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Clinical Psychology CareersWhat is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychology is a specialty that treats mental and behavioral health issues through an array of approaches, including therapy, medication, behavioral training, and coping skills. While other psychology specialties have a singular or at least narrower focus, clinical psychology tackles a wider range of mental health issues using traditional and nontraditional approaches.

Clinical Psychology is the largest specialty in the field of Psychology. A Clinical Psychologist works with patients on mental health issues, both emotional and behavioral. A strong sense of compassion for helping others overcome obstacles that plague their mental well-being leads many to a career in Clinical Psychology.

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What Is a Clinical Psychologist Responsible For?

Clinical Psychologists support patients in mental health and personal development. They work with patients to develop their awareness of psychological problems and create treatment plans to help them achieve their mental health goals. A Clinical Psychologist meets with a patient and sometimes their spouse and other family members to discuss problems and how they affect the patient and family. They review the patient’s medical history and background, conduct personal interviews, and use their findings to develop a plan for treatment. Diagnostic testing, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, and prescription medication are some of the treatment techniques used by Clinical Psychologists.

A Clinical Psychologist tracks their patient’s progress through detailed notes taken during each therapy session. They routinely evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments and make modifications to the treatment plan as needed.

In addition to counseling, Clinical Psychologists may teach classes, conduct research, and publish their findings in industry publications.

A successful and effective therapist will learn and utilize the following skillsets:

  •        Excellent communication, including clear speech and good listening technique
  •        Empathy and the desire to help others
  •        Calm demeanor in stressful and emotional situations; able to work with people in distress
  •        Critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective decision-making skills
  •        Patience
  •        Integrity and high ethics
  •        Active learning and research skills
  •        Social perceptiveness
  •        Effective writing
  •        Negotiation and coordination to bring people together

See also; what is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a counseling psychologist?

Where Does a Clinical Psychologist Work?

Clinical psychology jobs are typically in the arena of healthcare, providing counseling services in hospitals, private practices, psychotherapy centers, nursing centers, and rehabilitation facilities. Some Clinical Psychologists work in academic settings as professors and researchers. They may also work in fields of specialty, the military, government agencies, private business associations, and consultancies.

How to become a clinical psychologist

Becoming a clinical psychologist isn’t easy. It takes most people about a decade from enrolling in an undergraduate program to become a clinical psychologist. Below, learn the steps for how to become a clinical psychologist.

1. Earn Your Degrees

The first step to becoming a clinical psychologist is to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year college or university.

Ideally, you should major in psychology, but some other fields may give you the necessary background knowledge. These include sociology and social work.

In most cases, clinical psychologists also have their Master’s degree in one of the following:

Depending on the program you complete, you might be able to earn your master’s as part of the doctoral program. Attaining your Master’s before your doctoral is a good way to gain experience in the practice of psychology.

Pursuing your doctoral in clinical psychology with just a bachelor’s degree adds four years to your time pursuing a career as a clinical psychologist. If you add a master’s to the mix, you must add another two. That means the total time to get your doctoral in clinical psychology will range from 8 to 14 years.

2. Complete Clinical Fieldwork

While in school, you’ll need to complete a one-year practicum or internship. This field experience lets you apply what you’ve learned while supervised by a fully licensed practitioner. Your school should help place you.

3. Get Your License and Start Practicing

Once you have attained your doctoral in clinical psychology, you can pursue your certification and license in the state where you will work. To practice clinical psychology, you must be licensed. Most states require the following:

  • Doctorate in psychology
  • Closely supervised internship
  • 1 – 2 years of supervised professional experience
  • Receive a passing grade in the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology

In most states, the governing board for licenses and certifications, as well as the psychology licensing exam, is the official state Board of Psychologists.

The Application Process

Each state has an application packet and process. The application has several parts and is complex. At least, it will have components similar to the following:

  • General application with your basic contact information
  • Summary of Clinical Experience
  • Essay questions (usually 5 to 10 questions pertaining to your experience and knowledge)

In addition, the application packet will have the following:

  • Graduate program summary and course sheet
  • Internship confirmation and evaluation
  • Professional reference form
  • Pre and postdoctoral clinical experience summary

In addition, there will be a fee you have to pay at the point of your submission. You will also have to provide a passport-style photo and a current resume or Curriculum Vitae.

Licensure Examination

You must pass an official license exam to be considered for a clinical psychology license. Most states require that you pass the EPPP, Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB.)

The ASPPB will review your application to take the exam and provide instructions to register to take the exam. The exam is a multiple-choice questionnaire with 225 total questions. To pass, you must score a minimum of 500, which works out to be 70% of the exam questions.

Board Determination

Your state psychology board will be sent your exam score. Your application will then be reviewed, and a determination of whether you meet the criteria to become licensed in your state will be made. Once accepted, you will receive your license in a week to two weeks.  

State Reciprocity

For your license to be transferable to another state, that state must have a reciprocity agreement with the state you want to practice. In most cases, you will still have to fill out your desired state’s application package and pay a fee.

If your current license is current, you can give your new state the following instead of going through the entire licensing process and taking the EPPP.

