How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

Three Parts:Getting the Right High School & Undergraduate EducationPursuing Master’s and Doctoral ProgramsCompleting Post-Doctoral Training and Licensing

Clinical psychologists assess and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Individual clinical psychologists can approach this either by researching methods and their efficacy or putting methods into clinical practice by treating and counseling patients. In either case, the road to becoming a clinical psychologist is a long and hard one, and only the most dedicated students succeed. Graduate programs in clinical psychology are competitive and accept only the best of the best. You must make it through one of these programs and get through another two years of training before you can become a licensed clinical psychologist.

Part 1
Getting the Right High School & Undergraduate Education

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    Finish your high school courses with at least a 3.0 GPA. To get into a good undergraduate psychology program, you'll need an impressive GPA in high school. Take any psychology classes offered at your school to get a feel for what clinical psychology is all about.
    • Ask the instructor of any psychology classes at your school about the differences in clinical social work, counseling psychology, psychiatry, and clinical psychology, so you can begin deciding which branch of the mental health profession is the right fit for you.
    • If your high school has a psychology club, this will also help with college applications as well as continuing to familiarize you with the discipline.
    • While you can still get into many colleges with a lower GPA, you’re likely to have more prestigious options, which in turn will help with graduate school programs.
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    Enroll in an undergraduate psychology program at an accredited university of your choice. Most programs offer general psychology degrees without any kind of specialty until you get to graduate school. Ace your psychology courses and maintain your high GPA.
    • As an undergraduate psychology student, you can expect to study introductory courses, as well as courses heavy of statistical data and research methods. From there, you will additionally choose from upper-division courses that give you overviews of social, developmental, abnormal, and comparative psychology, which will help you in choosing a specific focus for graduate school.[1]
    • If your university offers any type of honors courses track in the psychology department, consider taking those as they’ll help distinguish your graduate school applications.
    • Your school may offer either a BA or a BS in psychology for undergraduates. Neither is more advantageous than the other when it comes to graduate school.[2] The important thing is simply to do well.
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    Participate in research projects, internships, and teaching assistant programs as much as possible. Check with your advising office or the psychology department to find out what opportunities are available for you. Since clinical psychology graduate programs are competitive, get as much experience under your belt as you can.
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    Join psychology clubs and stay active with them. This can go on your resume, and programs for clinical psychologists usually require that a resume be submitted with your application.

Part 2
Pursuing Master’s and Doctoral Programs

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    Weigh master’s programs in clinical psychology. The master’s degree level is where you are likely to begin seeing specialization come into play. If you already know the area you want to specialize in, look for programs that offer a degree in that specialization. You may seek out a program in developmental, environmental, counseling, or forensic psychology, for instance.[3]
    • You may choose to stay at the same school or find another one with a program you like better. Check all the admissions requirements and make sure you will meet them once you graduate. You should start your search about a year before you graduate with your undergraduate psychology degree.
    • Don’t fret if you decide to pursue a graduate program in clinical psychology after nearly completing (or even fully completing) an undergraduate degree in another field. Though all programs require an undergraduate degree, many only require one or possibly two semesters of introductory, research, and statistical courses in psychology.[4] Though, a degree in psychology obviously doesn’t hurt to prove you’re serious about the discipline.
    • Apply to any programs that appeal to you. Since the programs are so competitive, you should apply to several to help your odds of being accepted to one. Submit everything that the school asks for by the deadline. You may have to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) before you can submit your application.
    • Studies have shown that students applying to doctoral programs who have already completed master’s degrees are more likely to finish, so many doctoral programs will consider you a more qualified candidate if you complete a master’s degree before applying.[5]
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    Study hard once you enter your clinical psychology graduate program. Collaborate with your professors throughout this time and start preparing your thesis well before you graduate.
    • For those who may be considering the jobs outlook for a master’s degree in psychology alone, be aware that American Psychological Association (APA) policy and all state licensing laws reserve the classification of “psychologist” for those who have completed a doctoral program.[6] There are niches for master’s graduates in psychology. For instance, a Master’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, but this niche mostly relates to HR departments for large companies rather than work as a clinical or research psychologist.[7]
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    Apply to doctoral programs. By this time, you will absolutely have a specialization in mind, and you’ll need to seek a program that relates to that specialization. This will also require a choice between a traditional Ph.D. program or one of the newer Psy.D. programs. Traditional programs are easier to find at public institutions but are highly competitive. Make sure the program is accredited by the APA, since this is often a requirement for state licensure.[8] You will additionally have to look into whether the program leans more heavily toward clinical/counseling or research/academic in its methodologies.[9] You may, for instance, find a program in abnormal psychology, which is your specialization, but the program may be focused on finding new methods to treat disorders (research work) whereas you are focused on treating those with disorders (clinical work) as your career path.
    • Whereas a Ph.D. will place an equal emphasis on research work as well as clinical work, a Psy.D. will place an increased emphasis on clinical work and less on research.[10] Due to this, you should mostly consider a Psy.D. if your intention is to go into clinical practice such as counseling, designing treatment programs for institutions, etc. where you will work hands on to treat patients. A Ph.D. is still better suited to someone who wants to pursue research and academic work in the field of clinical psychology.[11]
    • As a side note, those graduating with a Psy.D. tend to score lower on the national licensing test, the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology, than do those with a Ph.D.[12]
    • Your doctoral program will consist of even more specialized training depending on your focus. Based on your interest and specialization, you may work exhaustively in learning to treat specific conditions ranging from phobias to schizophrenia. You may specialize in post-traumatic stress disorders. You may also focus on the best methods for treating specific populations whether it be youths, couples or families, ethnic minority groups, or members of the LGBTQ community.[13]
    • Some programs may not transfer master’s-level coursework from any institution other than their own, so keep this in mind when deciding where to apply since certain programs may require repeating similar courses.[14]
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    Commit to and work hard in your doctoral program. You can expect to spend anywhere from five-to-seven years completing your doctoral degree, though there may be overlapping courses that transfer from your master’s work to decrease this total time.[15]
    • Doctoral candidates in the field of clinical psychology must usually write and defend a dissertation before completing their studies; however, select institutions that offer a Psy.D. may require a full-scale project such as designing a treatment program.[16]
    • Your program will also likely require a one-year internship in your specialization. APA-accredited institutions are required to provide student-to-internship placement information, so keep this in mind as well.[17]

Part 3
Completing Post-Doctoral Training and Licensing

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    Complete post-doctoral training with a licensed clinical psychologist. Before you can even apply to a state board for licensing, you must complete two years of supervised, professional experience.[18] Use this time to learn from your supervisor and hone your techniques. You will need to know how to do counseling, give psychological tests, perform assessments for mental disorders and help people in crises.
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    Submit the application for a state clinical psychology license. In addition to an application and associated fees, some states may also require a test to obtain your license.
    • A review board will go over your application at length before granting you a license. The specific requirements are determined on a state-by-state basis, and you can find more information regarding your specific state here: Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
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    Set up your new practice or discuss staying at your post-doctoral supervisor's practice. If you're already working at a practice or research institution you're invested in and passionate about, then you can discuss a permanent position there. However, if you're interested in beginning your own private practice, then you can consult How to Start a Private Practice in Psychology for more information. Regardless, you are now a licensed clinical psychologist. Congratulations!

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Categories: Psychology Studies | Occupations