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Clinical Psychology Definition
Clinical psychology is a division within psychology that focuses on the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of abnormal behavior, mental illness, and psychiatric issues. These licensed psychologists are professionals that blend psychological principles with the treatment of human behavior. Most frequently, clinical psychologists work in a clinical setting to ascertain mental disorders and behaviors.
A clinical psychologist will work with a variety of other healthcare professionals to help develop the best course of treatment for a patient. Clinical psychologists generally work within a hospital or clinical settings providing psychological therapy. They spend substantive time creating and managing treatment plans for patients to help them to cope with or cure their illness.
Clinical psychologists will employ a range of services for people of all types and abilities. Services may include the clinical assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of social, behavioral, mental, and emotional disorders. Examples of disorders a clinical psychologist will diagnose and treat can include: anxiety, bipolar, panic, eating, substance abuse, marriage counseling, debt counseling, addiction, depression, grief counseling, attachment, dissociative, antisocial, and autism to name a few.
How Do You Become a Clinical Psychologist?
To begin work as a clinical psychologist, you will need to successfully navigate a series of steps we have outlined below. It is imperative to remain organized, detail oriented, and diligently plan your time to optimize your time spend preparing to enter the clinical psychology field. The steps to become a clinical psychologist include:
Step 1 – Perform Research on Accredited Schools
To begin your journey as a clinical psychologist, you will need to first begin researching accredited colleges and universities. To be efficient with your time, take the time to write down your personal priorities and objectives and then find schools that match your goals.
We recommend you read the following books to help make the process more efficient: The Complete Guide to the College Admission Process, How to Reduce the Cost of College, and Crush the Odds by Getting into Your Top College. To efficiently research accredited college programs and schools, you can leverage the information found on this resource page or utilize our proprietary matching portal or online degree matching system.
From there, simply request information from top schools in clinical psychology to learn more about cost, admissions, financial aid, student services, and curricular design.
Step 2 – Applying to Accredited Colleges
Once you have information from the best colleges in clinical psychology based on your priorities, you will need to take the time to apply to each school on your list. Be diligent, detail-oriented and follow the directions on the application carefully.
Spend time to illuminate work experience, clubs, memberships, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities that uniquely describe you. In a crowded pool of applicants, a complete and salient application will help you gain admissions to your top clinical psychology school.
Step 3 – Attend School & Complete Degree
After accepting admissions to your top clinical psychology program, you will need to schedule a time to attend the school’s orientation and register for classes. Most states require a graduate degree to begin work as a clinical psychologist.
Master degree programs are designed to last 2-3 years beyond a bachelor’s degree and are conferred as a Master of Science (MS) or a Master of Arts (MA) depending on the school’s curricular design. A doctorate degree in clinical psychology is conferred as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).
PhD programs take students 5-7 years of matriculation to complete including a board-approved dissertation and may include a one-year internship depending on the program.
Step 4 – Exams, Certifications, and Licensing
After graduating from an accredited college or university with a graduate degree in clinical psychology, you will need to meet your state-specific requirements for licensure. In some states, you will be required to sit for an examination while others require a set number of hours of work experience prior to applying for licensure as a practicing clinical psychologist.
Step 5 – Find Work and Continuing Education
With your degree and license in-hand, you will be able to seek work as a clinical psychologist as an independent practitioner or as part of a larger team of psychologists. Some employers require clinical psychologists to become board-certified prior to starting work so make sure to ask in advance to make the transition as seamless as possible. Last, you will need to take a specified number of continuing education credits mandated by your state of residence to keep you license active. Your state will provide a list of approved continuing education classes or you can visit the APA’s website here to learn more.
Clinical Psychology Classes
Individuals in this field will receive a doctorate in order to be able to practice as clinical psychologists. Prior education in psychology is necessary in order to be admitted into a clinical psychology program, and individuals will work under the supervision of professionals during the course of their education as a prerequisite for completion of the program. Clinical Psychology is considered a specialization and provides more focus on patient treatment and assessment with less focus on research.
