Clinical psychologists assess and treat people's mental and emotional disorders. Such problems may range from the normal psychological crises related to biological growth (e.g., rebellion in adolescence, inadequate self-esteem at midlife) to extreme conditions such as schizophrenia or depression. Many clinical psychologists also do research. For example, they may study the characteristics of psychotherapists that are associated with improvements in the condition of patients, or they may investigate the factors that contribute to successful aging, the development of phobias, or the causes of schizophrenia.
Clinical psychologists work in both academic institutions and health care settings such as clinics, hospitals, community mental health centers, and private practice. Many clinical psychologists focus their interests on special populations such as children, minority groups, or the elderly. Others focus on treating certain types of problems such as phobias, eating disorders, or depression. Opportunities in clinical psychology are expanding to include populations that have not been served well in the past: children, families, the elderly, inmates, inner-city residents, ethnic groups, and rural dwellers. These opportunities exist in clinics, in other human service settings, and in private practice.
In most states people with master's and bachelor's degrees may not independently practice psychology. They may, however, work in clinical settings under the direction of a doctoral-level psychologist. In some cases this work could include testing or supervised therapy. People preparing for careers in clinical psychology should investigate local licensing laws carefully. A list of state licensing boards is available from the American Psychological Association (APA) Office of Professional Affairs.
Regardless of state licensing laws, you should know that the APA, the main professional organization for psychologists maintains that a doctoral degree in clinical psychology (or 'counseling psychology' not 'counseling') from an APA - approved program is the minimum requirement for a qualified clinical or counseling psychologist. State laws are starting to reflect this standard. It may be impossible in the future to function independently as a professional clinical psychologist without a doctorate.
Doctoral programs can take 4-7 years to complete beyond the bachelor's degree. 'Ph.D.' programs require a theses and dissertation research project and qualify students for either an academic or clinical career (Be aware that academic jobs are hard to come by and require a lot of original research. Most students from Ph.D. programs become practicing psychologists). 'Psy.D.' or 'Doctor of Psychology' programs such as the one at Baylor are more like medicine's 'M.D.' or law's 'J.D.' in that their emphasis is on practice and application rather than research. These programs typically provide more supervised practicum experience and 'how-to' clinical application courses than Ph.D. programs. Be sure to pick an APA-approved program whether it be Ph.D. or Psy.D. There are about 150 approved programs nationwide with six here in Texas.
How can you tell if a career in clinical psychology is for you? First, keep an open mind and get information on all career options that may suit you. Free career counseling and testing is available through the Health Center's Counseling Services department (755-2461). Read all you can about a career and talk to people in the field to see what it is like on a daily basis (Reading about schizophrenic patients is quite different than treating them all day!). Get some volunteer experience related to the counseling field. Try to get a placement where you can "rub shoulders" with practicing clinical psychologists. You can get credit for such experience through PSY. 3V90.
Take courses related to the field of clinical psychology to further explore this career option. Courses in human development (including child psychology), psychotherapy and counseling techniques (PSY 3308), abnormal psychology (PSY 3321, 3319) group processes (PSY 3425), behavioral medicine (PSY 4312), and any course taught by Baylor's clinical faculty will help you decide about this career option.
Once you have decided on a career in clinical psychology, then decide upon and pursue a psychology major. A career focus will help you to get the GPA you need (about 3.5) to get in to a good APA-approved doctoral program. Get involved in Psi Chi to learn more about the field. Also, see an advisor to find out about all the unofficial requirements needed to get into graduate school. You may look at the process of settling on a career as an unofficial 3-credit course. Spend time on this regularly and you will be richly rewarded both now and later. Of course, you may change your mind. As Joni Mitchell says life (and university life especially!) is for learning and exploring. Even if you do change your mind, it won't hurt to really explore and commit yourself to a career path for a while. This may be the only way to see if this career suits your talents and interests.
Recommended courses related to clinical psychology:
PSY 3308 Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling
PSY 3330 Psychopathology
PSY 3350 Lifespan Human Development
PSY 3425 Group Processes
PSY 4327 Theories of personality
PSY 3319 Clinical Neuroscience
PSY 3360 Psychology of Gender
PSY 4302 Human Development
PSY 4312 Behavioral Medicine
PSY 4355 Psychology of Aging
Courses Outside of Psychology:
Anthropology: 3301, 3305, 3320
Social Work: 3313, 3382, 4329, 4342
Sociology: 3311, 3322, 3330, 3354, 3360, 4310