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What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

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Helping Patients With Matters of the Mind

Clinical psychologists evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with mental health problems. A career as a clinical psychology may enable you to balance work with your family life.

Job Description

A clinical psychologist meets with clients to identify emotional, mental and behavioral problems and disorders. By observing patients, conducting interviews and administering various tests, clinical psychologists diagnose and then work with clients to formulate a plan for treatment. Clinical psychologists are not medical doctors and do not prescribe medication, although they can make referrals to physicians. Psychologists meet regularly with clients in individual or group sessions to monitor progress. Some clinical psychologists teach at the graduate level and may conduct research. Those with experience and an advanced degree may serve as clinical directors, overseeing a team of psychologists and auxiliary personnel.

Education Requirements

To practice, clinical psychologists must have a minimum of a master’s degree. The path toward becoming a clinical psychologist starts with a bachelor’s degree, preferably with a major in psychology, education or sociology, although there is no formal degree requirement.

A variety of programs are available to earn either a master of arts (M.A.) or a master of science (M.S.) degree, either by studying on-campus, online or with a combination of the two. Programs culminating in an M.A. typically place more focus on statistical analysis and research methodology, while M.S. programs are oriented more toward counseling and the behavioral sciences. It’s best to talk with advisors at your college or university to determine which program is right for you based on your interests, career goals and your plans to pursue a doctorate, if desired.

Two options are available to earn a doctorate: the Psy.D., or doctor of psychology, and the Ph.D., or doctor of philosophy. The Psy.D. was created in the late 1960s as an alternative to Ph.D. programs to provide students with instruction and supervised clinical practice that prepares them better for working directly with patients. The Ph.D. still prepares you for clinical practice, but it also has a strong research component. It’s the best option if you would like to teach at the university level and if you’re interested in publishing in professional journals.

State licensing requirements vary, so it’s best to check with your academic institution and professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association to find out what’s necessary in your location and at your level of practice. Typically, only those with a doctoral degree can obtain a license as a clinical psychologist. With a master’s degree, you can obtain a license as a mental health therapist or clinician.

Continuing education is required to maintain licensure at both the master’s and doctoral levels. You can earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) by attending seminars and conferences, via online courses, and through colleges and universities.

About the Industry

Clinical psychologists enjoy a wide variety of opportunities, from working in private practice to becoming part of a team in schools or health care facilities. Some specialize in marriage and family therapy, while others may specialize in substance abuse or adolescent behavior. In the course of their career, clinical psychologists may work with physicians, social workers, teachers, law enforcement personnel, and representatives of various state and local agencies. Many clinical psychologists work full-time, but part-time opportunities are available especially in private practices. Some clinicians may have to work evenings or weekends to accommodate their clients.

Years of Experience

Geographic location, level of education and type of practice impact salaries, among other factors. Based on experience, a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. typically earns:

  • Less than 1 year of experience: $90,492 to $96,189
  • 3 to 4 years of experience: $94,728 to $100,698
  • 7 to 9 years of experience: $97,649 to $104,464
  • 20+ years of experience: up to $109,664

Job Growth Trend

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the job growth rate for clinical psychologists will be about 14 percent over the next decade, which is faster than average compared to all other jobs. The employment outlook is especially good for clinicians with doctoral degrees. Population increase, along with a growing awareness of the importance of mental health, will likely keep the demand for clinical psychologists strong.