I wrote this guide because people often ask me how to become a Clinical Psychologist. Much of it is my opinion – other psychologists may have different suggestions 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. Here are the steps you’ll need to take if you are planning to work in Malaysia.
Studying Clinical Psychology in your Home Country
These are the steps if you plan to study Clinical Psychology in Malaysia:
- Obtain a good grade in a Psychology undergraduate degree.
- Gain some relevant work experience. Some courses in Malaysia are now accepting students without work experience.
- Complete a Masters in Clinical Psychology.
- Become a full member of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology. This is not yet a legal requirement but it’s one way of showing potential clients and employers that you are properly qualified.
Studying Clinical Psychology Overseas
If you plan to study Clinical Psychology at a University outside of Malaysia:
- Obtain a good grade in a Psychology undergraduate degree recognised by the country that you wish to train in.
- Gain some relevant work experience (see below for more information).
- Secure funding to study overseas.
- Complete the post-graduate Clinical Psychology course required by the country that you are studying in.
- Obtain ‘Professional Accreditation’ from the country that you are studying in (or at least prove that you are eligible for that accreditation).
- If you have accreditation from overseas it may not be necessary but it would be helpful to 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:
- Obtain a good grade (an Upper Second Class Honours, 2:1 or equivalent) in an undergraduate degree in Psychology that is recognised by the British Psychological Society (BPS)
- Gain some relevant work experience (see below for more information).
- Secure funding to study in the UK (a three-year course is likely to cost more than 75,000 GBP plus living costs).
- Complete a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (a British Masters 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).
- 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).
- 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.
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.
Due to the increase in the number of Clinical Psychology courses in Malaysia an increasing number of students have been accepted onto Clinical Psychology courses without any relevant work experience. Clinical Psychology training courses based overseas, in countries such as the UK, USA, Australia and Canada, are more likely to require relevant work experience.
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.
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. Malaysia has done this in the past but not recently. We 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.
Job opportunities once you qualify
We’re often asked about the job prospects for clinical psychologists once they qualify. I’ve written an article on ‘the Status of Clinical Psychology in Malaysia‘ which I hope helps give something of an answer to a complex question!
How can I get a taste of what it’s like to be a Clinical Psychologist?
What does a psychologist do when they meet with clients? What happens during therapy? If you would like to find out for yourself then you could join our ‘Manage Emotions Live Life Program.
Our program is based on Acceptance & Commitment Therapy which is a well regarded evidence-based approach that many psychologists use (our director Dr. Dan Seal uses it as his primary approach). It is regarded as a ‘third-wave therapeutic approach’. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is thought of as a ‘second wave therapeutic approach’ whereas Behaviourism is an example of a ‘first wave approach’.
Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, and therefore our program, is transdiagnostic. This means that it can be helpful for everyone. You can benefit from it whether you are finding it difficult to manage emotions such as sadness or anxiety or if you’re finding it difficult to stop behaviours such as overeating or overusing social media. It’s also useful if you don’t have any particular problems but you want to learn how to make life even more fulfilling.
If you join the program you’ll meet our facilitators one-on-one so we can tailor the program to your needs. Our facilitators are either recently qualified clinical psychologists or clinical psychologists who are about to finish their training and qualify as clinical psychologists. This means that, in addition to teaching you skills based on ACT, they can also answer any questions you may have about training as a clinical psychologist.
The full program consists of six meetings and costs RM150 per meeting. You can meet our facilitators in-person at Colony KLCC or the Hub SS2 in PJ or online via Zoom. There’s no obligation to complete the program if you don’t like it and you don’t have to pay for meetings you don’t use. However, we hope you will complete the program because in the later weeks we teach mindfulness (which we call Attention Training on our program) and we introduce the concepts behind Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT) which is another third-wave evidence based therapy.
If you would like to join the Manage Emotions Live Life Program please contact Vivian who will schedule a time for you to meet one of our psychologists.
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:
Further Information …
I’ve included some links to websites that provide useful information on becoming a clinical psychologist below:
The Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology has written a post on how to become a clinical psychologist.
The British Psychological Society’s guide to becoming a Clinical Psychologist.
The American Psychological Associations guide to pursuing a career in Clinical Psychology also includes a ‘Meet a Clinical Psychologist’ section.
The Australian Psychological Society’s guide to the academic pathways you need to take to be a Clinical Psychologist.