Clinical psychology program information
Introduction to clinical psychology
Psychological thinking and language are deeply entrenched in the way most of us speak about ourselves and other people. Did you know that all of the following common phrases have their roots in the works of psychologists and psychoanalysts?
“She’s an extrovert.”
“He’s totally unconscious about it.”
“They’re in denial.”
“That kid is really acting out.”
“You’re just projecting.”
Although the quest to understand the human mind is perhaps as old as the mind itself, the systematic study of psychology is relatively new. The first psychological experiments were conducted in the 19th century, which is also when the first psychiatric hospitals were established. The American Association of Clinical Psychology, now the American Psychological Association (APA), was established in 1917.
The study of the mind as a scientific inquiry only fully emerged in the 1950s, around the same time that the first psychiatric medications were created. Over the course of its history, what was once a single discipline gradually became divided into 3 distinct fields: psychiatry, talk therapies, and psychology.
Therapists, counselors, and psychoanalysts all primarily treat their clients in individualized or group talk therapy sessions. Their approaches and aims may vary, but the common link is the personal relationship between the practitioner and the client. This relationship may last from just a few months to many years.
With the development of medical treatments for psychiatric conditions, it became necessary for practitioners to receive advanced medical training. This was the origin of the division between psychiatry and psychology. Over time, the role of psychiatrists became closer to that of medical doctors, with far less focus on talk therapy, and more focus on diagnosis and medication for the treatment of mental illness.
Psychologists are sometimes divided into 2 roles: scientist-practitioners and practitioner-scholars. The first is more research-focused and the second more practice-focused. Many psychologists are primarily scientists and researchers, while others are closer to therapists or counselors. Practitioner-scholar psychologists bridge the realms of psychiatry and talk therapy. They can diagnose patients, but the treatments they offer are often some form of talk therapy.
What do clinical psychologists do?
Clinical psychologists are usually practitioner-scholars. They provide comprehensive mental health support in clinical settings. They may also offer their expertise by consulting with agencies and organizations. Clinical psychologists have increasingly come to fill the gaps in the care offered by psychiatrists. Where psychiatrists focus on diagnosis and treatment with medication, clinical psychologists offer diagnosis and treatment with evidence-based non-medical approaches. They often collaborate with psychiatrists to provide holistic patient care.
Clinical psychologists treat clients with mental health struggles such as anxiety, mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, personality disorders, psychosis, eating disorders, and PTSD.
Clinical psychologists treat clients with mental health struggles such as anxiety, mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, personality disorders, psychosis, eating disorders, and PTSD. Clinical psychologists may be employed in hospitals, especially psychiatric units, where they collaborate with psychologists and allied healthcare workers. Some clinical psychologists work in private and group practice, while others are primarily researchers.
The median annual salary for a clinical psychologist is $82,682.
The Rorschach test, a pop culture favorite, is frequently dismissed as a relic from an earlier, unscientific era. While the inkblot test is not a reliable diagnostic tool for most conditions, it remains in use for its original intention–to detect symptoms of psychosis.
Where do clinical psychologist work?
Clinical psychologists can be employed in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics and community health centers, private practice, schools, and prisons.
How do clinical psychologists diagnose people?
To the layperson, the process of diagnosis may seem mysterious or even subjective. Psychologists and psychiatrists in fact use a host of evidence-based assessment tools and diagnostic tests. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists standardized diagnostic criteria that are referred to by mental health clinicians across the U.S. and many other parts of the world.
As late as 1880, only 7 categories of mental illness were distinguished: mania, melancholia, monomania, paresis, dementia, dipsomania, and epilepsy. The newest version of the DSM, the DSM-5, lists 157 diagnoses.
What are the educational requirements for becoming a clinical psychologist?
To become a licensed psychologist in the U.S., you need to earn a doctorate-level degree, in most cases either a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). There are different degree and licensure requirements depending on the state you wish to practice in.
The first step towards becoming a clinical psychologist is earning a bachelor’s degree, usually taking 4 years. A degree with a major in psychology is ideal, because it is likely to provide the prerequisites for acceptance into graduate programs. If you do not major in psychology, taking the following subjects as electives is a good idea, as they are required for entry into most psychology graduate programs.
- psychopathology or abnormal psychology
- experimental psychology
- research methods in psychology
- cognitive psychology, learning and memory, or physiological psychology
Bachelor of arts in psychology
Psychology B.A. programs usually offer a more humanities-based overview of the field. Common courses include developmental psychology, personality concepts, abnormal psychology, scientific courses like psychophysiology and biological psychology, and at least 1 course in statistics.
Bachelor of science in psychology
Psychology B.S. programs usually focus on biology, chemistry, statistics, lab work, and research methods as they apply to psychology. Students interested in psychological research often choose this degree option.
Careers with a B.A. in psychology
Case managerMedian salary: $42K
Case managers assist individuals in various challenging life situations. They collaborate with social workers, doctors, and psychologists but tend to have a lot more interaction with their clients, and speak on their behalf with other professionals. Case managers may assist the elderly, people with serious illnesses, recovering addicts, and others.
