You’ve given it a lot of thought, you’ve mulled over the pros and cons, and you’ve finally come to a decision – you want to be clinical psychologist. But before you can build a career in this fascinating field, you still need to answer one question: how do you get started?
Here we outline the 9 basic steps you’ll have to follow in order to pursue your dream career in clinical psychology.
How to Become a Clinical Psychologist
1. Consider Your Personality
Being a clinical psychologist is not always easy. You may have to deal with patients who have severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder, or people undergoing serious difficulties, such as bereavement or divorce. In order to not only cope with the pressures of the job, but also provide the most effective and helpful service, you’ll need a range of personality traits, including self-awareness, empathy and an ability to be unbiased and non-judgmental. Good listening, communication and problem-solving skills will also stand you in stead. Be honest with yourself: Do you really have what it takes to become a psychologist?
2. Learn as Much as You Can About the Field
Clinical psychology is a broad branch of psychology that focuses on diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioural disorders, including substance abuse, depression, anxiety and eating disorders. While it is an immensely rewarding profession, it is not the only one available to you in the psychological field. Other professional avenues include counselling, research, educational psychology, forensics, neuropsychology and industrial psychology. Only after you have done a thorough analysis of the various careers you can have with a degree in psychology should you decide which one suits you best.
3. Gain Some Experience
All of the work of a clinical psychologist occurs within relationships with people. Therefore, the most crucial skills and experiences to gain are those centred on developing relationships with people. You can gain these skills in a range of areas, including from your own personal relationships, or from volunteering or work experience. It’s important to think about what assists you to develop relationships and helpful ways you have responded when things haven’t gone so well.
4. Choose Your Learning Institution
Sadly, not all psychology-training institutes are created equal. You should be looking for one that is, at the very least, an accredited South African private higher educational provider, and whose Bachelor of Psychology degree is accredited by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). In addition to this, it’s important to choose an institution that provides a mix of rigorous theory, applied skills and experiential fieldwork training. A qualification that includes supervised placements in a diverse range of settings will allow you to get invaluable practical experience under your belt so that you graduate as a confident “work ready” practitioner.
5. Earn Your Degree
Brace yourself! You’re in for the long haul. You will be looking at a minimum of five years’ full-time formal education in psychology. Before you can enter a directed Master’s degree programme, you will need a three-year Bachelor’s degree majoring in psychology (or the equivalent thereof), as well as an Honours degree in psychology.
6. Do Your Masters
Once you’ve obtained your Honours in psychology, you can then go on to study a Master’s programme, which includes theoretical learning, practical training and a research thesis. A word of advice: To get to this you’ll have had to pull out all the stops – only five to 10 students are accepted into each Master’s programme per year!
7. Complete an Internship
You will only be able to apply for registration with the HPCSA as a clinical psychologist in South Africa if you have also successfully completed a full-time approved internship of at least 12 months’ duration. This internship may involve working in a clinic, hospital or even a social-work environment. Your internship is an important part of your education: Not only will it allow you to gain hands-on experience of your chosen field but it can also make it easier to find a job when you eventually qualify.
8. Get Registered
To protect the public and make sure clinical psychologists are highly trained professionals, South Africa requires that you be registered to practice with the HPCSA. Only after successful completion of the National Examination of the Professional Board for Psychology, in the your registration category, will you be able to apply for registration. Once you’ve obtained this, you will, at long last, be legally allowed to practice as a professional clinical psychologist.
9. But Wait! It Doesn’t End There…
After becoming licensed, your training in psychology will be ongoing with yearly courses required for as long as you practice in the field. This is because, in South Africa, all healthcare practitioners are required to earn Continued Professional Development (CPD) points throughout their careers. Essentially, this means a lifelong, yet fulfilling journey of learning.
Widely acknowledged as the country’s leading provider of higher education and training in the field of applied psychology, the South African College of Applied Psychology offers both an HPCSA-accredited four-year Bachelor of Psychology degree and a three-year Bachelor of Applied Social Science degree that can be combined with a Psychology Honours degree as an articulation pathway into a Master’s degree in psychology. SACAP’s unique approach to teaching and learning combines meticulous academic theory with practical skills and experience and, as a result, the College’s graduates are widely respected for their knowledge, high levels of competency and personal maturity. For more information, or to download the relevant application form, click here.