An academic and applied discipline, psychology concerns the human mind — its impulses, emotions, thoughts — and the behavioral patterns that subjects exhibit. Specializations in the field may involve the function and structure of the brain, behavioral assessment of specific age groups, or laboratorial research.

Clinical psychologists may invest their energy in both scientific and counseling approaches involved in assisting mental health and well being. Some professionals work as health psychologists, while others gain expertise in neuropsychology or child psychology. In all instances, clinical psychologists’ work primarily deals with observing and assessing human behavior in order to treat patients.

Students in a doctoral program in clinical psychology take their studies beyond established psychological theories and concepts to conduct their own research, and apply techniques in clinical settings under faculty supervision. As doctoral students advance, they focus more on applying their knowledge in real settings and conducting research.

Why a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology?

The doctorate in clinical psychology is integral for treating patients using scientific expertise. That is to say, while mental health counselors also interview clients and diagnose, their focus is on building a therapeutic relationship with their client to best assist them in their healing. In contrast, clinical psychologists apply their knowledge of the brain and human behavior to rehabilitate clients with learning disorders, neurological conditions, and other medical disorders that affect cognition.

Therefore, students enrolled in doctorate in clinical psychology programs more often than not, are those who want to work with patients at this level. Other students desire a
position at a university or college teaching psychology, conducting research or both. It is important to note that

It is important to note that Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology generally prepare students for academic work, whereas the Psy.D. trains students for practicing psychology. The difference it not always black and white, however, and these two programs tend to share many aspects of their curricula with one another.

How to Get Into a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program

As clinical psychology students move up in education from bachelor’s and master’s programs to the doctorate degree, it becomes more important to find a program with at least one faculty member with expertise in their subject of interest. If the potential for such a relationship is clearly lacking in a candidate’s application, it may impact admission into the program.

  • Competitive GPA scores
  • Minimum GPA in psychology of 3.5
  • Statement of purpose
  • Research prospectus
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Predoctoral internship in an APA-approved institution

Inside a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program

Doctorate programs vary considerably, but all require students to select an appropriate concentration (though their advisor and committee will provide guidance), apply for grants, and seek research opportunities.

Some programs have on-campus clinics where doctoral students conduct psychological assessments, and interventions under the supervision of faculty. Departments without this resource often ask that their students gain experience in partnering clinics.

While academic focus at the doctorate level turns from meeting core curriculum requirements to applying methodologies in clinical settings, students still take courses. For combined master’s and doctorate programs, fulfilling course work requirements is necessary for the first two years of the program. Classes you might see on syllabi from such programs include: ‘Psychological Assessment,’ ‘Psychopathology,’ ‘Practicum in Psychological Assessment,’ and ‘Ethical Issues in Clinical Psychology.’

Comprehensive programs may take up to seven years for students to complete, while doctorate-only programs typically require about four years. Of course, the duration of students’ education varies according to many factors. Some students take several years to finish their dissertation, let alone earn their doctoral degree.

What’s Next for Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Holders?

Graduates of Psy.D. programs in clinical psychology most often seek employment as clinical psychologists. Possible work environments include hospitals, research institutes, private practices, rehabilitation facilities or clinics. Depending on their specialization, some graduates may pursue careers in industrial-organizational, school or social psychology. reports that the clinical psychologists earn between $56,000 and $84,000, depending on experience. Job growth for this occupation is projected at 22% between 2010-2020, faster than average for all occupations. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reports that school psychologists earned median salary of $73,090 in 2012; top earnings were $110,410 for the same year.