  • Certification by the American Board of Professional Psychology or ABPP 
  • Certificate of Professional Qualification or CPQ from the ASPPB
  • Certification from the National Register of Health Services Psychologists or NRHSP

If you have these, submit your application package and fee, evidence of a license in good standing, a current resume, and a signed Verification of Certification/Licensure from another Jurisdiction form.

These documents and certifications will allow you to gain your license in your desired state without retaking the license examination.

This process does not include any state-specific exam requirements.

Once you’ve earned your degree, you’ll have to sit for licensing exams. The first is the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology or the EPPP. Here’s everything you need to know about the EPPP and EPPP study materials.

The other requirements vary depending on where you live. In some states, there’s more than one test (e.g. California and the CPLEE). Sometimes, even after school, you must practice on a conditional license before your state fully certifies you.

4. Continuing Education

Every state has a defined time your psychology license is valid. The length of time varies, but typically, your license is valid for 2 to 6 years. At the end of that term, you need to renew your license. Your license must be in good standing with the state, and you must meet certain criteria, which are usually continuing education requirements.

Continuing education requirements are required so that you continually build upon your skills as a psychologist. This requirement prevents people from becoming clinical psychologists and coasting for years solely based on their initial license. It also lets you build your resume to give you the best possible advantage if you decide to go for a promotion or change jobs.

States usually extend broad latitude in the type of continuing education programs you complete.

For example, while you must take some psychology-related training to maintain your standing as a licensed Clinical Psychologist, you can also take classes to improve your business or communication skills. The goal is to help you become a better psychologist.

Continuing education gets counted by credited units. It can include direct coursework from an approved list, the completion of seminars and workshops related to your field, and any publication of manuscripts pertaining to your field of work. In many states, you can also lead education events for credit.

Many states also have ethics training requirements. Ethics training can include classes or workshops in:

  • Patient Privacy Laws and Application
  • Patient-client interaction and relationships
  • Financial ethics
  • Roles and responsibilities pertaining to professional behavior

What Career Options Are Available to a Clinical Psychologist?

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There are a variety of career opportunities for Clinical Psychologists. Following are a few options:

Substance Abuse Counselor 

One of the fastest growing careers in the U.S., a Substance Abuse Counselor works closely with patients to overcome addiction problems. Patients addicted to illegal drugs, as well as prescription medications, require strong counselors to overcome their addiction, manage withdrawal symptoms, and achieve a successful recovery. Part of a successful recovery is the patient’s ability to manage triggers that can cause a relapse. The counselor analyzes the behavior and circumstances that led to the addiction and develops a plan for the patient to manage those triggers.  State certification varies, but normally includes licensure. 

Human Resources Position

A comprehensive Human Resources Department is an integral part of successful organizations. Evaluating the behavior and past performance of prospective employees ensures the right people are hired for the right positions in a company. Ongoing evaluation of skills, performance, and attitudes preserves the desired corporate climate. Establishing and implementing policies and procedures secures fair internal practices for the company.  

Family / Marriage Counselors 

This career option can lead a therapist to the hospital setting, working with Psychiatrists and Social Workers, or opening private practices. The Clinical Psychologist may work with couples who are experiencing marital conflict or treat a family dealing with a child with behavioral problems.

Forensic Psychologist

A Forensic Psychologist works with law enforcement as an expert witness and is assigned to evaluate defendants for competency to stand trial, or to assess if the defendant is sane or mentally ill. As a credible witness, the psychologist must evaluate, provide treatment recommendations, determine credibility of other witnesses, and possibly recommend terms of sentence. 

Child Psychologists 

Children have very specialized mental health needs. A Child Psychologist works with children to sort out home problems, including neglect and abuse, as well as diagnoses and treats mental health problems. They also teach habits and skills that can be used into adulthood to help manage mental health issues.  

Learning Disabilities Specialist

Elementary schools and High schools require mental health specialists who can diagnose and treat children with learning disabilities. A Learning Disabilities Specialist works closely with students, educators, and parents to develop and implement a plan to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Autism, and other learning impairments so the student can learn to overcome and excel in the educational environment. 

What Skills are Required in Clinical Psychology?

Clinical Psychologists must possess knowledge of psychological theory and practice and have an interest in how humans think and interact with one another. They must have strong research and teamworking skills but they must also be able to work on their own. Students who pursue Clinical Psychology should have strong critical-thinking skills and have the ability to quickly identify the effectiveness of a treatment plan and then make adjustments to better benefit their clients. They must possess strong communication skills and be able to empathize with a broad range of personalities.

How Much Money Does a Clinical Psychologist Earn?

Salaries for Clinical Psychologists vary widely based on many different factors. Recent U.S. Bureau of Statistics (BLS) indicate the average annual income for Clinical Psychologists is $91,677. Actual salaries vary based on location, specialization, and experience.

Field of specialty can greatly affect earnings, too. The average salary for Marriage and Family Psychologists is around $54,000 and for Psychology Teachers is approximately $84,000. Salaries for Corporate Psychologists varies significantly, ranging from $44,000-$85,000. A Forensic Psychologists averages $72,000 per year.  

See our clinical psychology salary guide for more information.

Latest Clinical Psychologist Jobs Listings

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