Get Matched With Colleges

What is a Clinical Psychologist?

A clinical psychologist is a professional mental health provider who is highly trained to assess, diagnose, and treat all types of mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. Although licensing requirements vary by state, most clinical psychologists must have a Doctorate degree in order to practice unsupervised.

The majority of clinical psychologists choose an area of specialization such as addiction, crisis counseling, learning disabilities, or behavior disorders. They may work with children or adults in one-on-one sessions or with families or groups. Because of their extensive training, clinical psychologists enjoy the widest range of choices for both clientele and work environments.

Compare Popular Online Clinical Psychology Programs

Steps to Becoming a Clinical Psychologist

It's not easy becoming a clinical psychologist, as they are the elite of psychology providers. You should plan on spending four to five years earning your undergraduate degree and another four to seven for your Doctorate degree for a total of eight to 12 years of education. Although the requirements differ from state to state you'll also need experience before you meet the standards for clinical psychology. Here's a look at the steps you should follow on your path to a career as a clinical psychologist:


Step 1: Earn Your Bachelor's Degree

Before you begin your bachelor's degree program, you should check the admission requirements for your graduate program. This will ensure that your four-year degree includes the prerequisites for entry into a doctoral program in psychology. It's also vital you maintain your grade point average (GPA) throughout your undergrad program, as many schools have a minimum GPA for admittance.

Step 2: Earn Your Master's Degree

Your master's program will allow you to zero in on the area you plan to specialize in as a clinical psychologist. You'll take extensive courses in that practice, such as rehabilitation, psychoanalysis, or clinical health. You may also gain valuable experience in the field or in research as you complete your master's program. Depending on your state's requirements you may be able to practice psychology once you earn your Master's degree.

Step 3: Complete Your Doctorate Degree

There are two doctoral degrees accepted for clinical psychologist licensing: Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD in Psychology). Basically, the difference is a PsyD is concerned primarily in the straightforward practice of psychology while the PhD in Psychology is for students interested in academia and research as well as clinical practice. Both are intense programs, but the PhD in Psychology has a higher standard of acceptance as well as a more difficult curriculum. During your doctoral program you will most likely focus on one or more areas of specialization as set forth by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Step 4: Finish Your Required Field Experience

Depending on your degree choice and the state regulations, you will be required to complete one to three years of internship or residency. Many schools offer this as part of their degree program and via a post-doctoral supervised work program, so you should understand the requirements in your state and what experience your graduate school offers as part of the program.

Step 5: Become licensed and certified

Along with supervised experience, most states require you sit for and pass an exam before granting licensure, which is why it's so important to be aware of your state requirements while planning your education. It's also an excellent plan to earn certification in one or more of the 13 specialty areas through the American Board of Professional Psychology to showcase your proficiency in the area you plan to practice.

Step 6: Maintain Your Continuing Education Requirements

Most states require licensed psychologists to complete specific continuing education requirements each year in order to be eligible for license renewal. Depending on your state, these may be completed by attending classes, conferences, and seminars or online courses, webinars, and similar educational studies. You can also utilize these requirements to obtain certification in one or more specialty areas as you progress through your career.

Find Online Clinical Psychology Schools

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

Clinical psychologists, for the most part, work in an office environment. They spend much of their day interviewing clients to evaluate and diagnose issues and may then consult with other professionals to develop a treatment plan. Regular sessions allow them to monitor clients and adjust treatment according to needs as they help their clients define goals and objectives.

Depending on their specialty a clinical psychologist may work one-on-one with a client, counsel a couple, or provide treatment for a family unit. They might also work with a group or teach in a classroom setting.

Some clinical psychologists focus on conducting research to further the field of psychology and may publish their findings in peer review journals. They may showcase their findings in seminars and at conventions or train other psychologists in their specific area of expertise.

Most states do not allow clinical psychologists to provide prescription medication; if they determine their client may benefit from pharmaceuticals, the psychologist will work closely with a physician to develop and monitor a viable medication plan.

