How to Become a Clinical Psychologist (With FAQs and Salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 28, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

There are many different roles available if you are interested in a career in psychology. Opportunities for those seeking jobs as psychologists are increasing as people increasingly rely on psychological services. Understanding the steps for becoming a clinical psychologist is key to preparing for a fulfilling career in the field of psychology. In this article, we define clinical psychology, explain how to become a clinical psychologist, provide average clinical psychologist salaries, review the skills needed in the role, and answer some frequently asked questions.

What is a clinical psychologist?

A clinical psychologist offers personalized, direct counselling services, employing a range of therapy tactics suited to the needs of the client. These psychologists sometimes specialize in particular fields, as with specific age groups, communities, or groups such as those with learning disabilities. Professionals working as clinical psychologists may work in health care institutions, such as hospitals, clinics, or schools. As a practice, clinical psychology mixes psychological theory, science, and clinical knowledge to treat psychological distress of any kind.

Related: 9 Highest Paying Psychology Jobs (With Salary and Duties)

How to become a clinical psychologist

Here's how to become a clinical psychologist in five essential steps:

1. Complete your education

The first step in pursuing a career as a clinical psychologist is to gain an undergraduate degree in psychology. This entails spending two or three years achieving a bachelor's degree in the field of psychology at an accredited institution. Opportunities differ depending on the province in which you want to study. A bachelor's degree provides the necessary educational foundation required to build the rest of your knowledge and experience in psychology.

It's possible to diversify your undergraduate degree and include courses in an area in which you may be interested in focusing. Taking time to research the programs best suited for your interests and goals can help you in your career.

2. Consider gaining work experience

Once you've completed your undergraduate degree, it can be beneficial to seek practical work experience. Doing so gives you an advantage both in the subsequent stages of your education, and eventually in finding employment as a clinical psychologist. Helpful work experience can involve working as an assistant or in psychological research roles. Gaining additional experience can also be a proactive way of exposing you to psychology practices and meeting like-minded people in the field.

3. Get a post-graduate degree

The next stage in pursuing a clinical psychologist's career is to advance your education with a post-graduate degree. Typically, this means progressing to a master's degree, which can take between two and three years to complete. Following this, a doctorate degree in psychology is a common requirement in most provinces for qualifying as a clinical psychologist. A PhD in psychology can take between four and six years to complete and provides a highly advanced knowledge of psychology principles, practices, ethics, and applications. The Canadian Psychological Association endorses a doctoral psychology degree as the basic requirement for practising clinical psychologists.

In some institutions, you can pursue a doctorate degree immediately after attaining your bachelor's. Without a doctorate degree, there are still employment opportunities in non-clinical research roles. Many institutions also accept candidates with doctorate degrees attained from the American Psychological Association if they conducted their study in the United States. Those with only master's degrees may still be able to find employment as chartered psychologists, or college professors in some provinces.

Related: How Much Do Psychologists Make in Canada? (With Primary Duties)

4. Gain supervised experience

If you want to provide psychological services to clients, it's a typical requirement in most provinces to spend at least one additional year interning under supervision. Students often gain this supervised experience as an extension of their PhD program in pursuit of employment in practising psychology. In this supervised internship year, prospective clinical psychologists gain experience and knowledge in the daily workflow, challenges, and tasks they can expect in their careers.

5. Pass oral and written examinations

Finally, before prospective clinical psychologists can practise, it's typically required to complete oral and written examinations to gain licensure. The requirements for passing these examinations and the licences they reward students vary depending on the province. They require students to apply their total knowledge and experience of therapy, research, ethics, and theory to prove that they're ready to practise psychology with actual clients.

Average clinical psychologist's salary

The national average salary for a clinical psychologist is $55.85 per hour. This salary varies depending on the location of the institute in which they work, as those closer to major cities tend to offer a higher salary to offset living costs. The salary clinical psychologists make can change depending on the level of experience they have, how extensive their education is, or whether they work privately or publicly.

Skills required for clinical psychologists

To be effective as a clinical psychologist, those wishing to pursue this career path benefit from a combination of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are those you learn intentionally through practise, repetition, and education, and are teachable and measurable. Soft skills are the interpersonal or social abilities you develop over time through work experience and interaction. Here are some of the hard and soft skills that clinical psychologists require:

Hard skills

Clinical psychologists often gain the hard skills required for their role through extensive education. These skills are also measurable, in that they present tangible results. Here's a list of some of the fundamental hard skills that clinical psychologists require:

  • Organizational skills: Organizational skills include keeping records, files, and resources accessible and in order.

  • Time-keeping skills: Time-keeping skills are important for attending meetings and appointments and managing the time to attend to tasks.

  • Working knowledge of developmental disorders: Psychologists apply their in-depth knowledge of developmental disorders to provide therapy to patients.

  • Interpreting test results: Psychologists may interpret psychological and some medical test results.

  • Administering medication: They may administer therapeutic medication to patients to provide relief.

  • Conducting psychological tests: They sometimes administer psychological tests to understand and diagnose disorders.

Related: Psychologist Interview Questions and Answers

Soft skills

Clinical psychologists often gain the soft skills required for their role through work experience. Some soft skills are intrinsic social qualities they may already possess. The soft skills which most benefit clinical psychologists are those which benefit their interpersonal communication. Here's a list of some of the soft skills which are most necessary for clinical psychologists:

  • Judgment and decision making: Psychologists exercise judgement and decision making in managing their patients and their condition.

  • Communication: They require the ability to communicate clearly and effectively with patients, colleagues, and interns.

  • Patience: Psychologists benefit from being patient when dealing with those they treat, as diagnosis and treatment can take time.

  • Emotional intelligence: This is the ability to understand how someone is feeling by reading body language and other non-verbal communication.

  • Tolerance: Psychologists require tolerance of others' values, principals, and background to provide fair and compassionate treatment.

Clinical psychologist FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about becoming a clinical psychologist:

What grades are necessary for graduate programs?

The necessary academic requirements for acceptance into a graduate program vary across institutions. Sometimes, institutions conduct graduate record examinations, or GREs, which require the candidate to have gained high academic scores. The most common grades required for getting accepted into a psychology graduate program are:

  • Grade point average of at least 3.5 out of 4

  • Undergraduate education in psychology or a related field

  • Strong letters of recommendation

How long does it take overall to become a clinical psychologist?

After graduating secondary school, it can take many years to begin a career as a clinical psychologist. The time that programs take to complete varies across institutions and provinces. Sometimes, universities may allow students to transition directly into their doctorate from their undergraduate study, removing the time it takes to complete the master's program. Here's an overview of the necessary time to attain each academic qualification:

  • Bachelor of arts or bachelor of science: Three to four years

  • Master's degree: Two to three years

  • Doctorate degree: Four to six years

  • Additional supervised internship: One year

Related: Jobs You Can Do With a Psychology Degree

How is clinical psychology different from experimental psychology?

Clinical psychologists apply their knowledge to patients, clients, and subjects to treat or study them. Conversely, experimental psychologists or research psychologists focus on the study and research components of psychology, but not treatment. These psychologists conduct experiments and report their findings or verify other studies to develop the field of psychology. Because experimental psychologists don't focus as much on treatment, the additional supervised internship year isn't necessary to become one.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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