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The top 7 steps to becoming a clinical psychologist

If you like to spend your time figuring out what makes people tick, then a career as a clinical psychologist makes sense. This field is all about understanding behavior and will offer you a specialized career path that allows you to work in the public or private sector, whether running your own practice or working in a  mental health facility.

One out of five people in this country experience mental illness. For some, it is disabling without treatment.  Mental health conditions don't discriminate, affecting people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic statuses. Consider some reasons you might want to be a clinical psychologist.

Take the lead in psychology. Central Michigan University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctorate programs. 

What is clinical psychology?

Clinical psychology is the study of mental and behavioral health. Someone specializing in this field would provide continuing support and treatment to individuals, families, and communities facing mental health  challenges.

Millions of people suffer from mental health issues, impacting 1 in 20 adults in the U.S. If left untreated, mental illness can lead to suicide, especially among young people; suicide is the second leading cause of death in those aged 10 to 14. Yet, some are just one clinical psychologist away from getting the help they need to prevent it.

Clinical psychology is the largest specialty in the field. It requires a passion for knowledge and a willingness to help people facing some of the most devastating periods of their lives.

What does a clinical psychologist do?

Clinical psychologists provide clinical services that help diagnose, assess, and treat mental and behavioral disorders. In addition, they study the science of psychology to treat very complex conditions such as substance abuse, depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder.

Clinical psychologists work in a variety of environments. They have private practices and mental health facilities such as a drug treatment center.

You'll also find clinical psychologists in various sectors, from law enforcement to school systems. Corporations hire them to help train their employees and serve as wellness counselors. There are roles for them in public health and social work.

How long does it take to become a clinical psychologist?

Someone pursuing this career will need a graduate degree. That means four years spent obtaining a bachelor's degree and then working towards a graduate degree. Clinical psychologists must have a  doctorate, either a Ph. D. or a Psy D., and usually require training to get licensure to practice, commonly taking one or two years. In total, it could take up to ten years to become a licensed clinical psychologist.

How to become a clinical psychologist

The first step to becoming a clinical psychologist is education; it starts with a bachelor's degree.

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Your path toward clinical psychology begins with an undergraduate in psychology. Some master’s programs will let you count undergraduate courses toward your psychology master’s degree, but without it, you may have to take additional classes to gain the fundamental knowledge that forms the base of advanced degrees. 

However, if you have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another subject, you will still be eligible for most master’s programs in psychology.

2. Earn a graduate degree

If your bachelor's degree is in something other than psychology, you will likely need to enter a master's degree program. Most doctorate  programs will require a master’s degree in psychology for entry, especially if your undergraduate degree is in something else. 

Some doctorate programs will allow you to apply without earning your master's degree if your undergraduate degree is in psychology, too. Before applying, research the prerequisites for the  doctorate program because they can vary greatly.

Ph.D. vs. PsyD.

When it comes time to get your graduate degree, there are two options: Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) and Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology). Make sure your program is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist

There is another option you might see when considering a doctorate in psychology. After graduating with an undergraduate degree, you could elect to go to medical school and specialize in psychology. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that works in this field, offering traditional psychotherapy and prescribing medication.

3. Complete an internship

Like medical doctors, clinical psychologists complete an internship. During this time, you will observe the daily operations of someone who works in the field. Typically, this is done at a hospital or mental health  treatment facility. Internships are usually for 12 months or 2000 hours.

4. Get supervised experience in the field

Once you complete your internship, you will complete something similar to a residency for medical doctors, working in the field under supervision for one to two years. Without this step, you will not be able to get  licensure in some states.

5. Obtain appropriate licenses

The next step is to apply for state licensure. The rules for licensure vary from state to state, so it’s critical that you research the prerequisites before applying. For instance, some states may require more extended hands-on training than others.

6. Apply for board certifications

Although board certification is not necessary to practice, it does add to your credentials. Certification is done through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP)  and consists of an examination and verification that you have the proper education, training, and experience.

7. Continuing education

To maintain licensure, you must earn a certain amount of continuing education (CE) credits over the years, with the exact amount and duration depending on the state. For example, Nebraska requires clinical psychologists to earn  24 hours of CE credits every 24 months to maintain their license in the state.

Continuing education is something most healthcare professionals need. You can get credits by taking classes or going to conferences.


You can also choose to specialize in a specific field. Clinical psychologists can specialize in the following:

  • Addiction Cognitive psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Environmental psychology
  • Forensics Organizational psychology

You can also specialize in a specific demographic such as geriatrics or pediatrics. Specializations require additional training and certification. Specializing can create more opportunities to work with a critical group that matters to you.

Your path to becoming a psychologist starts with finding the right school. We provide a real-world experience at Central Michigan University with programs available at a variety of degree levels. Depending on the program, you can also take classes on campus or online.

Our Ph.D. in clinical psychology is an accredited five-year, on-campus 95-credit hour program. We take a broad-based approach, giving you a way to balance science and practice as you work toward your degree. You will work in state-of-the-art facilities and get hands-on experience studying in clinics specializing in anxiety disorders, neuropsychology, violence reduction, and anxiety disorders. You will also assist our well-respected faculty, which regularly publishes research with clinical projects.

In addition, we allow students to earn a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology concurrently. This degree is awarded to graduate students who complete the program's first two years and defend their master's thesis before applying.

Find out more about what Central Michigan University offers for those seeking a degree in clinical psychology. 

Blog: All Things Higher Ed posted | Last Modified: | Categories: General Education
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