Clinical psychology is a psychology subspecialty that at-tempts to address the causes, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of individuals with psychological problems. They work in a wide variety of settings, including individual prac-tices, schools, colleges/universities, hospitals and other mental health centers.
Clinical psychologists must possess good interpersonal communication skills and have a natural curiosity about how the human brain works. Human behavior is their spe-cialty, and they utilize their knowledge, understanding and empathy to help others overcome what are often deep-seated personal difficulties. Through maturity and objectiv-ity they are able to help the patient or client with self-realization and personal growth.
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What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?
On the Surface
In David Clark-Carter’s book Quantitative Psychological Research: The Complete Student’s Companion, the author describes the purpose of psychological research in four key capacities, or “stages,” which include describing what is going on; understanding the implications; predicting causes and effects that result from behaviors; and controlling outcomes.
He adds: “In the case of research in psychology, the final stage is better seen as trying to intervene to improve human life.”
While these words pertain directly to research, this is also a reasonably accurate view of what clinical psychologists attempt to do in their patient/client practices.
Clinical psychologists help their subjects describe what is going on; they attempt to understand where those issues are coming from; and they try to help their subjects predict outcomes about certain behaviors. Finally, all this occurs in an attempt to get the subject to control unwanted behaviors or incorporate more edifying ones.
Most clinical psychologists will tell you that it can be rather difficult to describe the typical working day. That’s because the work they do occurs in numerous settings — prisons, crisis centers, hospitals and universities, to name a few.
You’ve heard it said that no two people are alike? That is the reality that a clinical psychologist may face on a daily basis as they work with young children, adolescents, young adults, older adults and the mentally or physically impaired.
The best places to turn for an in-depth understanding of what they do are to the clinical psychologists themselves. One clinical psychologist employed by a crisis center, while speaking to the website Bright Knowledge, said that for her, a typical workday would consist of a team meeting, including discussion of both existing and emerging cases. There might be several appointments with clients, after which she would write out her notes with observations about how to proceed with the subject in future meetings.
Additional responsibilities might include networking with other colleagues, discussing roadblocks with a supervisor, coordinating with non-psychologist team members to help with their individual cases, and writing reports.
Perks of the job include seeing progress in the subjects that one helps, while the downside is often stress-related from the sheer number of psychological issues seen in a given day.
6 Steps to Becoming a Clinical Psychologist
Becoming a clinical psychologist is similar to working in other fields such as school psychology. It starts with undergraduate work and obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology or clinical psychology. It is possible to get accepted into a master’s degree program with a four-year degree in other disciplines, but that will ultimately depend on the specific program. To ensure your applications have the widest appeal, it’s generally best to stick with a psychology-related discipline.
Once a student graduates (and even beginning before graduation), it is time to start thinking about master’s degree programs. Each graduate school determines its own entrance requirements for its clinical psychology programs. Some doctoral programs require applicants to have a master’s degree in psychology while others may allow you to begin working directly on your doctoral degree with only a bachelor’s in place.
These core differences can greatly affect the overall cost of education, so do your homework before deciding on the final path. Most states require a doctoral degree and a state license before you can practice psychology independently, and it usually takes about five to seven years to complete a doctoral clinical psychology degree program. Some institutions require students to complete doctoral studies within 10 years of admission. Additionally, you may have to pass a comprehensive exam and write/defend a dissertation. Practicing psychologists often must complete a one-year internship as part of a doctoral study program. Institutions may offer a PsyD degree with an emphasis on clinical psychology for students wishing to do clinical work.
Here’s a brief road map for readers aspiring to a career in clinical psychology.
1 Earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or related discipline. Some schools offer a clinical psychology degree at the bachelor’s level.
2Enroll in a master’s clinical psychology degree program unless there is a doctoral program that allows direct access after graduation.
3Earn your doctoral degree in clinical psychology, which usually takes five to seven years depending on program and workload.
4Gather at least one year of clinical training and experience.
5Complete required testing/dissertation.
6Obtain state license.
Skills Required to Become a Clinical Psychologist
Clinical psychologists possess a unique set of skills that assist them in understanding the pain points of their patients and in helping provide a course of treatment or control for mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. If you wish to become a clinical psychologist, these are the “must-have” skills you need to demonstrate.
1the ability to interpret complex data, assimilate and apply it in practice, and use it to solve problems
2the ability to clearly communicate with patients and the patience to work through difficult issues
3the ability to understand principles of research and how to incorporate it into diagnoses and treatments
4the ability to demonstrate ethics in both the handling and treatment of sensitive client information
Clinical Psychology Degree Options
As mentioned above, there are three paths that an under-graduate should take when considering a career in clinical psychology. The first would be a bachelor’s in general psychology, which lays the educational groundwork for an array of subspecialties. A bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology may be the preferred choice of many master’s degree and doctoral pro-grams, so it’s important to research your options ahead of time.
A master’s degree may or may not be required for your final doctoral program. As with bachelor’s degrees, you should check ahead of time with the school of choice. It may be possible to go directly from undergraduate to the doctoral program upon graduation.
Requirements for a doctorate degree in clinical psychology vary from one school to the next, but the University of Florida offers a good example of what one can expect in each year of its five-year programs.
UF emphasizes study in the broad discipline of psychology, research and design, statistics and courses in core clinical psychology which might include assessment, psychopathology and intervention.
Clincal Psychology Salaries: State by State
To understand the earning potential of a clinical psychologist, it is important to first understand the many industries available to them. A look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website shows that clinical psychologists can work in a variety of industries and earn wildly different salaries depending on which path they choose.
For example, the annual mean wage for clinical psychologists working in healthcare and substance abuse facilities crests $80,000 annually compared to those in educational support, who report an annual mean wage of under $70,000.
On average clinical psychology boasts a mean annual wage of $74,030, or approximately $35.59 per hour based on a 40-hour workweek. Those in the 90th percentile of earners report $113,640 in average earnings while those in the lower 10th percentile of earners make as little as $40,080.
Job Growth and Career Trends
Clinical psychology comprises most of the general psychology employment field. According to the BLS, there are more than 173,900 jobs in this field as of 2014 with a 19 percent growth rate expected in the next 10 years, which is “much faster than the average for all occupations,” the agency notes. That is a gross employment change of about 32,500 job additions from 2014 to 2024.
States with the highest employment levels in clinical psychology include California (No. 1), New York (No. 2), Texas (No. 3), Pennsylvania (No. 4), and Massachusetts (No. 5).
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