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Becoming a Clinical Psychologist

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

clinical psychologist with patient

Clinical psychologists help people who are struggling with mental, emotional, social, and behavioral disorders by applying their extensive knowledge and expertise in assessment, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Typically these psychologists focus on more severe issues than do counseling psychologists. Clinical psychology represents the largest subfield within psychology.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 44 million (1 in 5) U.S. adults have a mental health disorder, with just half receiving treatment. This makes clinical psychology a robust and growing field that provides ample opportunity to work with and on behalf of individuals in your area of interest and preferred setting. Becoming a clinical psychologist involves many years devoted to the educational and training requirements. The career itself is on the demanding side, but there is a pressing need for these services and those who enter this profession derive a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction from their career choice.

Clinical psychologists work directly with patients/clients, conduct research, and teach. They can work with individuals across the lifespan, but many choose to focus on a particular age group such as children, adolescents, adults, or the elderly. Clinical psychologists often specialize in one area such as depression, substance abuse, autism, post-traumatic stress, brain injury, or violence.

With a new client, clinical psychologists start by assessing using psychological tests, interviewing, and observing. Significant others may provide information particularly if the client is a child or an adult unable or unwilling to provide the needed information. Because clinical psychologists tend to work with individuals with disorders, this process allows them to learn whether the client meets the criteria for a diagnosis according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and, if so, the degree of severity. Clinical psychologists use this information, along with a preferred approach, to determine a course of therapy. Therapy may be provided individually, in a group setting, or both. There are four main types of therapeutic approaches, although some clinical psychologists use a combination.

  • Psychoanalytic/psychodynamic is characterized by uncovering the unconscious meaning and motivation behind the client’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in a close and typically long-term relationship with the therapist
  • Behavioral explores the role played by the learning of abnormal behaviors; therapy consists of the client learning more normal and appropriate behaviors, often using conditioning with positive and negative reinforcement
  • Cognitive focuses on a client’s dysfunctional thinking that drives problematic behaviors and emotions; changing these subsequently transforms behaviors and emotions to be more normalized
  • Humanistic revolves around the natural capability of human beings in general to make choices which are rational and to reach their maximum potential, with the therapist as guide rather than authority figure

Compared to those who solely provide direct client care, clinical psychologists who conduct basic or applied research often align similarly with regard to the population and/or type of disorder in which they specialize. With basic research, the clinical psychologist might study the systems of the body and brain, such as genes or biochemical mechanisms, as they influence behavior, thoughts, and emotions. Or they might investigate psychological theory. Applied researchers most often look at the application of science; examples would be determining which treatment approaches work most effectively for a particular disorder, or how to prevent a disorder in the first place.

Workplace Details

Clinical psychologists are able to work in a large number of settings including private practice, mental health hospitals, treatment centers, prisons, military bases, and higher education. Since their clients are generally experiencing more severe problems, practitioners are less likely to work in K-12 schools or community-based organizations. Those providing direct care in institutions such as hospitals, treatment centers, and prisons are usually part of a team that delivers a consistent and comprehensive support system. Working in institutions likely means keeping a stricter schedule, as well as potentially heavy caseloads, but this is often where the greatest need for their services resides.

Many clinical psychologists are in private practice, either alone or in a practice group with other similar psychologists. Private practice also allows the clinical psychologist to take on clients in their area of specialization. Those more senior often supervise clinical psychology interns.

There are also many opportunities for clinical psychologists who choose to teach at the post-secondary level or conduct research in universities, think tanks, and research facilities.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$90210
New York
$89430
Texas
$65310
Pennsylvania
$72640
Massachusetts
$75550

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$57,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $171,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$40,010$47,920$143,490

ALASKA

Median Salary: 
$69,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$52,470$74,520$119,240

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$57,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$37,330$59,580$81,520
Tuscon$33,220$46,550$80,570

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$57,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $108,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$30,510$58,350$91,700
Fort Smith$37,410$60,040$164,580

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$87,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$40,730$81,430$119,980
San Francisco Bay$41,760$86,910$128,160
San Diego$50,840$80,000$124,280
Sacramento$51,310$96,680$126,020

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$74,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $117,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$34,740$76,880$119,750
Colorado Springs$28,670$64,310$106,790

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$86,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $121,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$56,030$86,040$121,390
Bridgeport$53,810$86,820$126,560
New Haven$51,580$88,120$117,470

