How to become a psychologist

By Staff Writer

Our career guides are produced by staff writers in conjunction with our expert career coaches. We may earn a referral fee from some links.


Becoming a licensed psychologist is a rigorous process that requires extensive education, training, and experience. Psychologists are highly trained mental health professionals who use their knowledge of human behavior and mental processes to diagnose and treat a wide range of mental health conditions. They may work in a variety of settings, including private practice, hospitals, schools, and government agencies, and may specialize in areas such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or neuropsychology.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for psychologists in the United States is $80,370, with the highest earners in the top 10% making over $132,070.

“Training to become a psychologist requires a considerable investment of time and effort, but it can be a deeply rewarding career path for those who are passionate about the science and practice of psychology. The process typically involves several years of coursework, supervised clinical experience, and licensure requirements, but it offers the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the lives of individuals and communities. Aspiring psychologists should be prepared to work hard, stay committed to their education and training, and be willing to adapt to the evolving landscape of the field.”
Dr. Sarah J. Haigh, Licensed Psychologist and Clinical Director of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association

Here is an overview on how to become a licensed psychologist:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field
  2. Earn a Master’s degree in psychology or a related field
  3. Complete a Doctoral program such as a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD).
  4. Complete supervised experience
  5. Apply for licensure and pass the licensure exam
  6. Maintain licensure through continuing education

How long does it take to become a licensed psychologist?

It can take anywhere from 8 to 12 years or more to become a licensed psychologist.

The amount of time it takes to become a licensed psychologist varies as a result of the individual’s education and training background and the state or jurisdiction in which they plan to practice.

How to become a licensed psychologist (Step by step)

Bachelor’s degree

The first step in becoming a licensed psychologist is to earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field.

Most programs take 4 years to complete and provide students with a broad overview of the field. Coursework typically covers topics such as cognitive psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, and abnormal psychology.

In addition to coursework, many programs also require students to complete research projects or internships to gain practical experience in the field.

A Bachelor’s degree in psychology provides a solid foundation for further education and training in psychology, and may also provide opportunities for entry-level positions.

Master’s degree

The next step is to earn a Master’s degree in psychology or a related field.

This degree program typically takes 2-3 years to complete and provides students with more specialized training in a specific area of psychology e.g. counseling psychologyclinical psychology or behavioral psychology.

Many Master’s degree programs in psychology require students to complete a thesis or a research project, which provides an opportunity to gain practical research experience in the field. Some Master’s degree programs also offer opportunities for students to gain clinical experience through supervised practicums or internships.

A Master’s degree in psychology is often required for admission to a doctoral program in psychology, which is necessary to become a licensed psychologist. However, a master’s degree also opens the door to a number of positions in the industry. See our guide to jobs you can do with a master’s degree in psychology for more detail.

Doctorate degree

The final educational step in the process is a doctorate degree in psychology.

These programs typically take 5-7 years to complete and provide students with specialized training in a specific area of psychology e.g. organizational psychologybehavioral psychologyforensic psychologyeducational psychology or counseling psychology.

Doctoral programs in psychology typically include coursework, research, clinical training, and a dissertation. Students in these programs often have opportunities to gain practical experience through internships, fellowships or supervised clinical work, which is an essential component of the licensure process.

Supervised experience

Individuals must typically complete a number of supervised hours to gain practical experience in the field of psychology. This experience is an essential component of the licensure process, as it provides individuals with the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in their education and training to real-world scenarios.

Supervised experience typically involves working under the supervision of a licensed psychologist or other mental health professional in a clinical or research setting. This may involve providing counseling or therapy to clients, conducting psychological assessments, or assisting with research studies.

The length of supervised experience required for licensure varies by state and jurisdiction, but most states require between 1,500 and 3,000 hours which typically lasts for 1-2 years.

The goal of supervised experience is to help individuals develop the skills and competencies necessary to become effective and ethical practitioners in the field of psychology.


After completing the required education and supervised experience, individuals must apply for licensure in their state and pass the licensure exam in their state or jurisdiction in order to become a licensed psychologist.

Find your state’s board to better understand the licensing process. We also have an overview guide to how psychologist licensing differs by state.

All states use the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) exam for their licensure process.

The EPPP is a standardized exam designed to assess an individual’s knowledge of psychology and their ability to apply that knowledge to real-world scenarios. The exam consists of 225 multiple-choice questions and covers a wide range of topics related to psychology, including assessment and diagnosis, treatment planning, ethics and professional standards, and research methods.

See our guide to the EPPP exam for more detail and our guide to EPPP study materials for help with passing the exam.

Continuing education

Licensed psychologists must engage in continuing education to maintain their licensure.

The specific requirements for continuing education vary by state, but typically involve completing a certain number of hours of continuing education courses or activities on a regular basis.

The purpose of continuing education is to help licensed psychologists stay up-to-date on the latest research and practices in the field of psychology and to maintain their competence as practitioners. Continuing education may involve attending conferences or workshops, completing online courses, or engaging in other types of professional development activities.

In addition to continuing education, licensed psychologists are also required to adhere to ethical guidelines and professional standards in their practice.

You may find our guide to the best psychology continuing education providers useful.

Career guides

We have dozens of career guides which deep dive into each field of psychology. Please use the links below to find out more about each type of psychologist.