Clinical psychology is a subfield of the psychological discipline concerned with the mental and emotional health of the human population. Professionals who work in this area are tasked with using their finely honed analytical and communication skills to help clients increase their quality of life and work through burdensome issues. Clinical psychology roles are well-suited to individuals with a strong work ethic who are able to show empathy while also being very oriented to solving problems. To learn more about what it takes to become a clinical psychologist and the benefits a career in this area offers, keep reading.
Whether working directly with patients or creating and conducting independent research studies, clinical psychologists are chiefly concerned with understanding the mental, emotional, and behavioral problems affecting patients, ranging from young children to aging seniors. Individuals who become licensed clinical psychologists show passion and devotion to the field by competing between eight and 10 years of education and supervised experience before ever receiving their license. This rigorous amount of training ensures graduates are competent and knowledgeable professionals before ever seeing their first client without supervision. Those considering a career in this field should be well-aware that gaining entrance to an advanced program in clinical psychology requires great dedication and persistence as the majority of departments are highly selective.
Both practitioners and researchers within the field of clinical psychology are professionals devoted to helping people overcome issues related to behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders. Practitioners may specialize in areas of addiction, domestic violence, or children, while researchers also may focus on niche areas of the discipline. Aside from creating studies and sharing their findings, some research-based clinical psychologists may teach postsecondary courses at an academic institution. Many years of schooling and training prepare these professionals to be attuned to countless variables of the human condition and create thoughtful, individualized plans of treatment for their clients.
The median salary for a clinical psychologist in 2015 was reported as $70,580 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the 10th percentile earned up to $40,920 and the 90th percentile earned $116,960 or more. Psychologists with more experience or advanced certification may earn higher wages. Another significant factor in wage fluctuations is location. Use the map below to learn about salaries in the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentiles for each state in 2015.
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.
Degrees in clinical psychology don’t exist at the bachelor’s level, but there are numerous academic paths a student can elect to follow during their baccalaureate career. Psychology is the most popular option since it provides many of the prerequisite courses that advanced degrees will require, but students may also decide to study pre-med, sociology or anthropology to stand out from the crowd.
Because clinical psychology programs are intensely competitive, students need to be vigilant about their GPA and engage in any opportunities for research presented to them during the bachelor’s degree. Extracurricular programs are also highly encouraged, including internships and field placements.
Master’s degrees in clinical psychology are available, though completing this program doesn’t qualify students for licensure. Individuals who know they want to work as a licensed clinical psychologist can find combined programs resulting in a doctoral degree in less time than completing individual master’s and doctorate degrees. This option may not be available to students who studied a topic outside of psychology at the undergraduate level.
In order to be accepted into a master’s program, most departments require a high GRE score, letters of recommendation and prior research experience.
The clinical psychology student has two paths they can choose from at the doctoral level: the PhD and the PsyD. The former is well-suited to individuals planning to focus their talents in research, while the PsyD prepares students to see clients in a clinical setting. Being accepted to either type of program is a colossal accomplishment as most departments receive hundreds of applications and matriculate less than a dozen students.
In addition to coursework and a dissertation, students are also required to complete one to two years as an intern to hone their clinical skills under the watchful eye of a licensed clinical psychologist. At this level of academics, the most important thing to find is a program accredited by the American Psychological Association. While the APA has begun accrediting some hybrid graduate programs, prospective students should be aware that no purely online programs have received their approval as of 2016.
Because licensure is mandated at the state level, graduates may or may not be required to complete post-doctoral training in their jurisdiction. Students should check with their state’s board of psychology to learn specific requirements. Those looking to focus their skills and knowledge in a specialized area of clinical psychology, such as child or gerontology, may want to complete additional clinical training even if their state doesn’t require it.
Licensure requirements vary state-by-state but are generally quite similar and include graduating from an accredited doctoral program, completing a set number of hours in supervised experience, and successfully passing examinations
At the doctoral level, most programs require approximately two years – or 3,000 hours – worth of supervised experience, but some states may not require any postdoctoral experience. Prospective clinical psychologists must also pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.
Once receiving licensure, the most important thing a clinical psychologist can do is retain their license. Also mandated at the state level, continuing education is a vital component of a clinical psychologist’s career. Hours required vary by state, so CPs will need to keep track of requirements in their jurisdiction once licensed. The American Psychological Association provides a list of approved courses.
The path to becoming a clinical psychologist takes years of study, and many students can’t afford to stop working in order to spend all that time in a classroom. Fortunately, online degrees in psychology are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
These programs can offer the same level of instruction provided by on-campus programs but in a different format. Schools may have a virtual campus where students can create profiles and interact with classmates and instructors. Individual courses may be arranged so lectures and assignments are posted on a regular basis for students to review on their own schedule.
Online clinical psychology degree programs may offer flexible scheduling while still providing support services such as tutoring or career counseling. They can be an ideal choice for students who work full-time or have family obligations.
Before enrolling in any online degree program, students should check to ensure it is properly accredited. At the undergraduate level, regional accrediting boards are the gold standard.
