What advice do clinical psychologists have for aspiring clinical psychologists?

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We conducted a survey using LinkedIn to contact 194 clinical psychologists who are based in Malaysia. 75 (39%) of the clinical psychologists responded to our survey. The primary aim of the survey was to understand how much they were paid so that we could pass on that knowledge to aspiring clinical psychologists. If you would like to read the results of that part of the survey you can click here.

We also asked the clinical psychologists: “Is there any advice that you would give to aspiring clinical psychologists?”

We’ve collated their responses below. To make it easier to read we’ve conducted a basic thematic analysis (you can read more about thematic analysis here, it’s a type of qualitative research which you may have come across if you studied research methods in psychology).

We found the following themes:

We’ve included a brief explanation and representative quotes to illustrate the theme.

In addition to the 75 clinical psychologists who responded to our survey we also had responses from 23 trainee clinical psychologists (our survey also asked about the quality of training programmes which we will report on shortly).

We have quoted the survey respondents below. The trainee clinical psychologists’ responses are labelled ‘T’ and the qualified clinical psychologists’ responses are labelled ‘C’.

Don’t do it for the money (as there may not be a lot of it)!

A key theme that emerged was that there is not as much money in clinical psychology as some expect. Our respondents may have focussed on this aspect because it is a significant issue for clinical psychologists or it may be that this issue was at the front of their mind because we just asked them how much they earn.

Here are some of their responses:

C84: Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, not for the money because honestly, there isn’t much money. It is also difficult finding a full time position as a clinical psychologist so keep that in mind

C28: Figure out your desired standard of living first, and critically evaluate if clinical psychology can meet that expectation.

C31: I notice that most people enter the programme for the sake of the name and “high pay”. It isn’t a high paying job unfortunately and the job comes with lot’s of responsibilities. Do not take that for granted.

C6: being clin psych is not about earning, it’s the passion of working with individuals with diverse background

C97: Being a clinical psychologist is not about earning how much but what can we do to help other to grow and personal growth.

C46: In my opinion, the field is currently oversaturated. I hear of many of my juniors struggling due to the lack of job vacancies, with many being underpaid. If you are certain that you want to be in this field, then my suggestion would be to have a clear plan on what you could do should there be limited job vacancies when you graduate.

T59: The competition to get a job in this field has grown recently so i wish the graduates knows well about their future plan when they graduated and i hope the government helps adding up the number of clinical psychologist per hospital as the number of patients are keep increasing but there is a very limited number of clinical psychologist under government hospital

T8: It will be a difficult journey. Money will not be the top priority if you were to work full time. Try freelance if you are up for it. Just keep the passion going and always always, always have supervisions for case management and debrief.

Know why you want to be a clinical psychologist.

Possibly because of the lower-than-expected pay, clinical psychologists recommend that you really understand your motivations are for becoming a clinical psychologist before you commit to training.

C1: I would say have a think about the reasons why you would like to be a clinical psychologist – if it’s to help people, what sort of ways of helping interests you? If it’s to mainly provide counselling, there are other career options beyond being a clinical psychologist (for example, training as a counsellor or psychotherapist). But what interests you are specifically to do with areas of clinical psychology (learning more on psychological and mental disorders and its various treatments, conducting neuropsychological assessments, and also research skills to advance areas of clinical psychology) then you know you’re on the right path.

C89: Never forget why you started. Always remember to build and maintain your support system (e.g. makes going to therapy yourself on your monthly to-do-list). Lastly, this line of work is lonely by nature, and it’s a very very tough job, we must remember to stay connected with our peers and always practice self-compassion to celebrate such meaningful work we are doing! 🙂

C44: You will encounter obstacles along your road as a CP and when it becomes too overwhelming, take a break. Dont give up. Go back to your inner purpose of starting this journey. May you find the light you’re looking for!

C23: There must be a genuine interest in human beings and human psyche while understanding that you cannot save someone unless they choose to save themselves.

C40: Know your own calling and passion.

C54: Be clear on your goals, continue the perseverance and make connections.

C38: Focus on your values to help you stay on your track

C93: Don’t give up, be willing to learn, put in the efforts, be patient and persevere if this is what’s meaningful for you.

Be aware of what you’re getting into!

