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How To Become A Clinical Psychologist: Salary, Education Requirements And Job Growth

Clinical psychologists help people who are dealing with various mental health challenges, from going through a difficult time in life to struggling with debilitating mental health conditions.

These professionals aim to make a positive impact on their clients’ lives by addressing mental health conditions that would otherwise hinder their well-being. If you’re wondering how to become a clinical psychologist, you’ve come to the right place.

Clinical Psychologist Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for clinical psychologists is expected to increase by 10% between 2020 and 2030. This growth rate beats the outlook for all psychologist jobs, which are expected to increase by 8% during that time frame.

Strong demand for clinical psychologists will continue as more and more people choose to find help for their mental healthcare needs.

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

Clinical psychologists work directly with patients who have psychological challenges that may interfere with their mental well-being. These challenges may arise due to mental health conditions, stressful environments, traumatic events or other difficult situations.

Below are some tasks that clinical psychologists often handle daily.

  • Diagnose and treat many types of emotional, behavioral and mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and PTSD.
  • Assess patients through interviews, psychological tests and observations to gain an understanding of their background, history and mental health challenges.
  • Develop and implement customized treatment plans that may include counseling or behavior modification.
  • Work with patients who have cognitive or physical disabilities.
  • Work with individuals, couples, families and larger group settings.
  • Refer their patients to other healthcare providers if necessary.

How Much Does a Clinical Psychologist Make?

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for clinical psychologists was $82,510 as of May 2021. Salaries range from $47,010 for the lowest-earning 10% to $167,460 for those in the 90th percentile of earners.

Industry helps determine salary as well. For example, clinical psychologists in health practitioners’ offices earn an average of $106,870 per year, according to the BLS. Those working in residential care facilities earn an average annual salary of $77,730.

Steps to Becoming a Clinical Psychologist

If you want to become a clinical psychologist, prepare for a long series of steps. Requirements for clinical psychologists vary among states, research your state’s requirements before beginning the process of becoming a clinical psychologist.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

You must earn a bachelor’s degree before continuing on to graduate studies. Your bachelor’s degree should be in psychology or a related field. This is especially important if you plan to skip earning a master’s degree.

Many clinical psychologists hold master’s degrees, but this is not required to become a clinical psychologist. A doctorate, however, is required. If your bachelor’s degree is in psychology or a related field, you may be able to move directly into a doctoral program, depending on your school’s admission requirements.

If your bachelor’s is in an unrelated subject, however, a master’s degree in psychology may be necessary to qualify you for doctoral programs.

Complete Psy.D. or Ph.D.

You must earn a doctorate to become a clinical psychologist. A doctorate can be a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., both of which provide a deep understanding of the principles of psychology. Though similar in some respects, the two degrees have different focuses, purposes and requirements.

To Ph.D. focuses on advanced research methods and is a good option for those who plan to work in academia, scientific research, forensic psychology, patient care or clinical practice. This path can also help you become a scholar in the field of psychology.

Coursework for a Ph.D. program may include research design, advanced statistics, ethics and legal issues and behavioral assessment methods.

To Psy.D. focuses on working with patients in clinical settings. You may prefer this degree if your goal is to work in a hands-on, patient-focused role rather than engaging in ongoing psychology research. This option also has fewer requirements, so you can complete it more quickly than a Ph.D.

Coursework for a Psy.D. program may include advanced psychopathology, theories of psychotherapy, clinical supervision strategies, psychological testing and evidence-based practice.

Gain Pre-Professional Experience

Before becoming a clinical psychologist, you must complete a pre-professional experience. This typically includes a predoctoral internship and a postdoctoral fellowship with supervised hours in a clinical setting.

The number of hours and other requirements vary by state. The Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers offers a national match program to help match doctoral psychology students with internship opportunities.

Become Licensed in Your State

Before you apply for your license, you must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. All states have this requirement. Some also require a jurisprudence test, which covers state-specific laws and rules.

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) provides a directory of psychologist licensing boards throughout the United States and Canada. Since each state sets its own licensing requirements, you should check with yours for more information. You can find more information in ASPPB’s online directory.

Obtain Board Certification

The American Board of Professional Psychology handles board certification for licensed psychologists. You can choose from 15 specialty areas, and you must have a doctoral degree from an accredited program to become board-certified.

Frequently Asked Questions About Clinical Psychologists

What is the difference between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist?

Clinical psychology is a type of psychology. Clinical psychologists work directly with clients in clinical settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics and inpatient treatment centers. Psychologists who aren’t clinical psychologists tend to work in research, academia, business, government or consulting.

What do clinical psychologists do on a daily basis?

Clinical psychologists help clients manage their emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges and improve their well-being. They work in clinical settings to assess, diagnose, and provide treatment for their clients.

How long does it take to become a clinical psychologist?

You should expect to spend at least eight and up to 12 years completing the educational requirements to become a clinical psychologist. After that, you will spend one or two years completing your postdoctoral fellowship before applying for licensure.

How do clinical psychologists maintain their own mental health?

As a clinical psychologist, you work with people who have serious mental health conditions, which can in turn affect your own mental health. It’s important to realize that all psychologists can be vulnerable to trauma and that you should seek help if you need it.

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