How to become a Clinical Psychologist

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I wrote this guide because people often ask me how to become a Clinical Psychologist. Much of it is my opinion – others may have different ideas so I’ve included links to other sources at the bottom of this page .

What qualifications do you need to become a Clinical Psychologist?

To become a Clinical Psychologist you need to complete a Masters or Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. You may also need ‘Professional Accreditation’.

The rules and qualifications vary depending on which your country you plan to work in. I will use Malaysia (where I work) as an example.

Studying Clinical Psychology in your Home Country

These are the steps if you plan to study Clinical Psychology in Malaysia:

  1. Obtain a good grade in a Psychology undergraduate degree.
  2. Complete a Masters in Clinical Psychology.
  3. Become a full member of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology. This gives ‘Professional Accreditation’ in Malaysia.

Studying Clinical Psychology Overseas

If you plan to study Clinical Psychology at a University outside of Malaysia:

  1. Obtain a good grade in a Psychology undergraduate degree.
  2. Gain some relevant work experience (see below for more information).
  3. Secure funding to study overseas.
  4. Complete the post-graduate Clinical Psychology course required by the country that you are studying in.
  5. Obtain ‘Professional Accreditation’ from the country that you are studying in (or at least prove that you are eligible for that accreditation).
  6. Become a full member of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology.

An example: a Malaysian studying Clinical Psychology in the UK

This might be easier to understand with an example. A Malaysian wishing to study Clinical Psychology in the UK before returning to work in Malaysia should follow these steps:

  1. Obtain a good grade in an undergraduate degree in Psychology that is recognised by the British Psychological Society (BPS)
  2. Gain some relevant work experience (see below for more information).
  3. Secure funding to study in the UK (a three-year course is likely to cost more than 75,000 GBP plus living costs).
  4. Complete a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (a British Masters Course in Clinical Psychology will not allow you to work as a Clinical Psychologist in the UK and it will not allow you to work in Malaysia as a Clinical Psychologist).
  5. Apply and obtain Chartered Member status from the British Psychological Society (the legal body in the UK is the HCPC but BPS Member status is sufficient for people returning to their home country).
  6. Become a full member of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology

The legal situation

In common with many countries the current legal situation in Malaysia means that anyone can call themselves a Clinical Psychologist. Technically, that means you don’t have to follow any of the steps above. However, I would strongly advise that you do. Firstly, because clients need to know that you are properly qualified, competent professional. It will be difficult to get a job or attract paying clients if you do not have the correct qualifications. Secondly, a law has just been enacted in Malaysia and it is likely to be legally enforced in the near future. This will make the steps above a legal requirement (although you may need to apply to a government body rather than the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology).

If you are not a Malaysian, I’d advise using the steps above as a starting point. Do check the requirements for your particular country. Please share what you find out in the comments section below.

Work experience

Many clinical psychology courses want you to have work experience before you start studying. They want you to know what you are getting yourself into. It’s good to find out whether you like talking to people in psychological distress because that’s what Clinical Psychologists spend most of their time doing.

It would be helpful to gain work experience working with a Clinical Psychologist but it isn’t necessary. It is more important to spend time with people in psychological distress and learn from your experiences.

Most courses are happy to have older applicants who have some work experience outside of psychology. Many Clinical Psychologists started their careers in other fields. So there’s no need to rush into training if you’d like to try out other options first.

An understanding of research methods

Clinical psychologists are trained to be Scientist-Practitioners. Our practice is based on research evidence but we also approach each problem like scientists. For example:

  • We look at the existing evidence (old records, observations, information gathered in interviews),
  • hypothesise why the problem might be occurring and
  • then test our hypothesis by running an intervention.
  • We then evaluate our intervention and determine if we need to alter our hypothesis.

This scientific approach means that many courses will test your understanding of research methods.

Funding

It is usually easiest to study in your own country because overseas clinical psychology programmes are expensive. You can find a list of overseas clinical psychology courses that are open to international applicants here. Some countries sponsor their citizens to go overseas to train as a Clinical Psychologist. I don’t know of any international funding sources so please share any you find via the comments section below.

If you don’t have funds you could apply for PhD courses in the USA because they sometimes come with funding. You can also send a research proposal to professor. If they are interested in your project they may apply for a grant which would also pay for your PhD. This is most likely to work if you have know how to conduct research and have unique language skills or cultural knowledge that matches their interests.

Variation between courses & countries

The advice above varies depending on the course and country you are in. I have written more information for each of the countries below:

Information on Clinical Psychology Training Programmes

For a list of Clinical Psychology Training Programmes open to foreign students please see this page. You can also view the pages for each of the countries below:

UK


Ireland


Malaysia


Further Information …

I’ve included some links to websites that I have found useful below:

BPS Careers guide to Clinical Psychology

The British Psychological Society’s guide to becoming a Clinical Psychologist.


APA article on pursuing a career in Clinical Psychology

The American Psychological Associations guide to pursuing a career in Clinical Psychology also includes a ‘Meet a Clinical Psychologist’ section.


APS Study Pathways to Clinical Psychology

The Australian Psychological Society’s guide to the academic pathways you need to take to be a Clinical Psychologist.


18 COMMENTS

  1. if i graduate from australia’s master in clinical psychology, can i become a clinical psychologist in Malaysia unlike UK must doctorate?

    • Yes you can. In Australia you can become an accredited Clinical Psychologist by studying a Masters in Clinical Psychology. If you become accredited in Australia it is usually possible to get recognition in Malaysia.

