How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

Overview

Mental disorders are not uncommon in American society, which result in a wide array of pressures, trauma, psychological factors and hereditary circumstances that are minefields for mental health. Clinical psychology is branch of psychology that focuses on the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses and psychological disorders. Clinical psychology is becoming a popular choice of profession due to a growing knowledge and acceptance of mental disorders as a condition that requires treatment.

Clinical psychologists talk to clients in order to understand the conditions that might be affecting them – they cannot prescribe medication. Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental conditions, providing therapy as a means to improve the dysfunction. These professionals are more likely to practice the profession instead of being tied to research or teaching.

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

A clinical psychologist provides services to clients or patients, who suffer from a variety of emotional, behavioral, and mental illnesses and disorders.

Patients & Clients

Clinical psychologist works with patients with mild-to-moderate, temporary personal problems (i.e. divorce, grief, new school, adjustment issues, etc.), and those, who suffer from severe, chronic and persistent psychological disorders and mental illnesses (i.e. bipolar disorder, clinical depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder). In the more severe cases, hospitalization or institutionalization may be warranted.

A clinical psychologist treats a myriad of conditions such as: eating disorders, substance abuse, addictions, depression, learning disabilities, anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, sexual perversions, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In general, psychologists treat patients of all ages, religions, cultures, races, educational backgrounds, and economic statuses, however, clinical psychologists tend to focus on patients with particular conditions, and on certain age groups.

Diagnosis

How does a clinical psychologist diagnosis clients and patients? A clinical psychologist diagnoses patients by using a range of techniques, methods, and approaches. These tools are used to accurately assess specific mental health issues. The goal of this psychologist is to pinpoint any mental health issues or psychological distresses, and treat them, but also study the cause and effect of those issues (i.e. what caused them, and how they are manifesting in the client’s or patient’s life).

Common methods, approaches, and techniques include: observation, intakes (personal interviews), counseling, and psychological assessments (i.e. emotional and intellectual). Counseling sessions may include a variety of family members, friends, co-workers, and/or acquaintances that interact with the client or patient on a regular basis. The purpose of their involvement is to help provide a well-rounded view of the client and his or her issues.

Treatments

So, how does a clinical psychologist treat clients and patients? Well, first a clinical psychologist fully assesses the client or patient to determine what type of treatment is needed, then, he or she develops a treatment plan to help the client or patient better manage or recover from his or her condition. If the psychologist does not feel that he or she can properly care for the individual, he or she will refer the client or patient to another, more qualified professional. A common treatment approach involves cognitive-behavioral therapy, a psychological approach that focuses on the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, in order to improve the client’s or patient’s life.

What are the Requirements to Become a Clinical Psychologist?

Education

To be a good candidate for a clinical psychology profession, a person should want to interact with others – helping to diagnose and treat mental disorders.

To become a clinical psychologist, a person must obtain an advanced degree – either the more common PhD or a Psy.D, which is growing in popularity. About half the students graduating with an advanced degree in clinical psychology opt for a Psy.D program – which focuses on preparing students to become psychologists who work with patients instead of research, much like a medical degree.

A bachelor’s degree is the first stop on the way towards a profession in clinical psychology. While many find it preferable to study psychology for a BA, any degree will workas long the student is accepted into a graduate program. Most find it helpful to have an undergraduate background in psychology to prepare for the graduate coursework.

Related: How to Start a Career in Clinical Psychology

A grad school is an important choice for those looking to pursue clinical psychology.  Many universities and colleges have specialty programs that they are known for – some specialize in gerontology, sports psychology, business psychology, etc. It is important to do research when choosing a where to pursue an advanced degree- if an institution is known for a clinical psychology program, that could be the correct choice.

Consider your degree: With clinical psychology, there are two choices. If a student is interested in therapy and treatment only, a Psy.D is a better option than a PhD. Student debt from a Psy.D is nearly double than that of its PhD counterpart, mostly because private schools that offer a majority of Psy.D programs are more costly than other institutions. A small number of schools also offer a master’s degree in clinical psychology – though with this degree, research and teaching positions will be harder to get.

Talk to professors or professionals: Questioning professors about where they gained an advanced degree is an easy way to get started. Professors can offer advice based on personal experience during their schooling, especially if they teach clinical psychology. Professionals who are already in the field can offer information concerning their own schooling and career.

Talk to admissions counselors: After you have identified schools and programs you are interested in, talk to personnel connected with those programs. They may be able to offer information about making yourself a better candidate – how to angle your personal statement, what GRE scores are necessary and other pieces of advice that will not be on the institution’s website.

Internships

Internships in clinical psychology can be hard to procure. All psychology students are competing for the same set number of internships, and the amount of students outnumbers the open internship positions. Students must have a supervised internship in order to complete the advanced degree – so it is imperative to interview at many potential internships in hopes that you will be placed.

Licensure Hours

Clinical psychologists must finish certain hours of supervised practice (requirements vary from state to state). As a new professional in the field, it is often easiest to gain these hours during internships and entry level positions conducting therapy groups.

Entry Level Jobs

Clinical psychology can lead to a number of entry level positions. Schools, prisons, hospitals, family practices, corporations and many other types of agencies have clinical psychologists as part of their teams. Many clinical psychology graduates find themselves working as a counselor with people or groups at mental health or community organizations.

Clinical psychologists can open their own practices, and can specialize in many ways: individuals, children, families, elderly people – any group that needs therapy and mental health care. Those with private practices can make their own hours and are self-employed.

Related: What Can You Do With a Degree in Clinical Psychology

Why Do We Need Clinical Psychologists?

Clinical psychologists have committed years of their lives to both learn and practice counseling techniques. While some will never see a patient and go right into research, most head out into the world of mental health for one main reason: to help people. Psychologists help their patients, and their families, with everything from career/life planning, managing stress, and other “self-improvement” areas to helping to treat those with serious mental illnesses.

Psychologists are considered experts in their field. They are caring individuals who are trying to help people live a happy and productive life, or at least a more happy life than before they entered treatment. Sometimes they need to ask their patients the hard questions that need to be asked that the individual has been avoiding for too long. They may offer the proverbial “kick to the butt” that is needed to initiate positive changes in one’s life.

Not everyone who sees a psychologist is mentally ill. Some people use these professionals as a non-judgmental ear. A safe place to share their secrets where they will stay a secret long after both the patient and counselor are long gone. A psychologist may offer advice but it is still up to the individual patient to choose to follow that advice or not.

Most psychologists don’t go into mental health for the money. They truly want to help people lead better lives. Satisfaction from helping someone, especially if they are in need, can be rewarding and refuel their will to continue working with others.

What is the Salary for a Clinical Psychologist?

As of May 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average clinical psychologist earns $74,030 each year. On the higher end of the scale, a clinical psychologist can make $113,640, but starting salary will be about $40,080. It varies depending on where the psychologist works: one with a private practice will make a lot more than a clinical psychologist working for a school district or mental health clinic.

Where Does a Clinical Psychologist Work?

A clinical psychologist generally works in the following settings:

  • Private Practice
  • Academic Institutes
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Research Institutes
  • Social service agencies
  • Rehabilitation Facilities and Substance Abuse Centers
  • Mental Health Clinics and Psychiatric Hospitals
  • Military Hospitals and Veteran Services
  • Government and Private Hospitals

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