It is true that it can sometimes take a long time to earn a clinical psychology degree, but for many it is well worth the time, effort and commitment it takes to get it. One of the main advantages of having an advanced degree (master’s and/or doctorate) in clinical psychology is that it opens up doors for you in a variety of different psychological industries. For instance, with a doctorate in clinical psychology you can become a college professor, researcher, psychologist (in any field that provides services), etc.
You can also provide counseling services to specific groups: children, families, marital couples, ethnic and cultural groups, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, religious individuals, etc. One of the best perks is that you will more than likely have more say in the hours that you work (especially if you have your own practice). You can do a lot of things with a degree in clinical psychology and this article will help you chart the path to success.
Education & Training
To officially be classified as a clinical psychologist and/or teach psychology courses at the college level, you must earn a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in clinical psychology. It typically takes between five and seven years to complete a post-graduate doctoral program in this field. While in your program, you will be required to complete coursework, a dissertation (an extensive research paper) and a supervised clinical one-year internship. Some programs may substitute additional coursework, exams and an extended internship for the dissertation, but that is rare.
Moreover, almost all states require that you receive licensure and/or certification before you practice as a clinical psychologist. It is important that you research your state’s requirements before enrolling in a post-graduate doctoral clinical psychology program. Although a doctorate is required to teach and practice, there are plenty of other jobs that you can obtain with a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in clinical psychology.
Courses may include: human development, basic clinical and counseling skills, evidence-based practice theories, diagnosis and treatment plans, abnormal psychology, family systems, lifespan psychology, sociology, behavioral neuroscience, statistics, human diversity, research methodologies, psychological interventions, etc. It will take you approximately four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and 2.5 to three years to earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology.
What are the Careers in Clinical Psychology?
Behavioral Health Psychologist
As a behavioral health psychologist, you typically work with clients in individual and group settings to help them overcome behavioral difficulties like addiction. That means that your job isn’t just counseling your clients, but also helping them identify triggers, learn coping skills, and generally helping them to function in a healthier manner. You may work as a behavioral health counselor with a master’s degree and find many employment opportunities.
One of the most popular fields of psychology is child psychology. A doctorate in clinical psychology can allow you to work as a child psychologist at schools, inpatient or outpatient treatment facilities, juvenile detention centers, mental hospitals, clinics, research laboratories and/or private practices.
Your main responsibilities will include: teaching children and adolescents healthy coping and communication skills, helping children work through emotional distress, improving the learning experience for students, counseling mentally ill children and adolescents, providing academic guidance to students, altering unhealthy, destructive and dangerous thinking patterns and behaviors and providing support.
Your goal will be to develop tailor-made treatment plans for your clients that consist of a variety of psychological techniques, methods and strategies such as role–playing with dolls and/or writing in a journal.
Clinical Case Manager
With a background in clinical psychology, you might work as a clinical case manager. In this position, you would most likely be responsible for managing a caseload of clients with very diverse needs, though, in some employment settings, clinical case managers might specialize with a certain population (i.e., clients with eating disorders).
Primarily, your function would be to maintain periodic contact with each client, connect them with necessary resources, and help them work through problems. Some clinical case management positions can be found with just a bachelor’s degree, but you will find more job opportunities with a master’s degree.
Clinical Psychology College Professor
If you enjoy psychology as well as teaching others, a career as a clinical psychology college professor might be a good fit. Typically, psychology professors have had a number of years of experience working in the field, either in a clinical or research setting. Once you have some experience, you can draw on those experiences to assist your students in better understanding key psychological concepts and practices. Junior professor positions are often open to you if you have a master’s degree, but to become a tenured professor, a doctorate is typically required.
Clinical Social Worker
As a clinical social worker, your tasks might be to assist clients in two primary areas: procuring needed resources to live (i.e., job assistance, rent assistance) and helping them work through personal problems that are causing difficulties in their lives (i.e., depression, anxiety).
Often, clinical social workers are employed in treatment centers, hospitals, and residential facilities, though you can also work in private practice and other settings. Though some clinical social workers have just a bachelor’s degree in social work, many states require social workers to have a master’s degree in order to become a licensed clinical social worker.
If you pursue a career as a counseling psychologist, you may work with clients to improve their well being by addressing behavioral, emotional, and mental difficulties that have negatively impacted their lives. Typically, you would meet with clients in a counseling setting, and talk through issues in a very personal and non-threatening way. Sometimes you might simply listen; other times you might help them build skills. Many counseling psychologists practice with a master’s degree.
As a medical psychologist, you work with patients whose physiological functioning is negatively impacted by their behavior. That is, you would address topics like disease prevention and healthy lifestyle choices in the context of a clinical psychology setting.
For example, if a patient complains of constant, severe headaches, you would strive to understand the behaviors that might make headaches more likely. If headaches result from drinking a lot of coffee in the morning to wake up after not getting enough sleep the night before, you would work with the client to develop better sleeping habits.
