Clinical Psychologists: What do they do? And how to become one

Clinical psychologists are licensed professionals who are qualified to provide direct services to patients. Their work may include administering and interpreting cognitive and personality tests, diagnosing mental illness, creating treatment plans, and conducting psychotherapy. Psychologists are experts in psychometrics, or psychological measurement. Often they are called on to give a battery of tests to evaluate cognitive ability or mental status. In addition to formal tests, clinical psychologists may use interviews and behavioral observations. Key to effective practice is understanding how conditions manifest themselves across diverse populations.

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Clinical psychologists may be employed in a number of settings, including hospitals, outpatient centers, government agencies, and private practice offices. Clinical psychology is the most common psychological specialty. Clinical psychologists have traditionally served a more severely impaired population than counseling psychologists, but the line between the two is blurry. Sometimes clinical psychology” is used to refer to both disciplines.

Many clinical psychologists focus on subsets of the population or on particular disorders, for example, schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Clinical psychologists are well versed in research methodologies. Their careers may include evaluating programs, publishing research findings, and supervising mental health professionals across disciplines. Although psychologists often consult with psychiatrists about medical issues, they have prescription privileges in only two states; both require education beyond the norm.

Clinical Psychologist Education and Training

Clinical psychologists hold doctoral degrees. Many states expect clinical psychology programs to be accredited by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Programs may also be accepted if they meet designation criteria of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards and the National Register.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

The degree awarded may be either a PhD or PsyD. A PsyD is usually shorter and may not include a traditional dissertation; the focus is on practice. Students in PsyD programs often graduate with more debt; chances are greater that a PhD student is receiving funding for carrying out research.

Typical clinical psychology coursework includes the following:

  • Psychopathology
  • Psychiatric measurement and scaling
  • DSM applications
  • Research methods in clinical psychology
  • Assessment practicum
  • Intervention practicum

Some programs focus on sub-specialties like clinical child psychology, health psychology, or neuropsychology.

A clinical psychologist typically completes the equivalent of a year of formal internship before graduating with a doctoral degree. Most states require the equivalent of a year of supervised practice at the postgraduate level. During this period, the individual will have a supervisor who oversees service delivery and guides professional development. In many states, the supervisor provides detailed evaluation to the licensing agency and makes a recommendation for licensure.

Clinical psychologists in all states are required to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Many jurisdictions also have state-specific examinations.

In some jurisdictions, a clinical psychologist applies for both psychology licensure and health service credentialing.

Professional Resources for Clinical Psychologists

There are a number of professional organizations offering resources for clinical psychologists. Division 12 of the American Psychological Association, the Society of Clinical Psychology, supports professionals from the student years on (

A clinical psychologist can apply for specialty certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology ( The ABPP will first review credentials, including education. The candidate will then submit work samples. An oral examination will eventually be scheduled. ABPP diplomate status can make mobility easier.

Another option is fellowship status through the APA; this is for professionals who have already distinguished themselves in the field (

Career Outlook for Clinical Psychologists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups clinical psychologists with counseling and school psychologists for reporting purposes. The mean salary was $72,220 in May of 2012. The BLS has predicted 22% job growth between 2010 and 2020; this would represent an increase from 154,300 to 188,000.