Clinical Psychology Degrees & Careers How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

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Sarah Gardam
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Clinical psychologists study and provide therapeutic treatment for mental, emotional, and behavioral health issues. As researchers and therapists, these professionals often observe, assess, analyze, and design treatments for various disorders.

These professionals require doctoral-level degrees. Programs typically include individual research projects alongside supervised internship and practicum experiences. To obtain the state licensure required for practicing clinical psychologists, candidates typically complete about 3,000 hours of supervised clinical work and pass a professional practice exam. Some clinical psychologists earn additional specialty certifications that qualify them for work in specific fields.

This page explains how to become a clinical psychologist by outlining the common steps, skills, credentials, and resources needed. It also reviews clinical psychologist salary and job growth information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which indicates that this lucrative career yields a mean annual wage of $85,340.

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

Career Basics

Whether researching or providing therapy, clinical psychologists use observation, analysis, and communication to examine human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These professionals may work independently or within organizations as researchers, consultants, or therapists. Often employed at universities, mental health facilities, or research institutes, clinical psychology researchers observe, assess, experiment, and theorize regarding research subjects and phenomena.

Depending on their employment context, specialization, and role, clinical psychologists may collaborate with doctors, social workers, or educators. Practicing psychologists typically spend considerable time in session with clients, conducting clinical interviews, administering testing, and discussing issues and treatment plans. Other common daily tasks include note-taking, analyzing and diagnosing, researching, and writing reports or articles. Many psychologists also supervise interns and clinicians.

Clinical Psychologist Salaries and Job Growth

Salaries depend on credentials, position, employer, and location, but many psychologists make a very good living. Psychologists earned a median annual salary of $80,370 in 2019, according to the BLS. Due to increasing demand for psychological services, the BLS projects 14% growth for psychologists during 2018-2028. Psychology or education specialist doctoral degree-holders typically enjoy the best job prospects.

Clinical psychology Ph.D. graduates also typically make $40,000 more annually than psychologists with less education, so psychology students seeking high pay often pursue doctoral degrees.

Employment context also shapes salary numbers. According to the BLS, psychologists working in healthcare, management, and government often earn more than those employed by schools or substance abuse and psychiatric facilities. New Jersey pays the highest median wage for clinical psychologists, followed by Alaska, Hawaii, California, and Oregon.


Clinical Psychologist Job Growth

Positions in the field of psychology are set to grow by 19 percent between 2014 and 2024, increasing the number of trained professionals by 32,500. While clinical psychologists are but one position in the arena, the profession as a whole is on the uptick. Use the graphs below to learn how individual state's growth projections stack up to the national average.

4 Steps to Becoming a Clinical Psychologist

Aspiring clinical psychologists must complete several challenging and often expensive steps to access this rewarding and lucrative career. These include earning a doctorate in psychology, completing supervised clinical work, and passing a state licensure examination. See below for more detailed descriptions of these steps.

Step 1
Complete a doctoral degree
Aspiring licensed clinical psychologists require a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in clinical psychology. Students seeking academic or research-related careers often opt for the Ph.D., while aspiring clinicians gravitate to the Psy.D. Acceptance into either program typically requires excellent academic performance in related undergraduate and/or master's programs. Aspiring clinical psychologists usually major in psychology and pursue internship opportunities as undergraduates.

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Step 2
Earn state licensure
Most states require practicing psychologists to obtain state licensure. Licensure requirements vary by state, but they often entail completion of a psychology doctoral degree and applied internship, 1-2 years (about 3,000 hours) of supervised professional experience, and a licensure examination.
Administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, the professional practice in psychology (EPPP) exam consists of 225 items spanning eight content areas. The EPPP exam alone costs at least $600, and additional testing and licensure fees apply in most states.
Step 3
Find a clinical psychologist position
Many clinical psychologists work as behavioral health, medical, or counseling psychologists. Additional clinical psychologist career possibilities include clinical case manager, clinical or mental health social worker, neuropsychologist, and child psychologist.
Obtaining clinical psychology positions can prove competitive, but candidates can improve their job prospects by starting their job search while still completing their supervised clinical experience. Pursuing specialty certifications, internships, or post-doctoral placements in growing fields can also help candidates qualify for jobs.
Step 4
Maintain certification
Clinical psychologists must maintain their licensure to continue practicing. License renewal often costs around $400 and requires demonstrated compilation of continuing education hours. State license renewal requirements vary, but typically include 40-60 American Psychological Association (APA)-approved CE hours every 2-3 years. State licensure renewal requirements often stipulate completion of several CE hours in ethics and suicide prevention.