In the past it was necessary to have some relevant work experience before getting onto one of the clinical psychology training courses. There are now some courses that accept applicants onto their course even if they lack relevant work experience. Clinical Psychologists suggested that it’s important to know what you’re getting into, and work experience is a good way of finding out.

C82: Don’t rush into the course, gain some relevant work experiences first. Having work experiences would make you a more empathetic and understanding therapist, aside from building your soft skills especially counselling skills.

C87: Try and experience as much as you can before starting your masters course as it will help build a good foundation. Humility and openness are two important values I find important as a clinical psychologist. Be very open to learning different styles of practice. You’ll find a good balance and make it your own. Good luck to all aspiring clin psychs!

T69: Gear yourself with enough coping skills before starting the course, and allow yourself the opportunity to attend your own personal therapy too, so you know what it feels like to be on the other side of the couch 🙂

C87: Go out and gain as much experience working with people from diverse backgrounds. Get involved in volunteering.

C18: Reach out to ex-students to gain better idea of the program & expectations.

C100: Understand what actually is the job scope of a clinical psychologist

C15: Not every courses offered are similar in terms of the syllabus. Certain universities produced students with poor theoretical and clinical skills. So choose your course wisely.

T83: I would say having some forms of clinical experience might be a plus point for getting yourself enrolled in institutions.

T11: Try to get as much information before enrolling for the course since it’s very important to know you will not drop out due to overwhelming workload.

C10: This field takes ample dedication and time to complete, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

It’s difficult! Be prepared to work hard!

Clinical Psychologists warned that both the training to become a clinical psychologist and the career itself can be very challenging. However, many felt that despite the difficulty it was worthwhile to them.

C18: Be prepared to endure jam-packed schedule & stress during the course.

C73: The training period will be very hard but it’s all worth it. Take all constructive criticisms given by supervisors as it will help you a lot especially when you practice as a Clinical Psychologist.

C79: The journey is arduous and filled with many barriers/challenges, particularly in Malaysia’s current mental healthcare climate. There may be times where you question your decision to enter this field or feel lost in what you’re doing. Stay true to your values and the reason why you chose to be a CP, and know you’re not a failure for not always being the “perfect” therapist.

C35: caution: not for the faint hearted. but tremendously rewarding. proceed with care ♥️

T92: It’s one of the toughest journeys of my life so far (and I’ve been through various traumatic situations). But I can assure you that the rewards will be great!

C68: Imposter syndrome always present no matter how many experience you have. Learning is the only way to cope

C37: Just be aware that no two days are alike And It will be great if you work on time management

Expect to learn continuously throughout your career.

Many of our clinical psychologists emphasised the importance of continuously learning through the training course and beyond into your career.

C75: You won’t learn everything from your training and that’s okay. Being a clinical psychologist means you’re constantly learning and training and evolving. Being open to learn and grow and change for the better while staying accountable matters a lot.

C43: Graduating with a Master in Clinical Psychology does not mean that your learning stops there. Please continue joining all the workshops/courses conducted as well as engage in continuous supervision sessions; be it with a supervisor as well as with fellow peers.

C54: Read more, including but not limited to books and journal articles. Can also listen to podcasts to learn. Don’t be afraid of asking questions and do know that it’s the best time to make mistakes during the 2-year Master’s course. We learn the most from our mistakes.

C61: Keep learning, research, practice n share knowledge by teaching n supervising

C98:Continue to have the passion for learning

T74: Never stop learning. Read new interpretative techniques especially for neurodevelopmental disorders. There are often times where you might feel overwhelmed but look back at what you have done and where you are at. Don’t give up, you’re almost there!!!

T102: Save up money before starting your course because you will need it for professional development hours that you will need to collect as a trainee because most workshops have a fee. Usually, the average is RM200 per workshop/training (rarely can you find cheaper ones), ranging from RM70-550. So start saving at least RM1000, the more the better.

C33: Gain as much as you can during your training program. Get use to having a growth mindset, as continuous learning is important in this field of work.

C101: Keep learning, embrace uncertainty, always check yourself, get peer supervision and always be ethical.

T16: Never stop learning and be humble; that’s what my lecturer always advises me.

Remember to take care of yourself!

Given the challenges involved with a career in clinical psychology and their (hopefully) caring nature our clinical psychologists encouraged aspiring clinical psychologists to take care of themselves too.  

