graduateshotline logo

Clinical Psychology: Degree Programs - Licencing - Career options

Clinical psychology is one of the largest of the sub-disciplines in the department of psychology and is concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illness and disability. Those interested in specializing in this field will need to build a broad understanding of psychopathology and the associated diagnostic and intervention approaches. Through extensive training, clinicians are taught to recognize mental health issues as they manifest across the lifespan and to integrate information about personality testing and other specific standardized assessment measures into their treatment plans. Intellectual, emotional, psychological, social and behavioral maladjustment are generally what bring individuals to therapy, as they can resoundingly affect their lives by causing minor to severe disability and discomfort.

Trained in a range of theoretical approaches and techniques, many clinicians begin to specialize in specific subpopulations such as children, couples, or specific disorders, they may also develop a preferred methodology. Becoming a clinical psychologist requires specific education, generally beginning with an undergraduate degree in psychology. In most states, being an independent practitioner requires that you have a doctoral degree and licensing appropriate to the region, including completion of at least a year-long internship as a requisite part of doctoral programs. Choosing a school can be tricky, as oftentimes universities vary in the content of the programs that they offer, making it important to give thorough thought to your broad interests before selecting a program. While one school may have a strong clinical psychology program, they place less emphasis on say industrial/organizational psychology, another program may mostly ignore clinical aspect and devote their department towards another field like social psychology.

Doctorate Degrees in Clinical Psychology

There are two different doctorate degrees available to those interested in pursuing clinical psychology, a Ph.D. in Psychology which focuses on science and research, or a Psy.D., or Doctor of Psychology, which focuses on clinical work. Even after you have completed your coursework in clinical psychology, a period of supervised practice, dissertation, internship, and postdoc study, one still must go through the process of getting licensed. This can restrict your options for job prospects if you’re wanting to apply all over the country, as different states have different requirements, which may require preparing for different licensing exams.

Licensing requirements

Licensing requirements are in place for the purpose of consumer protection, and vary based on the requirements of each state. To begin the process of becoming licensed in one’s state, one must have a doctoral degree in psychology from a regionally accredited or government-charted institution. Some states require the doctoral degree to be from an APA-accredited program, although one can appeal to the board to have their completed curriculum scrutinized for validity if the program is not recognized by the APA. With this in mind, mainstream education, training and supervisory experiences are more likely to meet state requirements without any delays.

As one of the qualifying elements to begin the licensing process, candidates must complete the requisite hours’ requirement for direct hands-on contact with clients. Applicants will on average need to accrue around 2,000 hours during internship and 2,000 hours during postdoc, although requirements vary. This makes it important to pay attention to differences in required supervision hours for the pre-doctoral internship and postdoc, as some regions require more in the ballpark of 6,000 hours of training. As with any sort of bureaucratic transfer of the like, there will be fees that are beyond the costs of general education associated with testing and licensing. Licensing may cost from $500 to upwards of $1000, with the total cost averaging around $3000.

As early as possible, it is recommended that applicants begin to make a dossier of their coursework, including course descriptions, textbook names and publication dates, professors’ names, their degree title, where they earned their doctorate, and whether they are licensed or an APA member. Using resources such as the National Psychologist Trainee Register can help serve this purpose, serving as a database where you can record information about your postdoc, internship and doctoral degree, and can facilitate keeping track of your transcripts or supervisor’s signatures. This should also contain documentation of the number of clients seen during training, types of problems treated, details about supervised experiences had during their postdoc and internship, as well as proof of coursework. Compiling all this information as you go through the process can greatly alleviate one’s to-dos later on, as trying to collect it after the fact can prove to be a challenge.

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) oversees U.S. and Canadian licensing boards. They are the overseers of the requirements concerning jurisprudence, graduate courses, and when to take the examination for professional practice in psychology known as the EPPP. The EPPP is a 225-question multiple choice test on the core areas of psychology developed by the ASPPB, covering constructs on assessment and diagnosis, social and biological bases of behavior. Required threshold scores vary by state.

Those working in research laboratories, colleges or universities, state or federal institutions or a corporation, may be exempt from certain elements of licensing. But anyone hoping to work with human beings in a therapeutic setting must subject themselves to appropriate licensing and review. It’s advisable to check out the Handbook of Licensure and Certification Requirements, available online. There are many other resources available for those that may have any questions, including online test prep.

Career Options

Clinical psychologists work in a number of settings, including a variety of healthcare facilities such as hospitals and mental health clinics, in the private sector, or in government-run organizations. Many sectors employ professional psychologists including schools, branches of the military, law enforcement departments, and other organizations that have people as their members. As of 2015, reports say that the median annual salary of clinical psychologists was $76,040, but this value varies depending on experience, location, organization and setting.

Much of early clinical psychology was the work of Sigmund Freud, a pioneer of the idea that mental illness was treatable with talk therapy. The field has developed to function by applying psychological science to help patients overcome depression and anxiety and to help them better understand how to manage their stress. The American Association of Clinical Psychology was established in 1917, replaced two years after by the American Psychological Association (APA) which is still prevalent today as a professional organization for individuals in the field of psychology.

Broadly speaking, there are various approaches to therapy branching from several schools of thought. Growing from Freud’s work, the psychodynamic approach dictates that the unconscious mind plays an important role in our behavior. It uses psychoanalysis as the methodology, applying techniques like free association and dream analysis to investigate a client’s unconscious motivations.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective methods of treatment to date, and the new promising frontier of mental health treatment. This process can be understood by picturing the brain as a muscle, with different habits and behaviors as different pathways and connections that can become stronger or weaker with exposure, time and use. CBT essentially works by identifying maladaptive thoughts and habits, and works to instate healthier approaches through “exercise.” Trauma in life is inevitable, but it is possible to learn to buffer against it by learning coping mechanisms and working through emotionally inflammatory maladaptations.

One of the most important traits of a clinical psychologist is caring about others, an important prerequisite for listening to someone’s story and trying to comb through the details in an attempt to isolate dysfunction and help them take steps to improve their well-being. Many of those seen by a clinical psychologist are experiencing psychological distress, and they may even deal with patients with severe manifestations of psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. However, only psychiatrists and nurse practitioners (NPs) can dispense prescriptions for psychotropic medications, leaving psychologists to non-chemical therapeutic interventions, while often working in concert with psychiatrists or NPs, consulting them when a client indicates a need for chemical intervention.

The field as a whole is moving towards a more humanistic perspective, looking at the patient holistically and taking their medical and mental health into consideration while working towards self-actualization. A skill seemingly inherent to success in these stepping stones is excellent communication skills and emotional intelligence Choosing to pursue clinical psychology is a not a commitment to make lightly or without doing the right research, as it takes many years of costly education, personal dedication, and passion for helping others.

Psychology Programs

Admissions / Career

Programs outside US