  2. If i complete my masters in USA in clinical psychology, can i work at malaysia as a clinical psychologist while i do my phd at malaysia? Is tat possible?

    • No, unfortunately you can’t. There are no Masters courses in the USA that will qualify to work as a clinical psychologist. You need to do a whole PhD or PsyD there in order to be able to return to Malaysia and work clinically.

  3. Hi Dr Dan,
    1) Does MSCP recognize Clinical Psychology program (Ph.D) from Canada?
    2) Is there any disadvantages for practicing clinical psychologist in Malaysia if they are not registered under the MSCP? I was just wondering because I found a few practitioners that don’t have their names in the registry.

    Thanks!

    • If you have a PhD and a license to practice from Canada I think the MSCP would recognise it (they recognise my British qualification). At the moment registration with the MSCP is voluntary. It’s a good idea so that the public and others know that you have the right skills. In the future it may become a requirement if the Allied Health Act decides to use the MSCP to decide which Clinical Psychologists should be recognised (the law in this area is not currently enforced and it is not clear when it will be). If you already have a Canadian PhD and a license do send me an email.

  4. Hi Dr Dan,

    1) I heard that Australian accreditation in psychology is not as widely accepted in malaysia compared to a British accreditation, is it true?

    2) Would completing an undergrad and masters in psychology in Australia allow me to work in malaysia as a clinical psychologist?

    • I think Australian accreditation and British accreditation as a Clinical Psychologist are seen as equivalent in Malaysia and they should both be widely accepted. Once the Allied Health Professions Act is enforced in Malaysia then you will need to have accreditation as a Clinical Psychologist in Australia to be recognised in Malaysia. In order to get that accreditation you will first need to get an undergraduate psychology degree and then at least a Masters in Clinical Psychology.

  5. (British Masters Course in Clinical Psychology will not allow you to work as a Clinical Psychologist in the UK and it will not allow you to work in Malaysia as a Clinical Psychologist).
    Regarding the above, I wonder where did you get this information? Since I have never seen any official announcement from Ministry of Health Malaysia mentioned about it. Please let me know where I can find this information.
    TQ

    • The Masters Courses in the UK are only introductory courses. Completing a course with them will not give you a clinical qualification that allows you to work independently. You can contact the UK courses to ask them for verification on this if you like. From the Malaysian side, the new Allied Health Professionals Act, which is enacted but yet to be enforced, requires Clinical Psychologists to be registered with a licensing body. It is likely that the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology (MSCP) will be the regulator for clinical psychologists as the government has already been liaising with them. The MSCP does not and will not recognise the UK Masters in Clinical Psychology (they will recognise a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Australia if that masters makes you eligible for licensing in Australia).

    • Hi Kumaran, there’s a new law in Malaysia which is meant to legally protect the title of’ Clinical Psychologist’. When it comes into force Clinical Psychologists will have to register and prove their qualifications and experience meet the minimum requirements. Those minimum requirements will most likely be set by the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychologists (www.mscp.my). You could try registering as an international member with them to see if they accept your qualifications. However, at the moment the law has not yet been enforced so anyone can call themselves a Clinical Psychologist. If you’re from overseas the bigger challenge will be getting a visa that allows you to work here. You’ll need a sponsor (someone who wants to employ you) and unfortunately there are not many jobs available for Clinical Psychologists.

  6. Hi Dr. Dan. I’m considering to pursue BSc Psychology from University of Nottingham Malaysia. This course offered is accredited by British Psychological Society. May I ask if its possible for me to continue doing Masters in Clinical Psychology later on in local Universities such as UKM or USM? And is that enough for me to be qualified as a Clinical Psychologist or will I have to take up Phd first? (due to the BPS accreditation)

    • Hi Rina, I think it is possible to go from the University of Nottingham course to the Masters in Clinical Psychology at UKM or USM. However, most of the Nottingham students went onto HELP rather than UKM. If you take the Masters of Clinical Psychology course in Malaysia then you’d be qualified as a Clinical Psychologist in Malaysia. You would not be qualified as a clinical psychologist in the UK under the BPS or HCPC as that requires you taking a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology in the UK (a PhD from Malaysia wouldn’t qualify you in the UK either).

  7. If I get a masters in clinical psychology from UK. Which European countries will accept this degree for requirement for doctoral program?

    • I wouldn’t really recommend doing a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the UK. It doesn’t actually train you how to do anything clinical. It’s a course marketed by UK universities to UK students who are competing to get onto Clinical Psychology Doctoral courses. There’s some controversy over whether it’s even helpful for UK students to study it. I’d recommend saving your money and applying directly to the doctoral programmes. Unless you can speak one of the European languages fluently I don’t think it will be easy to study clinical psychology there as you need to do therapy with locals as part of the course.

  8. Hi Dr. Dan,

    If I have a bachelor degree in Chemistry. Can I still apply for Masters in Clinical Psychology? Will that qualify me as a Clinical Psychologist here in Malaysia?

    • Hi Reen, if you obtain a Masters in Clinical Psychology in Malaysia it will qualify you as a Clinical Psychologist in Malaysia. However, most courses will require that you have studied Psychology at undergraduate level in order to apply to the Masters in Clinical Psychology. In the UK we have conversion Masters that holders of other degrees can take so that they can apply for the Clinical Psychology courses. I don’t know whether those exist in Malaysia – perhaps you can check with the admissions teams at the university at which you would like to study Clinical Psychology. An alternative is to take the Master of Professional Counselling at Monash University Malaysia. It won’t qualify you as a Clinical Psychology but it does give you a counselling qualification that is recognised in Australia.

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