How to Become a Clinical Psychologist


Clinical psychologists treat patients with mental, behavioral or emotional disorders related to short-term issues or chronic conditions. They conduct patient interviews and diagnostic tests to determine the best approach for each patient's situation. One common approach is psychotherapy. Clinical psychologists must obtain a doctor of psychology, or Psy.D., degree and be licensed by the states in which they practice.

Get a Bachelor's Degree

  • A bachelor's degree is a necessary first step, but a focus on psychology is not always required to qualify for graduate and doctoral degree programs. Master's degree programs may accept any bachelor's degrees for admittance -- although majoring in psychology can boost a candidate's chance for open slots in graduate school. Students who have not taken prerequisite coursework, such as introductory psychology, experimental psychology and statistics, must complete these classes before entering a master's program in psychology.

Explore Graduate Program Options

  • Graduate-level programs in psychology award either a master of arts or master of science degree. Because clinical psychology takes a scientific approach, concentrate on an MS rather than an MA degree program. Most MS programs in psychology cover research in the field; approaches to performing research; and biological studies. A program specific to clinical psychology, such as that offered by California State University, Fullerton, may address particular aspects of the discipline, such as psychopathology and psychotherapy. Many MS degree programs require 36 credit hours and can be completed in two years. More rigorous programs may require as many as 60 credit hours and take twice as long to complete. Students are generally awarded an MS degree in psychology after performing independent research in the field and writing a thesis, or participating in a research project.

Complete a Doctoral Program

  • A Psy.D. degree typically takes four to seven years to complete. Graduation requirements include academic and research work, participation in clinical training, an internship and passing a candidacy exam. Some programs also require dissertations. Graduate credits rarely align perfectly to doctoral program requirements when different colleges are involved, so select a graduate program based on a preferred doctoral program to help minimize the need for extra coursework. Also, look for combined programs. Loyola University Maryland, for example, offers an MS/Psy.D. program that requires five years of full-time study.

State Licensing

  • Most states require clinical psychologists to pass a licensing exam before establishing a practice. Specific requirements vary by state. In some cases, clinical psychologists who work for licensed facilities rather than practicing independently are covered by a group license. Licensed clinical psychologists typically must participate in ongoing education to stay current on research and issues, in the field and to stay licensed.

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