Clinical Psychologist Career and Schooling – Becoming a Clinical Psychologist [2024]

Last Updated: May 22, 2024

What is Clinical Psychology?

Clinical psychology is a career field that focuses on the identification and treatment of various mental, emotional, social, and behavioral health issues. Many clinical psychologists work in private practice, hospitals, or clinics, providing direct services to clients.

Other clinical psychologists work in higher education or research, training future psychologists or investigating the causes or effective treatments for mental health issues, respectively.

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 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.

Clinical psychologists are able to administer psychological assessments, assess/diagnosis patients, develop treatment plans, and use psychological methods, approaches and techniques to treat patients/clients.

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

The job duties of clinical psychologists center around developing an understanding of intellectual, psychological, emotional, social, and behavioral problems that cause individuals distress in their lives.

More specifically, these issues run the gamut from emotional difficulties such as depression, to behavioral disorders such as ADHD or autism, to severe mental health issues like schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder.

Some clinical psychologists work in a laboratory setting, conducting research into the aforementioned mental health issues. In this capacity, the focus of duties is on developing a better understanding of human behavior through research in an effort to improve the diagnosis and treatment of these disorders.

In the lab setting, a clinical psychologist would be responsible for a variety of duties, from devising experiments and recruiting participants to collection and analysis of data.

Some clinical psychologists will work in higher education. In this setting, workers are responsible for devising programs for learning to train students in the practice of clinical psychology. Evaluation of prospective clinical psychologists is a primary duty of workers in academia as well.

Research is also a requirement of clinical psychologists in an academic setting and will typically focus on the psychologist’s area of interest or expertise.

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, 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), sexual perversions, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In general, clinical 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.


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 any clinical psychologist is to pinpoint 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.


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?

Clinical Psychologist Education

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.

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.

Clinical Psychologist 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.

Clinical Psychologist Licensure

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.

Clinical Psychologist 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

What is the Job Outlook for Clinical Psychologists?

The future need for clinical psychologists is projected to be steady, with moderate growth through the first part of the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the rate of growth in the field will be at 11%, adding approximately 7,600 jobs through 2032.

However, the growth and availability of jobs depends on one’s educational level. In clinical psychology, individuals with a doctorate will have more opportunities for employment than workers with only a master’s degree. Similarly, clinical psychologists with a doctorate and post-doctoral clinical experience will be in a better position to obtain employment.

The job outlook for master’s level clinical psychologists is less robust because few states allow master’s level clinical psychologists to be licensed. Competition for job openings will continue to be stiff, both at the master’s and doctorate levels.

How Much Does a Clinical Psychologist Earn?

The salary for a clinical psychologist is extremely varied, perhaps more so than any other psychology career. As of February 2024, according to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for a clinical psychologist is $109,894. However, the pay band extends from a low of $60,000 per year to over $200,000.

Where a clinical psychologist falls in the pay band will depend on several factors, including level of education (i.e. master’s degree or doctorate), years of experience, and geographic location.

Location of employment will also greatly impact one’s annual salary. Workers at community mental health clinics or non-profit agencies will be towards the bottom of the pay band while clinical psychologists that are self-employed will be at the top.

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.

Can a Clinical Psychologist Work in a School?

The answer is YES! What type of schools can a clinical psychologist work at? Well, a clinical psychologist can work at any level of school (i.e. elementary, middle school, junior high, high school, colleges, and universities) however; they rarely work at elementary schools, middle schools, or high schools. Why not? Well, because those schools typically employ school psychologists or guidance counselors because they have more training working with children and teens.

Clinical psychologists will most likely be found at colleges and universities as college professors, and/or research supervisors. So, to reiterate – clinical psychologists are adequately trained to work at schools – any and all schools, however, they are most “at home” in the adult world of colleges and universities.

Can a Clinical Psychologist Work in a Prison?

Clinical psychologists can work in prisons. In fact, this profession is a highly needed one considering how crowded prisons are currently. Psychologists working in prisons do so as a part of inter-disciplinary teams.

Much of their work consists of assessing or treating the most challenging inmates within prisons. These patients typically have strong suicidal intents, actively seek to hurt others, and frequently fail to take care of their basic needs, such as eating, even though all their basic needs are provided for by the institution they’re held in.

The work of a clinical psychologist is demanding and consists of a large number of tasks. For example, prison psychologists often need to perform mental health screenings, provide therapy, and take part in court-ordered assessments.

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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