Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists assess, evaluate, diagnose, prevent and treat individuals suffering from mental health disorders. Clinical psychologists usually work in medical settings, but they are not medical doctors. They do not prescribe medications like psychiatrists. However, this is slowly changing. Several states have passed legislation that permits licensed psychologists to prescribe certain medications to their patients.

Clinical psychology is the largest field of psychology. However, it also is represented by a large number of subfields. Areas of specialty within the field of clinical psychology including adolescent mental health, adult mental health, emotional disorders, geriatrics, learning disabilities, substance abuse, and health psychology.

After diagnosing a problem, clinical psychologists must determine the appropriate treatment to correct the problem. If they are unable to provide the appropriate treatment for patients, clinical psychologists may refer them to other medical specialists.

Not only are clinical psychologists responsible for prescribing treatments, they must pay close attention to whether or not treatments are helping patients. This is essential when assisting patients struggling with ongoing mental health issues such as depression.

Many clinical psychologists also specialize in psychotherapy. Clinical psychologists will use psychotherapy is to empower people to overcome destructive behaviors or recurring dysfunctional thoughts. All to often, mental health disorders, and the associated stress, take a toll on the physical health of the patient, their family and other loved ones. The interventions provided by clinical psychologists can be live altering for everyone involved.

The following are popular specialties within the discipline of clinical psychology:

While a graduate degree in clinical psychology is the minimum requirement for practicing in the field of clinical psychology, most good schools now offer concentrated tracks of study for those wanting to specialize in a subdiscipline within the field.

Clinical psychologists work with people from all walks of life in various healthcare environments. The following are just a few places clinical psychologists are employed:

  • Private clinics
  • Mental health hospitals or facilities
  • Hospitals and physician clinics
  • Schools, colleges, and universities
  • Prisons and correctional facilities
  • Veterans hospitals and other military support clinics
  • Government agencies

Education and Degree Requirements
The minimum educational requirement for practicing clinical psychology is a PhD (a research based degree that requires a disertation) or PsyD (pratice-based degree) in clinical psychology. However, the first step toward becoming a psychologist is to earn a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited four-year college or university. It's recommended that candidates pursue an undergraduate major in psychology in preparation for graduate school, but it's not required. Most graduate psychology schools will consider applicants with diverse educational backgrounds as long as their degree is from an accredited institutions. However, competition for graduate psychology programs is intense, so earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, a closely related field of study, or taking pre-requisite psychology courses is recommended. Internships, volunteering, research experience and performing well on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) will also go a long way toward qualifying candidates for top graduate programs.

In all, it takes about 6 to 9 years of post-secondary education to become a clinical psychologists--and that's not including a 1-year post-graduate internership (1,200 to 2,000 supervised clinical hours) and the time it takes to pass any licensing tests required by the state where you plan on practicing.

According to U.S. News & World Report the top graduate psychology programs in the nation include the following:

Again, being accepted to one of the top graduate psychology programs in the nation is very difficult. Unless you were at the top of your undergraduate class, aced the GRE, graduated from a top college and have prior experiences chances are you won't get accepted. However, graduating from one of the top programs in the nation isn't key to successful career. There are hundreds of good programs nationwide--and getting accepting to any one of these programs is sufficient.

Whatever their area of specialization, clinical psychologists must stay up to date with the current research. Combining up-to-date knowledge, techniques and methodologies with modern diagnostic technology enables them to diagnose cognitive, developmental, and mental health problems.

Licensing and/or Certification

Licensing requirements vary by state. However, the basic licensing requirements in most states require candidates to hold a doctorate degree in psychology from an accredited programs and complete a 1-year post-graduate APA accredited internship in order to practice.

However, those who plan on working at a college, government agency, research laboratory or corporation may be exempt from having a license in some states. To find out if you'll need a license check with your state psychology board. Licensing requirements for school psychologists working in the public education system typically have different licensing requirements than clinical psychologies who consult clients.

Since many state boards require proof of coursework and experience, it's recommended that students document all their clinical hours and lab experience they accumulate during their post-graduate internship.

Licensing usually costs between $500 and $1000, including application, exam costs and other licensing fees. You can look up your state's licensings fees at using the ASPPB Handbook of Licensure and Certification Requirements.

Job Outlook and Career Opportunities
There are a plethora of career opportunities for clinical psychologists in the current job market. In fact, the current economic downturn has increased the demand for clinical psychologists since more people are now utilizing their services to cope with financial, relationship, and personal problems. People who lose their jobs frequently experience depression, which affects their relationships and other aspects of their lives.

Members of the military returning from war, and their families, frequently consult with clinical psychologists. Both the Army and Air Force employ psychologists to assist in the selection of soldiers and to counsel those returning from combat.

With U.S. prison populations growing, the need for clinical psychologists has also risen. According to some reports, more than 2 million people are in encarcerated across the United States. Many correctional facilities, prisons, and county jails hire clinical psychologists to conduct tests, make diagnosis, and provide psychotherapy and counseling to inmates.

After completing their graduate degree and obtaining a license, there are many places where clinical psychologists can work. According to the American Psychological Association, more than half of clinical psychologists run their own private practices. Many decide to specialize fields such as psychotherapy or cognitive-behavior treatment.

One growing specialty among clinical psychologists is forensic psychology. These professionals combine their knowledge of criminal justice and psychology to diagnose mental illnesses of convicted criminals and make recommendations to parole boards and judges. Career opportunities for those interested in forensic psychology are growing.

Salary and Compensation
According to data accumulated by, the median annual salary for Clinical Psychologists in the United States is just over $71,000, with bonuse ranging from $0 to $8,950, profit sharing of $22,500 and total pay range of $44,500 to $124,800 a year.

Once of the biggest factors influencing pay for Clinical Psychologists is experience. A Clinical Psychologist with over 20 years of experience can expect to make up to 30% more than someone just out of school starting their career.

Location also influences salary level and compensation. The highest paying cities in the nation for Clinical Psychologists include the following.

  • Minneapolis (22% higher than national average)
  • San Diego (14% higher than national average)
  • Seattle (9% higher than national average)
  • Cincinnati (8% higher than national average)

However, many of these cities also have a cost of living higher than the national average.

Some of the lowest paying cities in the nation for Clinical Psychologists include Denver (-15%), Los Angeles (-11%) and Chicago (-10%).

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