FAQ: What Degree Does a Clinical Psychologist Need?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 16, 2021

If you enjoy learning about psychology and helping others, you might want to earn a degree in clinical psychology. Clinical psychology can boost your earning potential, give you the ability to pursue a range of careers and industries and help you make a positive difference in others' lives. Before you decide to become a clinical psychologist, it's important to first understand the various credentials and skills required for this profession.

In this article, we answer frequently asked questions about clinical psychology, such as what a clinical psychologist does, what degree a clinical psychologist needs and what the average salary for this profession is.

Related: How To Become a Clinical Psychologist

What does a clinical psychologist do?

A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional who evaluates, diagnoses and treats patients with mental health concerns or conditions. Most clinical psychologists specialize in helping patients with a specific type of issue, such as substance abuse, schizophrenia, criminal sciences or neurological condition. In addition, or instead, they might focus on patients who belong to particular demographics, like children. Responsibilities of a clinical psychologist include:

  • Conducting personality or behavioral evaluations

  • Providing counseling services to patients and their families

  • Diagnosing patients based on observations, assessments, interviews and experiment

  • Creating a personalized treatment plan for each patient

  • Performing Innovative research in their field and presenting their finding through articles or presentation

What degree does a clinical psychologist need?

To become a clinical psychologist, a professional first gets their Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. This is a specific type of doctoral degree that emphasizes case studies and clinical practices. Prior to getting a Psy.D. degree, students first earn a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field, like sociology.

Some state licensing boards have specific requirements about the doctoral degrees for clinical psychologist candidates, such as that they must have earned their degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Other state licensing boards may allow some flexibility in their requirements, like allowing candidates to receive a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in psychology rather than a Psy.D. degree. Before getting your clinical psychology degree, be sure to research the state licensing board requirements for the location where you want to practice.

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Related: How Long Does It Take To Become A Clinical Psychologist?

Why get a degree in clinical psychology?

Pursuing a degree in clinical psychology can provide a range of benefits, including:

  • Become eligible for a range of careers: Earning a degree in clinical psychology gives you the ability to apply for many jobs, including rehabilitation psychologist, private psychologist, mental health social worker and counseling psychologist.

  • Help others: Many clinical psychologists work one-on-one with their patients and provide them with an individualized treatment plan. Being a clinical psychologist can allow you to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

  • Earn a high salary: A degree in clinical psychology can increase your earning potential.

  • Work in a variety of industries: Professional psychology services are often in high demand in a range of industries. Clinical psychologists may find job opportunities in industries like education, health care, social services and criminal sciences.

What is the difference between a psychologist vs. a clinical psychologist?

Clinical psychologists learn more practices and techniques for evaluating, diagnosing and devising individualized treatment plans for their patients. General psychology, however, often focuses more on clinical research or studies.

Clinical psychologists also typically treat people who have more serious or complicated mental health conditions. A general psychologist may primarily study or work with healthier people who have less complicated mental or emotional issues.

Related: 16 Specializations in Psychology and Tips for Choosing One

What are the licensure requirements?

Licensure requirements for clinical psychologists vary between state boards, but typically include:

  • Internship or residency: Many state licensing boards require clinical psychology candidates to complete a certain number of supervised practice hours. Most candidates fill this requirement through a one-year internship or residency.

  • Exam: Aspiring clinical psychologists in all states take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). The first part of the exam is a multiple-choice knowledge test, while the second part evaluates candidates' skills through a range of methods like scenario-based questions.

  • Additional tests: Some states require clinical psychology candidates to undergo further testing. For example, licensing boards may ask candidates to take an ethics test that assesses how they might handle sensitive patient information.

  • Character statements or testimonials: Part of the application process may involve submitting character statements or testimonials. These are professional letters written by people in your network, such as professors or employers, who can speak to your potential as a clinical psychologist.

What kinds of jobs can you get as a clinical psychologist?

A clinical psychologist can pursue a range of careers and specializations. Here are a few of the different clinical psychology jobs you might consider pursuing:

Child psychologist

A child psychologist specializes in assessing, diagnosing and treating children's mental health issues. They can work with children in a variety of environments, including schools, outpatient centers, group homes, mental hospitals or detention centers. Child psychologists help children with mental health concerns or conditions develop healthy coping skills, work through emotional challenges like neglect, succeed in school and communicate their needs to others.

Medical psychologist

Medical psychologists help patients whose physical health concerns or conditions affect their mental health. For example, a medical psychologist might work with a patient whose chronic stomach aches affect their professional and personal responsibilities. Medical psychologists try to understand and treat the symptoms and causes of their patients' physical concerns in a clinical setting, such as by helping their patients develop healthier daily habits.