T72: Try to be keep yourself motivated and work hard, in the end it will all be worth it. Dont forget about self care!!

C67: don’t be pressured to know everything from the get go, you’ll still continue to learn and grow even after you’ve graduated and working

C52: Take care of your mental health first before taking care of others.

T96: Time management is key, and don’t forget to take a break!

C77: Be comfortable with making mistakes and know your limitations as a clinician. Your mental health matters as much as your clients’, if not more.

C28: Start with finding out what’s best for you in terms of dealing with your thoughts and emotions, it’d help a lot when you start meeting clients (so you know how to regulate yourself first when it gets tough). By doing so, you’d also get to understand better how hard it is for your clients (even harder for those who lack hope or motivation) to practice adaptive coping strategies. Practice what you preach.

C55: It’s important to have a good social support during your training because it will not be easy and you need peers to discuss your cases with. Keep asking your supervisors, friends, or other practitioners for their input! Discussion is the most important. Don’t get discouraged if a client does not improve or commit or drops out from your sessions, you’ll have to get used to the rejection.

C56: Get enough rest, whenever you can 🙂

C10: During the course, it’s important to establish boundaries between work and your personal life, regardless of your training or supervisor’s requests. Know what you need, as your well-being can impact your client’s wellbeing.

Be humble & recognise your own limitations.

Another theme that emerged was that of being humble and recognising what you don’t know.

C63:Know that becoming a clinical psychologist is the start and not the end. Always be humble to learn and never cause harm to the client. Seek supervision or professional support if unsure about the case or approach.

C65: Since I am new myself, I don’t have a lot of things to tell. But what I can say as someone who still remembers what it was like before this, it is okay to take one step at a time. When I first started training, there were a ton of things I didn’t know and I often question if everyone felt the same. Having reached this point, I can say yes, we all are a little bit clueless in the beginning. But slowly and surely, you will learn more things and gain more experience.

C25: Be humble and open when you decide to be a psychologist. I noticed a lot of my peers struggle with grasping the reality of systemic issues in the client’s environment with connecting with them, eg struggling to understand the external factors of economic issues or adverse living conditions affect mental health. This indirectly would perpetuate the misconception that clin psychs appear “cold”.

T16: Never stop learning and be humble; that’s what my lecturer always advises me.

Connect and learn from others

Several clinical psychologists pointed out the importance of connecting with others and learning from them (including clients).

C33: Stay in touch with peers, lecturers, supervisors, and establish your network among clinical psychologists in the country, so that you can engage in supervision and peer supervision once you are out there working.

T17:Meeting a good clinical supervisor will be very beneficial in the long run, as there will be many instances where I, as a new trainee, will lack confidence in my clinical impressions and judgments. Having to meet with one good supervisor increased my confidence in my clinical competency and helped me confront my glaring weaknesses that could jeopardise my professionalism. Peer discussion and support groups were also beneficial because our batchmates were experiencing similar difficulties, and knowing that there was a group of people who would support us gave me a lot of strength in completing my clinical training.

T9: We are not only teaching our clients the therapy skills, but we are also learning from them. It goes both ways. What we learn in theory is not always the same as the real-life experience of the client. There’s always something new to learn from everyone you meet. Always be open to learning and take care of your mental health as well!

Clinical Psychology needs a wide range of people with different characteristics.

C19: You can still be a good clinical psychologist albeit being an introvert.

C48: If pain & suffering are your weaknesses & you doubt yourself if you could handle them in your line of work, use your weaknesses as a strength to help reduce other’s pain & suffering. All in all, be passionate, empathetic, authentic & do it all with a dash of style.

Encouragement

Our respondents also gave plenty of encouragement to those thinking of becoming a clinical psychologist!

T24 All the best!

T31: You can do it!

C61: “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”

C81: Keep going and don’t give up ❤️

T20 Let’s spread mental health awareness together and reduce stigma in mental disorders in Malaysia

C29: Keep it up! Malaysia need more clinical psychologist!

C14: You’re greatly needed. Leave KL and you’ll find so much more opportunities in other states of Malaysia.

C36: Be passionate and persistent

C76: Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later. Take a good care of yourself too.

C2: Be open and curious

C23:: Keep Moving Forward

What are your thoughts or opinions?

