CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a clinical psychologist.

Step 1

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:

What do clinical psychologists do?
Career Satisfaction
Are clinical psychologists happy with their careers?
What are clinical psychologists like?

Still unsure if becoming a clinical psychologist is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a clinical psychologist or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

High School

To pursue a career as a clinical psychologist, it is important to focus on building a strong foundation in high school by taking courses that provide a solid background in psychology and related fields. Here are some recommended high school courses for aspiring clinical psychologists:

  • Psychology: Taking a psychology course will introduce you to the fundamental concepts, theories, and methodologies in the field. It will give you a basic understanding of human behavior, mental processes, and the various subfields within psychology.
  • Biology: Biology courses can provide you with a foundational understanding of the biological factors that influence human behavior and mental health. Topics such as the brain, genetics, and the nervous system are relevant to understanding psychological processes.
  • Chemistry: Although not directly related to psychology, a strong understanding of chemistry can be beneficial as it can help you understand the effects of medications and substances on the brain and behavior. It can also provide a foundation for understanding the biochemical processes involved in mental health.
  • Mathematics: Strong analytical and statistical skills are essential in psychology research and data analysis. Courses such as statistics and mathematics can help you develop these skills, which are crucial for conducting research and interpreting psychological data.
  • English and Communication: Effective communication skills are vital for clinical psychologists. Courses in English, writing, and communication can enhance your ability to articulate ideas, express empathy, and communicate effectively with clients.
Step 3

Formal Education Steps

To become a clinical psychologist in the United States, you generally need to follow these formal education steps:

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree: Begin by completing a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology or a closely related field. While a specific major in psychology is not always required, it is highly recommended to take courses in psychology, research methods, statistics, and other relevant subjects during your undergraduate studies.
  • Pursue a Master's Degree (optional): Some individuals choose to obtain a Master's Degree in Psychology or Clinical Psychology before applying to doctoral programs. A master's degree can provide additional training and research experience in psychology and may increase your competitiveness for doctoral program admission. However, it is not always a mandatory step for becoming a clinical psychologist (see note below).
  • Graduate from a Doctoral Program: After obtaining a bachelor's degree, you'll need to earn a Doctoral Degree in Psychology or Clinical Psychology. There are two primary doctoral degrees for clinical psychologists: a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology. These programs typically take five to seven years to complete.
  • PsyD: A PsyD program focuses more on clinical training and practical experience. It emphasizes the development of therapeutic skills and prepares you for clinical practice.
  • Ph.D. in Psychology: A Ph.D. program has a stronger emphasis on research and academic training. It prepares you for both clinical practice and research, making it a suitable option if you are interested in a career in academia or conducting psychological research.
  • Psychology Degree vs Clinical Psychology Degree : A Doctoral Degree in Psychology typically offers a broader education in various subfields of psychology, including clinical psychology. It allows for flexibility in choosing specialized areas of study, such as developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, or social psychology, while still providing training in clinical practice. On the other hand, a Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology has a specific focus on clinical practice and prepares you specifically for a career as a clinician. If you are primarily interested in working as a clinician and want specialized training in clinical skills, a Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology may be the better fit.
  • Complete an Internship: As part of your doctoral program, you will need to complete a supervised clinical internship. Internships usually last for one year and provide you with hands-on experience in a clinical setting, allowing you to apply your knowledge and skills under the guidance of experienced professionals.
  • Obtain Licensure: After completing your doctoral degree and internship, you will need to obtain licensure to practice as a clinical psychologist. The specific requirements for licensure vary by state but typically include passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and completing a certain number of supervised clinical hours.
  • Optional: Pursue Postdoctoral Training or Specialization: Some individuals choose to pursue postdoctoral training or specialize in a specific area of clinical psychology. This can involve completing additional clinical training or pursuing specialized certifications or fellowships in areas such as neuropsychology, child psychology, or forensic psychology.

It is possible to go straight into a doctoral program in psychology after graduating with a bachelor's degree. Many doctoral programs in psychology accept students who have completed their bachelor's degree and meet the program's admission requirements.

