People who struggle with mental health issues, psychological disorders and other concerns often seek the assistance of mental health professionals. Clinical psychologists are doctoral-level specialists in the diagnosis, assessment, evaluation and treatment of mental health problems and psychological disorders. To become a clinical psychologist, you will need to complete a specific course of education and training and obtain a state license to practice.
It's a good idea to major in psychology or a mental health related field like social work in college, but it's not always necessary for entering graduate school. If you don't choose psychology as a major, you can choose it as a minor, advises psychologist John M. Grohol, on the Psych Central website. Take courses in your preferred area of practice, such as child and adolescent psychology or geriatric psychology. You can obtain as much clinical experience as possible, volunteering to help graduate students with research projects or interning in a clinical setting.
Prerequisites to Graduate School
Some students obtain a master's degree in psychology and then transfer to doctoral programs, but the transfer credit you receive for master's level courses can vary widely, according to the Penn State Department of Psychology. It's advisable to enter a doctoral program in clinical psychology directly out of college when possible, but admission to such programs is extremely competitive. Prerequisite requirements for all graduate programs in psychology usually include submitting proof of your undergraduate education, taking the general Graduate Record Examination and the subject test in psychology and showing that you have completed coursework in relevant areas, such as psychopathology and statistics. You will usually also need to write a personal statement and submit letters of recommendation.
Doctoral programs in clinical psychology usually take between five and seven years to complete on a full-time basis. You will participate in a combination of coursework and lectures, clinical training, teaching and research. Your clinical training includes participating in clinical practicums, which usually take place on campus in the university psychological clinic, and completing a one-year supervised clinical internship. Before you can participate in a clinical internship, you must usually pass certain qualifying exams and dissertation oral exams. The clinical internship provides you with the opportunity to directly interact with, diagnose and treat patients in a clinical setting, such as a hospital, school, mental health clinic or another similar facility.
After you've obtained a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, you will need to apply for a state license to practice. All clinical psychologists must be licensed, but the licensing requirements can vary by state. Psychologists who practice in certain settings, such as universities or state or federal institutions, may be exempt from this requirement, says Melissa Dittman in an article for gradPSYCH, a magazine for grad students published by the American Psychological Association. Generally, licensure requires that you submit proof of education, meet your state's minimum number of supervised experience hours and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.