How to Get a Doctorate Degree of Clinical Psychology

Whether you’re already working in the field of psychology and considering taking your career to the next level, or are just starting out on your journey and want to know your options for growing your career over time, it’s helping to understand the doctorate in clinical psychology.

This “terminal degree” (so called because you can’t go any further once you have it) is an excellent way to deepen your skill set, open doors for advancement and leadership, and enhance your salary potential. It also significantly increases your ability to help patients, because you will have such a thorough understanding of most psychological approaches available today – and the best, most scientific ways to use them in the pursuit of treating others.

So, how do you get a doctorate in clinical psychology?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions people ask about this degree and the steps you need to take to get it.

What Is Clinical Psychology?

It is useful, before exploring the degree further, to understand what clinical psychology is. According to Verywell Health, “Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illness, abnormal behavior, and psychiatric problems.”

This started with Freud, one of the earliest individuals to theorize that the brain worked in scientific ways, but that when those normal routines went off the rails, predictable problems would follow. Freud believed that by talking to the patient, you could discover much of what they didn’t even know about themselves.

This is the basis for talk therapy and the field of psychology as a whole. However, it is important to note the scientific element of clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists use cutting-edge, research-based practices in order to treat their patients. Talk therapy is still a component of the treatment, but clinical psychologists use a wide range of other scientific techniques in order to achieve positive outcomes for individuals.

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What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

As the American Psychological Association points out, those who graduate with this degree will have “Understanding of psychopathology and diagnostic/intervention considerations,” and they will comprehend “Mental health issues across the lifespan based on a solid understanding of psychopathology.”

The clinical psychology degree will also give graduates the ability to “integrate and synthesize personality test data with additional standardized assessment measures; consult with other health and behavioral health care professionals and organizations regarding severe psychopathology, suicide and violence; and [engage] with specific research and critical review of science, knowledge and methods pertaining to those areas identified as distinct to clinical psychology.”

SEE ALSO: Average Clinical Psychologist Salary by State

As you can see, that is a huge range of skills. This is necessary, though, because the role of a clinical psychologist is to use all psychological methods available today to formulate the most useful and effective plan for treating a variety of mental disorders in patients. So how do you get the degree? Here are the basic steps.

1. Complete Your Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees

Most programs require that you already have a master’s degree in order to apply. Some are okay with just a bachelor’s degree, while others wrap in the master’s to the program so that you graduate with both master’s and doctoral degrees. It all depends on the program. No matter what, though, you will need an undergraduate degree with a range of relevant prerequisites, so check program requirements to see what they are.

2. Apply to a Doctoral Degree Program

This may include either a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) program. These are similar in that they’re both terminal degrees, and both can prepare you to become a clinical psychologist. However, there are some main differences between the two:

SEE ALSO: Psychology PhD vs PsyD Degree Differences

  • A PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is more geared toward research and academia. It is perfect for those who want to teach, run studies and write papers.
  • A PsyD or Doctor of Psychology is ideal for those who want to interface with patients and medical teams every day. It is geared toward those who want to be in the field.

3. Complete Your Coursework

Coursework will vary by program and professor, as with any program, but typically you will cover assessment and diagnosis, social and biological bases of behavior, human physiology and ethics, among other subjects.

4. Complete Your Internship or Practicum Hours

In order to graduate from your program, you will need to complete an extensive internship, known in many programs as your practicum. This is a set number of hours shadowing and working under a practicing clinical psychologist, designed to give you hands-on experience in the field. The number of hours varies by program, though 1,500 to 1,600 is standard. Note that the number of hours specified by the program won’t always match the number of hours specified by the state in which you want to work, so make sure to check. (See “Supervised Work Hours” section below for more on this.)

5. Take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology

The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EEEP) is a licensing exam developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). It is used in most U.S. states as well as most Canadian provinces. Before taking it, check with the state in which you hope to practice to make sure that your scores will be good there. Also check to make sure you know the minimum required scores so you can study accordingly.

6. Get Your License

With a degree and practicum hours under your belt, as well as passing licensure scores, you can now apply for a license in the place where you want to practice. Note that requirements vary and licenses aren’t often transferrable between states, though they sometimes are. Check all the requirements before applying to save yourself time and fees.

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7. Complete Supervised Work Hours

Even after you have your license and have landed a job as a clinical psychologist, you still require oversight from a working professional. For many states, this is around 2,000 hours, though it varies: “For example, Michigan requires 6,000 supervised hours, whereas California requires 3,000 hours,” says the American Psychological Association. To be on the safe side, “Students should accrue 2,000 hours during an internship and 2,000 hours during a postdoc, on average, to meet state requirements.”

While there are a lot of boxes to check, the path to a clinical psychology career is relatively streamlined and simple, so don’t wait to start the process today. And always feel free to reach out if you have any questions that we can answer to speed you on your way to career success!