Become a Clinical Psychologist

Clinical Psychologist

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clinical psychologist

One of the greatest gifts in working as a clinical psychologist is the number of available career options, options that might not seem readily apparent when working through the classes, papers, and tests of graduate school, but options that become reality after receiving a master’s or doctorate, and completing the requisite licensing requirements., a job search engine, confirms the positive outlook for the number of clinical psychology positions. The website reports that from August 1, 2008 to February 28, 2010, clinical psychologist jobs increased by 26%. This is an especially inspiring statistic since during those same months, the nation experienced one of the worse economic periods in history, a period called the “Great Recession” by some economists.

Many credit the recession itself for causing people to seek the services of clinical psychologists. Job losses and economic hardships have caused stress and distress among many. These stresses affect all significant relationships in an individual’s life, and also the ability to cope with major losses and changes.

Others cite two ongoing wars over the past 8 years and the number of service members, their spouses, and families as needing help in adjusting to the consequences of these wars.

Still others point to the increases in incarcerated individuals. In his award-winning essay “A Hive of Mysterious Danger,” Joseph Murtagh reported that over the past 30 years, the U.S. prison population has grown from about 200,000 to 2.3 million -  a number “roughly equivalent to the populations of Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Delaware combined.”

Murtagh, who taught an English class at the Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York, and whose essay first appeared in “The Missouri Review,” said that many in the U.S. often overlook the number of people prisons employ - 800 alone at Auburn.

What are the differences between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D.?

In most cases, clients seeking psychotherapy from a clinical psychologist would not know or care about the differences between academic programs offering either a Psy.D. or Ph.D.

Clients seek effective therapeutic care, care that helps them correct or mediate dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors, and clinicians trained in both degree-models provide effective, professional, and proven psychological services... Read more about Psy.D. vs. Ph.D.

In addition to the guards, haircutters, and teachers, many of those employed at correctional facilities are psychologists, social workers, and counselors. This doesn’t include the numbers of children, spouses, friends, and other family members affected by one prisoner’s imprisonment, necessitating even more trained psychologists to provide psychotherapy. Nor do the numbers reflect the victims of the crimes committed by the prisoners, those who also require psychotherapy to cope with and manage the harmful effects of becoming victims.

Where are Clinical Psychologists Needed?

In short, clinical psychologists are needed to help a vast number of individuals, in a large number of U.S. facilities and organizations. Here’s a list of some of the organizations and industries that employ clinical psychologists:

  • Individual and group practices
  • Mental health and counseling centers and organizations
  • Healthcare organizations such as hospital and clinics
  • Elementary, junior high and high schools
  • Universities and colleges
  • Correctional institutions and halfway houses
  • Military and veterans hospitals, clinics, bases and other organizations
  • Federal government and state agencies

What do Clinical Psychologists Do?

Just as a large number of positions exist for clinical psychologists across a broad range of organizations, these positions require an equally large number of diverse duties and responsibilities. However, most of these positions require a strong component of the following:

Assessment and Diagnosis

To properly assess individuals for a range of mental illnesses, developmental psychopathology, cognitive and neurodevelopmental disorders, and maladaptive interpersonal behaviors, clinical psychologists must understand the empirical research on measurement and evaluation. In addition, they must be able to synthesize this large amount of research data, using the appropriate testing instruments for their client population.

Clinical psychologists also must be able to access the correct decision-making models in order to apply a diagnosis, using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-R). After diagnosing clients, they recommend a preferred course of treatment to other psychology professionals, or apply and administer the treatment plan themselves.

Additionally, clinical psychologists must be able to accurately assess the effectiveness of specific psychological techniques and interventions used in psychotherapy. These assessments are crucial for the healing of current and future clients.

Conduct Psychotherapy

Psychotherapists use a number of techniques and interventions to treat a range of illnesses, illnesses often resulting from dysfunctional thoughts or cognitions, and displayed through harmful or distressing behaviors. Sometimes these dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors affect physical health as well, as many stress-related illnesses are now linked to maladaptive mental health disorders.

Usually in graduate school, clinical psychology students gravitate toward one of the four main psychological frameworks, moving toward the theories and orientations for treatment that the framework supports. See clinical psychology research for more information about these frameworks.

But clinical psychology students also explore the theories of each framework, acquainting themselves with all the available treatment options, and the research supporting the effectiveness of one approach over another for specific conditions. This more integrative approach to psychotherapy helps graduates who desire a more general position after graduation, positions that require an understanding of all available modalities, and the ability to administer them depending on the client population.

Specific Careers for Clinical Psychologists

Many clinical psychologists go into private practice, either solely or with a group of other psychologists. In 2001, the American Psychological Association estimated that about 65% were working in some type of private practice. Some of these practices specialize in one type of disorder, or psychological framework.

For example, some private practices form around psychotherapists adhering to the psychodynamic framework, a framework stemming from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic approach. Similar practices are established with humanistic psychologists, or those who specialize in family systems or cognitive-behavioral therapies. However, some practices employ psychologists regardless of their specialty, creating a facility that offers many different approaches and orientations for a wide range of problems.

For those working in medical facilities and other organizations, a clinical psychology career depends on the client population. For instance, a clinical psychologist working for a children’s hospital will need in-depth knowledge of neurodevelopmental disorders and psychopathologies related to childhood and adolescence. (see Adolescence Developmental Psychology).

Similarly those working for the court system as clinical forensic psychologists must understand how legal and criminal justice issues intersect with psychological theories and understanding. Forensic psychologists must also have in-depth knowledge of psychological criminal testing and evaluation methodologies.

And most clinical sports psychologists must know and be able to teach clients specific solution-based solutions, most often based on the cognitive-behavioral framework that specializes in quick, goal-directed interventions.

In summary, the industry or facility where a clinical psychology works will determine the type of specialized psychological theories and skills he or she applies and uses to help people heal and lead more functional lives.

Examples of Titles of Clinical Psychologists:

  • Child Psychologist
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • Senior Psychologist in hospital setting
  • Domestic Violence Psychologist
  • Child Abuse psychologist
  • Health Psychologist
  • Military Psychologist
  • Prison Psychologist
  • Substance Abuse Psychologist
  • Mood Disorder Psychologist
  • Sports Psychologist
  • Research Psychologist
  • Professor of Psychology

Education and Licensure

To practice as a clinical psychologist, every state requires licensing. For more information on the type of degree required for this career, contact schools offering master’s degree programs in clinical psychology or doctorate programs in clinical psychology. These schools can help you explore all the available career paths for clinical psychology professionals.

Sample Job Listing For a Clinical Psychologist in a Children’s Hospital

Job title: Clinical Psychologist (Child & Adolescent)

  • Doctorate degree in psychology with specialization in children and adolescents.
  • Completion of supervised internship; preferably post-doctoral training in child psychology.


Provide traditional behavioral health services for children, adolescents and families. These services include psychological assessment, diagnostic, and treatment for a variety of disorders, including:

Candidates should have a knowledge of neuropsychological testing/assessments.

Additional qualifications

  • Current with timely psychological research on the assessment and diagnosis of children and adolescents, as well as abuse and trauma literature.
  • Excellent leadership skills. Ability to communicate both in written form and orally with a multidisciplinary team of professionals, giving direction, and documenting interventions, treatments, and outcomes.
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