Clinical Psychologist Career

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.

Clinical psychology is a very popular field of work, so competition for jobs is usually quite high. However, individuals that are employed as a clinical psychologist can make a very good income, which for some can enter the six-figure area.

Truth-be-told, clinical psychology is the largest, most common branch of psychology. And, while mental health is the common core of clinical psychology, there are a number of sub-sets within that discipline. Some of these sub-sets include: pediatric and adult mental illness disorders, learning disabilities, substance abuse, emotional distress, health psychology, severe mental illnesses (i.e. post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), etc.), geriatric-related mental disorders, and sexual perversions (i.e. child molestation, rape, sexual abuse, etc.).

It is important to remember that although clinical psychologists are considered “research doctors,” they are not considered “medical doctors.” In other words, they are not able to prescribe medications or perform medical procedures or surgeries on patients/clients, they are, however, able to administer psychological assessments, assess/diagnosis patients, develop treatment plans, and use psychological methods, approaches and techniques to treat patients/clients.

What are the Job Duties of a Clinical Psychologist?

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.

Related: How to become a Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists that work in a clinical setting will meet with clients, generally one-on-one, to provide psychological services. These services may include administering assessment tools in order to properly identify the issue of concern, as well as evaluation procedures to determine the client’s level of functionality. This group of duties may involve interviewing a client or administering formal tests to determine the presence of a diagnosable condition.

Clinical psychologists will also engage in diagnostic activities, which involve utilizing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) to formally identify the issue at hand. Once the condition is diagnosed, treatment procedures that seek to facilitate positive change in the client’s functioning can begin.

The most well-known duty for a clinical psychologist is the treatment phase. Clinical psychologists typically focus on engaging clients in conversations about their problems. These conversations may take various forms, depending on the issue the client is dealing with and the theoretical orientation of the psychologist. Psychotherapeutic services, which involves meeting on a weekly basis for an extended period of time, may be used.

Clinical psychologists with a cognitive-behavioral point of view may engage clients in exercises aimed at changing thought patterns. Other treatment duties may include administration of hypnosis, overseeing group or family therapy, or intervention techniques to overcome a specific phobia.

Related: Mental Health Counseling & Clinical Psychology: What is the Difference?

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.

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 15%, adding approximately 23,800 jobs through 2028.

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 March 2020, according to, the average annual salary for a clinical psychologist is $79,371. However, the pay band extends from a low of $50,000 per year up to $113,000. 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.

What Degree is Required to Become a Clinical Psychologist?

Individuals who wish to pursue a career as a clinical psychologist must first begin by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely related field such as sociology. After completion of the four-year undergraduate program, students can continue their studies by entering graduate school to obtain a master’s degree. This often requires 2-3 years of additional study, including practicum and internship experiences, and advanced coursework in human behavior, clinical techniques, and diagnosis and assessment.

Some bachelor’s level students may be able to enter a doctorate program without first having a master’s degree. To do so, students must have an impeccable educational record, with outstanding grades, varied coursework including statistics, experimental design, and abnormal psychology, as well as a strong performance on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).

A doctorate is almost universally required by states in order for a clinical psychologist to be licensed. Prospective clinical psychologists can have either a Ph.D., which typically focuses more on research and prepares students for careers in academia, or a Psy.D., which focuses more on clinical practice. Either way, doctoral programs typically take 4-5 years to complete. This includes highly advanced and specific studies in a particular area of expertise.

Clinical psychology doctoral programs may focus on working with children, adolescents, or families, or they might focus on research applications. An internship experience is a required component of a Psy.D. or Ph.D. program as well. The internship phase usually includes 2,000-3,000 hours of supervised practice in which the doctorate candidate gains on-the-job experience in his or her area of specialty.

All 50 states require licensure in order to practice as a clinical psychologist. Although licensure requirements can vary somewhat, in general, an APA accredited doctorate is required. Potential licensees must also successfully pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Other requirements, such as the number of supervised hours required for predoctoral and postdoc placements, specific coursework, and other examination requirements vary from state to state.

It is recommended that prospective clinical psychologists examine their state’s requirements in depth so as to expedite the process of obtaining licensure.

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.

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