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Clinical Psychology

The field of clinical psychology is a fascinating branch of the discipline. It focuses specifically in treating and assessing mental illnesses, psychiatric problems and abnormal behavior. The field effectively integrates treating complex problems in humans with scientific psychology. Hence, the career is particularly suited to those who want to work in a field that is both rewarding and challenging.

What We Do

Most clinical psychologists work in a form of psychotherapy. This means that they are experts on a range of treatment approaches and apply these to their clients. Sometimes, the focus is specifically on one type of treatment, but most clinical psychologists use what is known as an eclectic approach. This means that they offer many different types of treatments, depending on the individual client. This means that they have to be aware of various theories so that they can come up with a treatment plan that is most suited to the needs of their client.

Clinical psychologists work according to a number of set theoretical perspectives:

  • The psychodynamic approach, which is very Freudian in nature. This means that the emphasis is on the unconscious mind and how this affects the way humans behave. A clinical psychologist who is of the Freudian school tends to used various techniques to uncover an unconscious, underlying motivation in the client's behavior, for instance through free association.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, which was developed by the school of thought that focuses on behavior and cognitive functioning. Here, a client's feelings, thoughts and behaviors interact with each other. The therapy tends to be designed to help clients change the way they think or behave, as their current methods lead to psychological distress.
  • The humanistic approach, which came out of the works of humanist psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Here, the focus is one patients as a whole, allowing them to achieve self-actualization and ensuring that each client can reach the full potential of their life.

Why It's Hot

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has placed clinical psychologists in the category of Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists. The average annual salary in this category is $74,030, and projected growth stands at 12% as of May 2014.

Other reasons why this is a popular career include:

  • The stigma on mental health is being broken, and it is becoming more acceptable for people to seek assistance for their mental health and well being.
  • The Affordable Care Act means that more people are able to access treatment.
  • It is a highly varied field with new theories emerging regularly, which means that knowledge constantly develops further.
  • No two days are the same, and people have a lot of choice in terms of where they work, who they work with and how they work.

Work Environment

The BLS has reported that there were some 104,730 clinical, counseling and school psychologists employed in the country as of May 2014. Of these, most work in schools and educational establishments, followed by offices of other health practitioners, then individual and family services, then outpatient care services and finally general medical and surgical hospitals. There are great variations in this, however, depending on where in the country a clinical psychologist works.

How to Do It

To become a clinical psychologist, you will be expected to hold a doctorate degree in psychology, as well as training in clinical settings. These are very rigorous requirements and it can take well over 10 years to complete the full educational pathway. It starts with a four year bachelor's degree, followed by a two year master's degree, after which prospective psychologists must choose between the Ph.D. and the Psy.D.

The Ph.D. is a degree that focuses very strongly on research, whereas the Psy.D. is orientated on clinical practice. For clinical psychologists, both degrees are interesting. The research option is great for those who wish to develop new psychological theories, whereas the practical option is great for those who want to work directly with clients.

Choosing the right program is a very important decision not be taken lightly. A minimum requirement should be for the program to be accredited by the American Psychological Association or another recognized body. It is also recommended to choose a program that includes a residency or internship, as almost every state will require prospective psychologists to complete supervised work experience, half of which can generally be done before graduation.

Before becoming licensed to practice psychology, candidates must also pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). This test, which costs $600 to take part in, subject to change, consists of 225 multiple choice questions. At least 70% must be answered correctly in order to be awarded a pass rate.

Pros & Cons

As with every career, there are both advantages and disadvantages to being a clinical psychologist. In terms of the advantages:

  • There is a growing demand in the field, which means finding work will be quite easy.
  • As it requires completion of a doctorate degree, you will be seen as highly competitive and in high demand.
  • You can start a private practice and set your own working hours.
  • It is a rewarding career when success is achieved, as it helps people to truly improve their lives.
  • It is a fascinating job, where no two days will be the same.

On the other hand, there are some strong disadvantages as well:

  • It takes a long time to become a clinical psychologist and not everybody can afford that.
  • You will require a state license, which means that if you were to move, you would have to repeat part of your licensing requirements.
  • If you do not work in a private practice, you will have to work a number of unsociable hours.
  • You will need to complete supervised working experience, which can feel very unrewarding as you will generally not be financially recognized as a full psychologist.
  • You need to be able to cope with the fact that you cannot help everybody, and some people will only benefit from management.

Career Path

As a clinical psychologist, you will most likely become employed in a private practice or medical setting or, if you obtained a Ph.D., as a lecturer at university. In many cases, you will work directly with people with severe psychiatric problems, providing them with treatment to help improve their lives. Some of the roles you are likely to fulfill include:

  • Assessing and diagnosing various psychological disorders
  • Treating a range of psychological disorders
  • Being present in legal situations to provide expert testimony and advice
  • Teaching others
  • Completing research into psychological theories
  • Treating people with drug and alcohol problems in particular
  • Administering and creating treatment programs that improve overall social and community life

You can expect a number of other roles. If, for instance, you have a private practice, you may offer outpatients services to people who suffer from ongoing psychological distress. You may also conduct research, offer consultation, or provide inpatient treatment for those who have been detained under the mental health act. You may also get to work in secured facilities, treating the criminally insane.

Financial Aid

  • Northwestern Medicine, which offers an automatic 50% tuition remission to all clinical psychology students for their first three years of study. Further scholarships and grants are also available that may heighten this to 100%.
  • UF Health, which offers a number of fellowships and grants, particularly to minority students.
  • Columbia University Teachers College, which offers a Ph.D. financial aid package. Merit based grants are also available.
  • Hofstra University, which offers financial aid packages for Ph.D. students in particular.
  • Fordham University, which offers various sources of aid for students taking part in the Clinical Psychology Ph.D.

Open Courseware

Podcasts

  • Psychology 130, a podcast delivered by the University of Berkeley.
  • Cognitive Daily Podcasts, which are daily podcasts delivered on a range of topics within cognitive psychology.
  • History of Psychology, which are weekly podcasts delivered by Christopher D. Green from Toronto, Canada's York University. Here, different historical psychological topics are discussed.
  • All in the Mind, a very popular podcast that addresses a range of different psychological topics.
  • Very Bad Wizards, podcasts in which human nature is analyzed in a philosophical manner.

Further Reading

Professional Organizations

As Seen On

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Free Online Courses

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