DELAWARE

Median Salary: 
$79,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $112,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$51,990$75,020$109,440
Dover$46,290$81,580$109,650

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$86,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $165,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$36,190$79,500$147,530

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$66,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$40,870$70,070$109,810
Orlando$34,570$59,740$93,590
Tampa$43,870$70,900$94,660
Jacksonville$41,980$63,850$90,560

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$67,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$43,360$66,250$103,010
Augusta$41,040$60,260$112,190

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$68,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $127,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$44,910$70,910$127,550

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$56,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $134,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 320

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$40,160$49,760$113,690
Idaho Falls$33,480$50,780$62,270

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$65,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$34,440$65,400$102,750
Rockford$47,020$74,470$105,250

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$58,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $104,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$33,400$64,040$109,720
Fort Wayne$39,740$57,230$110,870

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$70,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $113,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$47,990$70,080$152,470
Cedar Rapids$40,160$63,050$85,320

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$58,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$43,830$59,610$91,110
Kansas City$35,600$61,290$115,440

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$61,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $90,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$44,630$66,980$99,590
Lexington$42,850$59,240$86,040

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$69,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $122,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$43,800$106,690$125,190
Baton Rouge$55,770$73,320$114,980
Lafayette$34,270$48,250Over $187,200

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$75,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $148,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$52,890$63,600$112,600

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$71,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $111,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$42,950$67,460$102,980
Frederick$32,790$79,450$126,380

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$73,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $115,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$47,870$76,590$112,180
Worcester$50,670$77,590$175,510
Springfield$37,830$63,690$106,640

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$67,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $114,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$39,460$69,630$121,390
Grand Rapids$28,700$61,370$89,610

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$69,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $109,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$41,670$72,140$110,750
Rochester$45,880$75,840$109,930

MISSISSIPPI

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Gulfport$28,540$45,690$91,930

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$62,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $106,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$42,010$62,200$122,330
Kansas City$35,600$61,290$115,440

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$51,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $106,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$30,720$70,240$122,770
Missoula$19,750$29,290$64,810

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$63,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $98,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$41,890$63,220$96,580
Lincoln$40,200$65,630$114,600

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$68,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$44,760$64,510$92,600
Reno$24,080$83,440$97,870

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$68,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $121,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$41,810$62,450$112,280
Nashua$43,390$65,070$77,390

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$82,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $132,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$53,580$76,160$120,160
Trenton$61,980$88,180$173,990

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$63,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$35,170$60,910$89,070
Las Cruces$41,820$66,470$99,220

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$82,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $47,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $127,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 600

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$52,910$87,370$129,710
Buffalo$38,950$66,960$95,080
Rochester$41,380$67,030$96,190
Albany$45,100$75,980Over $187,200

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$57,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$37,260$58,350$85,980
Raleigh$41,950$55,890$91,950
Greensboro$43,550$64,340$99,320
Winston - Salem$40,430$47,960$75,350

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$77,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $120,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$35,100$76,820$124,070

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$71,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $101,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$40,110$72,710$104,570
Columbus$33,680$70,350$102,450
Cincinnati$40,300$72,360$98,790
Dayton$45,010$71,560$120,030

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$46,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$34,030$46,910$124,370
Tulsa$29,990$47,150$90,380

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$71,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $117,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$36,470$69,550$146,420
Salem$51,440$76,400$97,790

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$64,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 280

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$43,870$69,350$116,560
Pittsburgh$35,290$56,840$94,170
Harrisburg$49,170$71,030$102,820
Allentown$33,440$77,220$104,850

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
$74,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$49,140$74,250$127,700

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$56,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$26,910$47,060$79,900
Columbia$47,580$65,290$89,710
Charleston$41,800$57,960$78,450

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$71,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $47,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $115,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$53,610$81,810$111,990

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$66,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $45,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$45,200$67,160$120,210
Memphis$52,050$70,120$102,000
Knoxville$46,590$68,490$181,270
Chattanooga$38,220$60,510$116,390

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$59,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $93,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 340

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$36,020$62,510$94,550
Houston$40,070$61,670$114,750
San Antonio$37,850$57,500$78,320
Austin$38,290$57,660$86,130

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$60,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $109,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$22,680$57,150$100,860
Ogden$41,040$61,390$175,650

VERMONT

Median Salary: 
$54,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$31,570$66,890$99,420

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$68,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $124,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$29,030$59,900$96,840
Richmond$49,840$64,310$92,860

