Get Your Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology – Everything You Need to Know in 2024

At a glance

Summary A PhD in clinical psychology is an advanced academic degree focused on the study, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders, preparing graduates for research, teaching, and clinical practice.
Entry Requirements Master’s degree in psychology or a related field
Completion Time 4-7 years
Coursework & Credits 90-120 credits, including coursework in foundational clinical psychology, psychopathology, psychological assessment, counseling techniques, neuropsychology and bases of behavior.
Cost $15,000 – $50,000 per year
Post PhD Steps After earning the PhD, most individuals need to become licensed to practice as psychologists, which entails additional supervised hours and passing a licensing exam.
Career Opportunities Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Earning Potential $86,364+ annually


A PhD in clinical psychology is an advanced academic degree that delves into the scientific study, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders and behavioral conditions. This rigorous program is designed to prepare graduates for careers in research, teaching, and direct clinical practice. Through the blend of coursework, research, and hands-on clinical training, students are equipped with comprehensive knowledge and skills necessary to become leaders in the field of psychology.

Typically, a PhD in clinical psychology takes between 4 to 7 years to complete, with the variation in duration often depending on the specific requirements of the program, the nature of the student’s research, and the requisite clinical training hours. Most programs include a combination of classroom-based learning, research projects culminating in a dissertation, and applied clinical experience through internships or practicums.

The curriculum for a PhD in clinical psychology encompasses a wide range of topics. Core areas of study usually include foundations of clinical psychology, research methods, psychopathology, psychological assessment, and various psychotherapy and counseling techniques. Additionally, students often delve into specialized subjects such as neuropsychologyforensic psychologychild psychology and health psychology. This comprehensive training ensures that graduates are well-prepared to address diverse psychological needs across different populations and settings.

Why get a PhD in Clinical Psychology?

A PhD in clinical psychology is a rigorous and demanding program, but it is also incredibly rewarding. If you are passionate about helping people and making a difference in the world, then this is the degree for you.
Dr. Patricia A. Resick, University of Missouri-St. Louis

There are a multitude of reasons why students pursue a PhD in clinical psychology, here are a few key reasons to consider it:

Demand for Clinical Psychologists

The demand for clinical psychologists has been steadily rising, reflecting the growing awareness and acceptance of mental health services in the general population. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (as of 2019), the employment of psychologists is projected to grow 14% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is attributed to the greater demand for psychological services in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and social service agencies. With a PhD in clinical psychology, individuals are well-equipped to meet this increasing demand, providing essential services and contributing to the overall well-being of the community.

Opportunity for Specialization and Higher Earnings

Pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology opens doors to various specializations, such as neuropsychology, child psychology, or forensic psychology. Specialized psychologists often have the potential for higher earnings compared to their generalist counterparts. For instance, according to a 2019 salary survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), doctoral-level clinical psychologists with a specialization (like neuropsychologists) reported median salaries that were approximately 40% higher than those without a specialization. A PhD program allows for deep dives into specific areas of interest, enhancing expertise and potentially boosting earning potential.

Leadership Opportunities and Policy Influence

One of the often-overlooked advantages of a PhD in clinical psychology is the doors it opens to leadership roles within organizations and the potential to influence public policy. The intensive training and deep expertise gained from such a doctoral program position graduates as thought leaders in the field of mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, psychologists with doctoral degrees often find themselves in positions where they can shape policy, both within healthcare institutions and at regional or national levels. Their informed perspectives are invaluable in advisory roles, committees, or when collaborating with governments to create mental health programs, ensuring that psychological services are both effective and accessible. A PhD not only amplifies their voice but also underscores the weight of their expertise in these pivotal roles.

Entry requirements for a Clinical Psychology PhD program

  1. Bachelor’s Degree: Typically in psychology or a related field, though some programs may accept applicants from other disciplines if they’ve completed prerequisite courses.
  2. Master’s Degree: Some programs prefer or require a master’s degree in psychology or a related field, while others will accept students directly from a bachelor’s program.
  3. Grade Point Average (GPA): Many programs have a minimum GPA requirement of 3.0.
  4. Letters of Recommendation: Typically from professors, researchers, or professionals familiar with the applicant’s academic and/or clinical work.
  5. Background Check: Given the nature of clinical work, some programs might require a background check before final admission.

