What Career Paths are Available to Those With Doctorates in Clinical Psychology?

Although it is difficult to get into strong graduate programs in clinical psychology, those students who do will have a number of career options open to them upon obtaining their doctorate. Typically, clinical psychology graduates choose careers either in academia or clinical practice, or in some combination of these two options. Many graduate students try to pursue a career in academia, typically as professors in Psychology or Psychiatry departments at universities. Academic positions in clinical psychology are very competitive, especially at the best universities. For example, for a recent clinical position at the Assistant Professor level here at Northwestern University we received over 50 applications, at least a dozen of which were of very high quality. Most of these top applicants likely received other job offers, or almost certainly will receive them eventually. Many of the others, however, will not obtain an academic appointment, but will work primarily in applied clinical settings, such as hospitals or mental health centers, or in individual or group private practice settings.

Other students enter graduate school in clinical psychology in order to pursue careers as psychotherapists. Although some of these students enter traditional PhD clinical psychology programs, others enter the more recent PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) programs, which generally have a stronger emphasis on hands-on training in clinical assessment and therapy, and a weaker emphasis on clinical research. Students graduating from PsyD Programs are typically not prepared to compete for careers in academic settings, although they are competitive for clinical practitioner jobs.

Other students enter graduate school in clinical psychology in order to pursue careers as psychotherapists. Although some of these students enter traditional PhD clinical psychology programs, others enter the more recent PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) programs, which generally have a stronger emphasis on hands-on training in clinical assessment and therapy, and a weaker emphasis on clinical research. Students graduating from PsyD Programs are typically not prepared to compete for careers in academic settings, although they are competitive for clinical practitioner jobs. However, with changes in health-care insurance the future of clinical psychology practice as we know it today is unclear, and students would be well advised to talk with practicing clinical psychologists before making a commitment to pursue a career as a clinical psychologist in private practice. Our best advice to you, given the uncertainty of the field, is to keep your options as open as possible, which means trying to attend a graduate program that will prepare you for a career in either academics or practice.