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What Are The Different Career Paths in Clinical Psychology?

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Published on: 05/03/2020
Last Updated: 12/14/2023
10 minute read

What Are the Different Career Paths in Clinical Psychology?

After months of going back and forth about what career path suits you best, you've decided to pursue a career in clinical psychology. Now what? As a psychology student, learning about the different jobs available to you can help you discover which clinical psychology careers you're interested in. Keep reading to learn more about the clinical psychology degree and the various career options in this field.

Becoming a Clinical Psychologist

A psychology degree program trains you to competitively pursue diverse careers with clinical psychology knowledge and skills. To become a clinical psychologist, you must first obtain a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field. After receiving a bachelor's degree in psychology, most psychology graduates continue their education and acquire a master's or doctoral degree in a more specific field whether to be a school psychologist, psychology teacher, or mental health counselor. While there are many psychology majors and minors to choose from, pursuing a bachelor's, master's, or doctorate in clinical psychology accredited by the American Psychological Association is recommended if your goal is to become a clinical psychologist.

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What is a Clinical Psychologist? 

A clinical psychologist is a psychologist who works with their patients to diagnose and help improve a range of mental, psychological, and emotional issues. A licensed clinical psychologist can work one on one with individuals, or in some cases, apply their skills to groups and families. In clinical psychology jobs, the first step is to conduct a series of interviews and tests upon meeting the patients which will help the psychologist fully understand what the patient is struggling with. After better understanding their patient's mindset, the clinical psychologist will then design a treatment plan designed to help improve the patient's well-being.

When choosing a specialty, a clinical psychologist can elect to specialize in different fields such as health, school psychology, neuropsychology, and more. No matter which area in professional psychology you choose to specialize in, it's important to remember that in clinical psychology, there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach. Each person is unique, and even patients struggling with similar problems will handle these obstacles differently. It's the job of the clinical psychologist to assess each person on an individual level and develop a customized treatment plan.1

What is Counseling Psychology?

In contrast to clinical psychology, a counseling psychologist often works with patients who have less severe psychological problems. Their psychology job and practice is centered around emotional, social and physical issues that can arise from ordinary life stresses such as issues associated with work, school, or family life. Counseling psychologists regularly see patients struggling with relationship problems, a difficulty to adapt, or even for career outlook advice. Training for counseling psychology often highlights multiculturalism in addition to accompanying humanistic beliefs. Employment opportunities for counseling psychologists may include roles like university counselor, teacher, supervisor, and researcher.2 

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To help you better understand clinical psychology jobs, let's take a look at the different clinical psychology career paths available.

1. Child Psychologist

If you enjoy working with children, then you may discover that child psychology is your calling. Children's emotions vary significantly from adults, as do the stressors that they encounter daily. Because of this, children have very specific mental health needs in which a licensed psychologist must address on a case to case basis. Child clinical psychologists help treat children who are suffering from mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders. They help their patients cope with pressure from school transitions, neglect, abuse, divorce, and death. When working with children, a psychologist must first develop trust. To help the child feel more comfortable, often, a child's guardian or caretaker will remain in the room with the licensed psychologist enabling the child to feel safe.

While some child clinical psychologists practice in clinical settings, working one on one with patients, others take a more behind the scenes approach and work in research positions alongside academic, government, and private institutions. The job opportunities for a child psychologist are generally excellent, as there is a high demand for psychological services in schools, hospitals, and mental health centers.3 

2. Health Psychologist

Emerging as a new brand of psychology in the 1970's, health psychology was designed to determine how biological, social, and psychological factors influence health and illness. The role of a health psychologist is to examine how an individual's overall health affects their psychological characteristics. Aiming to promote a healthy lifestyle, health psychologists help individuals abstain from unhealthy physical, social, and emotional behaviors. A health psychologist analyzes all factors that could potentially affect an individual to determine if there is a connection between their health and the choices that they've made. Once the psychologist establishes a relationship between the two, they can then form a treatment plan. Treatment plans can vary from everything from intervention to therapy. During treatment, health psychologists work to better educate their patients about how their health issues are affecting their well-being.4 

3. Neuropsychologist 

When it comes to neuropsychology, it's all about the brain. Among the clinical psych jobs, the goal of neuropsychology is to understand the relationship between brain disorders like Alzheimer's Disease and mental health disorders. By identifying a connection between the two, a licensed clinical psychologist can develop a more effective treatment plan for the patient. While several mental diseases do not display deformity, some mental disorders can and do originate with brain damage and require a psychological evaluation. If a neuropsychologist suspects that their patient has behavior or cognitive abnormalities, they will perform tests to determine the cause. After identifying the cause, they will then create a treatment plan based on the needs of the patient.

