Careers in Clinical Psychology

5 career paths for a Psy.D. in clinical psychology

Careers in Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is one of the most in-demand areas of study, with jobs growing quickly according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you’re interested in studying clinical psychology or searching for careers available in this field, you may be asking:

  • What is clinical psychology?
  • What degrees are available in clinical psychology?
  • What do clinical psychologists do?
  • What job opportunities are available to clinical psychologists?
  • What advantages are there for psychologists with a doctorate in clinical psychology?

Below we answer these questions and explore a variety of career paths available to those with a degree in clinical psychology.

What is clinical psychology?

Clinical psychology is a specific field in psychology that is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases having to do with the brain, behavioral problems, and emotional instability.

Clinical psychologists deal with the assessment, diagnosis, and management of a specific individual’s mental illnesses and diseases. A clinical psychologist will also work with clients to provide a range of services and therapy sessions.

What do clinical psychologists do?

A clinical psychologist is a professional qualified to diagnose and treat a range of mental illnesses. Clinical psychologists have a wide array of responsibilities. Tasks can range from doing research, assessing behavior, and performing consultations.

Clinical psychologists meet with clients individually and cater to their specific needs. Many clinical psychologists work with patients in a one-on-one setting. In these sessions, clinical psychologists speak with clients and help identify mental health issues, diagnose mental health illnesses, provide treatment options, monitor progress, and refer them to other resources.

The role of a clinical psychologist differs from a standard psychologist because the field of clinical psychology specifically focuses on abnormal behavioral patterns and emotions.

Some responsibilities and duties of a clinical psychologist include:

  • Identifying mental, behavioral, or emotional abnormalities in clients
  • Assessing the abilities, attitudes, and behaviors of a client with the aid of psychological tests
  • Diagnosing disorders
  • Teaching classes and holding seminars
  • Talking to and educating the loved ones of clients
  • Developing and implementing solutions for clients’ mental and emotional challenges
  • Referring clients to medical personnel
  • Guiding caregivers of clients through the recovery process

Clinical psychologists will typically work together with a health care team of nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, and doctors to provide holistic care to their patients. Therefore, clinical psychologists can work in several different professional settings, such as:

  • Private practices
  • Schools
  • Correctional facilities
  • Mental health facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Community centers
  • Universities

About Psy.D. in clinical psychology programs

A Psy.D. in clinical psychology is an applied doctorate that prepares graduates to offer the best clinical psychology services to clients and patients who are battling emotional, psychological, and behavioral needs.

When applying to a Psy.D. Clinical Psychology program, students should ensure that the school is accredited and approved by the American Psychological Association. Other factors to consider are:

  • Internship matching
  • Cost of schooling
  • Class size
  • Licensing exam pass rate
  • Graduation rate

Many times a Psy.D. program will enable future clinical psychologists to gain research experience and undergo training to practice their skills outside of the classroom in a wide range of settings.

This doctoral program also equips clinical psychologists with the knowledge to assess, diagnose, treat, and prevent further mental and psychological diseases, as well as pursue a wide range of careers.

5 clinical psychology jobs and career paths

Clinical psychologists can work in various sectors, including:

  • Clinics
  • Mental health treatment facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Court systems
  • Schools
  • Business organizations

After the completion of a degree program in clinical psychology, you may be equipped to pursue any of the following career paths:

1. Organizational psychologist

In this role, a clinical psychologist conducts screening tests, performance reviews, and training sessions to help an organization’s employees work effectively to achieve common company goals and increase overall production.

2. Marriage and family therapist

A clinical psychologist may work directly with couples and families to ensure that its members are communicating effectively and addressing any negative habits in the home. Clinical psychologists working as a marriage and family therapist may help facilitate problem solving and care plans to address varying mental health needs.

3. Researcher

As a researcher, clinical psychologists can develop studies on the influence of habits and thought patterns on an individual, family, and society. This research work may lead to important discoveries in the field and add depth to current practices.

4. Clinical psychology professor

If you enjoy teaching and working with the next generation of mental health professionals, consider a career as a clinical psychology professor. This role entails assisting students with basic and complex psychological concepts and practices, as well as leading research initiatives through your institution.

5. Psychotherapist

Within the field of clinical psychology, you may choose to concentrate in psychotherapy specifically. As a psychotherapist, you meet with clients in one-on-one clinical settings and develop care plans together that will bring about positive change. Often, psychotherapists specialize in one counseling method such as cognitive behavioral therapy or hypnotherapy.

