You’ve given it a lot of thought and decided that you have what it takes to become a clinical psychologist. No doubt you are enthusiastic, and rightfully so. It’s a stimulating career, with varied avenues and an excellent way to help other people. The questions now are “What else should I think through?” and “How do I get started?”
How to Become a Clinical Psychologist
Qualifying to work as a clinical psychologist isn’t a walk in the park. Nor is it a short study. The average clinical psychologist takes at least 8-9 years to qualify. So before enrolling, take a bit of time to work through these 5 considerations. Then start your journey to becoming a top-notch, passionate clinical psychologist.
1. Consider Your Personality
A clinical psychologist deals with a range of illnesses and difficulties. For example, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder as well as bereavement and divorce. As with all vocations, there are certain personality traits which, if you have, are helpful.
10 Personality Traits of a Good Clinical Psychologist
- Agile thinking.
- The ability to remain unbiased.
- Good listening skills.
- Great communication skills.
- Problem solving skills.
2. Research the Field
While you have your heart set on becoming a clinical psychologist, it’s still worth looking at other options within the psychology field. For example, counselling, research, education psychology, forensics, neuropsychology and industrial psychology. It’s a broad field and finding your niche will determine how well you excel in it, as well as how much you’ll enjoy what you do.
3. Work on Gaining Relational Experience
The work of a clinical psychologist is relational. This means that it’s critical to have skills and experience centred on developing relationships so as to better connect with patients. It’s not something you have to study to get proficient at. These skills can be gained from personal relationships, volunteering and work experience. Think through what assists you to develop good connections with people. As well as what responses which have been helpful and those that haven’t gone so well during these interactions. Take yourself out of your comfort-zone by challenging yourself to interact more often with people you don’t know.
4. Carefully Choose Your Learning Institution
Not all psychology-training institutions are equal. And where you study matters for a number of reasons. The first is quality of education through rigorous theory, applied skills and experimental fieldwork training. In addition, the institution needs to be accredited as a South African Private Higher Education Provider. And their Bachelor of Psychology Degree needs to be recognised by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Secondly, a qualification which includes supervised placements is important. This integrated learning approach will expose you to a diverse range of practical settings. Which will allow you to graduate with experience and therefore be a confident, “work ready” practitioner.
5. Education Requirements are Stringent and Ongoing
When you start down the road of becoming a clinical psychologist, you’re in it for the long haul. Firstly, you need to ensure you have the necessary prerequisites to apply. Then consider the various study pathways to becoming a Clinical Psychologist in South Africa.
One way, is to complete an undergraduate Bachelor’s Degree that majors in psychology (or an equivalent) followed by an Honours Degree in Psychology. A second option is to complete a 4-year, honours equivalent Bachelor of Psychology Degree. After which, should you meet the minimum entry requirements and be selected, you can enter into a Master’s Degree programme. Programmes are highly competitive and have limited placings. Therefore, you may not be able to finish all your required degrees and qualifications one-after-the-other. Additionally, you might have to do each at a different institution.
To practice as a clinical psychologist in South Africa, you have to be and remain registered with the HPCSA. The HPCSA only allows those who have completed a full-time approved internship to register with them. This means working at, for example, a clinic, hospital or within a social-work environment for at least 12 months. It’ll give you hands-on experience as well as further augment the advantages you gained through your SACAP integrated learning approach. Moreover, it will make it easier to find employment once you’ve registered.
Part of your HPCSA registration requirement includes successful completion of the National Examination of the Professional Board for Psychology. This examination will be within the registration category you have selected. Once you register, you can practise as a professional clinical psychologist within both the private and public sectors.
Continued Professional Development
After qualifying and registering you will be expected to take ongoing courses while you practice in the field. 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.
Where to Study
The South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP), offers HPCSA-accredited courses. Within the SACAP Applied Psychology Faculty there are a number of options. Such as, a 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.
SACAP has a recognised work integrated learning approach. Thereby, combining teaching and learning, meticulous academic theory with practical skills and experience. SACAP has admissions officers available to assist you or complete your SACAP application online.