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How to become a Clinical Psychologist

Many individuals seeking a career in healthcare ask the question: what is a clinical psychologist? Clinical psychology focuses on diagnosing and treating emotional, mental and behavioral disorders. The most common disorders include substance abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and learning disabilities. Because they are not medical doctors, clinical psychologists do not utilize drug therapies. Instead, they assist patients in facing psychological issues with specialized techniques such as cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, humanistic, transpersonal or existential methods.


Clinical Psychology

Undergraduate programs instruct psychology students on the fundamentals of the discipline. These educational programs include clinical work through internships and volunteer opportunities. Many graduate psychology degrees will accept undergraduate degrees in other majors. Thus, an individual may complete an alternate undergraduate curricula and still pursue psychology as a graduate student. After obtaining an undergraduate degree, that person will then go on to completing a full-time, two-year master’s degree. This certification will qualify an individual to practice in a number of clinical psychology areas such as marriage and family counseling, industrial or organizational psychology.

To practice the discipline in other areas, professionals will need to complete a doctorate degree. Most state licensing boards require this level of education. There are two options. A student can work towards a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree that requires a dissertation and clinical research, or he or she may complete a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) that works with patients in a clinical setting. In either case, many colleges offer both traditional and online programs to meet advanced educational needs.


Students pursuing this professional career must complete internships that give practical experience with patients. Internships at the master’s degree level require a minimum of 40 hours per week for 52 weeks. They may also obtain additional experience in two-year and three-year programs that focus on social and family counseling or other specialist areas.

Most doctoral degrees have internship requirements that take from five to seven years to complete in order to secure their PhD or PsyD certification.

Licensing and Certifications

Practicing professionals in this field must pass state licensing exams and meet continuing educational requirements. In some states, a clinical psychologist must have a doctoral degree and several years of clinical experience prior to applying for a state license.

Necessary Skills and Qualifications

As with most other healthcare professions, clinical psychologists must be emotionally stable and able to establish a relationship with clients and patients. These professionals must also be able to keep detailed records that maintain confidentiality to assist with diagnoses and treatment. This profession requires superior communication and interpersonal skills.

Career Prospects

Psychologists can find opportunities in most areas of business, government and healthcare. Clinicians can apply their skills in behavioral and social relationships to areas such as sports, industrial design, politics and the military. The chance to progress and earn higher salaries depends upon the specialization, length of experience and level of education of the individual.

In academia, a clinician’s prospects for progression depend on the number of publications he or she has produced and the amount of research completed. In addition, the professional may make additional fees and advancement by speaking at key conferences. Outside of academia, private practice is the usual way to increase one’s compensation. Additional opportunities for higher compensation include writing proposals for research projects or establishing clinics that specialize in various behavioral disorders.

To work as a clinical psychologist can be tremendously gratifying by helping patients overcome emotional and mental difficulties. In every area of specialty, clinical psychologists help people in the midst of major crises, physical traumas and life transitions. These crises can trigger the need for outside therapy and help. Wherever they work, clinical psychologists assist in the important mission of relieving distress and helping others return their lives to normalcy.


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