How to become a licensed clinical psychologist

To become a practicing clinical psychologist, you need to obtain licensure. Licensure requirements differ by your location; each state has specific steps you need to take to obtain a license.

If you’re interested in becoming a licensed clinical psychologist, be sure to take your time and look into your state’s requirements.

Learn more about Clinical Psy.D. Programs and Careers

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology programs prepare students for careers in a wide range of settings, including nonprofit, health care, community, and the government.

Building upon a strong base of coursework, theory, science, and practice, and guided by our practitioner-scholar faculty, our graduates are well prepared to provide assessment, intervention, and consultation to meet the needs of diverse populations.

Learn more by visiting our clinical psychology program pages or complete the form below to request more information.


Become a Clinical Psychologist

Careers in Clinical Psychology

One of the greatest gifts in working as a clinical psychologist is the number of available career options, options that might not seem readily apparent when working through the classes, papers, and tests of graduate school, but options that become reality after receiving a master’s or doctorate, and completing the requisite licensing requirements., a job search engine, confirms the positive outlook for the number of clinical psychology positions.

The website reports that from August 1, 2008 to February 28, 2010, clinical psychologist jobs increased by 26%.

This is an especially inspiring statistic since during those same months, the nation experienced one of the worse economic periods in history, a period called the “Great Recession” by some economists.

Many credit the recession itself for causing people to seek the services of clinical psychologists. Job losses and economic hardships have caused stress and distress among many. These stresses affect all significant relationships in an individual’s life, and also the ability to cope with major losses and changes.

Others cite two ongoing wars over the past 8 years and the number of service members, their spouses, and families as needing help in adjusting to the consequences of these wars.

Still others point to the increases in incarcerated individuals. In his award-winning essay “A Hive of Mysterious Danger,” Joseph Murtagh reported that over the past 30 years, the U.S. prison population has grown from about 200,000 to 2.3 million –  a number “roughly equivalent to the populations of Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Delaware combined.”

Murtagh, who taught an English class at the Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York, and whose essay first appeared in “The Missouri Review,” said that many in the U.S. often overlook the number of people prisons employ – 800 alone at Auburn.

In addition to the guards, haircutters, and teachers, many of those employed at correctional facilities are psychologists, social workers, and counselors.

This doesn’t include the numbers of children, spouses, friends, and other family members affected by one prisoner’s imprisonment, necessitating even more trained psychologists to provide psychotherapy.

Nor do the numbers reflect the victims of the crimes committed by the prisoners, those who also require psychotherapy to cope with and manage the harmful effects of becoming victims.

Where are Clinical Psychologists Needed?

In short, clinical psychologists are needed to help a vast number of individuals, in a large number of U.S. facilities and organizations. Here’s a list of some of the organizations and industries that employ clinical psychologists:

What do Clinical Psychologists Do?

Just as a large number of positions exist for clinical psychologists across a broad range of organizations, these positions require an equally large number of diverse duties and responsibilities. However, most of these positions require a strong component of the following:

To properly assess individuals for a range of mental illnesses, developmental psychopathology, cognitive and neurodevelopmental disorders, and maladaptive interpersonal behaviors, clinical psychologists must understand the empirical research on measurement and evaluation. In addition, they must be able to synthesize this large amount of research data, using the appropriate testing instruments for their client population.

Clinical psychologists also must be able to access the correct decision-making models in order to apply a diagnosis, using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-R). After diagnosing clients, they recommend a preferred course of treatment to other psychology professionals, or apply and administer the treatment plan themselves.

Additionally, clinical psychologists must be able to accurately assess the effectiveness of specific psychological techniques and interventions used in psychotherapy. These assessments are crucial for the healing of current and future clients.

Usually in graduate school, clinical psychology students gravitate toward one of the four main psychological frameworks, moving toward the theories and orientations for treatment that the framework supports. See clinical psychology research for more information about these frameworks.

But clinical psychology students also explore the theories of each framework, acquainting themselves with all the available treatment options, and the research supporting the effectiveness of one approach over another for specific conditions.

This more integrative approach to psychotherapy helps graduates who desire a more general position after graduation, positions that require an understanding of all available modalities, and the ability to administer them depending on the client population.

Specific Careers for Clinical Psychologists

Many clinical psychologists go into private practice, either solely or with a group of other psychologists. In 2001, the American Psychological Association estimated that about 65% were working in some type of private practice. Some of these practices specialize in one type of disorder, or psychological framework.

For example, some private practices form around psychotherapists adhering to the psychodynamic framework, a framework stemming from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic approach.

