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.) to help them live a more productive and fulfilling life.
To provide a clearer understanding of the differences between clinical psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists, let's structure the information:
Clinical psychologists use their extensive knowledge of psychology to assess, treat, and research emotional and mental disorders. They aim to help individual patients work through trauma, identify the symptoms of their disorders (like anxiety, PTSD, etc.), and empower them to lead a more productive and fulfilling life.
- Education and Certification: Clinical psychologists possess a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or PsyD) in psychology and must be board-certified to practice in this specific role.
- Role and Scope: Beyond therapy, their work can extend to research and other specialized psychological assessments. They can diagnose and provide therapeutic services but are distinct from psychiatrists in several key areas.
- Limitations: Clinical psychologists play a crucial role in mental health but cannot prescribe medications to patients as they are not medical doctors. However, in psychology, they are acknowledged as doctors due to their high level of specialized training.
The term "therapist" can encompass a wide range of professionals, but typically, they offer counseling and therapeutic services to individuals, couples, or groups.
- Education: Many therapists may hold only a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field.
- Certification: It's noteworthy that not all therapists are board-certified as clinical psychologists.
- Role and Scope: They are trained to help clients navigate various life challenges, interpersonal issues, and mental health concerns, often using specific therapeutic techniques tailored to the individual's needs.
- Limitations: While therapists play an integral role in mental health care, they may or may not be specialized in specific therapeutic approaches and, like clinical psychologists, cannot prescribe medications.
For those wondering about psychiatrists in this context, they are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental illnesses.
- Education and Certification: They are licensed to practice medicine with an additional specialization in psychiatry.
- Role and Scope: Psychiatrists can provide psychotherapy like therapists and clinical psychologists. However, their distinct role often focuses on understanding the biological underpinnings of mental disorders, enabling them to prescribe medication as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
- Limitations: While many psychiatrists can and do provide therapy, their primary differentiation from clinical psychologists and therapists is their ability to prescribe and manage medication.
Psychologists must be board-certified by the American Board of Clinical Psychology to practice 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 vary - check online or with your professors to learn more about this process.
During the written and oral exams, psychologists will be assessed on more than just their knowledge of psychology. The board wants to ensure that the psychologists practicing clinical psychology have a strong sense of ethics, continue to better themselves as research comes out, and have a professional attitude and demeanor while working with individual patients. Therapy can be scary and vulnerable; only the most ethical and well-meaning individuals should be able to administer this to patients.
State-Specific Requirements for Clinical Psychologists
When pursuing a career as a clinical psychologist, it's essential to recognize that each U.S. state has its own set of requirements for licensure. This ensures clinical psychologists are appropriately trained and prepared to practice in their region. The distinctions across states mainly revolve around educational standards, supervised training hours, and examination prerequisites.
- Educational Standards: While a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or PsyD) from an accredited university is universally required, some states might have additional stipulations regarding coursework or specializations.
- Supervised Training Hours: One of the most notable variations across states is the number of supervised training or internship hours required for licensure. For instance, while one state might mandate 1,500 hours of supervised experience, another might require 2,000 or more. This training typically combines pre-doctoral internship hours and post-doctoral supervised experience.
- Examination Prerequisites: All states require clinical psychologists to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). However, some states also necessitate an additional jurisprudence exam or a state-specific exam focusing on the laws and ethics of practicing psychology within that state.
- Continuing Education: Most states require clinical psychologists to participate in continuing education to maintain licensure. The specifics, such as the number of hours and the types of courses, can vary widely from one state to another.
Why the Variation?
The diversity in state-specific requirements stems from the desire to tailor training and practice to each state's population's unique needs, challenges, and resources. While this can complicate the process for psychologists seeking to practice in multiple states or move their practice, it ensures that practitioners are best equipped to serve their community's specific needs.
Recommendations for Aspiring Clinical Psychologists:
- Research Early: If you know the state (or states) where you wish to practice, familiarize yourself with their specific requirements early in your educational journey.
- Networking: Engage with local psychology boards, associations, or organizations to stay updated on any changes or updates in licensure requirements.
- Consider Post-Doctoral Training: Some states require post-doctoral supervised hours. Engaging in post-doctoral training can enhance your skillset and allow for more mobility if you decide to move states.
In conclusion, while the path to becoming a licensed clinical psychologist might vary based on geography, the objective remains consistent: to ensure that clinicians are well-prepared and qualified to provide their clients with the highest level of care.
With a high demand for clinical psychologists in various industries, salaries are higher than they might be for a more niche position. Making six figures as a clinical psychologist is possible, even if you are starting your career. Pay may increase as you spend more time at a company, manage other psychologists, or earn more credits.
Clinical Psychologist Reported Salary
Salary Variations by Major Cities
The salary of clinical psychologists not only varies by experience, credentials, and specialization but is significantly influenced by their practice's geographical location. Due to factors like cost of living, demand for psychological services, and availability of mental health resources, different cities can offer vastly different salary ranges.
Below is a table illustrating the average annual salary of clinical psychologists in a selection of major U.S. cities:
|Average Annual Salary
|New York, NY
|Los Angeles, CA
|San Antonio, TX
|San Diego, CA
|San Jose, CA
It's evident from the table that the average salary for clinical psychologists can differ substantially from one city to another. These differences often reflect the city's cost of living, with higher salaries typically observed in cities with a higher cost of living. However, it's also crucial to account for other factors, such as local healthcare infrastructure, the population's mental health needs, and the state's specific requirements and regulations for clinical psychologists.
For those considering relocating or starting their practice in a specific city, it's advisable to delve deeper into the city-specific factors that might influence earnings and job opportunities. Additionally, seeking insights from local psychological associations or seasoned professionals in the desired area can provide a clearer picture of the potential salary range and job landscape.
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)
While this list provides a starting point, it's essential to delve into each program's offerings, faculty, research opportunities, and success rates. Online resources such as Niche and CollegeRank offer comprehensive reviews, rankings, and insights to assist students in making informed decisions about their higher education in clinical psychology.
Companies That Hire Clinical Psychologists
Many clinical psychologists open up their 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 with a Clinical Psychologist
Interested in running your private practice? 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 perspectives on why certain phenomena occur or how we can improve our mental health. This interview with clinical psychologist Dr. Jim Fix, for example, goes over many tips for getting 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 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? Can they prescribe medication or make a diagnosis? Here are all of your questions answered!
- Can clinical psychologists diagnose patients? Yes! Clinical psychologists administer tests and use tools to diagnose patients with various mental or mood disorders.
- Do clinical psychologists work with people who have mood disorders? Yes! Clinical psychologists develop strategies for patients experiencing anxiety or depression.
- Can clinical psychologists prescribe medication? No. As a treatment, clinical psychologists may refer a patient to a psychiatrist.
- Are clinical psychologists researchers? Sometimes! Clinical psychologists may conduct research for a university; for example, on various communication styles and how they affect or alleviate anxiety.
Other day-to-day tasks for clinical psychologists include:
- 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 counseling sessions together
- Consult with other clinical psychologists or mental health professionals
Interested in comparing different types of psychology careers? Want to know the difference between a clinical psychologist and a school psychologist or the difference between a behavioral psychologist and an experimental psychologist? Sites like Reddit, Quora, and this one will answer your questions!