July 12, 2024

Clinical psychologists specialize in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders. They often work in medical settings, clinical psychologists are not medical doctors and do not prescribe medications in most states. Clinical psychology also represents the single largest subfield of psychologists.

While all clinical psychologists are interested in mental health, there are actually a wide variety of sub-specialties within this field. Some of these specialty areas include child mental health, adult mental health, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, substance abuse, geriatrics, and health psychology.

At a Glance

Clinical psychologists help people who are dealing with mental, emotional, social, and behavioral problems. They assess an individual, make a diagnosis, and provide psychological treatments. Some clinical psychologists specialize in providing certain types of therapy, working with specific populations, or treating specific mental disorders.

What Clinical Psychologists Do

Clinical psychologists specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health issues, including:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Substance use issues
  • Cognitive problems
  • Problems adjusting to sudden life changes
  • Trauma
  • Emotional challenges
  • Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Relationship issues
  • Developmental problems

Clinical psychologists often work in hospitals, private practice, or academic settings. Clinicians are trained in a range of techniques and theoretical approaches. Some specialize in treating certain psychological disorders while others work with clients experiencing a wide variety of problems.

Clinical psychologists also treat psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

In addition to working with clients, clinical psychologists have to keep detailed records of client assessment, diagnosis, therapeutic goals, and treatment notes. These records help clinicians and clients track progress and are often needed for billing and insurance purposes.

How Much Do Clinical Psychologists Make?

As of 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for clinical psychologists is $90,130. PayScale says the median salary for experienced clinical psychologists is $89,716. The top pay for experienced professionals in this field is $124,000.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that in 2022, there are 67,500 clinical and counseling psychologist jobs. Employment in clinical and counseling psychology is projected to grow 11% through 2032. The rising need for qualified mental health care professionals will contribute to a demand for clinical psychologists.

Psychologist is ranked 49th on U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Jobs” list. While clinical psychologists do face job stress, the flexibility of the career and the ability to help others are two major benefits.

Clinical Psychologist Degree Options

While some individuals find work with a master’s degree, most positions require a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Some graduate programs accept applicants with undergraduate degrees in other disciplines, but most encourage students to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology before pursuing graduate study in clinical psychology.

There are two major training models for doctoral degrees:

  • PhD: The traditional PhD in Psychology (or Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) emphasizes the role of research and science.
  • PsyD: The PsyD degree (Doctor of Psychology) primarily focuses on clinical and practitioner work.

PsyD programs are attractive to many students because they typically take a year less time to complete than a PhD On the other hand, PhD programs tend to provide better funding for graduate students.

Should You Become a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychologists need to have excellent communication skills. It is also important to be creative when developing treatment plans and approaches.

Benefits

  • Helping people overcome problems can be extremely rewarding.

  • Differing client needs and challenges allow clinicians to search for creative solutions.

  • Opportunities for self-employment.

Downsides

  • Insurance companies require that clinicians keep extensive client records, so there is a considerable amount of paperwork.

  • There is a risk of burnout due to the demanding nature of therapy.

  • Clinical psychologists often work long hours with clients who can be demanding, argumentative, or unstable.

Before you decide on a career in clinical psychology, contact local human services providers about volunteer opportunities that may be available. Clinical psychology can be both a demanding and deeply rewarding field and volunteer experiences can help you decide if a career in clinical psychology is right for you.

What This Means For You

If you are interested in a career as a clinical psychologist, its important to think about what you might want to specialize in. You might opt to work with certain populations (such as children, teens, or adults) or in providing specific types of treatments (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy). Having an idea of what you might like to do can help you create an educational plan that will help you reach your goals.


By Kendra Cherry, MSEd

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the “Everything Psychology Book.”

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