Neuropsychologist

Neuropsychologists work in the specialty field of neuropsychology, which focuses on the human brain's habits and processes. A neuropsychologist typically works with patients who have neurological conditions, such as from a stroke or brain trauma. Responsibilities include evaluating a patient's neurological damage , maintaining detailed medical records, helping patients recover from or adapt to neurological conditions and collaborating with other health care or neuropsychology professionals.

Read more: Learn About Being a Neuropsychologist

Psychotherapist

Psychotherapists provide individualized treatments for patients with mental health issues or conditions in a clinical setting. Psychotherapy is a branch of clinical psychology that emphasizes the importance of psychotherapists and their patients developing a respectful and trusting relationship. Psychotherapists use a range of talk therapy methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy practices, to help their clients solve their mental health concerns or learn how to make positive lifestyle modifications.

Read more: Learn About Being a Psychotherapist

Behavioral health psychologist

Behavioral health psychologists specialize in helping patients with behavioral challenges, such as phobias or addictions. A behavioral health psychologist works closely with their patients to identify actions or situations that trigger their behavioral patterns and determine how to develop healthier coping skills or habits. A behavioral health psychologist may work individually with their patients or provide their services in a group setting.

What is the average salary and career outlook for clinical psychologists?

The average salary for clinical psychologists is $97,219 per year. It's important to remember, however, that a clinical psychologist's specialization can affect how much they earn. Individual salaries for clinical psychologists can depend on other factors too, including years of experience, location and education.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for all types of psychologists are predicted to grow by 8% between 2020 and 2030. This equals an increase of about 13,400 jobs each year. The BLS predicts this increase in part because of the growing interest in providing psychological services in numerous settings, such as in hospitals, schools, social service agencies and mental health centers.

Related: FAQ: What Does a Clinical Psychologist Earn?

Can a clinical psychologist prescribe medicine?

Clinical psychologists in certain states, such as Idaho and Louisiana, can prescribe their patients' medications. However, the majority of state licensing boards don't give clinical psychologists the ability to prescribe medication. It's important to research what a license permits clinical psychologists to do in your state prior to applying.

How long does it take to become a clinical psychologist?

Becoming a clinical psychologist takes most professionals an average of 10 to 12 years. However, the time it can take to become a clinical psychologist varies based on a range of factors, such as:

  • Whether you pursue a Psy.D. or a different doctoral degree

  • If you attend school part or full time

  • What type of clinical psychology specialization you choose

  • How long your internship, residency or another period of supervised practice hours last

Read more: How Long Does It Take To Become a Clinical Psychologist?

What skills do you use as a clinical psychologist?

a clinical psychologist can benefit from developing skills such as:

Empathy

Clinical psychologists often interact with patients with a range of mental health concerns or conditions. These patients may also come from different backgrounds or be a part of various cultures. A clinical psychologist understands how to empathize with a patient's unique circumstances and challenges. This ability to empathize can help clinical psychologists determine strategies and steps for each patient's unique treatment plan.

Organization

Clinical psychologists use organizational abilities to update and keep track of their various patient records. Organizational skills can also help a clinical psychologist balance their range of daily responsibilities, which may include appointments with multiple patients and innovative research efforts. Organizational abilities that clinical psychologists can benefit from developing include time management and task prioritization.

Related: 7 Critical Skills for a Career in Clinical Psychology

Emotional intelligence

Clinical psychologists use their emotional intelligence to perceive what their patients think or feel. This may involve evaluating their patient's words, tone of voice, gestures or body language. A clinical psychologist also uses their emotional intelligence to determine how to respond to their patients' challenges in a way that's both sympathetic and professional.

Critical thinking

Clinical psychologists use critical thinking skills to evaluate and diagnose their patients. These critical thinking skills include thinking analytically, solving problems and inferring information. Critical thinking can help clinical psychologists figure out how to approach the various challenges in their practice, such as determining the best diagnostic tools for each patient.

Ethics

A clinical psychologist understands the ethical responsibilities of their profession. They know how to handle various ethical challenges, like preserving patient confidentiality and collaborating with other mental health professionals in a way that's respectful to their patients.

Ethical protocols and behaviors also matter for clinical research or studies. A clinical psychologist behaves in a moral and unbiased way while performing these research efforts or studies so that other medical or mental health professionals can use their findings.

Related: Clinical Psychologist vs. Therapist: What Is the Difference?

Communication

A clinical psychologist can clearly and politely convey their meaning to both patients and colleagues. They are adept at using a variety of communication channels, including in-person, over the phone and through email. A clinical psychologist also understands how to explain complex psychological terminology or concept to their patients using simplified language.

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