Master of arts (M.A.) in clinical psychology
At the master’s level, you can begin specializing in clinical psychology. Programs typically include a practicum and a supervised internship. The program takes approximately 2 years to complete, with a capstone research paper at the end of studies.
Part of the program may focus on further developing the topics in psychology covered at the bachelor’s level. More clinically-focused courses are also be included.
Common courses in an M.A. in clinical psychology program are:
- clinical assessment
- crisis intervention
- ethics and professionalism
- family and relationship therapy
- human growth and development
- tests and measurements in psychology
Master of science (M.S.) in clinical psychology
M.S. psychology programs are sometimes divided into applied research and clinical counseling orientations. The focus of an M.S. is more science and research-based than an M.A. Most programs are 2 years in duration and include an internship and a practicum. The capstone is usually an intensive research experience or an original study conducted by the student. In addition to the courses mentioned in the M.A. program, the B.S. may include the following:
- cognitive-affective bases of behavior
- biological bases of behavior
- individual differences
Careers with an M.A. in clinical psychology
If you decide not to pursue a doctorate and become a licensed psychologist, or wish to work during your doctoral studies, the following are some career options you may qualify for with a master’s in clinical psychology.
Mental health counselorMedian salary: $45K
Mental health counselors provide face-to-face support to struggling individuals in various settings, including community health centers, social service and government agencies, and hospitals. They can provide talk therapy, facilitate group therapy, assess social issues that may be affecting their clients, and refer those clients to health professionals, as needed.
Rehabilitation counselorMedian salary: $46K
Rehabilitation counselors assist people with various disabilities to live independently. Their clients may have physical, mental, developmental, or other disabilities. They develop treatment plans, help clients develop their strengths, and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
Substance abuse counselorMedian salary: $42K
Substance abuse counselors focus on individuals recovering from alcohol or drug addiction. They usually work in collaboration with other professionals as well as clients’ families to support sobriety, help clients receive the social support they need, and prevent relapse.
The DSM-5 lists internet gaming disorder as a condition that warrants further research and may be added in the next revision, reflecting how psychological theory adapts to social changes.
Doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or doctor of psychology (Psy.D.)
A doctorate degree is required for licensure as a psychologist in all 50 states. The program is rigorous and requires a significant time commitment. Once again, there are 2 streams: a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.
Typically, a Ph.D. in psychology can be earned in 5-7 years, while the Psy.D. takes 4-6. The program includes coursework, learning research techniques and methods, and real-life application of psychological theories in clinical interactions under strict supervision.
Do you need a master’s degree to apply for a Ph.D. or Psy.D.?
A master’s degree in not essential for entry into a doctoral psychology program. At some schools, it is possible to move directly from a bachelor’s program in psychology or a related field to a Ph.D. or Psy.D., but there are factors to be aware of that may impact your choices.
Doctorates that take less time to complete usually require a master’s degree. This is because the practical experience and theoretical knowledge gained during a master’s degree is an essential component of the Ph.D. or Psy.D. program. Some doctoral programs allow you to get a master’s degree while studying, but these tend to be longer in duration.
Supervised work experience and internships
Supervised work experience (SWE) and predoctoral internships are an important component of both the Ph.D. and Psy.D. Doctoral candidates are expected to complete anywhere from 1,500-4000 hours. SWE is usually completed upon earning the degree, while the predoctoral internship is completed before finishing your studies. Each state has very specific requirements regarding internship and work experience hours, so it is essential to ensure your program’s requirements meet those of the state you wish to be licensed in.
It is important to check that your doctoral program is accredited before you sign up. Depending on state licensing regulations, doctoral students need to attend a regionally or nationally-accredited program, or one also accredited by the APA. Some states also offer licensure to psychologists from Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)-accredited programs. Accreditation informs future patients, employers, and licensing boards that your qualifications have met the highest standards and that you are trained to provide appropriate care to your patients and clients. Colleges and programs with accreditation also update their programs to stay current with new developments in the discipline.
Do I need a license to practice as a clinical psychologists?
To legally work as a clinical psychologist requires licensure from the state you wish to practice in. Most states demand the following for licensure:
- Ph.D. in psychology or Psy.D.
- state-approved internship and/or supervised work experience
- passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
- professional standards or ethics examination (only some states)
Some states stipulate that licensed clinical psychologists complete continuing education programs to maintain their licensure.
Other careers for clinical psychologists
Clinical research psychologistMedian salary: $91K
Research psychologists study the causes and treatments of mental illnesses from scientific and liberal arts perspectives, depending on their specialization. They are usually employed by research laboratories connected to universities, private research laboratories, or government organizations.
Correctional psychologistMedian salary: $83K
In most states, jails and prisons house more mentally ill individuals than the largest state psychiatric hospitals. Correctional psychologists act as the main source of mental health services in prisons, proving assessment, intervention, and treatment to prison inmates.
With 121,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students as its members, the APA is the largest organization for psychologists in the United States.
The ASPPB administers the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Their website offers extensive information on the licensing and credentialing of psychologists in the U.S. and Canada.
This magazine and online resource has been published every 2 months since 1967. Writers for the magazine include psychologists, psychiatrists, and academics who share their experiences, thoughts, and ideas.