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Earning a Clinical Psychology PhD: What You Need to Know

If you have a passion for helping people in mental or emotional distress and hope to further your education in psychology, a PhD in Clinical Psychology could be your next step towards working as a psychologist. 

While psychologists can work in research or lab settings, earning a PhD in clinical psychology will help prepare you to counsel patients in clinical settings like hospitals, schools, and correctional facilities. The PhD program can give you the tools you need to practice wherever you go.

In this short guide, we’ll cover the ins and outs of the profession and the degree.

Clinical Psychologists 

While you’re weighing the pros and cons of continuing your education in psychology, you may wonder if a PhD in clinical psychology is the best fit for your career goals. It’s vital to understand what professionals in clinical psychology do in the field before you embark on graduate school. 

Clinical psychologists are trained to help individuals with mental disorders. They can assess and diagnose patients as well as develop treatment plans. In order to perform these assessments, they usually conduct psychological tests and interviews. They may also do research in their areas of specialty. 

To  treat patients, clinical psychologists use a variety of psychotherapies including:

  • Group therapy
  • Talk therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Couples therapy
  • Behavior therapy
  • Psychoanalysis 

After receiving appropriate accreditation, clinical psychologists are uniquely qualified to work in a variety of settings including hospitals, schools, private and group practices, correctional facilities, and higher education institutions. Across clinical settings, many psychologists fulfill their passion for helping people in mental and emotional distress through direct interaction

with patients.  

Clinical Psychology Coursework

While clinical psychologists are usually hands-on psychologists who put their knowledge into practice in the field, their ability to do so is dependent on their rigorous education. During a PhD clinical psychology program, doctoral students will take courses that explore the biological, psychological, and sociocultural aspects of human behavior. 

To assess, diagnose, and treat psychological disorders, clinical psychologists must know the fundamentals of psychology, therapy theory and practice, statistics, and more.

So, how long does it take to get a PhD? Most Clinical Psychology PhD programs take a minimum of five years to complete. In addition to your coursework, you will research and complete a dissertation on a topic of your choice (after receiving input and approval from your advisors). Though, it is important to remember that there are different job opportunities you can enjoy when you pursue a PhD vs PsyD.

The Alliant Curriculum 

The Clinical PhD program at the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University will help you develop the skills you need to research, teach, and work in a clinical setting with diverse populations. Through your courses, you will learn the roles of family, ethnicity, living circumstances, and other factors on the mental and emotional state of individuals. A five-year curriculum plan culminates in a doctoral dissertation advised by a faculty member.

The first semester courses in the Clinical Psychology PhD program at Alliant might cover:

  • Methods for data analysis
  • Intellectual assessment
  • Research methods
  • The ethics of psychology
  • Psychology and the law
  • The foundations of clinical practice

During your first year, you’ll focus on foundational topics, learning the tools and techniques that you need to conduct your own research later on.

PhD Timeline

While the first year of the Clinical PhD is focused primarily on courses that ground your studies in essential theory and practical skills, the following years will begin to add other aspects to your education. 

The Clinical PhD can be completed in a minimum of five years. However, it’s important to keep in mind that some doctoral students continue to work on their dissertations past the five years stipulated in the curriculum plan. You will take rigorous courses and conduct research that will help you prepare to become a successful clinical psychologist after graduation, whether that’s in five or seven years after you matriculate. 

Identify Your Specialization

What kind of clinical setting do you hope to work in once you’re licensed? Do you want to help a specific community? Perhaps you hope you work with children. Many clinical psychologists work for causes that they have a personal connection to. Asking these kinds of questions will help you as you choose your courses and focus your research. 

Your clinical research and doctoral dissertation will guide your focus as a clinical psychologist. Once you develop the expertise necessary to help people in certain situations, you’re better qualified to work in a clinical setting that focuses on those individuals.

Identifying the communities that you hope to serve in the future will help you formulate possible research projects for your dissertation and prepare for a career after graduation.

To begin clinical practice, you’ll also need an appropriate license. While a thorough PhD clinical psychology program can help prepare you to earn your license to practice, it doesn’t guarantee you will pass the relevant exams.

Next, we’ll examine some of the requirements for licensure as well as how the clinical psychology doctoral program can help prepare you for licensure.

Licensure in California

The Alliant Clinical PhD puts you on the right track to pursue earning your license to practice psychology. 

In California, The Board of Psychology licenses psychologists.1 Since every state has slightly different requirements for psychologist licensure, it’s vital to learn the necessary steps in the state that you plan to practice in. All states require clinical psychologists to possess a doctoral degree in psychology. 

In California, there are also specific coursework requirements stipulated by the Board of Psychology including:2

  • Human sexuality
  • Substance abuse
  • Spousal abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Aging and long-term care

While you work with your professors and advisors to choose your courses, learn any additional coursework requirements for your state to make informed decisions for your curriculum. In addition to course requirements, another important component of the licensure process is supervised practice hours, which you can begin to accrue as a PhD student at Alliant.

Supervised Practice

You’ll need residencies and other supervised field or clinical training to prepare for hands-on work after graduation and to apply for a license to practice. Every state requires a certain number of supervised hours of experience for clinical psychologists before they can attain their license. In California, applicants for a license must work at least 3,000 supervised hours.3

At the Clinical Psychology PhD program at our Fresno campus, for example, our PhD candidates will have the opportunity to:

  • Start earning supervised hours –  The fifth year full-time doctoral internship counts toward credit hours for your degree and towards supervised hours for licensure in California.
  • Get hands-on experience – Candidates may find work at the W. Gary Cannon Psychology Service Center. This on-campus facility provides low-cost mental health services to under-served populations in the community. The PSC collaborates with local governmental agencies, school districts, and justice systems to provide mental health services on a sliding scale. A licensed psychologist will supervise you. The PSC addresses issues such as trauma and abuse, depression and anxiety in various patient populations.  

To count towards the 3,000 minimum supervised hours, each student’s internship must be accredited by APA.4 When you enroll in an internship through Alliant University, you do not need the ‘registered psychologist’ credential that is otherwise required to accrue supervised clinical hours.

Finally, after you’ve completed your degree, you must pass several psychologist examinations at various stages of your supervised hours. 

Invest in Your Education

The PhD in Clinical Psychology at Alliant is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA holds rigorous standards for PhD programs in professional psychology and requires our program to regularly report metrics such as attrition, licensure, and time to complete the degree. 

A degree and license will put you on the right path to pursue running a private practice, teaching at a university, or working in the clinical setting of your specialty. Invest in the next step to contribute to positive social change.


  1. “Applicant Information,”, California Board of Psychology, 12/29/2021. Accessed: December 29, 2021.
  2. “Frequently Asked Questions,”, California Board of Psychology, 12/29/2021. Accessed: December 29, 2021.
  3. Frequently Asked Questions,”, California Board of Psychology, 12/29/2021, Accessed December 29, 2021.
  4. Frequently Asked Questions,”, California Board of Psychology, 12/29/2021, Accessed December 29, 2021.

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