How to Become a Clinical Psychologist: Education, Licensure & Careers
- March 3, 2021
- Posted by: Ipolani Mugford
- Category: Student Resources,
Are you considering entering the clinical field but don’t know where to start? What does a clinical psychologist actually do and what can you work as? What proper education and credentials do you need to be licensed in the field?
Clinical psychologists cover a vast area of jobs in the fields of healthcare as well as social work. Your interests, how you plan to help others through your practice, and your average yearly salary expectation are essential pieces of information in determining the best fit in the clinical community for you.
Below you will find information related to receiving the proper education and training to start your journey towards becoming a clinical psychologist.
What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?
A clinical psychologist typically meets with clients via group settings, virtually, or on an individual basis. Your clients may range dramatically in terms of background, culture, and age depending on what you specialize in. Nevertheless, people turn to you when seeking professional help for mental health obstacles impairing their overall wellness.
As a mental health worker you can ultimately diagnose and treat behavioral symptoms and disorders. Because we all experience life and deal with certain obstacles in a unique way – due to variables such as culture, age, chemical compositions and so forth – clinical psychology has become quite specialized and expansive to meet the needs of society.
What Fields Can a Clinical Psychologist Work In?
With so many different career paths, it can seem overwhelming to the prospective psychology student; however, it is a very important and even fun step in your career search. Psychologists can work in a variety of different settings, including but not limited to, schools, universities, mental health centers, hospitals, private practices and so forth.
Learning further what mental health disorders or psychological obstacles you would want to tackle as well as the community you want to impact are helpful determiners in your career choice. There are a plethora of subfields depending on your strengths and interests, ranging from a school counselor to a rehabilitation counselor.
While the possibilities are vast, the common principle is bettering the quality of life of your patients. Knowing what to expect and the responsibility of these roles in the community is the first step towards becoming a psychologist.
Below are a few career options that a clinical psychologist can pursue:
What Education Does a Clinical Psychologist Need?
Once you have an idea of your focus in the field, the next step is learning what educational requirements are needed. To become a clinical psychologist you will initially need to obtain a bachelor’s degree. For your bachelor’s degree, you can major in a field similar to your desired specification, such as psychology, anthropology, social work, human services, and sociology.
Afterward you will likely need to continue your graduate studies. A master’s degree in psychology is typically the next step to specialize further in your desired practice. However, the type of 2-3 year program you decide upon is ultimately determined by what license and career path you will be seeking later on. For example, a marriage and family therapist would focus their masters in marriage and family therapy. You will learn about credentials and licenses in the next section.
For most clinical psychologists pursuing state-level licensure and obtaining research credentials, many students continue their studies towards a PhD on psychology. Students seeking a doctoral degree aim to further their expertise for academia, research, and supervision roles.
On average, this can be completed in 4-5 years; however, doctoral degrees are quite flexible if you wish to be part-time. Additionally, due to extensive expertise, clinical psychologists with a doctoral degree typically get paid more. Average salaries and variables affecting them will be discussed further below.
If you’re attending school full-time, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology within four or five years. If you decide to go for your master’s degree, expect another two to three years. A doctorate degree in psychology can take anywhere from four to seven years.
Credentials and Licenses
When entering and working in the counseling field, in almost all cases, there are credential and licensure conditions that must be met to be approved as an official worker. Why are credentials and licenses so important for clinical psychology occupations? Accreditations are vital for the counseling field so employers and clients know you are qualified at your practice.
Once this level of professionalism is addressed, you are free to engage and treat clients accordingly. While each state differs in terms of its licensure and credential policies, they usually follow one-tier or two-tier licensing processes. Single-tier licensure, offered in a few states, is achieved by receiving all your work experience during your higher education. However, most states follow two-tiered licensure processes stating that mandatory training for your practice must be completed in addition to your master’s degree. These tend to resemble some type of internship (usually a minimum of 1 academic semester) during your graduate studies and mandatory supervised hours completed afterward.
Subsequently, there are specific exams that you must pass in order to receive your full license. For example, these include the National Counselling Exam administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors for mental health counselors, and the Praxis tests for professional school counselors. Importantly note that each state has unique criteria on which exams are needed to have the appropriate licensure in order to work.
How Much Do Clinical Psychologists Earn?
Due to the dynamic field and the multiple positions and roles you can pursue in your career, salaries can vary drastically. Certain variables can add to these fluctuations as well, including the highest education obtained, certifications and licenses, and relevant experience.
To get an idea, below are some median yearly salaries of different kinds of clinical psychologists compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of 2019:
- Academia/University Professional: $63,890
- Marriage and Family Therapist: $49,610
- Mental Health Counselor: $43,317
- Rehabilitation Counselor: $35,950
- School/Career Counselor: $57,040
Keep in mind that yearly salaries are contingent upon your expertise and position and can vary drastically. For example, the average pay for a behavior disorder and mental health counselor is around $52,720 in the government setting versus $44,750 at outpatient mental health centers.
Exploring Next Steps
Learning these vital pieces of information will bring you that much closer to choosing your dream career path. Knowing what is needed to succeed in terms of licensing, credentials, and specializations allows for ample time to prepare properly. Having a clear vision as to what you want to do and how to achieve it will help you tremendously in your future academic and career journey towards helping your community.