Once students reach the graduate level, they should look for programs accredited by the American Psychological Association or the Canadian Psychological Association. Some schools also carry an ASPPB/National Register designation. A project of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, this designation signifies a school’s program meets the requirements typically mandated for state licensure. However, the designation is being discontinued as of 2019.
With the designation status disappearing, accreditation may take on increased importance, and distance learners should be sure to confirm their online clinical psychology program’s credentials.
In addition to accreditation, students should confirm their online doctoral program has a curriculum that includes all the topics covered in the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. States generally require individuals pass the exam to become licensed, and it includes the following eight content areas.
Whether you are interested in starting your psychology studies at the undergraduate level or looking for an online doctoral degree in clinical psychology, you can find available programs using the search tool below.
Undergraduate psychology degrees cover many of the foundational topics students encounter once reaching advanced study, including those that are required prerequisites. The degree typically features a strong blend of both research-building coursework and assignments alongside classroom teaching on the various frameworks and methodologies used within the field. Common courses may cover the psychology of personality, psychological tests and measurements, behavioral neuroscience, and research methods in psychology.
This interdisciplinary degree is a great educational track for someone who may want to pursue clinical psychology but also wants to keep their options open during their undergraduate career. A blend of topics, including biology, chemistry, physics and neuroscience are incorporated into the curriculum, while students also build clinical experience and research skills along the way. Common courses may include probability and statistics, attitude and social behavior, organic chemistry, and human anatomy and physiology.
Clinical psychology programs are highly competitive, with thousands of students being turned down during each admittance cycle. According to a report by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the top 10 programs admitted less than 3 percent of all applicants within the last five years. Even when expanding possibilities to the top 100 clinical psychology PhD programs, those at the bottom of the list still admitted just over 10 percent of applicants. While placements for master’s level clinical psychology programs tend to be slightly less rigorous, students should keep these numbers in mind if they plan to apply for a doctoral program.
Applicants should review the admission requirement of each program they plan to submit an application, as often the process will be different. While some psychology departments have started requiring the GRE, others do not. GPAs – particularly in related coursework – play a significant role in the decision-making process, as does prior research. The top clinical psychology programs expect to see significant research experience before a student is ever admitted. They also want to see that the student has a clear vision for the research they want to be involved with during their time in a graduate program.
Students should also plan to have the standard requirements for admission within arm’s length, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.
Two to three years of full-time study
Aside from coursework, students must complete a comprehensive examination and a thesis.
Students who don’t plan on treating patients may choose this degree.
Master’s in clinical psychology are rarer than PhD programs as most states now mandate a doctoral degree for licensure.
Four to five years of full-time study
Aside from coursework, students complete an internship lasting one or more years, comprehensive examinations, and a dissertation.
PhDs in clinical psychology are heavily focused on building research skills and conducting studies.
Students who plan to work in research rather than directly treating patients.
Four to five years of full-time study
In addition to coursework, students must complete a dissertation, fieldwork, and comprehensive examinations.
PsyD degrees are geared toward students who plan to work directly with clients and patients in providing treatment.
Students who may want to do some research but are primarily interested in private practice.
Starting with the history of the field and moving into modern day psychopathological frameworks, this course provides an overview of the discipline. Students learn about a range of disorders, including those related to anxiety, mood, personality and psychosis.
This course immerses students in the methodologies related to proper interviewing techniques for a variety of different types of patients and clients. The major models of psychotherapeutic interviewing are covered, including humanistic and neo-Freudian approaches.
With a focus on sociological and cultural implications on human behavior, students in this class learn how to work with a variety of different patients. Theory and research factor heavily into the course, as does a close look at the psychosocial factors affecting mental health.
This course provides a strong historical underpinning of the field and uncovers ideas related to the Third Force, the existentialist movement, and ideas of spirituality. The course covers seven major themes of human life, including anxiety, death, fear, human relations, suffering, self and relationships with the undefined.
This foundational course familiarizes students with concepts and theories surrounding the psychodynamic approach, including psychoanalysis. Some of the themes that are compared beside each other include ego psychology, relational theory, self-psychology and drive theory. It is typically offered with a clinical component.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Individuals interested in clinical psychology may also want to consider careers in related fields such as sociology, social work, mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, substance abuse counseling or teaching. Some of these professions have their own requirements for licensing and education. The graph below provides an idea of the salaries available in occupations related to clinical psychology.
Among the most important choices a new clinical psychologist must make is where to establish their professional practice. The search tool below allows for a comparison of clinical psychology salary estimates for the 10th, 50th and 90th percentile of earners for different cities within a given state.
With a focus on advancing competencies within clinical psychology, the AACP offers information about board certification and continuing education while also sharing links to jobs within the field and recent publications.
The APA counts nearly 120,000 professionals and students in the world of psychology as members. The association offers a variety of membership benefits including publications, educational resources, careers services, and advocacy.
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.
Operating under the umbrella of the APA, Division 12 is concerned with all things related to clinical psychology. Benefits of membership range from fellowships and awards to an annual convention and special student section.
Aside from national organizations, many states have their own associations for local clinical psychologists. A great example is the Virginia Academy of Clinical Psychologists, which serves as the voice of these professionals throughout the Commonwealth.