A clinical psychologist is a doctor who counsels clients in mental health. If you’re interested in this dynamic field, you’ll need a strong background in psychology — the science of brain function and behavior. You’ll need a thorough understanding of why people think and feel the way they do, and basic strategies that help institute positive change.

Clinical psychologists specialize in different fields, such as abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, or forensic psychology. Your specialty will help decide your work environment.

Step 1: Complete a Clinical Psychology Degree

To work as a clinical psychologist, you’ll need a doctoral degree, which is an 8-to-10-year investment. This may sound overwhelming to the new high school graduate, but if you look at your goal as a series of steps leading to your Psy.D, it becomes more manageable. Step one in the progression of clinical psychology degrees, for many students, is earning an associate’s degree.

  • Associate's Degree – Two-year degree in psychology or a related field. Has no practicum or internship requirements.
  • Graduate Certificate – Ideal for students who have earned their master’s degree in a field other than psychology. Psychological graduate certificates provide additional training in psychology.
  • Doctorate Degree – Culminates in a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. To work with patients in a clinical setting, most pursue the Psy.D. The Ph.D. is more research-oriented. A doctorate in clinical psychology requires extensive practicum hours and internship experience.

Step 2: Become Licensed as a Clinical Psychologist

All states require a license to practice as a clinical psychologist, although the process to obtain licensure may vary between them. Initially, you’ll need to earn your doctoral degree. Additional requirements include:

Internship / Practicum Experience

Practicum hours and internship experience are both standard for students who wish to become licensed clinical psychologists. Practicum hours give you additional real-world training under the mentorship and tutelage of a licensed psychologist. An internship gives you the opportunity to stretch your wings and practice your skills with less supervision. You’ll need to keep clear records regarding your practicum, internship hours, and experiences as documentation.


You must pass the EPPP, or the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, developed by the Association of State & Provincial Psychology Boards. This is a 225-question, multiple-choice test. Passing scores vary by state, but most require a minimum score of 70 percent.

State Requirements

Once you’ve completed your degree and can prove that you’ve accumulated your hours of internship (usually between 3,000 and 6,000 hours), passed the EPPP, and paid the licensing fee for your state, you can obtain your license to practice clinical psychology. Every few years, you must renew your license to practice. To qualify for renewal, you must complete a set number of continuing education credits which varies by state.

Step 3: Apply for a Clinical Psychology Job

Once you’ve completed all the steps and obtained your license to practice, you may begin searching for a position in clinical psychology. Sometimes, internships lead to offers of employment, but there’s no guarantee this will happen. Therefore, it’s good to have an idea in mind of where you’d like to work and the type of work you’d like to do.

What Careers Can I Pursue With a Clinical Psychology Degree?

With the right credentials, you can pursue careers such as:

  • Trauma therapist
  • Crisis intervention counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Marriage and relationship counselor

You may provide services to individuals, groups, couples, or families. You also may act as a consultant for legal or family services.

Where Can I Work With a Clinical Psychology Degree?

A degree in clinical psychology can prepare you to work in a variety of industries. These specialists may work in any place where there’s a need for psychological evaluations. Often, this means working in a hospital or rehabilitation center. It may mean interviewing children or families for a state agency or helping war veterans work through post-traumatic stress in an outpatient program. If you specialize in abnormal or forensic psychology, it may mean interviewing suspects in criminal cases.

As a licensed clinical psychologist, you may work in private practice, or for a corporation, government office, or even the military. Other options include:

  • Residential treatment centers
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Colleges and universities
  • Public or private schools
  • Correctional facilities
  • Nursing homes

Private practice is another career option for clinical psychologists.

Step 4: Learn About Clinical Psychologist Salaries

In 2021, the median annual salary for clinical psychologists was $82,510, which translates to $39.67 per hour. This is according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some of the top-paid professionals in this industry work in outpatient health care, home health care, and in physicians’ offices.

If you’re considering a career in clinical psychology, earning your degree in psychology or a closely related field is the first step. Both in-person and hybrid programs are available to help you achieve your goal.

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