Similar practices are established with humanistic psychologists, or those who specialize in family systems or cognitive-behavioral therapies.

However, some practices employ psychologists regardless of their specialty, creating a facility that offers many different approaches and orientations for a wide range of problems.

For those working in medical facilities and other organizations, a clinical psychology career depends on the client population. For instance, a clinical psychologist working for a children’s hospital will need in-depth knowledge of neurodevelopmental disorders and psychopathologies related to childhood and adolescence. (see Adolescence Developmental Psychology).

Similarly those working for the court system as clinical forensic psychologists must understand how legal and criminal justice issues intersect with psychological theories and understanding. Forensic psychologists must also have in-depth knowledge of psychological criminal testing and evaluation methodologies.

And most clinical sports psychologists must know and be able to teach clients specific solution-based solutions, most often the cognitive-behavioral framework that specializes in quick, goal-directed interventions.

In summary, the industry or facility where a clinical psychology works will determine the type of specialized psychological theories and skills he or she applies and uses to help people heal and lead more functional lives.

Education and Licensure

To practice as a clinical psychologist, every state requires licensing. For more information on the type of degree required for this career, contact schools offering master’s degree programs in clinical psychology or doctorate programs in clinical psychology. These schools can help you explore all the available career paths for clinical psychology professionals.

Salaries for those working in the many fields of clinical psychology rank among some of the highest salaries of all psychology-related jobs, and the forecast for job growth remains strong for the next several years.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, increased demand for psychology services translates into a 14% growth rate for psychology professionals through 2016-2026. And, depending on education, psychological specialty, and experience, salaries for clinical psychology positions are expected to remain high.

Competitive Salaries for Clinical Psychologists

As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020, clinical psychologists, categorized under the clinical, counseling, and school psychology job sector, earned a median wage of $79,820. For clinical psychologists working in the offices of other health practitioners, that median wage rises to $90,640.

But salaries rise even higher as individuals in this field earn more credentials, experience, and certifications. The highest 10% of clinical psychology professionals earn more than $137,590, according to the BLS.

These individuals are licensed in their respective states – a requirement for all who want to work as clinical psychologists -and many have achieved additional certification in areas such as psychoanalysis, rehabilitation, forensic, group, school, clinical health, and couple and family psychology.

The middle 50% of all clinical, counseling, and school psychology professionals earn between $56,560 and $98,260.

* Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Where do Clinical Psychologists Work?

Typical places of employment for clinical psychology professionals are in offices of mental health practitioners, hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers, correctional facilities, law enforcement agencies, and other public and private organizations.

After gaining experience, many clinical psychologists enter private practice. The BLS reports that as of 2008, about 34% of these professionals were categorized as “self-employed.” Many also teach at universities and colleges, and some become self-employed psychologists and simultaneously teach.

Titles, Degrees and Other Requirements

Most positions for clinical psychologists require advanced degrees – master’s or Ph.D’s. Professionals in private practice usually have a Ph.D.

In addition to state licensing, most positions also require additional certification in specialized areas. And many positions require internships and post-doctoral work in these specialized areas, and require continuing education courses to renew licenses and certifications.

The chart below represents examples of job titles for clinical psychology professionals. The job requirements concerning education level, experience, and additional certifications will depend on the job specifications of the hiring organization.

Clinical Psychology Salary Vs Similar Occupations

Job Title*Average Salary
Clinical Psychologist$82,180
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists$96,270
Psychologists, All Other$105,780
Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary$77,560

If you enjoy helping people and want to enter one of the many fields of clinical psychology, request information from schools offering master’s degree programs or doctoral degree programs in psychology.


What Can I Do With a Clinical Psychology Degree?

Careers in Clinical Psychology

It is true that it can sometimes take a long time to earn a clinical psychology degree, but for many it is well worth the time, effort and commitment it takes to get it.

One of the main advantages of having an advanced degree (master’s and/or doctorate) in clinical psychology is that it opens up doors for you in a variety of different psychological industries.

For instance, with a doctorate in clinical psychology you can become a college professor, researcher, psychologist (in any field that provides services), etc.

You can also provide counseling services to specific groups: children, families, marital couples, ethnic and cultural groups, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, religious individuals, etc.

One of the best perks is that you will more than ly have more say in the hours that you work (especially if you have your own practice).

You can do a lot of things with a degree in clinical psychology and this article will help you chart the path to success.

Education & Training

To officially be classified as a clinical psychologist and/or teach psychology courses at the college level, you must earn a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in clinical psychology.

