How to Become a Licensed Clinical Psychologist: Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Learn how to become a clinical psychologist. Research the education, training and licensure information and experience required for starting a career in clinical psychology.

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Becoming a Clinical Psychologist?

Degree Level Ph.D. or a Psy.D. is required
Degree Field Clinical or counseling psychology
Licensure State licensure is required to practice independently as a clinical psychologist
Experience Varies by employer; can range from 1-2 years
Key Skills Communication, observation, and analytical skills; work well with others; maintain patient confidentiality; knowledge of statistics, testing, and medical software
Median Annual Salary (May 2018) $76,990 (for all Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job postings by employers (July 2012), Occupational Information Network

Clinical psychologists can work in out-patient and in-patient mental healthcare facilities, private practices, and academic settings. Common job duties for these professionals include diagnosing patients' mental or behavioral health disorders and developing treatment plans. Clinical psychologists who work for a college or university often take on additional teaching and research responsibilities.

As of 2012, about one-third of all psychologists were self-employed. Those individuals often see clients during evening or weekend hours to meet their scheduling needs. Those who work in medical facilities may often be scheduled during those same types of hours. Some individuals may find working with clients who exhibit mental and behavioral disorders to be stressful. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, various job postings made by psychologists in July 2012, and the Occupational Information Network, there are number of requirements for this career. Either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in clinical or counseling psychology is required. State licensure is required to practice independently as a clinical psychologist. Required levels of experience can vary by employer and can range from 1-2 years. Key skills for clinical psychologists include communication, observation, and analytical skills, the ability to work well with others, the ability to maintain patient confidentiality and knowledge of statistical, testing, and medical software. In May 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $76,990 per year.

Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

The first step toward becoming a licensed clinical psychologist is to earn a bachelor's degree. An undergraduate degree in psychology typically fulfills most of the admission requirements for a doctoral program in clinical psychology. However, many graduate programs also admit students with a bachelor's degree in a related field, provided they've completed prerequisite coursework. To meet these requirements, consider taking classes in research methods, abnormal psychology and behavioral statistics while enrolled in a bachelor's degree program.

Here's a success tip: look for opportunities to gain research experience. Undergraduates who work as research assistants have the opportunity to learn about scientific methods, explore their research interests and develop relationships with professors who can write letters of recommendation for their graduate school applications. Some schools also offer independent study options and honors programs to students who would like additional research experience.

Step 2: Doctoral Program

The second step toward becoming a licensed clinical psychologist is to complete a doctoral program. A Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program can take 4-5 years to complete and should be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). A Psy.D. program is traditionally chosen by students who want to emphasize practice over research, while a Ph.D. program might be beneficial to students who want to work in academia. Both of these doctoral programs give future clinical psychologists opportunities to expand on their research and develop clinical skills in such specialty areas as geropsychology or child and adolescent psychology. An internship lasting up to 2,000 hours is a common component of a doctoral psychology program.

Step 3: Field Experience

The third step toward become a licensed clinical psychologist is to gain field experience. Many schools offer post-doctoral fellowship programs that allow students to provide clinical services to both groups and individuals under the supervision of faculty. These programs, seminars and clinical rotations usually take a year to complete and are designed to help students gain the work experience necessary for licensure.

Here's a success tip: read about licensing requirements while enrolled in a post-doctoral program. Requirements vary from one state to the next and some have specific demands as to how many hours of patient contact or work experience are needed for licensure. Finding out about these stipulations early on can allow students to adjust their training schedules accordingly.

Step 4: Get Licensed

The fourth step toward becoming a licensed clinical psychologist is to get licensed. Clinical psychologists who want to practice independently must be licensed. Most states require the completion of a doctoral program, a state-approved field internship and 1-2 years of professional experience. Applicants will also need passing scores on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

Step 5: Continuing Education

After obtaining a license, psychologists in many states will be required to complete continuing education (CE) courses to maintain their license. While some states do not require the completion of CE hours, all psychologists can gain career-advancing benefits from these courses: they promote an expanded knowledge base and increased awareness of current trends in the field, which are essential in providing the best patient care.

The steps toward becoming a licensed clinical psychologist include earning a bachelor's degree, completing a doctoral program, gaining field experience, getting licensed, and, finally, taking continuing education courses in order to maintain one's license.

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