While some individuals choose to pursue a master's degree before entering a doctoral program, it is not a mandatory step for all doctoral programs. The decision to pursue a master's degree or go straight into a doctoral program depends on individual preferences, career goals, and the specific requirements and preferences of the doctoral programs you are considering.

If you decide to apply directly to a doctoral program after completing your bachelor's degree, it is important to carefully research and consider the admission requirements and expectations of the programs you are interested in. Doctoral programs often have competitive admission processes, and they may require strong academic performance, research experience, letters of recommendation, and other application materials.

Ultimately, it is advisable to assess your own readiness for a doctoral program, considering factors such as your academic preparedness, research experience, and career goals, to make an informed decision on whether to pursue a master's degree first or go straight into a doctoral program.

Step 4


There are several certifications available for clinical psychologists. These certifications typically require additional training, supervised experience, and passing a rigorous examination or evaluation process. They provide professionals with specialized knowledge and skills in specific areas of clinical psychology, allowing them to demonstrate expertise and proficiency in those domains.

Here are a few examples:

  • Board Certification in Clinical Psychology: The American Board of Clinical Psychology (ABCP) offers board certification for clinical psychologists who have demonstrated advanced competency in their field. This certification signifies a high level of expertise and can enhance professional recognition and credibility.
  • Specialty Certifications: Various professional organizations offer specialty certifications in specific areas of clinical psychology. For example, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers certifications in areas such as clinical child and adolescent psychology, clinical health psychology, clinical neuropsychology, and forensic psychology. These certifications demonstrate proficiency in specialized areas of practice.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Certification: CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach. The Academy of Cognitive Therapy offers certification in CBT, recognizing clinicians who have completed rigorous training and demonstrated competence in delivering CBT interventions.
  • Trauma-Focused Certifications: Organizations like the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) and the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) offer specialized certifications in trauma-focused therapies, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
  • Substance Abuse and Addiction Certifications: The American Psychological Association (APA) provides certifications in substance abuse treatment, including the Psychopharmacology for Psychologists Certificate Program and the Certificate Program in Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
Step 5

Employment Opportunities

Clinical psychologists have diverse employment opportunities. Some common settings where clinical psychologists can work include:

  • Mental Health Clinics and Centers: Clinical psychologists are employed in a variety of mental health clinics and centers, including community mental health centers, outpatient clinics, and psychiatric hospitals. They provide assessment, diagnosis, and therapy services to individuals with mental health disorders.
  • Hospitals and Medical Centers: Clinical psychologists are often employed in hospitals and medical centers, working as part of a healthcare team. They collaborate with physicians, psychiatrists, and other healthcare professionals to provide psychological assessment, counseling, and support to patients dealing with medical conditions, chronic illnesses, or undergoing medical procedures.
  • Academic Institutions: Clinical psychologists may work in colleges, universities, or research institutions. They may teach psychology courses, supervise students, and conduct research in specialized areas of clinical psychology. Some clinical psychologists work in university counseling centers, providing mental health services to students.
  • Government Agencies: Clinical psychologists can find employment in government agencies at various levels, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense (DOD), correctional facilities, or state and local health departments. They may provide mental health services to military personnel, veterans, incarcerated individuals, or offer services related to public health programs.
  • Private Practice: Many clinical psychologists choose to establish their own private practices, offering individual therapy, group therapy, and other psychological services to clients. Private practitioners have the flexibility to set their own schedules, specialize in specific areas, and work directly with clients in a one-on-one setting.
  • Research and Academia: Clinical psychologists may engage in research and work in academic or research settings. They contribute to the advancement of psychological knowledge by conducting research studies, publishing scientific papers, and securing research grants. They may also teach and supervise students in psychology programs.
  • Nonprofit Organizations and Community Agencies: Clinical psychologists may work in nonprofit organizations and community agencies that focus on providing mental health services to underserved populations. These organizations may specialize in areas such as trauma, addiction, domestic violence, or child and family services.