Clinical psychology is the largest specialty in the profession of psychology. Clinical psychologists evaluate, diagnose, and treat a wide range of mental health conditions as well as manage the psychological implications of medical conditions. Clinical psychologists also formulate hypotheses and collect data to ensure the best possible outcomes for those in their care. In addition, clinical psychologists critically evaluate new research related to clinical care and adapt accordingly. As such, clinical psychologists not only provide quality care, but also are open to learning and highly adaptive to changes in the profession.
Becoming a clinical psychologist involves didactic coursework, clinical experience in the form of multiple part-time practica in various settings and a full-time, yearlong internship, and completing a dissertation. Clinical psychologists often work as part of a team, consulting with other mental health professionals, as well as other healthcare specialties (e.g., pediatricians, family medicine, neurology, gynecologists). As part of this team, clinical psychologists evaluate individuals using interviews, psychological, educational or neuropsychological assessments, and design treatment plans that may involve individual, family, and/or group therapies. Such plans are implemented and monitored in collaboration with other healthcare providers, facilitating collaborative, interdisciplinary healthcare. While clinical psychologists are well trained in psychological interventions for mental health conditions, through the potential of fieldwork and involvement with medical specialties, they may become knowledgeable on a range of medical conditions.
Clinical psychologists can work in a variety of settings. Clinical psychologists have the potential to provide direct evaluation and care through independent private practices, group private practices, medical centers/hospitals, Veteran’s Affairs, community mental health centers, schools, correlational facilities, and within primary care medical offices. Beyond direct care, the profession also allows those interested to become involved in teaching or conducting research. Some even become involved in policy and program development, as well as consulting.
To practice as a clinical psychologist, one must meet certification and licensing requirements, which vary by state. Most licensing laws require clinical psychologists to limit their practice to areas in which they have developed professional competence through training and experience. Professional associations, including the American Psychological Association, offer information and guidance to practitioners, help set standards for educational programs, and recognize individuals and organizations through professional designations and accreditations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Psychologists can expect faster-than-average job growth, as much as 14 percent through 2026.
- As of 2016, about 24 percent of psychologists were self-employed.
- Offices of mental health practitioners, hospitals, physicians' offices, and outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers employ about 21 percent of psychologists.
- Nearly 29 percent of psychologists are employed to provide counseling, testing, research, and administration within educational institutions.
- An increasing number of employee assistance programs, which help workers deal with personal problems, also should lead to employment growth for clinical psychologists.
Clinical psychology is a good career for those individuals who are interested in direct patient care, working with people, developing relationships and offering comfort. It requires people who are emotionally stable, mature, and able to deal effectively with people; are sensitive and compassionate, have good communication skills, and are able to lead and inspire others. Clinical psychologists must be able to demonstrate patience and persevere when results of research or treatment may take time to appear. For such individuals, a career in clinical psychology may be a very good fit.
Sources: American Academy of Clinical Psychology; American Psychological Association/Division 12/Society of Clinical Psychology; US Bureau of Labor Occupational Outlook Quarterly