. programs for Clinical Psychology, and in some of these cases the student must commit to completing the doctoral degree. Even if you do not have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, some graduate schools will still accept you into their Master’s program.

Relevant Careers

For those who decide not to pursue a doctoral degree, they are still eligible for many fulfilling careers after completing a Master’s degree, such as a career counselor, researcher (for a university, government, non-profit or other industries), school counselor, human resources manager, mental health counselor, family therapist, case manager, rehabilitation counselor, community college professor, program developer/evaluator, grant, scientific or technical writer and more. (Some of these positions will require licensure/certification).

Doctoral Degree

Complete a Ph.D. or Psy.D. if you wish to become a licensed clinical psychologist and/or university professor/academic researcher. Many doctoral programs include clinical psychology as a subfield.

Certification & Licensing Requirements

In most cases, to treat, diagnose and consult as a clinical psychologist you must be licensed. Licensing guidelines vary by state and these requirements are outlined by the Association of State and Licensing Boards. General requirements for licensure include the successful completion of a doctoral degree (usually from an APA-approved institution), two years of internship supervised by a licensed psychologist (often the first year is part of the doctoral program) and passing the appropriate exam(s). Qualifying exams again vary by state, but often times passing the EPPP national exam and state-specific jurisprudence exam are required. Some states will also require licensure applicants to pass an oral exam.

Of the Psychology PhDs awarded in 2009, the highest proportion (nearly 35%) was in the subfield of Clinical Psychology.
Source: American Psychological Association Center for Workforce Studies, 2011

While certification is not mandatory, it is especially advantageous for clinical psychologists who specialize in a particular sub-field. “As specialization has grown, [ABPP president, Christine Maguth Nezu]  says, so has the need to assure the public that psychologists who claim to be specialists really do have the training and experience they need to work with special populations or in particular subfields,” wrote Rebecca A. Clay for the APA website’s “Career Center”. The ABPP (American Board of Professional Psychology) offers certification in numerous specialties, including “Clinical Psychology,” “Clinical Neuropsychology,” and “Clinical Health Psychology.” You can also gain additional credentials through completing continuing education certificate programs.

Additional Information

There is also careers related to clinical psychology that you can pursue at the Bachelor and Master degree levels.

While there are many similarities in training and roles among counseling psychologists and clinical psychologists, there are also some distinct differences. “It has commonly been suggested that one difference between the two disciplines is that clinical psychology is based on the medical model (meaning, assess, diagnose, and treat an ailment)…,” state Kuther and Morgan.

“Clinical psychology is based on the medical model (meaning, assess, diagnose, and treat an ailment)…”

Generally speaking (but not always the rule) clinical psychologists are more likely to work with individuals suffering from more serious issues, such as chronic mental illnesses or extreme psychological suffering; whereas, counseling psychologists tend to focus on helping individuals work on all aspects of their life.

  • References:
  • * May 2010 (for Clinical, Counseling & School Psychologists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • ** May 2010 (for Clinical, Counseling & School Psychologists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • † Salary data from US BLS
  • ‡ Job Outlook data from US BLS