Training of Clinical Psychologists
Although some psychologists finish their training with a Master’s degree, a licensed, doctoral-level clinical psychologist completes a Ph.D. program lasting at least 4 years (more often 5 or 6), which is followed by a 1-year internship, and often a year or two of postdoctoral fellowship training as well. In the course of this training they receive good grounding in methods of psychological research, psychological theory, and related areas of knowledge, such as psycho-neurology and psycho-sociology (an understanding of social systems). In the internship and postdoctoral fellowship years they get experience in working with a variety of problems in different settings, such as psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools and community programs of different sorts. They are trained in several different approaches to treatment, although different programs have different “flavors” in this respect. Some are more psychodynamic, meaning that they focus on approaches that have grown out of the theories of Sigmund Freud and later related therapists. Some focus more upon behavior, and methods of learning more effective ways to respond to difficult situations. Others focus more upon ways to change patterns of thinking that cause a person problems. Recently, a few programs also feature ways to integrate psychological treatment with psychiatric medications. While emphases vary, a good training program gives at least a thorough introduction to all these approaches.
The doctoral dissertation is a serious and frequently laborious piece of scientific research. It must demonstrate mastery of scientific method, and make a real contribution to our understanding of human nature, mental illness, or mental health. These projects are frequently reported at professional conventions and/or published in professional journals.
In their internships and postdoctoral fellowships, doctoral-level clinical psychologists receive intensive supervision in their work with clients, a process that is personally very challenging as well as instructive. Many also elect to undergo their own personal psychotherapy, for the sake of their training as well as their personal growth.
After the internship and postdoctoral training, the psychologist can apply for doctoral-level licensure in his or her state as a practicing psychologist. This requires passing a demanding examination, and maintaining this license requires continuing education each year. After some requisite years of further experience, many also seek Board Certification as a specialist in Clinical Psychology or some related specialty (such as Forensic Psychology or Neurological Psychology) through the American Board of Professional Psychology. This involves a rather lengthy and difficult individual examination conducted by highly experienced clinicians. While Board Certification is not as universally sought by psychologists as it is by physicians, it is a good indication that the psychologist has high standards of practice, and has attained an advanced level of proficiency.