Careers in Clinical Psychology

A clinical psychologist with group therapy patients
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Clinical psychology is concerned with the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders. While professionals in this field often work in medical settings, clinical psychologists are not medical doctors and do not prescribe medications in most states.

Clinical psychology also represents the single largest subfield of psychologists. While all clinical psychologists are interested in mental health, there are actually a wide variety of sub-specialties within this field.

Some of these specialty areas include child mental health, adult mental health, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, substance abuse, geriatrics, and health psychology.

What Do Clinical Psychologists Do?

Clinical psychologists often work in hospitals, private practice or academic settings. Clinicians are trained in a range of techniques and theoretical approaches. Some specialize in treating certain psychological disorders while others work with clients suffering from a wide variety of problems. Clinical psychologists also treat psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

In addition to working with clients, clinical psychologists have to keep detailed records of client assessment, diagnosis, therapeutic goals and treatment notes. These records help clinicians and clients track progress and are often needed for billing and insurance purposes.

How Much Do Clinical Psychologists Typically Earn?

According to the APA Research Office, in 2001, the average salary for a licensed clinical psychologist was $72,000.

Of the psychologists surveyed, 65% worked in private practice, 19% worked in medical settings and 2% worked in some other human services setting. As of May 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statists reports that the mean annual salary for clinical psychologists was $74,030. Learn more about the typical salaries for clinical psychologists.

The U. S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that employment in psychology is expected to grow faster than the average. The rising need for qualified mental health care professionals will contribute to a demand for clinical psychologists.

A 2009 CNN Money report suggested that the median annual salary for experienced clinical psychologists was $81,100 and that the top pay for professionals in this field was $172,000. The report ranked clinical psychology as one of their "Best Jobs in America" for 2009, and indicated that there were currently nearly 60,000 jobs in clinical psychology with a projected growth of 16-percent through the year 2016. Quality of life ratings offered by clinicians gave the career top marks in terms of personal satisfaction and benefit to society. Clinical psychology was also ranked high for future growth and job security. 

What Type of Degree Do Clinical Psychologists Need?

While some individuals find work with a master’s degree, most positions require a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Some graduate programs accept applicants with undergraduate degrees in other disciplines, but most encourage students to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology before pursuing graduate study in clinical psychology.

There are two major training models for doctoral degrees. The traditional Ph.D. in Psychology (or Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) emphasizes the role of the research and science. The Psy.D. degree (Doctor of Psychology) is primarily focused on clinical and practitioner work. Psy.D. programs are attractive to many students because they typically take a year less time to complete than a Ph.D. On the other hand, Ph.D. programs tend to provide better funding for graduate students.

Is a Career in Clinical Psychology Right for You?

Clinical psychologists need to have excellent communication skills.

It is also important to be creative when developing treatment plans and approaches. Before you decide on a career in clinical psychology, contact local human services providers about volunteer opportunities that may be available. Clinical psychology can be both a demanding and deeply rewarding field and volunteer experiences can help you decide if a career in clinical psychology is right for you.

The Benefits of a Career in Clinical Psychology

  • Helping people overcome problems can be extremely rewarding.
  • Differing client needs and challenges allow clinicians to search for creative solutions.
  • Opportunities for self-employment.

Potential Downsides of a Career in Clinical Psychology

  • Insurance companies require that clinicians keep extensive client records, so there is a considerable amount of paperwork.
  • There is a risk of burnout due to the demanding nature of therapy.
  • Clinical psychologists often work long hours with clients who can be demanding, argumentative or unstable.


CNN Money. (2009) Clinical psychologist: Best Jobs in America. Retrieved from

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014: Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists. Occupational Employment Statistics. Retrieved from

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