What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychology is one of the most popular concentrations within psychology. This area of psychology focuses on treating mental illness and psychiatric problems through observation, experimentation and psychotherapy. In most states, clinical psychologists are not medical doctors and do not prescribe drugs to patients.

Within this subfield of psychology, psychologists can further specialize in areas like child mental health, adult mental health, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, substance abuse and sports psychology.

What do they do?What is a Clinical Psychologist

The duties and responsibilities of psychologists depend on their work setting. Most psychologists work either in the medical field, in private practice or in academia as professors or researchers.

Medical field

Clinical psychologists working in the medical field coordinate care with a team of doctors and clinicians to treat patients. They assess and diagnose patients and provide short- and long-term care for patients facing psychological distress. Clinical psychologists in the medical field are also responsible for writing detailed reports on patient progress. These records assist the team of medical providers in giving the best possible care to the patient.

Private practice

Clinical psychologists in private practice have many of the same daily duties as those in the medical field. In private practice, a psychologist has more freedom over the type of client he or she wishes to treat and the hours he or she will work. However, most clinical psychologists do keep some evening or weekend hours to accommodate patients. Psychologists in private practice may also work as consultants or give expert testimony for the courts.


Clinical psychologists working in academia may work in colleges and universities as professors of psychology. They may also serve as research faculty and conduct experiments that study and improve current models of psychological treatment. Academic psychologists may also focus on solving a particular social problem, such as domestic violence or drug abuse.

How much do they make?

Salaries for clinical psychologists will vary depending on the amount of training, education and experience they have as well as the field in which they work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for psychologists in May 2010, which is the most recent data available, was $66,810. Psychologists in private practice often find the career more lucrative. The top 10 percent of earners in May 2010 earned more than $111,000. These figures can be compared to the national median for all occupations, which was reported to be $33,840 in May 2010.

Is this career right for me?

Before deciding on a career path, be sure you are willing to do what it takes. Becoming a psychologist takes a considerable time investment; most psychologists hold a doctorate degree. Psychologists also work with patients when they feel afraid or vulnerable and work with those who have mental illnesses. For this reason, psychologists should be very patient.

Psychologists should also have excellent communication and observational skills. Psychologists, especially those working with young children or those with dissociate disorders, must rely on their ability to interpret others’ actions and body language. Psychologists also spend a majority of their time talking with patients or their families and discussing treatment options with other professionals, both verbally and in writing.

Above all, psychologists must be trustworthy. Patients will not be able to progress through treatment if they do not feel they can trust their psychologist.

How do I become one?

In all states, psychologists must be licensed to practice in a clinical setting. While requirements for licensure vary from state to state, most states share a few key characteristics. Most states require an advanced degree (master’s level or above), one to two years of professional experience and a passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

While entry-level positions with a bachelor’s in psychology are rare, earning your bachelor’s in psychology can help you get your feet wet before making a sizeable investment in graduate school. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a psychologist, many schools offer online degrees in psychology. Brescia’s degree-completion program can help you pick up where you left off and finish your educational journey.

Exciting careers in psychology are waiting. According to BLS, employment growth for clinical psychologists is expected to be faster than average through 2020.

Other psychology careers to consider are: Child Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, or Sports Psychology.

Established in 1950, Brescia University is a Catholic, liberal arts institution founded in the Ursuline tradition of personal and social transformation through education. With the advent of BUonline, Brescia brings accredited undergraduate and graduate programs to students across the nation. Brescia’s commitment to a student-centered environment rewards students who seek success through meaningful careers and service to others.