How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

Essential Education, Skills, and Job Interview Prep

Do you know that it’s estimated that one in every five adults lives with mental health challenges in the United States? Clinical psychologists are the professionals others turn to when they are experiencing such a struggle. If you love to help others, learning how to become a clinical psychologist will monetize your passion.

This is your complete guide to starting a career in clinical psychology. It contains everything you need to know, from education to skills and job requirements.

What Is a Clinical Psychologist?

A clinical psychologist is a specialized mental health professional who diagnoses and treats mental health and behavioral problems. This includes, but is not limited to, mood disorders, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse disorders.

If you become a clinical psychologist, you will also help people with trauma-related disorders, psychotic disorders, and eating disorders. All these conditions have a broad range of diagnoses and treatments you must learn to become a clinical psychologist.

Clinical Psychologist Salary and Job Outlook

According to ZipRecruiter, clinical psychologists earn an average of $100,800 in the United States. However, you can earn up to $168,000 and even more with years of experience. Your results in the industry will speak for themselves, and you will be able to set your billable hours as high as you want if you’re good at your job.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a three-percent rise in psychology jobs by 2029. This primarily includes clinical psychology, counseling, and school psychology.


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Entry-Level Clinical Psychologist Job Requirements

You will need an associate or bachelor’s degree for an entry-level job related to clinical psychology. However, you need a PhD to be fully qualified. Some entry-level jobs for aspiring clinical psychologists include research assistant, rehabilitation specialist, and career counselor.

While you gather field experience and financial resources in an entry-level position, you will earn an average of $52,468 annually.

How to Ace Your Clinical Psychologist Job Interview

Getting your first job as a clinical psychologist will require an interview. Since you’ve probably acquired several field hours through internships and postgraduate work, most of the interview questions will gauge your experience.

A few common questions are listed below.

Common Clinical Psychologist Job Interview Questions

  • How do you set boundaries with your patients to avoid them forming attachments to you?
  • What are your best psychological models, and why do you prefer them?
  • In your experience, do you think disorders can be treated permanently or they can only be managed?
  • Which disorders have you treated, and how successful were your recommendations?

What Degree Should I Get to Become a Clinical Psychologist?

You will need more than a bachelor’s degree to become a clinical psychologist. The education track is long and extensive. While you can take shortcuts to speed up the process, it will be challenging to get the job you desire if you don’t have the right combination of credentials.

Below is the best career path to take for clinical psychologists.

Associate Degree in Clinic Psychology

While an associate degree from a community college might not give you the credentials you need to land your dream job, it is a good start. Several online and in-person community colleges offer associate degrees in clinical psychology.

Coastline Community College, for example, offers a two-year Associate in Arts Degree in Psychology. The tuition for this degree is about $9,597, and you can study online. California’s Foothill College and Tyler Junior College in Texas also offer similar programs.

With an associate degree in psychology, you will not become a clinical psychologist, but you can work as a counselor. If you opt for a bachelor’s when you already have an associate degree, you don’t have to start from scratch.

Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical Psychology

At a university, you can get a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts in Clinical Psychology, a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and Science in Clinical Psychology, or simply a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. The tuition cost will depend on the school, financial aid, and in some cases, your location during attendance.

A bachelor’s degree runs for about four years and it paves the way for a more advanced qualification. The best schools for a Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical Psychology are Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and the University of Cambridge. A degree from any of these prestigious schools will land probation officer, school counselor, social worker or clinical therapist roles.

Master's in Clinical Psychology

While you may get a job with a bachelor’s degree alone, most parts of the United States require clinical psychologists to hold advanced degrees. You will need a master’s if you are to qualify for a PhD.

Some of the best schools in the US for a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology are the South Dakota State University, University of Arizona, and University of Missouri. However, you may not be licensed as a clinical psychologist after gaining a master’s degree. To pursue a PhD and become a licensed clinical counselor, you can work at the same time.

Clinical Psychology Doctoral Degree

This is the holy grail and the ultimate route to becoming a clinical psychologist. After all, you can’t be called a doctor in psychology without a PhD. The cost varies from school to school. So, you will need to get the tuition information from the school of your choice.

Your Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology can be gained from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Wisconsin, or University of California. These are some of the best schools, but they aren’t the only options available for a clinical psychology PhD or PsyD.

The timeline for completion could be up to eight years. After you have been awarded the degree and met all the other requirements, you can pay for the licensing exam, pass it, and start practicing as a clinical psychologist.

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

All clinical psychologists help people irrespective of where they work. The only time you may not have to make a daily diagnosis is when you take the education career path as a lecturer.

Below is a preview of what clinical psychologists do.

Diagnoses Emotional, Psychological, or Behavioral Disorders

This is an essential duty of a clinical psychologist. It is the first step every patient with mental illness must take if they are to be treated. Clinical psychologists offer diagnoses based on the ICD and DSM. The ICD is the international classification of diseases, while the DSM is a handbook used primarily by United States professionals.

