How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychology is the most popular field within psychology. Clinical psychologists study, diagnose and treat mental illnesses, personality disorders, emotional trauma, learning disabilities and disorders for clients who have abnormal psychological makeup. However, in most states, clinical psychologists are not considered doctors and cannot prescribe medication to patients. They often work in tandem with a team of doctors or psychiatrists who can prescribe medication, if needed.

Within clinical psychology, psychologists often specialize further. They may choose to deal only with a certain population, such as children, teenagers or adults, or may specialize in a particular disorder, such as learning disabilities or substance abuse. If you’re interested in this field, read on for more information on how to become a clinical psychologist.

how to become a clinical psychologistWhat They Do

The overall goal of psychology is to help patients cope with problems. However, the duties and responsibilities of a clinical psychologist vary depending on work setting. Most clinical psychologists work in the medical field, private practice or academia.

Medical field

Clinical psychologists working in the medical field coordinate with a team of health professionals to offer short- and long-term care to patients. These psychologists may treat inpatient clients, such as those who have been committed to a psychiatric ward, or outpatient clients. They may see patients with a wide range of psychological concerns. They often help the families cope with illness or death. Clinical psychologists may also provide psychiatric evaluations to patients who are considered a suicide risk. Those working in the medical field often encounter the most severely afflicted patients.

Private practice

In private practice, clinical psychologists have more control over the type of patients they wish to see and the hours they work. However, most clinical psychologists in private practice keep some weekend and evening hours to accommodate all patients. These psychologists provide short- and long-term care to patients and their families in an office setting. Clinical psychologists in private practice may assist families and individuals dealing with trauma, such as death, divorce or rape, or they may work with clients who struggle with mental illness, substance abuse, learning disabilities or other disorders. They may also be asked to provide expert testimony for the courts.


Clinical psychologists in academia work in research or as professors. They may lecture in colleges and universities or conduct research for a higher learning institution. Research may include experimental psychology, student surveys or other work. Psychologists in academia may also work in student health centers to provide free or low-cost services to students who are struggling with adjusting to college life or who have experienced trauma or have mental illnesses.

How to Become One

It takes a sizeable time commitment to become a psychologist. Many interested in becoming a psychologist earn their bachelor’s degree, like Notre Dame College’s Online Bachelors Degree in Psychology. Most psychologists then move on to earn a doctoral degree. Typically, clinical psychologists hold a Ph.D., but the Psy.D. program is growing in popularity.

In addition to advanced studies, psychologists in all states must be licensed to practice. Requirements for licensure vary from state to state, but most include obtaining an advanced degree (master’s level or beyond), one to two years of professional experience and a passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

In addition to educational and licensure requirements, psychologists must also possess a very particular set of skills. Psychologist must be patient and have good observational skills, especially those who work with patients who suffer from addiction or dissociative disorders. They must also have excellent communication and people skills. Psychologists do more than listen; they coordinate with families and other health providers to holistically treat their patients. Above all, psychologists must be trustworthy. Patients’ progress is seriously hindered when clients feel they cannot trust their psychologist.

Job Outlook

online psychology degreeAs more people turn to psychology to help them with their problems, the demand for these professionals is expected to grow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for clinical psychologists is projected to grow 22 percent by 2020.

Job prospects are abundant for those who hold a doctoral degree, and entry-level jobs can be obtained with a master’s degree as well. Studying psychology as an undergraduate is an excellent way to acquaint yourself with the field before moving on to graduate school.

As of May 2010, which is the most recent data available, the median salary for clinical psychologists was $66,640. Those in private practice typically earn more. The top 10 percent of earners in 2010 made more than $111,000. This can be compared to the national median for all occupations, which was $33,840 in May 2010

Are you interested in becoming a clinical psychologist? Learn more about NDC’s Bachelor of Psychology today.