What’s covered in a Clinical Psychology PhD program?

A PhD in clinical psychology is a research-based doctoral degree that prepares students to conduct independent research, provide clinical services, and teach psychology. The program typically takes 5-7 years to complete and includes coursework in a variety of areas, such as theories of personality and psychopathology, assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders, evidence-based psychotherapy, research methods and statistics, ethical and professional issues, and practicum and internship experiences.
Dr. Scott Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University

A PhD in clinical psychology is designed to train students in both the science and practice of psychology. The curriculum typically covers a wide array of topics to ensure that graduates are well-rounded and competent researchers, educators, and clinicians. Here’s an overview of the subjects often covered:

  1. Foundations of Clinical Psychology: This introduces students to the history, theories, and key concepts of the field.
  2. Research Methods and Statistics: Comprehensive training in both qualitative and quantitative research methods, along with advanced statistical techniques, ensuring students can design and analyze research effectively.
  3. Psychopathology: Study of various psychological disorders, understanding their origins, classifications, and manifestations across the lifespan.
  4. Psychological Assessment: Techniques and tools used for clinical assessments, including intelligence testing, personality assessment, and neuropsychological testing.
  5. Psychotherapy and Intervention: Training in therapeutic modalities and techniques, from cognitive-behavioral therapy to psychodynamic approaches, ensuring students can provide evidence-based treatments.
  6. Professional Ethics and Issues: Examination of the ethical guidelines and professional standards in the practice of clinical psychology.
  7. Biological Bases of Behavior: Understanding the neurobiological and physiological processes underpinning behavior, emotion, and cognition.
  8. Cognitive and Affective Bases of Behavior: Exploring how cognitive processes and emotions shape human behavior.
  9. Social Bases of Behavior: Understanding social interactions, group dynamics, and broader societal and cultural factors that influence psychology.
  10. Human Development: Insights into psychological development from infancy to old age.
  11. Diversity and Multicultural Psychology: Training to ensure culturally competent care, addressing the unique psychological needs of diverse populations.

Here’s a sample curriculum for a PhD program in clinical psychology:


First Year

  • Fall:
    • Introduction to Clinical Psychology
    • Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Theory and Practice
    • Research Methods in Psychology I
    • Psychological Statistics I
    • Clinical Practicum I
  • Spring:
    • Psychopathology I
    • Psychological Assessment I: Cognitive and Intellectual Assessment
    • Research Methods in Psychology II
    • Psychological Statistics II
    • Clinical Practicum II

Second Year

  • Fall:
    • Psychopathology II
    • Psychological Assessment II: Personality Assessment
    • Human Development Across the Lifespan
    • Biological Bases of Behavior
    • Clinical Practicum III
  • Spring:
    • Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Therapies
    • Cognitive and Affective Bases of Behavior
    • Advanced Quantitative Methods
    • Professional Ethics in Clinical Psychology
    • Clinical Practicum IV

Third Year

  • Fall:
    • Neuropsychological Assessment
    • Multicultural Psychology and Diversity Issues in Treatment
    • Social Bases of Behavior
    • Health Psychology
    • Clinical Practicum V
  • Spring:
    • Forensic Psychology
    • Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy
    • Advanced Clinical Seminar (e.g., trauma therapy or substance abuse treatment)
    • Supervision and Consultation in Clinical Practice
    • Clinical Practicum VI

Fourth Year

  • Fall:
    • Family and Couples Therapy
    • Advanced Research Seminar I
    • Clinical Psychopharmacology (for some programs)
    • Elective Course (e.g., School Psychology, Military Psychology, etc.)
    • Dissertation Proposal Development
  • Spring:
    • Advanced Research Seminar II
    • Group Psychotherapy
    • Elective Course (e.g., Geriatric Psychology, Positive Psychology, etc.)
    • Dissertation Research

Fifth Year

  • Predoctoral Internship (typically a full-year, full-time commitment)
  • Dissertation Completion and Defense

How much does a PhD in Clinical Psychology cost?

The cost of pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology varies significantly based on the type of institution and residency status.