Clinical Psychologist Skills to Acquire

Although it may seem all a clinical psychologist needs to do is listen well there is a wide range of skills required of a successful psychologist. Here's a look at the most important:

  • Interpersonal Skills
    Psychologists must be able to work with all types of people with a wide range of personality types and personal issues, as well as a diverse range of ethnic groups and religions.

  • Keen Observation
    Along with listening to the stories their clients tell, a psychologist must be well versed in nonverbal language such as facial expressions, body positions, and the way a client interacts with others.

  • Communicating Effectively
    A clinical psychologist must be able to speak clearly and convey their thoughts and decisions in a manner that can be easily understood by each client. In addition, they must be prepared to present research findings to their peers and supervisors.

  • Analytical Skills
    A psychologist must be able to use their knowledge base and research abilities to define each client's needs and problems in order to match the treatment plan with the issues faced.

  • Problem Solving Abilities
    A clinical psychologist must be able to propose solutions to problems as they arise, often without advance notice.

  • Integrity
    Psychologists must hold their client's confidential information in order to build and maintain trust. What is learned in sessions must only be discussed with other professionals in regard to furthering the treatment plan.

  • Patience
    Treating clients may take months or years, often with little or no progress. A clinical psychologist must maintain a patient and upbeat attitude rather than showing frustration or a sense of urgency.

Find Your Clinical Psychology School

Alternative Paths for Clinical Psychology

Although there are no alternative paths to become a clinical psychologist, there are a few ways to shorten the route to obtaining your degree. If you are still in high school, you can take college courses and complete many of your core classes before graduation.

When embarking on your bachelor degree education you can look for a program that offers a fast track master's degree. You can also take advanced courses instead of electives and enroll in a summer semester to shorten your degree time.

When you're ready for your doctoral program, look for a school that has an extensive internship or residency as part of the curriculum. Match school offerings with your state requirements for both curriculum and work requirements to minimize your time to licensure.

Keep in mind there are many counseling positions you may choose to work in while earning your degrees. Although you won't be a clinical psychologist, you will be working within the field and gaining valuable experience that may qualify for your licensing requirements.

Clinical Psychologist Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


Roughly 25% of clinical psychologists are self-employed in private practices, and another 25% work for primary and secondary schools. Almost 20% work in outpatient facilities and another 10% are employed by the government. About 7% of psychologists work for state, local, or private hospitals.

Your area of specialty may have an impact on where you work. For example, a clinical psychologist who specializes in addiction rehabilitation may be more likely to work in a hospital or clinic setting, while a child psychologist will find more employment opportunities in a school setting. Those who specialize in trauma victims will find more employment opportunities in veteran hospitals and trauma centers.

In addition, where you are in your career may affect where you work. Although a quarter of clinical psychologists are self-employed, they are more than likely those with extensive experience and can afford the overhead involved in running their own businesses.

Your work schedule will depend on where you are employed; some psychologists work nights and weekends while others hold standard business hours. It's important to note that most psychologists have emergency hours and must be available if a client is in crisis. If you are self-employed, you may set your own hours; those who work exclusively with children will most likely have hours more in tune with a child's school schedule.

Potential Career Paths

As a highly trained professional, there are many career paths a clinical psychologist may choose to take. As previously noted, this may depend on your specific area of interest; and some areas will not be pertinent; for example, a child psychologist will rarely encounter a client who needs drug rehabilitation counseling. Here's a look at some of the diverse positions a clinical psychologist might pursue. Note that a psychologist may move from one position to another as they advance in their training and experience:

Clinical Child Psychologist
performs psycho-educational, neuropsychological, and developmental assessments to children.

Clinical Health Psychologist
investigate and implement psychological services across diverse populations, typically in a public health venue.

Clinical Research Psychologist
study behavioral statistics and case studies in order to predict outcomes and possible treatments.

Staff Psychologist
member of a team that may treat patients on an as-needed basis, such as in a nursing home or hospital.

