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Washington D.C. Psychology Doctorate Programs

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According to SAMSHA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Washington D.C. falls pretty much squarely into the national average when it comes to mental health issues. That’s not great news, however; the report found that the prevalence of serious mental illness among adults to be increasing, to around 4.5 percent as of 2017. That means that here in Washington, as elsewhere, clinical psychologists find themselves with more work on their hands than ever.

Psychology practice in the District really brings ethical and privacy standards to the forefront. Although there is plenty of business that deals with the typical clientele that a clinical psychologist would see anywhere in the country, there are also the powerful and famous… people who have the same issues as any other individual, but for whom the revelation of such would be permanently ruinous. And the political press corps is constantly on the lookout for even the suggestion of psychological issues.

And beyond the plight of public figures with the need for psychological treatment, many figures in important positions of responsibility, including in law enforcement, the military, and senior civil servants have to have enormous psychological stability. Psychological evaluations are part of the job in many of these roles, and District psychologists may find themselves conducting more than the usual number of pre-employment screenings or fitness-for-duty examinations under the auspices of the federal Program Support Center through the Washington-based Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s not the place of the psychologist to advance or defend treatments or patients, but rather to maintain their privacy to high standards and to offer the best treatment possible. And, whether your patients are the average residents of the District or among the rich and powerful who live and work here, you can only accomplish that by getting the best education possible. That means earning a doctorate in clinical psychology, also known as a PsyD, from a good school. And, fortunately for you, some of the best psychology programs in the country are run in and around the Washington area.

What’s On This Page

Quick Facts

How to Become a Practicing Clinical Psychologist in Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. Clinical Psychologist Salary and Job Outlook

Quick Facts

  • Around 43 percent of residents in Washington D.C. with serious mental illness seek out professional help.
  • In 2019, 92 percent of GWU PsyD candidates were able to obtain APA-accredited internships, a record for that school.
  • GWU also has a track record of at least 90 percent of graduates achieving licensure.
  • The headquarters of the American Psychological Association is located in Washington D.C.
  • The Chicago School in D.C. offers a forensic psychology track in addition to the general study PsyD.
  • GWU’s PsyD has tracks in Child and Adolescent, Adult, or Assessment.

How to Become a Practicing Clinical Psychologist in Washington D.C.

Step 1 – Explore Doctoral Degree Options for Clinical Psychology Students in Washington D.C.

Step 2 – Find Post-Doctoral Residency Options in Washington D.C. for Clinical Psychologists

Step 3 – Apply to Become a Clinical Psychologist in Washington D.C.

Step 4 – Take and Pass the Washington D.C. Psychology Exams

Step 5 – Find a Clinical Psychology Job in Washington D.C.

Step 6 – Maintain Your Psychology License in Washington D.C.

Step 1 – Explore Doctoral Degree Options for Clinical Psychology Students in Washington D.C.

Both George Washington University and the Chicago School have highly respected and APA-accredited PsyD programs available in the District. In this well-connected modern age, you also have many online choices available if neither of those suits your purposes.

Getting into these acclaimed schools is not easy. GWU admissions requires the following of prospective PsyD students:

  • Take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) test
  • Hold a bachelor’s degree with relevant experience or master’s degree in psychology
  • Obtain three recommendations
  • Transcripts from all colleges previously attended
  • Write an essay of 250 to 500 words outlining your purpose in applying
  • Go through an on-campus interview process

You’ll notice that you can be accepted to the program with only a bachelor’s degree under your belt, assuming the totality of your studies and experience match up with what the admissions committee are looking for. You’re judged on your academic performance, strength of recommendations, clinical experience and interest, as well as your ethics, motivation, and maturity… not just the pieces of paper you’ve accumulated along the way.

That opens up a golden opportunity to become a professional clinical psychologist in only four to six years after graduating from your bachelor’s program, skipping a master’s entirely, assuming you have the right stuff. Programs are extremely competitive, however, so you may still find it worth your while to pick up a master’s, if only to demonstrate your commitment. However, you can find some programs that combine doctoral and master’s studies in five-year academic programs, either allowing you to build up your clinical psychology mastery (this is an option at both the Chicago School and GWU, for example), or to broaden your scope… combined programs can earn you an MBA or a specialization in sports psychology or other unique fields.

Speaking of that specialization, you’ll want to look at PsyD programs that offer internships in positions that line up with your intended area of practice. D.C. alone has nine different APA-approved internship programs, ranging from Children’s National Medical Center to the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, but you can find many others in surrounding states.