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$66,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $90,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$49,520$68,130$98,120
Spokane$42,130$67,640$93,820

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$50,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 1%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$35,310$53,750$76,550
Charleston$31,780$44,140$69,590

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$71,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$45,290$79,020$125,200
Madison$40,870$66,530$114,000

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$69,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $111,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$52,420$91,030$123,770

The current mean annual income for a clinical psychologist is $78,690, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is roughly $35.59 per hour. The salary of a clinical psychologist is influenced by experience, specialty, and location. Salaries for those just starting their careers might be closer to $41,830, which is the median of the bottom 10% of earners. The top 10% of wage earners make a median of $120,320. Those in hospitals, R&D and health practitioners’ offices typically have higher salaries, as do those working in major urban areas. The degree of specialization is another factor that affects the level of compensation.

The job outlook for psychologists is promising. Clinical psychology is a growing field; the BLS expects the demand for clinical psychologists in the United States to increase by 20% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than average job growth overall.

The APA recommends specialization for those entering clinical psychology. Areas on the cusp of major growth include:

  • Geropsychology (elderly populations), as the number of Americans over 65 will double by 2050
  • Neuropsychology (brain and nervous system) due to major advances in imaging technology
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a viable area of specialization, due to the growing number of veterans suffering from it

With clinical psychology being the most popular subfield, there is a high demand for qualified instructors as well. But keep in mind that many universities are going the route of hiring adjunct faculty (part-time instructors) to teach courses, making securing a full-time faculty position challenging.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$87370 Per Year

$42.000 Per Hour

Los Angeles CA Median Pay

$81430 Per Year

$39.14 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Clinical Psychologist

1

Earn your undergraduate degree.

Majoring in clinical psychology – or, at a minimum, completing substantial coursework and having work or volunteer experience related to clinical psychology – is recommended to promote acceptance into the doctoral program of your choice.

Show Me Schools »

2

Determine whether to pursue a master's degree prior to earning your doctorate.

States almost universally require a doctorate for licensing as a clinical psychologist. A master’s degree is generally expected before entering a doctoral program, but in some universities these degrees are combined. If you’re certain you want to become a licensed clinical psychologist and are able to enroll in a combined program, it will be the most efficient path toward your goal.

3

Earn either a PhD or a PsyD.

When selecting candidates, programs commonly make decisions based on coursework, experience, and standardized test scores (such as the GRE-Graduate Record Exam). Clinical psychologists have an option of a PhD and or PsyD. Both require coursework and an internship, but a PhD in addition requires a dissertation of original research. A PhD prepares you for research and/or practice and to teach, whereas a PsyD is designed for those more interested in practice, although you can still participate in research in some settings as well as teach. Both require a supervised internship of at least 2,000 hours. Keep in mind that as clinical psychology is a popular choice, internships are competitive. The PsyD is a newer degree, but is gaining popularity with its focus on clinical practice, shorter time to complete, and higher acceptance rates into doctoral programs compared to a PhD.

The length of time to receive a doctorate depends on whether you already have a master’s, whether you take the PhD or PsyD route, and the various requirements of the individual university. But in general, the average length is 5 to 8 years. It’s important to be aware that earning a doctorate is expensive, with almost three-fourths of graduates having debt between $10,000 and $100,000.

4

Complete your practicum training.

Supervised practicum training approved by the APA through the internship and post-doctoral level (another 2,000 hours on average) is expected prior to licensure.

5

Get licensed as a clinical psychologist.

For clinical psychology, licensure at the state level is required to practice/provide direct therapeutic services in the U.S. The majority of states require the doctoral program to be regionally accredited or government-chartered and many require it to be APA (American Psychological Association) accredited. The APA does not accredit entirely online programs at this time.

A major component of the licensure process is to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). To reduce obstacles around licensure, it is vital to choose a doctoral program carefully. Those who teach or conduct research and work in universities, state or federal agencies, research labs, or corporations may be exempt from licensure requirements, though this varies by state.

Exploring Degree Paths

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

In order to practice as a clinical psychologist, you’ll need to earn one of the following doctoral degrees:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Best option if you hope to conduct research or teach at the university level.
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). A good option if you plan to focus on clinical practice rather than academia.

But before you can attend graduate school, you’ll have to earn a bachelor’s degree. During your undergraduate years, always remember that admission to clinical psychology doctoral programs is highly competitive. You can prepare by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology (or a closely related behavioral science).