It typically takes between five and seven years to complete a post-graduate doctoral program in this field. While in your program, you will be required to complete coursework, a dissertation (an extensive research paper) and a supervised clinical one-year internship.

Some programs may substitute additional coursework, exams and an extended internship for the dissertation, but that is rare.

Moreover, almost all states require that you receive licensure and/or certification before you practice as a clinical psychologist.

It is important that you research your state’s requirements before enrolling in a post-graduate doctoral clinical psychology program.

Although a doctorate is required to teach and practice, there are plenty of other jobs that you can obtain with a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in clinical psychology.

Courses may include: human development, basic clinical and counseling skills, evidence-based practice theories, diagnosis and treatment plans, abnormal psychology, family systems, lifespan psychology, sociology, behavioral neuroscience, statistics, human diversity, research methodologies, psychological interventions, etc. It will take you approximately four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and 2.5 to three years to earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology.

Behavioral Health Psychologist

As a behavioral health psychologist, you typically work with clients in individual and group settings to help them overcome behavioral difficulties addiction.

That means that your job isn’t just counseling your clients, but also helping them identify triggers, learn coping skills, and generally helping them to function in a healthier manner.

You may work as a behavioral health counselor with a master’s degree and find many employment opportunities.

Child Psychologist

One of the most popular fields of psychology is child psychology. A doctorate in clinical psychology can allow you to work as a child psychologist at schools, inpatient or outpatient treatment facilities, juvenile detention centers, mental hospitals, clinics, research laboratories and/or private practices.

Your main responsibilities will include: teaching children and adolescents healthy coping and communication skills, helping children work through emotional distress, improving the learning experience for students, counseling mentally ill children and adolescents, providing academic guidance to students, altering unhealthy, destructive and dangerous thinking patterns and behaviors and providing support.

Your goal will be to develop tailor-made treatment plans for your clients that consist of a variety of psychological techniques, methods and strategies such as role–playing with dolls and/or writing in a journal.

Clinical Case Manager

With a background in clinical psychology, you might work as a clinical case manager. In this position, you would most ly be responsible for managing a caseload of clients with very diverse needs, though, in some employment settings, clinical case managers might specialize with a certain population (i.e., clients with eating disorders).

Primarily, your function would be to maintain periodic contact with each client, connect them with necessary resources, and help them work through problems. Some clinical case management positions can be found with just a bachelor’s degree, but you will find more job opportunities with a master’s degree.

Clinical Psychology College Professor

If you enjoy psychology as well as teaching others, a career as a clinical psychology college professor might be a good fit. Typically, psychology professors have had a number of years of experience working in the field, either in a clinical or research setting.

Once you have some experience, you can draw on those experiences to assist your students in better understanding key psychological concepts and practices.

Junior professor positions are often open to you if you have a master’s degree, but to become a tenured professor, a doctorate is typically required.

Clinical Social Worker

As a clinical social worker, your tasks might be to assist clients in two primary areas: procuring needed resources to live (i.e., job assistance, rent assistance) and helping them work through personal problems that are causing difficulties in their lives (i.e., depression, anxiety).

Often, clinical social workers are employed in treatment centers, hospitals, and residential facilities, though you can also work in private practice and other settings. Though some clinical social workers have just a bachelor’s degree in social work, many states require social workers to have a master’s degree in order to become a licensed clinical social worker.

Counseling Psychologist

If you pursue a career as a counseling psychologist, you may work with clients to improve their well being by addressing behavioral, emotional, and mental difficulties that have negatively impacted their lives.

Typically, you would meet with clients in a counseling setting, and talk through issues in a very personal and non-threatening way. Sometimes you might simply listen; other times you might help them build skills.

Many counseling psychologists practice with a master’s degree.

Medical Psychologist

As a medical psychologist, you work with patients whose physiological functioning is negatively impacted by their behavior. That is, you would address topics disease prevention and healthy lifestyle choices in the context of a clinical psychology setting.

For example, if a patient complains of constant, severe headaches, you would strive to understand the behaviors that might make headaches more ly. If headaches result from drinking a lot of coffee in the morning to wake up after not getting enough sleep the night before, you would work with the client to develop better sleeping habits.

Mental Health Social Worker

With a bachelor’s or master’s degree in clinical psychology, you can become a mental health social worker. Your primary responsibilities will be to provide counseling services and resources (under the supervision of a psychologist or psychiatrist) to clients and/or patients.