The curriculum in a typical clinical psychology major will include classes such as:
- Introduction to Clinical Psychology
- Emotional Development
- Math & Statistics
- Human Diversity
- Counseling Skills
- Abnormal Psychology
- Cognitive & Social Development
- Qualitative Research & Methods in Psychology
- Child & Adult Psychopathology
- Diagnosis and Treatment Planning
- Professional Communication
- History of Psychology
Students will choose schools based on the quality of education offered combined with where they will receive their training and supervised clinical hours. Schools will have professionals attached to their program that can provide a strong indicator of the quality of a given program or possible exceptional opportunity. As such, a student should review any program offerings, including with whom they may be working, in order to better choose their final destination.
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Employment Outlook for Clinical Psychologists
Individuals will generally seek employment at hospitals or clinics, providing mental health care through them or as a private practitioner. In addition, some psychologists may maintain private offices and treat clients independently of such settings. Psychology is a growing field, and with the advent of more widespread healthcare, the need for trained professionals is expected to increase greatly. In addition, the reduced stigma regarding such treatment as increased the willingness of individuals to seek out clinical psychologists.
Common Clinical Psychologist Job Titles
When considering a future as a clinical psychologist, it is important to understand the nomenclature and terminology used to describe professionals in the field. As such, we have culled a short list of common job titles of a clinical psychologist to help you get familiar with the industry jargon.
- Child Psychologist
- Licensed Psychologist Manager
- Pediatric Psychologist
- Clinical Director
- Forensic Psychologist
- Licensed Clinical Psychologist
- Clinical Psychologist
- Licensed Psychologist
- Clinical Therapist
Clinical Psychologist Job Description
A recent survey performed by the U.S. Department of Labor of practicing clinical psychologists, revealed a list of job duties they perform in a typical day. The top 5 job duties of a clinical psychologist include:
- Counseling small groups, couples, and individuals to understand and cope with a variety of disorders to help modify behavior and enhance emotional, social, and vocational adjustment
- Discussing detailed treatment plans with clients
- Interacting and communicating with clients to assist them in gaining insight, defining goals, and providing treatment programs to achieve effective personal, social, educational, & vocational development and progression
- Using a variety of treatment methods including psychotherapy, hypnosis, behavior modification, stress reduction therapy, play therapy, and psychodrama
- Identifying and diagnosing psychological, emotional, and behavioral issues in a variety of individuals by utilizing information obtained from interviews, surveys, records, reference materials, and tests
Clinical Psychologist Salary
The job prospects of clinical psychologists are bright. In fact, the job growth of clinical psychologist is expected to reach 14% over the next decade which is more than twice the national average growth rate during that timeframe. The rapid job growth will translate to approximately 63,800 job openings in the coming decade providing ample opportunity for job growth and upward mobility for well qualified professionals.
The median annual income of a clinical psychologist is $73,270 which translates to $35.23 an hour. The top 10% of clinical psychologists make $120,320 a year with the bottom ten percent making just under forty-two thousand dollars a year.
Top Paying States for Clinical Psychologists
- New Jersey $94,650
- South Dakota $94,760
- California $90,210
- New York $89,430
- Oregon $87,170
Top Employers of Clinical Psychologist
- Elementary & Secondary Schools 44,280
- Health Practitioners 15,600
- Individual Family Service Providers 6,930
- Outpatient Care Centers 5,960
- Medical and Surgical Hospitals 5,680
States with the Highest Employment of Clinical Psychologist
- California 18,990
- New York 11,230
- Texas 5,820
- Pennsylvania 5,040
- Massachusetts 4,900
Top Organizations of Clinical Psychologists
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America
- National Center for PTSD
- American Academy of Neurology
- National Association of School Psychologists
- The Academy for Addiction Professionals
- American Art Therapy Association
- American Board of Assessment Psychology
- National Academy of Neuropsychology
- The American Counseling Association
- American Counseling Association
- American Psychiatric Association
- International Society for Mental Health
- American Psychoanalytic Association
- American Psychological Association
- American Psychological Society
- The Center for Collaborative Psychology and Psychiatry
The American Psychological Association is a professional organization that works to advance the cause of psychology through research, exposure and assistance through communication, providing resources, and lobbying for the advancement of the field.
For more information, check out our Career Guide in Psychology on the MatchCollege blog. Further research is available by reading our blog that illustrate the Top Jobs in Psychology by degree type, industry, and specialty.