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?
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.
If you are planning to work as a clinical psychologist in another country, I’d advise using the steps below as a starting point. Do check the requirements for your particular country and share what you find out in the comments section below so that others can benefit.
Studying Clinical Psychology in Malaysia
These are the steps if you plan to study clinical psychology in Malaysia:
- Obtain a good grade in a psychology undergraduate degree.
- Preferably, gain some relevant work experience. Some courses in Malaysia are now accepting students without work experience.
- Complete a Masters in Clinical Psychology or a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
- Preferably, become a full member of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology (MSCP). The Allied Health Professions Act of 2016 made it illegal for anyone to call themselves a clinical psychologist unless they are registered as a clinical psychologist. This has yet to be fully enforced as the Malaysian government is currently in the process of setting up the register. The government took advice from the MSCP on the requirements for getting registered so being a full member of the MSCP will make it easier to get registered. It’s also a way of showing potential clients and employers that you are properly qualified until the register is launched.
Studying Clinical Psychology Overseas
If you plan to study clinical psychology at a university outside of Malaysia and then return to work as a clinical psychologist in Malaysia here’s what you need to do:
- 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 about gaining work experience).
- Secure funding to study overseas.
- Complete the post-graduate clinical psychology course that the country you are studying in requires for you to gain that country’s professional accreditation. In Australia & New Zealand this could be a Masters in Clinical Psychology. In the UK, USA & Canada you need a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology to qualify to work as a clinical psychologist.
- 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).
- Register with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) or obtain Chartered Member status as a Clinical Psychologist from the British Psychological Society (BOS) (the legal body in the UK is the HCPC but BPS Member status is sufficient for people returning to their home country).
- Preferably, become a full member of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology
The legal situation in Malaysia
In Malaysia the Allied Health Professions Act of 2016 made it illegal for anyone to call themselves a clinical psychologist or do the work of a clinical psychologist unless they are a fully qualified clinical psychologist.
This is a good step because working as a clinical psychologist without appropriate training can lead to people being hurt. Clinical psychologists are trained to know how to respond if someone is planning to seriously hurt or kill themselves. Even if a person is not planning to hurt or kill themselves an untrained person acting as a clinical psychologist could still cause them harm by failing to help them with the problems that they are facing whilst taking their money.
There are currently some people in Malaysia who claim to be psychologists or clinical psychologists when they have not been through the appropriate training. The most prominent example of this is Edward Chan and his company which he named the ‘International Psychology Centre’. I mention him here because he offers many courses to people interested in practicing in clinical psychology. None of these courses would be accepted as legitimate by the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology so I suggest avoiding them if you are hoping to gain registration in Malaysia.
The government are in the process of setting up a register for clinical psychologists and other professions which should be complete by 2025. Once the register is fully operational there should be a crack down on those practising as psychologists without the necessary qualifications (unless they are closely supervised by a qualified clinical psychologist).
Many clinical psychology courses want you to have work experience before you start studying. They want you to understand what you are getting yourself into. It’s good to find out whether you like talking to people in psychological distress before you start training because as a clinical Psychologist that’s what you will spend most of your time doing.
It is 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 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!
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.