Show Me Schools »

Good grades matter; try to keep your undergrad GPA above 3.0. Earning a master’s degree in psychology can also give you an edge. Finally, research and teaching experience can do a lot to strengthen your application.

DOCTORAL PROGRAM AND FELLOWSHIP

6-7 years

Most doctoral programs in psychology are found at large research universities. Some follow a generalist curriculum. Others focus on a specialty like child and adolescent psychology, health psychology, or neuropsychology.

There are many benefits to attending a doctoral program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). For one, holding a degree from an accredited school makes it easier to get licensed and certified after graduation. In addition, some employers hire psychologists from accredited programs either exclusively or preferentially.

Clinical psychology doctoral candidates spend a year or two taking courses in:

Psychotherapy

Learn different theories and approaches for counseling patients.

Psychopathology

Study the causes, treatments, and prevalence of common mental health disorders.

Psychological assessment

Understand how psychological tests are constructed and validated, plus considerations for selection, administration, and interpretation.

Clinical research methods

Use different study designs and data analysis techniques to answer questions in psychology.

After a year or two, doctoral candidates begin a series of supervised fieldwork experiences called practica. The final year of the program is spent working full-time in an APA-approved internship.

PhD candidates in clinical psychology also spend considerable time in the psych lab assisting faculty and designing their own studies. These activities culminate in an original research project and dissertation.

After graduating from a PhD program, many clinical psychologists complete an additional year of specialty training called a postdoctoral fellowship. In many states, fellowship training is required to practice clinically. Psychologists with academic aspirations often complete research fellowships to strengthen their resumes.

Keys to Success as a Clinical Psychologist

Necessary Skills and Qualities

People skills

Clinical psychology calls on you to have outstanding observation and communication skills. You must be good at establishing and maintaining relationships. This requires trustworthiness, empathy, a non-judgmental character, and patience.

Independence

Due to their high education level and unique expertise, clinical psychologists have a substantial amount of independence when carrying out their specific duties. This autonomy comes with high expectations about job performance and responsibility for job-related decisions, particularly because of the high stakes of working with clients who have serious mental health issues and receive therapy or are research subjects.

Stress management

Clinical psychologists must cope with the stress of working with challenging clients, especially long-term. A positive aspect of being a psychologist is the support available through professional organizations. Being active in these allows the clinical psychologist to meet, learn from, and work with other like-minded professionals and this can be of great benefit both professionally and personally.

Flexibility with your time

The setting in which clinical psychologists work will in part dictate the amount of flexibility in their schedule. When it comes to providing direct services, private practice will likely afford the most flexibility. However, to build and maintain a successful practice means being readily available; this can include weekends and evenings, as well as being accessible with little notice should a client go into crisis. Teaching is the setting with fewer demands on the clinical psychologist’s time. However, you must be available of course for classes and office hours and it can be very time consuming to prepare lectures and grade assignments. Those who conduct research in universities or think tanks will likely have the most flexibility, but only once they are more senior.

Organization

A sole practitioner or one in a small practice group will have to keep extensive records and navigate the health insurance system themselves if they wish to be reimbursed for services rendered, while those in larger organizations will have administrative staff to help with this.

Additional Credentials

Clinical psychologists (and psychologists in several clinical subspecialties) can pursue optional board certification with the American Board of Professional Psychology.

Candidates must be graduates of APA-accredited programs and licensed to practice. They must also meet education and experience requirements specific to their specialty. Each specialty also has a slightly different exam process.

Board certification is available in the following clinical specialties:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Clinical child & adolescent psychology
  • Clinical health psychology
  • Clinical neuropsychology

Exploring Further

To explore the clinical psychologist’s career further, here are some action steps:

Lilla Dale McManis, PhD

Lilla Dale McManis has been a psychologist for the past 20 years. She holds a PhD in educational psychology, a master’€™s degree in special education, and a bachelor’€™s degree in child development. Over the course of her career, Dr. McManis has worked directly in the K-12 school system, in universities, in state government, and in private industry. Currently she is President & CEO of Parent in the Know and Early Childhood Research Solutions, where she focuses on the assessment of children in the areas of intelligence, achievement, and social-emotional functioning and the feelings, attitudes, and behaviors associated with effective parenting. In addition, Dr. McManis is a consultant and her main area of work and interest relates to child development, prevention, and parenting.

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