Below are just a few of the many conditions neuropsychology can treat:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Brain Tumors
  • Epilepsy
  • Sports Concussion
  • Dementia
  • Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Learning disorders
  • Alzheimer's Disease

To become a neuropsychologist, individuals must obtain a doctorate and license. They must also complete a two-year residency in neuropsychology or a related discipline.5 

4. Substance Abuse Psychologist

A substance abuse psychologist is someone who specializes in treating patients who are chemically dependent on a substance like drugs or alcohol. Though most patients are already addicted to a substance, psychologists also work with individuals who fear that they will become addicts. Patients who are heavily addicted to substances like prescription medications require a reliable psychologist to help them overcome their addiction. When leading a patient through recovery, part of a psychologist's job is to help the patient identify and manage triggers that could cause a relapse. By analyzing a patient's behavior, a psychologist can better determine what the cause(s) of the addiction is and create strategies to help the patient overcome it. Though often challenging, the clinical psychology career path of a substance abuse psychologist can be extremely gratifying. If you're an individual who loves helping those in need, then a career as a substance abuse psychologist may be an excellent fit for you!

To become a substance abuse psychologist, individuals must have a bachelor's and master's degree in a related psychology field and complete all state licensing requirements, as well as acquire supervised clinical practice hours.6

5. Marriage and Family Therapist

Though no one enters a marriage thinking that they'll later need marriage counseling, even the most solid marriages can experience a rough patch. It's a marriage and family therapist's job to help a couple identify the underlying problems in their marriage and help to communicate them to each other effectively. Once issues are identified, the couple can then work with the therapist to develop new strategies to help better navigate their differences and ultimately save their marriage. Marriage and family therapists are also able to diagnose and treat mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. By providing regular counseling services, a marriage and family therapist can help the patient develop treatment plans, as well as refer the patient to additional medical doctors as needed.

To become a marriage and family therapist, individuals must obtain a master's degree in marital and family therapy, as well as a doctorate degree in the field.7 

6. Forensic Psychologist

A forensic psychologist is a professional who applies psychology to the field of criminal justice. Forensic psychologists are often involved in criminal and civil matters such as investigating reports of child abuse, providing psychotherapy to crime victims, and assessing competency. Those who work in the criminal courts will often conduct their own research, as well as analyze research from previous cases and professionals. Because the job of a forensic psychologist is profoundly investigative, these professionals tend to be highly intelligent, introspective, rational, and analytical. Students enrolled in our PhD in Psychology, Public Policy and Law online program are able to concentrate in Criminal Behavior where they gather the skills needed to have an impactful career in law enforcement and public policy. To better understand a case, a forensic psychologist may study past criminals and their crimes to determine why certain offenders commit the crimes that they do. While some forensic psychologists are self-employed, most find employment in courthouses, police stations, prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers.8 

Becoming a forensic psychologist takes many years of study and practice. The typical education for a forensic psychologist is as follows:

  1. Obtain a bachelor's degree in psychology
  2. Earns a master's degree in forensic psychology
  3. Pursue a law degree (optional)
  4. Earn a doctorate psychology degree
  5. Obtain a licensure
  6. Become board certified

7. Clinical Social Worker

A social worker has expertise beyond traditional therapy. They help people get easy access to resources like job placements and rent, and at the same time, address mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Social work calls for strong dedication to helping people with a deep understanding of psychological and social issues.

8. Organizational Psychologist

They focus on improving employee relations and performance within businesses. They conduct screening tests, performance reviews, and training sessions to improve productivity and employee satisfaction. This job demonstrates the application of one's clinical psychology degree in various sectors such as in human resources and administration.

9. Learning Disabilities Specialist

An educational psychologist creates educational strategies for students with learning disabilities. Specialists in learning disabilities often have educational psychology backgrounds. They play a pivotal role in educational settings. They work closely with educators, parents, and students to address and manage conditions like ADHD and autism. 

10. Behavioral Health Therapist

Therapists in this professional practice address issues like substance abuse, addiction, and self-harm. They work with individuals and groups with mental illness and provide long-term recovery strategies. Their work spans various settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

Clinical psychology is one of the most extensive specialty areas within psychology. While having an interest in a psychology major is a crucial part of becoming a successful psychologist, having a passion for learning and listening is just as important! Though we touched on a few different clinical psychology careers, there are many more out there! Whether you choose to specialize in a clinical psychology job like marriage and family therapist, or a career path like a substance abuse counselor, knowing the differences between the two can help you choose the ideal clinical psychology program.

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Sources

  1. “How to Become a Clinical Psychologist: Clinical Psychology Degrees and Careers,” LearnHowToBecome.org, accessed November 24, 2021, https://www.learnhowtobecome.org/psychologist/clinical-psychologist/.
  2.  “Counseling Psychology,” American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association), accessed November 24, 2021, https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/counseling.
  3. “How to Become a Child Psychologist,” Psychology.org | Psychology's Comprehensive Online Resource, accessed November 24, 2021, https://www.psychology.org/careers/child-psychologist/.
  4. NHS choices (NHS), accessed November 24, 2021, https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/explore-roles/psychological-therapies/….
  5. “How to Become a Neuropsychologist: Degrees & Career Paths,” CareersinPsychology.org |, accessed November 24, 2021, https://careersinpsychology.org/becoming-a-neuropsychologist/.
  6. “Learn What Substance Abuse Counselors Do: All Psychology Schools,” AllPsychologySchools.com, accessed November 24, 2021, https://www.allpsychologyschools.com/substance-abuse-counseling/job-des….
  7. “Marriage and Family Counseling Careers,” CareersinPsychology.org |, accessed November 24, 2021, https://careersinpsychology.org/becoming-marriage-family-counselor/.

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