How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

Since the dawn of time, humans have considered the mind a mysterious place. There is so much information in there, yet it is easily lost or forgotten. A hard knock on the head can damage the mind and erase even the most long-held information, such as a person’s name or the faces of their loved ones. Formerly sound individuals can, without warning or cause, suddenly turn paranoid or cruel. Some downward spirals can take place almost overnight, leaving friends and loved ones confused and upset – and the individual themselves unable to cope with life effectively.

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Of course, most mental health issues aren’t nearly so dramatic. More likely, the person has struggled for a considerable amount of time with their issues. Also likely, they want to fix those issues, but they don’t know how.

This is where a clinical psychologist steps in, helping individuals combat these problems through science-based approaches. If you’ve ever thought you might like to help individuals with psychology practices founded on research, this is the right profession for you. It requires a lot of education and preparation, however. Before you decide to embark on this career path, it behooves you to learn exactly what it takes to become a clinical psychologist.

What Is a Clinical Psychologist?

“A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional with highly specialized training in the diagnosis and psychological treatment of mental, behavioral and emotional illnesses,” says Verywell Health. “In addition to delivery of psychotherapy, psychologists may undertake a variety of activities, including psychological testing, research, and teaching.”

It is important to note that clinical psychologists don’t prescribe medications. In fact, no psychologist does. That is the realm of psychiatrists, who are trained differently and receive a medical degree that enables them to safely prescribe medications while understanding their interaction with the body. Psychologists, on the other than, use talk therapy and other non-pharmacological methods to help their patients manage the challenges of life and achieve better mental health.

Also note the distinction between mental health counselors and clinical psychologists. While neither prescribes medication and both use talk therapy with their patients extensively, the two take significantly different approaches:

  1. Mental health counselors use a range of talk therapy and counseling techniques to help their patients heal from trauma and find better ways of coping. They might employ other techniques, but those are limited. For the most part, they interact with patients as the means of helping them improve.
  2. Clinical psychologists take a more science-forward role. They maintain a rigorous understanding of current techniques and approaches, always trying to match their patients up with cutting-edge scientific and medical solutions. Again, note the research and testing that are common to a clinical psychologist’s role.

Where Does a Clinical Psychologist Work?

Typically, clinical psychologists work in medical settings, in keeping with their need to take a medicine-based approach. According to the British Psychological Society, “Clinical psychologists work largely in health and social care settings including hospitals, health centres, community mental health teams, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and social services.

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They often work as part of a team with other health professionals and practitioners.” Although this source is specific to the UK, it holds for clinical psych specialists all over the world, who work in close tandem with medical professionals and pharmacologists.

How Do You Become a Clinical Psychologist?

Because clinical psychologists are heavily focused on the medical and scientific side of psychology, you will need a doctoral (also referred to as doctorate) degree in order to practice as one. This can come in two forms:

  1. Doctor of Philosophy: This is the standard doctoral degree, usually referred to as a PhD. You can earn this degree through many avenues, from psychology to education to theology and beyond. In this case, a PhD in psychology focuses on research and academia. Students who take this path are prepared to work in academic settings, run studies and work very closely with patients on a research basis. This is also a good degree if you want to teach. (See What is Salary Outlook for PhD in Psychology?)
  2. Doctor of Psychology: For anyone who is very concerned about working in a clinical capacity, this might be the better degree. Rather than research, this Clinical Psychology PsyD degree focuses on a patient-centered approach. Graduates with a PsyD, the shorthand form of this degree, are prepared to work in a wide range of medical settings and can even go into private practice. (See Salary Outlook with PsyD Psychology Degree)

Whichever program you choose, you will need to keep a few other requirements in mind as well.

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First, there is the practicum or internship. This is an extended period of hands-on experience, during which you first shadow and then work under the supervision of a practicing clinical psychologist.

Depending on the licensing requirements in your area, you may need to take between 1,500 and 1,600 hours to meet your requirements to sit the exam and apply for licensing.

Second, there is the exam itself.

What Exams Do You Need to Take to Apply for Licensing?

“All U.S. states and Canadian provinces whose boards are members of ASPPB … require applicants to pass the EPPP, a 225-question multiple-choice test developed by ASPPB on core areas of psychology, such as assessment and diagnosis, and social and biological bases of behavior,” says the American Psychological Association, adding:

“Passing scores for the EPPP are set by each state; most states require at least a 70 percent or 500 on the computer-based exam. Applicants who take the EPPP soon after completing their doctoral degree tend to do better on the test than those who wait … Some states also require candidates to pass an oral exam that may be a competency-based test or a test of laws and ethics. Other states only require a jurisprudence exam.”

You should research the requirements in the state you hope to practice in, rather than the state in which you completed your schooling. It is the former whose requirements will dictate your ability to practice there, not the latter, so keep that in mind when doing your research.

What Is the Job Outlook?

The outlook for clinical psychologists is good, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can expect to make an average of $76,990 per year, though with significant tenure in the field, you can be making as much as $129,310, which is what those in the 90th percentile achieve.

SEE ALSO: Average Clinical Psychologist Salary by State

If that sounds like a career and salary you’d like, then you might be perfectly suited to clinical psychology – so don’t wait to get started today. And as always, if you have any questions, be sure to reach out!

Clinical Psychologist Salary by State