Mental Health Social Worker
With a bachelor’s or master’s degree in clinical psychology, you can become a mental health social worker. Your primary responsibilities will be to provide counseling services and resources (under the supervision of a psychologist or psychiatrist) to clients and/or patients.
Some of your other duties may include: conducting crisis intervention groups, developing outreach programs for at-risk youth, helping clients re-enter the community, helping clients find housing, daycare services, sign up for healthcare and government assistance, taking clients to school, doctor’s appointments, etc. You may also help individuals work through social, work, family, relationship and/or personal issues.
With an advanced degree (doctorate) in clinical psychology you may be able to enter the field of neuropsychology. This field focuses on brain processes and behaviors. If you decide to pursue this career field, you will more than likely work at a trauma centers for brain-injuries and/or stroke survivors, hospitals (in the trauma department) or at a research laboratory.
Your main responsibilities will be to determine the extent of a brain injury or brain damage by assessing the patient’s cognitive performance. You will use a variety of psychological assessments, equipment and techniques to interview, observe, evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with abnormal brain function/activity and cognitive deficits.
If you choose to work for yourself in private practice, you might enjoy many benefits of being self-employed, like being able to focus on an area of psychology that you enjoy the most. For example, as a private psychologist, you may work primarily with children, people with anxiety, or specialize in mood disorders. Private psychologists must possess at least a master’s degree, though it’s often prudent to pursue a doctorate to open up more job opportunities.
If you work as a psychotherapist, you meet with clients, usually in a one-on-one clinical setting, to assist them in bringing about personal change that helps them overcome problems or obstacles in their lives. Psychotherapy is a form of clinical psychology that emphasizes the value of developing a trusting relationship with the client and relying on talking, listening, and relationship building to bring about positive change.
As a rehabilitation psychologist, you would rely on the principles of clinical psychology to assist your clients in identifying mental illnesses, behavioral disorders, disabilities, and so forth, which have a negative impact on their ability to function normally. For example, you might treat a client for depression as it relates to the recent loss of a limb, such as their leg.
In the context of counseling, you might help the client build skills that help them minimize the impact of their disability or provide exercises that help them focus on the positive aspects of their life to help them overcome their depression.
As a school psychologist, you typically use psychological principles to assist students in improving their ability to learn, improve their behavior, and address their mental health concerns. Additionally, you might also work directly with teachers to develop age-appropriate lesson plans that support student learning and enhance their ability to develop the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in school and in life. School psychologists usually have at least a master’s degree, of which part of the degree program is a supervised internship period.
Special Education Teacher
With a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology, you may be able to enter the field of education as a special education teacher. Your educational background may help you provide services to students with mental, physical and emotional developmental delays and learning disabilities. You may work with students that have mild disabilities or you may work with students that have moderate-to-severe disabilities.
Your primary goal will be to make sure that disabled students receive the best education possible. Your main function will be to tweak classroom curriculum to ensure that your students are learning what they need to learn to function to the best of their abilities. You may teach basic curriculum (math, English, science and social studies) at a slower pace or you may teach independent living skills (brushing teeth, bathing, paying bills, making decisions, cooking, socializing, etc.).
Substance Abuse Counselor
Another possible career path you can take if you have a master’s degree in clinical psychology is substance abuse counseling. It is important to note that some states will allow you to practice as a substance abuse counselor with a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology, so it is important to research your state’s requirements before enrolling a clinical psychology program.
With this degree, you will be able to counsel clients addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling and/or food. You may also develop community outreach programs, and/or educate the public about the dangers of substance abuse. Counseling may occur in a private office or it may occur in a group setting. You will primarily work at a substance abuse treatment center, hospital, clinic or private practice.
As a Clinical Psychologist What Will I Do?
With this degree, you may be able to assess, diagnose and treat a variety of mental illnesses and psychological disorders. You may also be able to make prevention recommendations. You will primarily work at social service agencies, private practices, clinics, hospitals, drug and alcohol treatment centers, skilled nursing facilities, schools and/or research labs. You may also work at rehabilitation centers and/or physical therapy facilities to help ease the emotional pain of arthritis and provide emotional support and counseling to those who have spinal injuries, brain conditions and/or chronic illnesses.
Your main function will be to help patients effectively cope with their conditions and/or situations. Some of the issues you may encounter include: adjustment issues (divorce, bullying, remarriage, self-esteem, relocation, etc.), psychological/mental disorders (depression, phobias, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), etc.) and emotional distress (severe stress, deaths, loss of employment, decline in health, etc.). Your main goals will be to help your patients work through their issues, receive the treatments they need to function and alter negative thinking patterns and behaviors so they can live a healthier and more productive life.
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References and Further Reading
- Cheshire, K. & Pilgrim, D. (2004). A short introduction to clinical psychology. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
- Klusman, Lawrence. (2001). Prescribing psychologists and patients’ medical needs: Lessons from clinical psychiatry. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 32(5), 496.
- Ludy, B. (2007). A brief history of modern psychology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
- American Psychological Association (APA). (2013). About Clinical Psychology.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2013). Psychologists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.