Preparing to Become a Clinical Psychologist: Schools and Programs

U.S. News & World Report designates the following schools as 2020's top doctoral programs in clinical psychology: University of California-Los Angeles and Berkeley, University of South Carolina-Chapel Hill, Stony Brook University-SUNY, and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

These programs earn their outstanding ranking by providing rigorous curricula and clinical experiences, cutting-edge teaching from accomplished faculty, and significant psychology resources and research. Institutionally accredited by Council of Higher Education Accreditation, these doctoral programs are also accredited by the American Psychological Association. Aspiring clinical psychologists should ensure that prospective schools meet high accreditation standards.

Applicants should also consider whether prospective programs align with their lifestyles, financial resources, and career aspirations. Tuition prices, program length and pace, attendance options, and admission policies may also factor into application decisions.

Many working students opt for part-time, asynchronous online or hybrid programs rather than full-time, cohort-based, on-campus programs. Applicants also should consider prospective schools' financial aid, internship, and practicum offerings.

Courses in Clinical Psychology

Psychology bachelor's program curricula introduce students to foundational topics such as personality psychology, behavioral neuroscience, and psychological testing. Some programs permit students to specialize by choosing courses that focus on a method, field, or context of particular interest.

Bachelor's programs in psychology typically cover the prerequisites necessary for graduate programs in psychology fields. Labs, group work, projects, and internships allow students to cultivate clinical skills in alliance building, interviewing, diagnosis, and treatment planning. Psychology majors also learn how to locate, critically evaluate, and write about psychological research studies. The sample courses described below may appear in undergraduate or graduate curricula in clinical psychology.

Advanced Cognition

This course examines human cognitive processes, including thinking and language, memory and learning, and perception and attention. Course content surveys major cognition research findings and theories, and students typically complete labs and research projects. Advanced cognition prepares clinical psychologists to assess and respond to clients' cognitive difficulties.

Adult Psychopathology

Surveying past and present theory, findings, and treatments for adult psychopathy, this course explores mental illnesses, including personality disorders and psychosis. The course teaches students to assess, diagnose, and treat various mental disorders.

Clinical Interviewing

This course trains students in techniques and methods for interviewing diverse populations in many different situations and contexts. Course content covers major psychotherapeutic interviewing models. Students learn how to perform effective intake and assessment interviews, as well as how to select an interview method. The course also teaches techniques for establishing comfortable, safe, supportive environments and creating therapeutic alliances with clients.

Psychodynamic Theory

Students learn about psychodynamic approach theories and practices such as psychoanalysis, ego psychology, drive theory, and relational theory. Course content surveys the approach's history and evolution, including its current uses. This course typically includes a clinical component that allows students to apply psychoanalytic concepts, theories, and treatment methods.

Social Psychology

Exploring the influence of social context on human psychology and behavior, social psychology courses examine phenomena such as group behavior, gender roles, stereotyping, and altruism. This course reviews social psychology's origins, major theorists, and approaches to research problems. Social psychology courses help aspiring clinicians understand and respond to client behavior within its larger social context.

Accreditation for a Clinical Psychology Program

To vouch for their educational investment and gain access to federal financial aid, aspiring psychology students should ensure that their prospective schools boast accreditation from agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Higher-caliber academic institutions typically boast regional accreditation, rather than the national accreditation often held by vocational or religious schools. When planning your educational path, note that regionally accredited schools only recognize credits or degrees from other regionally accredited schools.

