Careers in Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologist talking with woman
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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 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 experiencing 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.


As of May 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for all psychologists is $79,010. According to PayScale, the median salary for experienced clinical psychologists is $89,716. The top pay for experienced professionals in this field is $124,000. Learn more about the typical salaries for clinical psychologists.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that as of 2018, there are 162,000 clinical, counseling, and school psychologist jobs. Employment in clinical, counseling, and school psychology is expected to grow 15% through the year 2028. The rising need for qualified mental health care professionals will contribute to a demand for clinical psychologists.

A 2012 CNN Money report ranked clinical psychology as #55 on their list of "Best Jobs in America." Quality of life ratings offered by clinicians gave the career top marks in terms of personal satisfaction and benefit to society. However, it ranked more stressful than some other professions.

Degree Options

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 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.

  • Helping people overcome problems can be extremely rewarding.

  • Differing client needs and challenges allow clinicians to search for creative solutions.

  • Opportunities for self-employment.

  • 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.

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.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. 2015 APA Survey of Psychology Health Service Providers.

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychologists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

  3. PayScale. Average experienced clinical psychologist salary.

  4. American Psychological Association. Funding stats.

Additional Reading

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."