Become a Clinical Health Psychologist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Aug 28, 2018

Find out about the requirements to become a clinical health psychologist. Learn about the job description and duties, and see the step-by-step process to start a career in the mental health field. View article »

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  • 0:03 Clinical Health Psychologists
  • 1:15 Complete Undergrad Degree
  • 2:23 Earn a Doctoral Degree
  • 3:14 Gain Post-Doctoral Training
  • 3:56 Acquire a State License
  • 4:22 Obtain Certification /…

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Video Transcript

Clinical Health Psychologists

Clinical health psychologists use scientific knowledge to determine the relationship between physical health and behavior. They consider biological, social, and cognitive factors when assessing patients. These psychologists, in addition to evaluating and treating the symptoms of individual patients, may also educate larger groups of people and teach them about physiological elements of health. Community education on health issues, such as teen pregnancy or drug or alcohol abuse, may be part of the job as well.

Psychologists are trained to evaluate the mental stability of their patients. There may be a small risk of injury associated with this career should patients become emotionally agitated. Psychologists who work through a private practice usually make their own schedules, and many only see patients through community outreach programs on a part-time basis. Those professionals who work for schools or government agencies will likely work full-time, set schedules. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is $76,040.

Career Requirements at a Glance

Degree Level Doctoral degree typically required
Degree Field Psychology
Licensure and Certification State licensure is commonly required; voluntary certification is available from the American Board of Professional Psychology
Experience Related work experience through internships or residencies is typically needed
Key Skills Patience, personable character, analytical-thinking, communication skills, observational and problem-solving skills; knowledge of medical, analytical, spreadsheet, and accounting software
Average Salary* $76,040 (for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

Let's now take a look at the steps involved in becoming a clinical health psychologist…

Complete Undergraduate Education

The first step to becoming a clinical health psychologist consists of completing an undergraduate education. While a bachelor's degree in psychology may be preferable, it's possible to gain entry into a psychology graduate program with a number of different backgrounds. For students that do not major in psychology, graduate programs in this subject often require completion of coursework in psychology and statistics.

Success Tips:

  • Prepare for graduate admissions. Admissions to a graduate psychology program can be very competitive. Students can increase their chances of being admitted by maintaining high GPAs. Additionally, applicants are often required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the graduate school may only accept candidates who rank in a top percentile for this exam.

  • Gain practical experience. While experience is not mandatory for being admitted to graduate psychology programs, some admissions boards prefer applicants who have some form of experience related to psychology. Undergraduate students can gain such experience by taking paid or voluntary positions in clinical or research settings.

Earn a Doctoral Degree

The second step to becoming a clinical health psychologist involves earning a doctoral degree. While master's specialist degrees are acceptable for psychologists in some settings, doctoral degrees are typically required for clinical health psychologists. Some doctoral programs require students to earn master's degree in psychology first, though many allow applicants to enter directly into the doctoral program after earning a bachelor's degree.

Doctoral clinical psychology students complete courses such as research design, assessment and intervention, statistics, and psychopathology. Students will also take electives of their choosing, such as in family or pediatric psychology, and are usually required to complete a one-year clinical psychology internship accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Gain Post-Doctoral Training

The third step to becoming a clinical health psychologist is to gain post-doctoral training. After completing graduate school, most entry-level psychologists continue training for up to two years to complete the requirements to become licensed. Clinical health psychologists can gain this training through post-doctoral internships, residency training, or by working directly under established, licensed clinical health psychologists.

Success Tip:

  • Make professional relationships. The APA suggests that new psychologists attend workshops and conferences to network with experienced clinical health psychologists. This is a good way to meet new colleagues and find mentors who can impart wisdom.

Acquire a State License

The fourth step to becoming a clinical health psychologist is to acquire a state license. All U.S. states and the District of Columbia impose their own individual licensing laws on clinical health psychologists. The minimum licensing regulations usually entail that a candidate has earned a doctoral degree in psychology, completed an internship, earned one to two years of experience, and passed licensing exams.

Obtain Certification

The fifth step to becoming a clinical health psychologist involves obtaining certification. The American Board of Professional Psychology grants certification to psychologists working in specialty areas of psychology, including clinical health psychology. Board certification verifies that clinical health psychologists meet certain educational and practical experience requirements and pass an exam indicating their competence to provide quality service in clinical health psychology. Eligible applicants have doctoral degrees in psychology, have completed an internship and post-doctoral experience, and must be licensed as independent practitioners.

Meet Continuing Education Requirements

The sixth step to becoming a clinical health psychologist involves meeting continuing education requirements. Continuing education is usually required for psychologists to keep their licenses current. Each state sets its own licensure maintenance standards, though many states require renewal every two years. Additionally, board-certified clinical health psychologists are encouraged to participate in continuing education opportunities to stay aware of advancements and issues in the field. One added benefit of continuing education is that the new knowledge and professional relationships developed may lead to career advancement.

In summary, becoming a clinical health psychologist involves six steps, including:

  • Completing an undergraduate education
  • Earning a doctoral degree
  • Gaining post-doctoral training
  • Acquiring a state license
  • Obtaining certification
  • Meeting continuing education requirements
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