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:
Still unsure if becoming a clinical psychologist is the right career path? Take the free CareerExplorer career test to find out if this career is in your top matches. 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.
An undergraduate degree in psychology typically fulfills the admission requirements for a doctoral program 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 / Doctorate 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 Doctorate degree. This educational path is quite common in the field and requires less time than completing distinct Master’s and Doctorate 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 Doctorate 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.
How to become a Clinical Psychologist
Without exception, U.S. states require that practising clinical psychologists hold a Doctorate degree. Generally, it is expected that students will earn a Master's before entering a doctoral program; however, some universities combine the two degrees. In most cases, for students to be admitted to a doctoral program without a Master’s, they must have an exemplary educational record. Admission is based on evaluation of candidates’ coursework, experience, and standardized test scores.
Prospective clinical psychologists have an option to earn either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. Both degree programs require coursework, an internship, and a dissertation of original research. The Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy degree is typically pursued by individuals wishing to conduct research, to practise in the field, and/or to teach. The Psy.D. or Doctor pf Psychology degree is designed for those focused on establishing a clinical practice. Both of these educational paths include a supervised internship.
To practise and provide direct therapeutic services in the U.S., clinical psychologists must be licensed by the state in which they are employed. To be granted a license candidates must possess a Doctorate from a regionally accredited or government chartered program. In some cases, the program must also be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Candidates for license must also have one or two years of post-doctoral training and experience.
A major component of the licensure process is the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Once licensed and practising, psychologists can apply for certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).
The specific competencies that a clinical psychologist must possess depend to some extent on his/her area of specialization. The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, however, tests knowledge in the following areas:
Biological bases of behavior Cognitive-affective bases of behavior Social and cultural bases of behavior Growth and lifespan development Assessment and diagnosis Treatment, intervention, prevention, and supervision Research methods and statistics Ethical, legal, and professional issues
Clinical Psychology sub-disciplines / specializations:
Child Psychology Professionals in this specialty work with patients in infancy, childhood, and adolescence. They apply scientific methods designed to understand the cognitive functions and emotional needs of their young patients. Among the common issues they treat are learning disabilities, anger management, developmental disorders, and emotional and physical abuse.
Health Psychology Health psychologists take a biopsychosocial approach when treating patients. They identify and examine how biological and social factors can impact psychological health. Their focus areas include illness, injury, harmful behavior, worrisome thoughts and beliefs, and stress.
Neuropsychology Neuropsychologists study how psychological behavior is affected by brain and central nervous system function and anatomy. Much of their work involves diagnosing and treating traumatic brain injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and learning disabilities.
Geropsychology Geropsychologists specialize in the mental wellbeing and the all-round physical, emotional, and social health of older adults. They commonly treat depression, cognitive dysfunction, and chronic illness. When working with older patients with progressive conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, geropsychologists and neuropsychologists typically collaborate to complete psychological evaluations and determine treatment methods.