Generally, private universities tend to have higher tuition rates, ranging from $30,000 to $60,000 per year. Public universities, on the other hand, offer different rates for in-state and out-of-state residents; in-state tuition can range between $10,000 to $30,000 per year, while out-of-state students might pay between $25,000 to $50,000 annually. These figures don’t account for other costs like fees, books, and living expenses.

It’s worth noting that many Clinical Psychology PhD programs provide financial support, often in the form of fellowships, research, or teaching assistantships, which can cover tuition and offer stipends.

What to look for in a PhD program

It can be overwhelming with so many PhD programs out there and so many factors to consider. Choosing a program in clinical psychology is a significant decision that will impact the trajectory of your career. Here are a few key ways to compare programs/institutions:

Program Funding and Financial Support

Fully funded programs, which include tuition waivers and stipends, can drastically reduce student debt and allow students to focus on their studies.The National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates found that over 75% of research doctorate recipients in psychology reported no education-related debt, largely due to funding availability in their programs.

Program Duration and Flexibility

The length of a program and its ability to accommodate part-time students or offer flexible schedules can be vital, especially for those balancing work, family, or other commitments.

According to the APA, the median time to complete a doctorate in psychology has been around 7 years. However, some programs, especially those designed for working professionals, might offer accelerated tracks or part-time options, which can affect this duration.

Location and Access to Clinical Populations

Being in a location that provides access to diverse clinical populations or specific groups that align with a student’s research interests can be invaluable for hands-on training and research.

A report from the APA emphasized the importance of diversity in clinical training. Programs located in urban settings or areas with diverse communities can offer broader exposure and experience in multicultural clinical practice, which is essential for a comprehensive education in clinical psychology.

Program Curriculum and Specializations

The curriculum and available specializations should align with a student’s career and research interests.

In a survey by the APA, PhD recipients emphasized the importance of finding a program that matched their specific interests, as this played a crucial role in their eventual job satisfaction and career trajectory.

Internship Placement and Post-Graduation Outcomes

High-quality internship placements and positive post-graduation outcomes can significantly influence a graduate’s early career.

The Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) provides data on internship match rates. Programs with high match rates to APA-accredited internships often signal strong training and preparation.

What jobs can you do with a PhD in Clinical Psychology?

  1. Licensed Clinical Psychologist: This is perhaps the most direct application of the degree. Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They might work with specific populations, such as children, the elderly, or individuals with severe mental illness.
  2. Licensed professional counselor: an LPC is a mental health professional trained to provide therapy and counseling services to individuals, couples, and groups for a variety of emotional and psychological challenges.
  3. Mental Health Counselor: provide counseling and therapy services to individuals and groups with mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and trauma.
  4. School Psychologist: work in K-12 schools to provide counseling and support services to students, including academic guidance, behavioral interventions, and emotional support.
  5. Professor: A PhD graduate can work in academia, conducting research on various psychological topics and teaching undergraduate and graduate students.
  6. Forensic Psychologist: Working at the intersection of psychology and the legal system, forensic psychologists might assess defendants’ competency, provide expert testimony, or evaluate the risk of reoffending. Although you might instead consider a PhD in forensic psychology.
  7. Neuropsychologist: diagnose and treat cognitive and behavioral disorders related to brain function, such as traumatic brain injury and dementia.
  8. Health Psychologist: Focusing on how psychological factors affect health and illness, these professionals might work in hospitals, clinics, or public health settings to improve patient outcomes.
  9. Director of Clinical Services: Those with a blend of clinical expertise and administrative skills might oversee clinical services at hospitals, clinics, or mental health centers
  10. Research Psychologist: conduct research on a variety of topics related to human behavior and mental health, including developmental psychology, social psychology, and cognitive psychology.
  11. Industrial-Organizational Psychologist: work with organizations to improve productivity and employee well-being through programs such as employee selection, training, and development.

How much can you earn with a PhD in Clinical Psychology?

  1. Licensed Clinical Psychologist: $91,677
  2. Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC): $65,000
  3. Mental Health Counselor: $60,000
  4. School Psychologist: $90,000
  5. Professor (Psychology): $80,370
  6. Forensic Psychologist: $101,000
  7. Neuropsychologist: $79,820
  8. Health Psychologist: $100,000
  9. Director of Clinical Services: $120,000
  10. Research Psychologist: $79,000
  11. Industrial-Organizational Psychologist: $112,690