Division 53 | Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What do child/adolescent clinical psychologists do?

There is an incredible range of jobs and opportunities for clinical psychologists ranging from private practice, consultation, and providing services in schools or health maintenance organizations to public policy and academia.  We have a couple of ways for you to learn more about what clinical psychologists do:

  1. Come to our annual career panel at the American Psychological Association Convention, where we have clinical psychologists talk about what it is they do and how they got to their current position.

  2. Take a look at our newsletter columns that interviews psychologists in various positions.

  3. Ask around your university and local community to talk with professors or psychologists that can answer your questions.

What do I have to do to become a clinical psychologist?

In order to become a clinical psychologist you must obtain your Ph.D. or Psy.D. by going to graduate school.  The information below regarding graduate school is more specific for Ph.D.s If you have any resources regarding Psy.D. programs or admissions please let us know!

How long is graduate school?

On average to get your masters degree and PhD it takes 5-7 years including one year of internship, but there is a great deal of variability depending on individual (e.g., work and family circumstances) and program characteristics (e.g., funding).

When should I start thinking about graduate school?

It is never too early to start finding out about the process of applying to graduate school, and to find out whether graduate school is right for you.  Great ways of doing this are:

  • Ask graduate students at your university or professionals in the community to get a sense of what different programs are like (e.g., work load, research, teaching, and clinical
  • Look up reference books on graduate school at your local/university library or through APA
  • Start preparing for graduate school by making sure you fulfill program requirements and obtain relevant clinical and research experience

What else do I need to do to apply for graduate school?

Most programs require you take the GRE’s, which include verbal, quantitative, and analytical sections. In addition, several school will require you to take a separate psychology subject examination (also part of the GRE). You should obtain information from programs to which you plan to apply regarding which sections are required and what scores are considered competitive. The GRE’s can be taken more than once and there are several different preparatory courses you can take.

Do I have to be a psychology major to get into graduate school?

NO!  Graduate students represent a diverse range of backgrounds and majors.  However, you should make sure that you cover certain psychology and development classes and get enough exposure to psychological concepts and research methods before applying.  (See “What classes should I take” below).

What kinds of classes should I take to prepare for and get into graduate school?

The best way to answer this question is by checking in with the graduate programs that you are interested in.  But here are some basic courses to consider:

  • introductory psychology
  • abnormal psychology
  • child development
  • abnormal child psychology (or developmental psychopathology)
  • statistics (a basic class and/or a psychology specific class)
  • research methods (within the psychology department or related field)

Do I need to do an honors thesis to get into graduate school?

Not necessarily.  The benefit of an honors thesis is that is shows to the admissions committee that you are able to develop and carry out independent research.  Writing an honors thesis also allows you to experience the complete research process, from initiating an idea to completing a final written product.  If you choose not to do an honors thesis, then you should find other ways of getting research experience and demonstrating your capacity for independent research.  One way to do this is to become a research assistant.

How do I get research experience?

Other than writing an honors these or completing an independent study project, universities are a great place to start.  Take a look at the psychology faculty at your local university and select someone whose work looks interesting.  Then contact the professor to see if they have a need for research assistants or more specifically if their graduate students need research assistants. Working as a research assistant can sometimes lead to a conference poster presentation, which is also a beneficial research experience. Other places where you can gain research experiences include: medical hospitals and universities, psychiatry departments, and community mental health centers.

How do I get clinical experience?

There are several opportunities to gain clinical experience.  For example, you can work or volunteer at crisis lines, residential care centers, battered women’s and children’s shelters, camps for children in need, and psychiatric hospitals.  Most places that provide direct mental health services to youth and families will offer relevant experiences.

Who should I get recommendations from?

The main thing to consider when requesting a letter of recommendation is that the person writing for you is someone you trust and who will strongly advocate for you.  You should ask each writer whether they feel adequate at providing such a letter for you.  You should have writers who can attest to your research skills, clinical skills, intelligence and overall character.

What are the different types of graduate degrees offered?

  • MS/MA – Master’s of Science or Arts – usually two years of basic clinical and research training and completion of a thesis
  • MFT – Marriage and Family Therapist – approximately two years of clinical training specific to marriage and family treatment issues
  • MSW – Master’s of Social Work – Case management, child welfare and advocacy, finding services for populations in need; typically training is completed in two years and requires a masters thesis.
  • LMSW/LCSW– Licensed Clinical Social Worker– Has a MSW and has passed an exam allowing one to be licensed and can conduct clinical work under supervision.
  • LICSW/LCSW –Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker – Has above plus 2-3 additional fulltime clinical years of supervision and has passed a qualifying exam to become licensed to practice independently.
  • Psy.D. – Doctorate of Clinical Psychology – Professional degree geared towards clinical practice and requiring approximately five years of training
  • Ph.D. – Doctorate of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology–A combination of research and clinical training often requiring completion of a master’s thesis/degree, preliminary exams (aka, qualifying exams or orals), a doctoral dissertation, and one year of clinical internship

How many graduate programs should I apply to?

There is no “correct” number; however, this is a decision that should be made with your major advisor or graduate students in your program. Application fees and travel/interview costs can be substantial, so you should attempt to limit yourself to programs that appear well-matched to your research, clinical, and training goals. Most graduate students apply to anywhere between 5 and 15 different programs.

How do I know which graduate programs to apply to?

There are a number of issues to consider when applying to graduate programs. First and foremost should be the compatibility between your training goals and the program’s curriculum. It is often advised that you select a potential mentor who has a program of research to which you would like to contribute. It is also important to consider funding and assistantship issues, geographical location, cost of living, and overall quality of life. In narrowing your search, you should meet with your advisor to obtain assistance and specific recommendations.

What are the different clinical internship training sites and how do I select the best one for me?

There is considerable variability in clinical internship sites with respect to setting (e.g., community mental health center, academic hospital, outpatient clinic, school), training philosophy, theoretical orientation, rotation schedule and format, supervision, funding, and research emphasis and availability. By visiting www.appic.org , you can search internships across the country on the basis of such things as geography, emphasis (child/family vs. adult), and clinical setting.

Other than an academic position, what are some career options available for someone with a degree in psychology?

More information available here