To become a licensed clinical psychologist, you will need to complete a Ph.D. in psychology. How long it takes you to complete a Ph.D. will depend upon the exact program you attend, the career path you are pursuing and your own individual pace for conducting your research. However, in general, a Ph.D. in psychology will take you anywhere from four to eight years to complete -- and that's in addition to four years of undergraduate work.
The Role of the Psychologist
You can choose from among many different professions if you study psychology. Psychologists often serve in the role of counselor, meeting with individuals, listening to their problems and helping them to work through their mental health issues. Psychologists can also diagnose and treat mental health disorders. You do not have to provide individual patient care to be a psychologist. Opportunities exist for doing research and conducting clinical studies. Psychologists can also offer guidance at the corporate or organizational level. A Ph.D. in psychology will prepare you to serve in any of these roles.
Course requirements for a Ph.D. in psychology will vary according to the university you attend. Most programs include courses in contemporary psychological research, statistics, psychopathology, cognitive neuroscience and diagnostic methodology. Courses typically take three to four years to complete, depending on the hour requirements for the program. In addition to coursework, you will complete clinical training, internships, independent research and your dissertation.
The research requirements for each program are typically what take the longest to complete -- and these requirements can cause the most variability in the completion time for the degree. For example, at Harvard University, students must complete a first-year research project and a second-year research project in addition to the dissertation, which consists of original research. Typically, a dissertation is a book-length research project, though sometimes it can be a collection of articles. The goal is to publish the dissertation as a book or as a series of articles in peer-reviewed academic journals.
Most Ph.D. programs in psychology have a required clinical component. At Harvard, students are required to complete a one-year clinical internship. At UCLA, students must complete 400 hours of practicum training, which includes at least 150 hours of direct clinical service. Students are also required to complete a one-year supervised internship, which usually takes place in their fifth or sixth year. The purpose of these clinical components is to prepare students for working with patients and to provide first-hand research material. Some internships may even lead to full-time positions after students have completed their doctoral programs.
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