Many clinical psychology graduate programs also boast programmatic accreditation by the

APA’s Commission on Accreditation or the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS). The nation's leading psychology education organization, the APA grants accreditation for doctoral degree programs in clinical and school psychology and counseling. PCSAS, a nonprofit accrediting agency promoting empirically based psychology education, also accredits top clinical psychology doctoral programs.

To find a list of accredited schools and programs, prospective students can consult the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Clinical Psychologist Specialties

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers 15 psychology specialty certification options that train candidates for particular work. Typically earned after obtaining general licensure, these additional certifications can qualify candidates for more specialized and/or in-demand positions and careers.

The BLS projects increasing demand for psychologists specializing in geropsychology and/or rehabilitation psychology -- specializations offered by ABPP. Other available ABPP specialties include psychoanalysis, behavioral and cognitive psychology, and group psychology. Clinical psychology speciality options include clinical health, clinical neuropsychology, clinical child and adolescent psychology, and clinical psychology.

The specialty certification process often takes around 2-3 years, although some specialties may require up to seven years to complete. Through additional coursework and/or supervised clinical work, students master knowledge and skills in multiple areas.

Clinical Psychology Career Concentrations

Clinical Psychologist

Median salary: $70,580

The most general position within the field, clinical psychologists may either conduct research or work with patients from many different backgrounds and generations to provide psychological care. After interviewing and assessing clients, clinical psychologists diagnose a spectrum of mental and emotional disorders. Once a diagnosis has been made, these professionals work with their clients to develop and administer a range of treatment plans.

School Psychologist

Median salary: $70,580

School psychologists are tasked with providing tailored care to children and adolescents. Typically working directly in a school, these professionals may diagnose and treat students or be involved in researching and developing teaching and learning programs that help resolve educational issues. School psychologists regularly interact with school administrators, teachers, children and their families.

Counseling Psychologist

Median salary: $70,580

While some counseling psychologists may engage in some level of research, the majority of their professional time is spent interacting with patients. Be they conducting group therapy sessions or one-to-one meetings with clients, counseling psychologists help individuals work through their problems by using a variety of psychological principals and methods. They are attuned to the social, cultural, educational, and psychological factors affecting an individual's thoughts and behaviors, and help their clients to recognize these patterns.


Median salary: $187,200+

Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who work with mental and emotional disorders. In addition to diagnosing and treating a range of issues, psychiatrists also work in different prevention methods. Their rigorous education provides training in medical, psychological, and social concepts related to different types of disorders, giving them the skills and knowledge to treat issues in a range of modalities. Psychiatrists can be found in both private practice and as part of comprehensive treatment teams.

Finding a Clinical Psychology Program

Components of a Successful Clinical Psychologist Career: Skills, Credentials, Tools, and Technology

Successful clinical psychologists typically have mental, emotional, and clinical skill sets. These patient and compassionate professionals boast strong interpersonal and communication skills, which help to establish rapport, provide emotional support, and articulate psychological issues with clients.

To understand and address the deeper dynamics of clients' struggles, clinical psychologists also require advanced listening, observational, analytical, and problem-solving skills. Psychologists require sound professional ethics and integrity to build trust and protect patient privacy.

Depending on the population served, clinical psychologists often benefit from credentials such as the ABPP specialty certifications described above. Additional mental health certifications and licensure areas include substance abuse counseling, pastoral care, hypnotherapy, and social work.

Familiarity with therapeutic tools, resources, and technologies also prove helpful for clinical work. The many resources available include assessment and screening tools, handouts and worksheets, and scheduling tools such as SetMore or YouCanBookMe.


