CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a clinical psychologist.
Is becoming a clinical psychologist right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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A Bachelor's Degree in Psychology typically fulfills the admission requirements for graduate programs in clinical psychology.
However, many graduate programs also admit students with a bachelor’s in a related field, provided they have completed prerequisite coursework in research methods, abnormal psychology, and behavioral statistics. Because clinical psychology graduate programs are intensely competitive, students need to be vigilant about their GPA.
Undergraduates who find work as research assistants will gain firsthand exposure to scientific methods, have opportunities to explore their research interests, and develop relationships with professors who can write letters of recommendation to accompany their graduate school applications.
Some schools may offer independent study options and honors programs for students seeking supplementary research experience.
Master’s Degree / Doctoral Degree
Master’s degree programs in clinical psychology exist; however, completing a master’s does not qualify students for licensure.
Individuals who know that they want to work as a licensed clinical psychologist can find combined programs resulting in a doctoral degree. This educational path is quite common in the field and requires less time than completing distinct master’s and doctoral degrees.
The joint degree option may not be available to students who earned an undergraduate degree outside of psychology. To be accepted into graduate school, a high GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) score, letters of recommendation, and research experience are required.
Aspiring clinical psychologists whose objective it is to work in a clinical setting pursue a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. Those who intend to focus on research and work in academia generally earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.
Field Experience / Fellowship
Many schools offer post-doctoral fellowship programs that allow students to provide clinical services to both individuals and groups under the supervision of faculty. The seminars and clinical rotations of these programs usually take a year to complete and are designed to expose students to real-world situations and prepare them for licensure.
During this period, students should gather information about their state’s licensing process. Some states have specific prerequisites concerning the number of hours of patient contact and work experience necessary for licensure.
To practise in the field, clinical psychologists must be licensed. Most states licensing requirements include graduation from an accredited doctoral program, completion of a set number of hours of supervised experience, and passing of the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
Many states mandate continuing education requirements that allow clinical psychologists to retain their license. The American Psychological Association (APA) maintains a list of approved courses.
Certification increases job marketability and assures patients that their psychologist possesses the specialized skills needed in a particular area of practice. While certification is optional, some employers may require it.
The leading provider of certifications is the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). To qualify for ABPP certifications, applicants must have a doctoral degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association, a license to practise, and the required number of years of experience that qualify them in a particular specialty.
Candidates must also pass applicable exams to be granted board certifications.