There is a misunderstanding that all “psychologists” are therapists - that they spend their days in their office, listening to people talk about their problems and asking deeper questions that get to the heart of specific behaviors, memories, and traumas. Not all psychologists do this type of work. A criminal psychologist, for example, may spend their time studying crime and giving expert testimony in court. A biological psychologist may be focused on research in a specific niche that not all psychologists have studied.
When we think of psychologists in a typical therapist’s office, we are thinking of clinical psychologists. Not all clinical psychologists are therapists and not all therapists are clinical psychologists. Read on to learn the differences, what it takes to become a clinical psychologist, and how you can take the next steps to make this job your lifelong career.
What does a Clinical Psychologist Do?
A clinical psychologist uses their knowledge of psychology to assess, treat, and research emotional and mental disorders. They help individual patients work through trauma or identify the symptoms of their disorders (anxiety, PTSD, etc.) in order to help them live a more productive and fulfilling life.
Not all clinical psychologists do the same job, nor do they have the abilities that other mental health professionals have. A clinical psychologist, for example, may conduct research or work directly with patients, but they are not psychiatrists. They cannot prescribe medications to patients and they are not medical doctors.
Clinical psychologists, however, are doctors. This makes them slightly different than the general “therapist,” who may hold only a master’s degree and is not board certified as a clinical psychologist.
In order to practice clinical psychology, psychologists need to be board certified by the American Board of Clinical Psychology. This certification requires that the psychologist:
- Earns a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or PsyD) from an accredited university
- Complete an accredited internship program
- Earn a certification to practice clinical psychology in the state where they reside
- Complete a written and an oral exam
The requirements to be licensed at the state level varies - check online or with your professors to learn more about this process.
During the written and oral exam, psychologists will be assessed on more than just their knowledge of the field of psychology. The board wants to make sure that the psychologists who are practicing clinical psychology have a strong sense of ethics, continue to better themselves as research comes out, and has a professional attitude and demeanor while working with individual patients. Therapy can be a scary and vulnerable process, and only the most ethical and well-meaning individuals should be able to administer this to patients.
With a high demand for clinical psychologists in various industries, salaries are higher than they might be for a more niche position. It is definitely possible to make six figures as a clinical psychologist, even if you are just starting out in your career. Pay may increase as you spend more time at a company, manage other psychologists, or earn more credits.
Clinical Psychologist Reported Salary
Schools for Clinical Psychology Degrees
There are plenty of schools across the country that offer clinical psychology degrees. Keep these top schools on your list as you discover the best program for you:
- University of California - Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
- University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)
- Stony Brook University - SUNY (Stony Brook, NY)
- University of California - Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
- University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN)
- University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
- University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
- University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)
- Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
Companies That Hire Clinical Psychologists
Many clinical psychologists open up their own practice and gain clients through word-of-mouth or various marketing initiatives, but they don’t have to. Larger companies like Talkspace or BetterHealth hire licensed clinical psychologists and connect them with patients in their area. Other organizations and companies that hire clinical psychologists include:
- Colleges and universities
- Healthcare providers
- State and local government organizations
- Federal government and military organizations
- Research facilities
- Private practices
Interviews from a Clinical Psychologist
Interested in running your own private practice? Take a look at this interview with author and clinical psychologist Dr. Leah Klungness!
Clinical psychologists are frequently interviewed for blogs and news stories to give their perspective into why certain phenomena take place or how we can improve our mental health. This interview with clinical psychologist Dr. Jim Fix, for example, goes over many tips if you want to get help for you or a family member.
You can also meet a clinical psychology professor by watching this interview with Brenda Ingram-Wallace, Ph.D., or learn what it’s like to live the day in the life of a clinical psychologist.
Famous Clinical Psychologists
Although therapy as we know it has roots in psychotherapy and earlier schools of psychology, the approaches used today in private practices are relatively new. Some of the most well-known psychologists who have shaped the way the approach therapy today include:
- Carl Jung, who broke away from Freud’s approach to therapy and introduced a more modern perspective
- Carl Rogers, the founder of the “humanist” or “person-centered” approach to therapy
- Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning
- Virginia Satir, a pioneer in family therapy
Clinical Psychology Examples
What does a clinical psychologist do, day in and day out? They might:
- Administer tests and use tools in order to diagnose patients with various mental or mood disorders
- Develop strategies for patients experiencing anxiety or depression
- Analyze data, including survey responses and medical records, to predict risks in certain populations
- Document patient progress
- Encourage communication between spouses or families that attend cousneling sessions together
- Conduct research for a university on various communication styles and how they affect or alleviate anxiety
- Consult with other clinical psychologists or mental health professionals