Some of your other duties may include: conducting crisis intervention groups, developing outreach programs for at-risk youth, helping clients re-enter the community, helping clients find housing, daycare services, sign up for healthcare and government assistance, taking clients to school, doctor’s appointments, etc. You may also help individuals work through social, work, family, relationship and/or personal issues.


With an advanced degree (doctorate) in clinical psychology you may be able to enter the field of neuropsychology. This field focuses on brain processes and behaviors. If you decide to pursue this career field, you will more than ly work at a trauma centers for brain-injuries and/or stroke survivors, hospitals (in the trauma department) or at a research laboratory.

Your main responsibilities will be to determine the extent of a brain injury or brain damage by assessing the patient’s cognitive performance. You will use a variety of psychological assessments, equipment and techniques to interview, observe, evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with abnormal brain function/activity and cognitive deficits.

Private Psychologist

If you choose to work for yourself in private practice, you might enjoy many benefits of being self-employed, being able to focus on an area of psychology that you enjoy the most.

For example, as a private psychologist, you may work primarily with children, people with anxiety, or specialize in mood disorders.

Private psychologists must possess at least a master’s degree, though it’s often prudent to pursue a doctorate to open up more job opportunities.


If you work as a psychotherapist, you meet with clients, usually in a one-on-one clinical setting, to assist them in bringing about personal change that helps them overcome problems or obstacles in their lives.

Psychotherapy is a form of clinical psychology that emphasizes the value of developing a trusting relationship with the client and relying on talking, listening, and relationship building to bring about positive change.

Rehabilitation Psychologist

As a rehabilitation psychologist, you would rely on the principles of clinical psychology to assist your clients in identifying mental illnesses, behavioral disorders, disabilities, and so forth, which have a negative impact on their ability to function normally. For example, you might treat a client for depression as it relates to the recent loss of a limb, such as their leg.

In the context of counseling, you might help the client build skills that help them minimize the impact of their disability or provide exercises that help them focus on the positive aspects of their life to help them overcome their depression.

School Psychologist

As a school psychologist, you typically use psychological principles to assist students in improving their ability to learn, improve their behavior, and address their mental health concerns.

Additionally, you might also work directly with teachers to develop age-appropriate lesson plans that support student learning and enhance their ability to develop the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in school and in life.

School psychologists usually have at least a master’s degree, of which part of the degree program is a supervised internship period.

Special Education Teacher

With a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology, you may be able to enter the field of education as a special education teacher.

Your educational background may help you provide services to students with mental, physical and emotional developmental delays and learning disabilities.

You may work with students that have mild disabilities or you may work with students that have moderate-to-severe disabilities.

Your primary goal will be to make sure that disabled students receive the best education possible.

Your main function will be to tweak classroom curriculum to ensure that your students are learning what they need to learn to function to the best of their abilities.

You may teach basic curriculum (math, English, science and social studies) at a slower pace or you may teach independent living skills (brushing teeth, bathing, paying bills, making decisions, cooking, socializing, etc.).

Substance Abuse Counselor

Another possible career path you can take if you have a master’s degree in clinical psychology is substance abuse counseling. It is important to note that some states will allow you to practice as a substance abuse counselor with a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology, so it is important to research your state’s requirements before enrolling a clinical psychology program.

With this degree, you will be able to counsel clients addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling and/or food.

You may also develop community outreach programs, and/or educate the public about the dangers of substance abuse. Counseling may occur in a private office or it may occur in a group setting.

You will primarily work at a substance abuse treatment center, hospital, clinic or private practice.

As a Clinical Psychologist What Will I Do?

With this degree, you may be able to assess, diagnose and treat a variety of mental illnesses and psychological disorders. You may also be able to make prevention recommendations.

You will primarily work at social service agencies, private practices, clinics, hospitals, drug and alcohol treatment centers, skilled nursing facilities, schools and/or research labs.

You may also work at rehabilitation centers and/or physical therapy facilities to help ease the emotional pain of arthritis and provide emotional support and counseling to those who have spinal injuries, brain conditions and/or chronic illnesses.

Your main function will be to help patients effectively cope with their conditions and/or situations. Some of the issues you may encounter include: adjustment issues (divorce, bullying, remarriage, self-esteem, relocation, etc.

), psychological/mental disorders (depression, phobias, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), etc.) and emotional distress (severe stress, deaths, loss of employment, decline in health, etc.).

Your main goals will be to help your patients work through their issues, receive the treatments they need to function and alter negative thinking patterns and behaviors so they can live a healthier and more productive life.

References and Further Reading


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