Guides Patients Through Rehabilitation

It’s not enough to make a diagnosis and recommend treatment. A clinical psychologist must see the patients through the rehabilitation process. You will help them make plans to accomplish key goals. Mental health affects every aspect of an individual’s life, so your support goes beyond personal development. It may include educational and social growth.

Publishes Research Findings in Industry Journals

It is your responsibility as a clinical psychologist to share your research findings with others in your profession. Depending on how strong the findings are, they will be published in industry journals, and you will be attributed. Your findings might be added to the field of study in the future if they are impactful.

Essential Clinical Psychologist Skills

Clinical psychologists need advanced degrees, but they also need to be good at basic human skills like two-way communication, clinical empathy, and fundamental IT. You will learn about the importance of these skills during your education but you can make extra efforts to develop them even before you start a course.

Two-way Communication Skills

Your job as a clinical psychologist will involve interviewing people suspected of mental illness. You will also need to interact with patients during psychotherapy and assessments. So, you must be a good speaker and a good listener. When you listen carefully, you will be able to provide appropriate feedback.

Clinical Empathy

In psychology, clinical empathy involves putting yourself in your patient’s figurative shoes to understand better what they are going through. It is a vital skill to psychologists who offer psychotherapy, but it will also come in handy for clinical psychologists who analyze studies to make inferences.

Fundamental IT Skills

You will be doing a lot of high-level research long after you get your license. You must know your way around a computer by gaining some IT skills. Writing, storing information, and sorting it for future reference will make your work much more manageable.

How to Become a Clinical
Psychologist: A Step-by-Step Guide

The path to becoming a clinical psychologist is relatively straightforward. As stated above, there are no shortcuts. Also, it doesn't end with becoming a clinical psychologist. You need to continue improving your professional skills to remain relevant in your field. Below is a step-by-step guide to becoming a clinical psychologist.


Get an Undergraduate Degree

You will need a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. You can either apply directly for a four to five-year program or start with an associate degree. After getting an associate degree, you will only need to spend about two more years at a university to earn a bachelor’s.


Go for a Master's Degree

With your bachelor’s degree, you can specialize by getting a master’s in the area of clinical psychology that interests you the most. It also paves the way for a doctorate. You can get a master’s in 12 to 24 months, depending on the school you choose. There are also accelerated degrees online to speed things up.


Get a PhD or PsyD in Clinical Psychology

This is the peak of academic study, and it can take up to eight years to complete. A PhD or PsyD is vital for reaching your goal as a clinical psychologist. It involves thorough research and is one of the requirements for your clinical psychology license. You can either teach in a university, work with an organization, or start a private practice as a clinical psychologist.


Get 6,000 Hours of Fieldwork

Apart from getting a PhD, you also need around 1,500 to 6,000 hours of supervised fieldwork to get your license. The number of required hours varies from state to state. After this, bank your credentials and pay for your license to get it.


Get Certified and Keep Learning

Before you opt for any specialized certifications in clinical psychology, you should get certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). You will be part of an incredible community of like-minded professionals. You can take the exam at PSI Premier Centers. The registration fee is $300, and the exam fee is a further $290.

To maintain your license, you need to keep paying an annual fee. However, you must meet the continuing education requirements for your state. Again, the CE hours required depend on your state laws.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Clinical Psychologist?

A career in clinical psychology takes a minimum of 13 years after high school to develop. You will need about four to five years for an undergraduate degree, one to two years for a master’s degree, and up to eight years for a PhD.

Should You Become a Clinical Psychologist in 2021?

Yes, you should start making plans to become a clinical psychologist in 2021. If you’re fresh out of high school and you have a lot of working years left under your belt, the years spent studying and getting experience will be worth it in the end. You will earn a lot of money while making a real impact on the lives of others.

However, if you’ve already spent many years on an unrelated career path, switching to a career in clinical psychology might not be worth it. This is because you might not have enough time left to practice and enjoy the fruits of your labor when you finally get licensed. But, it’s never too late to pursue higher education if that is your passion.

You can get a professional certification that is approved by the American Board of Professional Psychology to assess your expertise in specific areas of clinical psychology.

Clinical Psychologist FAQ

What's the difference between a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist?

While a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist help people with mental health disorders, both terms don’t mean the same thing. Psychiatrists are medical specialists who hold medical degrees (MDs). Meanwhile, clinical psychologists have doctorate degrees (PhD). Clinical psychology is a specialization of psychology and a scientific discipline.

Are all your patients going to be mentally ill?

No, not everyone you teach will be mentally ill. While clinical psychologists offer diagnosis and treatment for psychological problems, your patients generally won’t have critical mental issues. Some people might opt for your services simply because they need some guidance navigating through day-to-day activities or significant milestones.

Does a confidentiality agreement protect my clients?

Yes, it does. However, you are under obligation by law to reveal information to family members or necessary authorities if your patient’s behavior is life-threatening. You are also required to break the confidentiality agreement if you feel your patient might be a danger to others.

What can I do with a PhD in Clinical Psychology?

There are several opportunities for you if you devote some time to specialization. For example, you can choose counseling psychology, health psychology, forensic psychology, occupational psychology, further education teaching, amongst other topics.

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