What do you think of our responding clinical psychologist’s advice? Do you have anything else to add? If so please use the comments box below.

If you are a clinical psychologist who would like to add your own thoughts by completing our survey please contact us on LinkedIn or using your work email (so I know that you are a clinical psychologist). You can email info@resolve.my.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Dr, I’m from Bangladesh I have completed my bachelors (Hons) in Psychology from UCSI University Malaysia. First of all, I want to become a practicing Clinical Psychologist as well as work as a lecturer or professor in a University.
    I wanted to ask what are the steps I should take in order to achieve these goals? I’m confused in which country I should apply for my masters as my aim is to practice abroad.
    I know that Canada has good opportinities for that but the tuition fee is so much higher there. And also if I’m not wrong, a masters degree is not enough in canada to become a registered psychologist, I would need a Phd as well.
    But in Australia, I could get registered as a psychologist right after I complete my masters degree. But considering I also want to become a lecturer, I definitely need my Phd as well right? So ultimately in order to become a practicing psychologist and a lecturer in this field, I would have to get a masters and Phd degree both. So, what career path or steps would you suggest me?
    Do you think it would be wise for me to do my masters in Malaysia and then apply for a Phd in Canada or Australia?
    I was thinking of a career in Malaysia but Malaysia has really strict work permit rules for foreigners. So will it help if I get a degree from Canada, Australia or Uk and then try to apply in Malaysia?
    I will be very grateful for your advice as you have experience working in your own country as well as Malaysia. Please suggest me what steps would be ideal in my case and also the countries I could try applying to. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

    • Hi Wamia, I’m less sure of the rules of Australia and Canada as I haven’t worked in either location. If you are applying to the UK the first step would be to prove that your degree is equivalent to a British psychology degree. If the degree is not considered equivalent then you would need to do a masters conversion course before you could apply to to study clinical psychology in the UK. I would imagine that Australia and Canada have a similar system but you could check by going to the websites of some of the clinical psychology courses in those countries and checking what the entry requirements are. A masters from Malaysia won’t necessarily be accepted in other countries so you would need to check. If you had a clinical psychology qualification from Canada or Australia then you should be able to work in a university if you wanted to. In regards to working in Malaysia the challenge will be getting a visa. Even if you have a qualification from Canada it would still depend on whether you could find an employer to apply for a visa for you. The universities are the most likely to be able to do this.

      • Thank you so much for your reply.
        As I have previously mentioned, I did my bachelors of arts (Hons) in Psychology at UCSI university, Malaysia. I have recently tried to apply for a masters degree in Clinical Psychology in Australia but they advised me to do a graduate diploma in psychology which is for a year and then apply for the two years masters degree. It is a requirement that my bachelors degree has to be acreditated by APAC in order to get into a masters degree in Clinical Psychology in Australia. I’m really concerned now if I should do the graduate diploma for a year and then do my masters in Australia or should I try somewhere else such as USA or canada as I think they will directly accept me into their masters program.
        However, the journey to become a registered clinical psychologist is longer in countries like usa/canada/uk as I have to get a Phd first. But in Australia, I could apply for a registration after my masters degree and supervised training.

        Sorry for the long message Dr. Dan , but I really need your advice as you have valuable experience in this field. Which path would you suggest in my case?

        • Hi Wamia, as mentioned in my last post I suspect that most western countries (including the USA and Canada) would ask you to do a diploma or conversion masters before you can train as a clinical psychologist. These countries are less likely to assume that your USCI degree is equivalent to a psychology degree in their own country. I think both Canada and the USA require you to do a doctorate to become in clinical psychologist. So I would double check to see if the masters courses that you are looking at in the USA or Canada would allow you to work clinically. There are masters courses with the title ‘clinical psychology’ in the title but they don’t necessarily qualify you to work as a clinical psychologist.

          Unfortunately, getting qualified as a clinical psychologist is generally a long and expensive pathway, particularly in western countries. I don’t know of any sources of funding you can apply to. So the first step is probably to determine if you have enough finances to afford the whole process as you’re unlikely to be able to work part time whilst you are training to pay for the course. After that you’d need to look at how competitive it is to get on clinical psychology training in that country.

          • Thank you Dr. Dan, your suggestions were extremeley helpful. I’m now considering all the factors before applying for my masters degree.

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