Pain Psychologist
specializes in pain management

Forensic Psychologist
applies psychology in regard to the legal system by applying the theories of psychology to the court, criminal, and justice systems.

Clinical Psychologist Career Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Psychologist $66,000 $82,000 $91,000
School Psychologist $55,000 $64,000 $78,000
Clinical Psychologist $70,000 $82,000 $100,000
Neuropsychologist $85,000 $93,000 $116,000
Clinical Therapist $42,000 $51,000 $58,000
Forensic Psychologist $51,000 $79,000 $94,000
Industrial-Organizational Psychologist $67,000 $91,000 $125,000
Clinical Services Director $78,000 $86,000 $96,000
Behavioral Health Director $58,000 $85,000 $135,000
Mental Health Counselor $39,000 $46,000 $51,000
Licensed Professional Counselor $41,000 $50,000 $59,000
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist $49,000 $58,000 $65,000
Substance Abuse Counselor $31,000 $40,000 $53,000
Psychometrist $31,000 $47,000 $63,000

Find Online Clinical Psychology Programs

Career Outlook

The employment outlook for psychologists (overall) indicates that the profession is projected to grow about 14% between 2016 and 2026. This growth is faster than the average for all other occupations. However, growth of employment will vary by specific occupation.

School, counseling, and clinical psychologists should grow about 14% between 2016 and 2026. This is partially due to the larger demand for psychological services in schools, mental health centers, hospitals, and social services agencies.

Looking specifically at school psychologists, growth will go up mostly because of the increased awareness of the link between learning, mental health, and the increasing need for school-based mental health services. These professionals will work with students who have special needs, behavioral issues, and learning disabilities.

School psychologists will also be relied on more because of the need to learn how home- and school-based factors impact a child’s ability to learn. As research in this area increases knowledge, administrators and teachers can use it to improve teaching techniques.

Job candidates with doctoral or postdoctoral work experience, or an education specialist degree, will have the best chance of landing jobs in school psychology, counseling, or clinical psychology positions.

Advancing From Here

Depending on their interests, a clinical psychologist may find future advancement in two areas: within an organization or within a specialty area of concentration. Your possibilities of advancement will correlate directly to your area of employment, as well as any specialized areas of study, and your demand will do the same. For example, because of the aging population there will be more openings for psychologists in senior settings such as assisted living facilities and nursing homes; specializing in geriatrics will follow the same pattern. Here's a look at three possible advancements in each of the two areas:

Within an organization:

  • Clinical Supervisor: oversee other mental health providers within the organization including coworkers, residents, and interns.
  • Services Director: coordinate all services within the organization to ensure smooth scheduling and complete services.
  • Clinical Director: head of a clinic or similar mental health facility.

Within a specialty area:

  • Geriatric Psychologist: work with older adults as well as their families during the later part of life; may focus on chronic illnesses, pain, or dementia.
  • Neuropsychologist: focus on the relationship between behavior and the brain; may evaluate brain injuries, neurological disorders, and similar impairments.
  • Psychometrician: revise and create IQ, aptitude, personality, and similar tests used within the field of psychology.

Find Clinical Psychologist Jobs Near You

Frequently Asked Questions

What do clinical psychologists do?

Clinical psychologists provide counseling services to help treat mental disorders. Clinical psychologists help treat a wide range of mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, challenging behaviors, neurological disorders, and learning disabilities.

Where do clinical psychologists work?

Clinical psychologists work in mental health treatment facilities, hospitals, clinics, private practice clinics, schools, court systems, and business organizations.

How long does it take to become a clinical psychologist?

You will need a master's degree and a license to become a clinical psychologist. This process will take around 5 to 7 years to complete.

How much do clinical psychologists make?

Clinical psychologists make around $49,000 per year.

What is the job outlook for clinical psychologists?

Clinical psychology jobs are expected to grow by 8% by 2030.

Psychology & Counseling Career Paths

Search All Programs