  • Analytical

    Clinical psychologists are tasked with gathering and assessing information about their clients in order to make a diagnosis. Having an analytical mind and being able to synthesize findings from interviews and assessments is an important part of creating effective treatment plans.
  • Communicative

    These professionals are entrusted with clients' deepest and darkest thoughts and life stories, and being able to communicate empathetically and create a safe yet professional environment is crucial. Clinical psychologists must also know the right questions to ask in order to get their clients to open up about their experiences.
  • Research Skills

    Clinical psychologists working in research must have a strong understanding of the scientific method and be able to employ various approaches and frameworks to their research question. A strong understanding of statistics also goes a long way in this field.
  • Trustworthy

    Clients who don't trust their psychologist are not going to open up about their experiences, pure and simple. Clinical psychologists must be able to make their clients feel safe and heard, and clients must know that everything they tell them is kept in the strictest confidence.


What is the role of a clinical psychologist?

These professionals usually conduct research and/or diagnose and provide clinical therapeutic treatment to clients living with mental disorders or navigating difficult life events.

What is the difference between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist?

General psychology entails scientific study of disorders and problematic behaviors. Clinical psychology focuses on the assessment and treatment of these problems.

Is a clinical psychologist a therapist?

In most states, the term "therapist" can describe various counselors, social workers, and psychologists, including clinical psychologists, who offer direct therapeutic services.

What skills does a clinical psychologist need?

Clinical psychologists require sophisticated observational, analytical, and communicational skills. These professionals also need emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills to gain client trust and provide emotional support.

Clinical Psychologist Professional Organizations

The following professional organizations offer considerable career and community support to clinical psychologists. These organizations' job boards, conferences, discussion boards, and educational programming often provide crucial networking opportunities. Members also benefit from access to current research, news, and toolkits. Several of these organizations also advance the field by producing publications, performing professional advocacy, and establishing professional standards.

American Academy of Clinical Psychology

This organization of board certified clinical psychologists helps ensure the quality and ethical integrity of clinical psychology services. Featuring a membership directory, professional listings, and publishing opportunities, the AACPSY also facilitates networking, keeps members abreast of relevant news, and advocates for the profession.

America Counseling Association

This nonprofit organization runs an annual conference, educates the public, and provides professional development and career centers for counseling professionals. ACA members also benefit from award opportunities, publications, and pertinent news and policy updates.

American Psychological Association

The largest professional organization of its kind, the APA establishes professional practice standards and ethical codes. The APA also offers continuing education opportunities, publications, and annual conferences. This organization also features special divisions focused on clinical psychology, clinical child and adolescent psychology, and clinical neuropsychology.

Association for Psychological Science

This leading international organization supports scientific psychology research and serves members by providing career resources, awards and grants, publications, and professional conventions. Student members can partake of various networking, mentorship, and leadership opportunities.

Association of Black Psychologists

Committed to Black/African-centered psychology principles and values, the ABPSI seeks to liberate, empower, and inspire Black psychologists and their clients. ABPSI publishes the Journal of Black Psychology, offers toolkits and emotional emancipation circles, hosts conventions, and grants awards.

Resources for Clinical Psychologists

Psychology Tools

Founded in 2008 and developed by qualified psychologists, this resource library includes tools strongly grounded in theory, research findings, and evidence-based practice. Psychology Tools offers handouts, guides, and templates for therapists and clients. Individuals also may benefit from Psychology Tools' various articles and self-help tools.

Therapist Aid

Serving mental health professionals by offering free educational and therapeutic tools, worksheets, and handouts, this site organizes its materials by resource type, mental health topic, and client demographic. Therapist Aid resources include audio and print exercises, guides, articles, and products.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America Screening Tools

Formed in 1966, SSCP exists to promote the integration of both scientific research and practitioner roles within the field of clinical psychology. The society provides a number of grants and offer a series of awards for members.

Journal of Clinical Psychology

Founded in 1945 and published eight times per year, this peer-reviewed journal features reports, research and case studies, field notes, and articles on profession-related issues. Topics discussed include psychopathology diagnosis and treatment, behavioral medicine, assessment, and clinical health psychology. In Session, the journal's branch publication, focuses on therapists' clinical challenges and appears four times per year.

See Also

Become Team
Sarah Gardam
Contributing Writer

Latest Posts is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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