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Overview
What is this career?

Clinical psychologists are concerned with the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders. Some specialize in treating severe psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia, while others help people deal with personal stressors, such as divorce or the loss of a loved one. Clinical psychologists provide an opportunity to talk and think about things that are confusing or worrying, offering different ways of interpreting and understanding problems and situations. Sensitivity, compassion, good communication skills, and the ability to lead and inspire others are important qualities for people wishing to do clinical work.

Areas of specialization in clinical psychology are constantly evolving and new areas emerge continuously. Popular areas today include health psychology, neuropsychology, child psychology, and geropsychology. Clinical psychologists tend to develop further areas of expertise within their specialization, such as smoking cessation, traumatic brain injury, childhood anxiety disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Clinical psychologists work in a variety of settings. From their private offices, they often interview patients and give diagnostic tests. They may provide individual, family, or group therapy and design behavior modification programs. Other clinical psychologists work in hospitals, collaborating with physicians to treat physical problems that may have psychological causes (e.g., chronic pain). They develop treatment plans that patients can understand and comply with. Some work in universities, training graduate students in the delivery of mental health and behavioral medicine services. Still others work in physical rehabilitation settings, community mental health centers, crisis counseling services, or drug rehabilitation centers, offering evaluation, therapy, and consultation.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S Department of Labor, employment of all psychologists, including clinical psychologists, is expected to grow 12 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Job prospects should be best for those with a doctoral degree from a leading university in an applied specialty, such as clinical psychology. Demand for clinical psychologists will be driven by the rising healthcare costs associated with unhealthy lifestyles, such as smoking, alcoholism, and obesity, which have made prevention and treatment programs critical. As the Baby Boomer generation outlives the previous generation, geropsychologists will be needed to help people deal with the mental and physical changes that occur as individuals grow older. There also will be increased need for psychologists to work with returning veterans, who may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Culturally competent clinical psychologists are in higher demand as the nation becomes more ethnically and racially diverse. In fact, bilingual psychologists are particularly needed.

Opportunities & Challenges

Clinical psychology can be both a demanding and deeply rewarding field. Helping individuals overcome problems can be fulfilling. The unique concerns presented by each client allow the clinician to be creative when developing treatment plans. Clinical psychologists have a career that blends research with practice every day. Consider the number of settings in which you may find a clinical psychologist, including self-employment. This wide variety suggests that the doctoral degree in clinical psychology is quite flexible. At the same time, the road to a doctoral degree in clinical psychology can be a long one, so patience and perseverance are vital qualities. Conducting therapy can also be demanding, particularly with difficult clients, so there is always the risk of burnout.