That’s also key to your dissertation topic, an exciting voyage into a unique aspect of the field that you will research, consider, and explore new approaches toward. With the right advisor and the right opportunities, you can break new ground in the field.

Step 2 – Find Post-Doctoral Residency Options in Washington D.C. for Clinical Psychologists

Your one year post-doctoral residency is an exciting first step into independent practice. Although you’ll work under the supervision of a currently licensed psychologist, only 10 percent of that supervision is required to be in person. That means that most of the time, you’ll be forging your own path, checking in and reporting back to your supervisor only for occasional review.

It’s going to be a lot of practice, too; D.C. requires a total of 4,000 hours within two years of receiving your doctorate. You are allowed, however, to complete up to 2,000 hours through pre-doctoral internships, although the supervisory standards may be more stringent.

You’ll need to apply for permission to perform Supervised Practice from the Board of Psychology, and the position must be at an APA-accredited program or meeting the membership criteria of APPIC (the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers).

Step 3 – Apply to Become a Clinical Psychologist in Washington D.C.

Psychologist licensing in Washington D.C. is handled by the Board of Psychology. Although the District is not a state, the licensing requirements and process here are very similar to most states. The application requirements include:

  • Being 18 years of age and have not been convicted of crime or moral turpitude which bears on your fitness to practice
  • Submit a completed application, with photographs, government ID copy, and your official transcript showing receipt of your doctoral degree in psychology
  • Attestations of personal character from friends or professional relations
  • Show completed verification of supervised employment

The total cost of the application, including fees for the required examinations, is $322.

You may also apply for licensure by endorsement, if you can provide proof that you hold a license in good standing in another state.

Step 4 – Take and Pass the Washington D.C. Psychology Exams

Once the Board offers preliminary approval of your application packet, you are eligible to begin taking the two tests that are required for licensing:

Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP) – Offered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, this exam is the common test used by almost every state and provincial psych board to establish your essential qualifications to practice psychology. Prometric is the third-party proctor that actually conducts the test, with locations available nationwide. You’ll need to pass the exam with a score not lower than one-half a standard deviation below the national mean score.

District of Columbia Local Exam – This exam is conducted by the Board itself and covers your knowledge of local statutes and rules as well as APA ethical standards governing the practice of psychology. A passing grade of 75 percent is required.

Step 5 – Find a Clinical Psychology Job in Washington D.C.

With a little planning and focus, you’ll find that your post-doctoral studies will typically lead you directly into a desirable position in your field of practice in Washington D.C. That’s because, if you line up the right residency, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with exactly the people you’ll want to know when it comes time to apply for a position… and quite possibly a position at the very same place you are conducting your residency.

As a major center for government medical research and treatment, there are no shortage of opportunities in the District, from private practices to major medical centers. Although it’s not practicing clinical psychology, there’s also unique opportunities here to find positions with federal agencies and private firms that work to develop mental health standards and practices across the United States, and to engage with major public psychological health issues at DHHS and other responsible agencies.

Step 6 – Maintain Your Psychology License in Washington D.C.

Psychology licenses in D.C. expire on December 31st of odd numbered years. Your initial license is valid for the remainder of the current renewal cycle, after which you’ll begin operating on the regular two-year cycle.

During each of those two-year periods, you’ll need to accumulate at least 30 hours of continuing education through a Board-approved program. At least 15 hours of that must be in live, in-person training, and 10 percent in areas deemed by the Board Director as being current public health priorities.

Additionally, you’ll have to spend at least three hours in ethical studies, and two hours in LGBTQ education.

More information, including the current public health priority areas, and approved activities and providers, can be found on the Board website.

Washington D.C. Clinical Psychologist Salary and Job Outlook

According to the District Department of Employment Services, positions for all types of psychologists are expected to increase by nearly 5 percent by 2021. You won’t have a shortage of opportunities after you graduate.

Those opportunities will tend to be pretty lucrative ones, as well; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2019, psychologists in the District of Columbia were the third highest paid out of any region in the country. The average annual wage here was $106,900, below only Oregon and California. And when you consider that there is likely a higher concentration here of government-employed psychologists, it tells you two other things about compensation in the District: first, for those government employees, excellent benefits and retirement packages are being provided, and, second, the average wage among private-sector psychologists is likely to be higher yet, since the overall average is lowered by government salary scales.

That’s good news for newly minted clinical psychologists no matter what avenue they plan to pursue for employment here.