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What is a trainee clinical psychologist?

You have have heard of the term before, but what exactly is a trainee clinical psychologist and what do they do?

A trainee clinical psychologist is under training to be a full-fledged clinical psychologist, by working under supervision to administer psychological assessments and conduct clinical intervention while completing the requirements of their university program such as academic work, research, and case protocol presentations.

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What is a trainee clinical psychologist?

As a clinical psychologist in training, you are someone who has yet to achieve full credentials to practice as a mental health professional. He or she is honing skills that include attending skills (how to relate to clients/patients), assessment skills (administering and interpreting results), as well as intervention skills (applying psychotherapeutic approaches) for the betterment of people they come into contact with.

The three areas that they concentrate on:

#1 Attending skills

Trainees learn how to respond to their clients/patients in a therapeutic and engaging manner by learning how to apply basic counselling skills such as summarizing, reflecting, and paraphrasing. This is a crucial skill as clients/patients may not open up during the initial interview if they deem the mental health provider as cold and aloof.

#2 Assessment skills

When conducting psychological assessments, trainee clinical psychologists are responsible for administering the tests in a specific and standardized manner. However, the main thing that separates them from a psychometrician (a professional who administers standardized tests for a living) is that clinicians are also observing behavior, emotion, and responses that occur during the testing period. These observations help in the scoring and analyzing of results. Additionally, the trainee has to report the results in a meaningful and justified manner for the referral person (the client/patient, their family, medical team, or any other party).

#3 Intervention skills

Depending on the school of thought/therapy of interest, trainees will start applying psychotherapeutic approaches for clients/patients in their placements. The most commonly taught approach is the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) school of thought, and all trainees are expected to be moderately adept at applying these techniques in their work. Other university programs may also teach approaches such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (CBT), or Psychodynamic Theory.

life of a clinical psychologist trainee

As such, a typical day during their clinical placements could be extremely hectic for a clinical psychologist trainee.

How do you become a trainee clinical psychologist?

First of all, trainees go through a very select and stringent application process to qualify for a place in a graduate-level clinical psychology program. Programs generally take on between 6 to 20 (the median is 10) students each year, as the academic requirements, research commitments, and placements require trainees to have a certain level of grit and tenacity. The faculty seeks committed students who will not defer or leave the program after “investing” into their education. Passing the interview depends on your academic performance, exposure to psychology-related experience, and research-orientation.

Some entry requirements:

· Second-uppers undergraduate degree in Psychology

· Clinical work experience

· English (or local language) proficiency

· A research topic (in the form of a proposal) — for doctoral degree programs

Subjects taught by the clinical psychology program:

· Research-related (psychometrics, R, statistical analysis)

· Biological-bases of behavior (Neurobiology, The Human Brain)

· Psychotherapy (Cognitive Psychology, Psychological Intervention)

· Psychometric Testing (Diagnostic Interviewing, Psychological Testing)

You may find full subject lists from top clinical psychology programs on the university websites.

What does a trainee clinical psychologist do?

#1 Focus on placement demands

Various countries have different requirements. Generally, trainee clinical psychologists have to achieve a certain number of direct and accumulative clinical hours from their placements. This allows them to receive full credentials as a clinical psychologist. It ranges from 1,500 hours (Master’s degree level) to 4,000 hours (Doctoral degree level). These clinical hours are diligently recorded and endorsed by the clinical supervisors. On top of clinical hours accumulation, they are also required to present and report on several case protocols in order to showcase their level of adeptness in applying skills taught during the teaching classes.

#2 Academic requirements

During the training period, some programs require trainee clinical psychologists to attend physical (or online) classes. This will include the usual commitments such as class presentations, group projects, individual assignments, and semester evaluations (examinations). Additional time demands are likely from group discussions or research for assignment topics.

#3 Research

The dissertation for the graduate level degree (whether Master’s or doctoral) is widely the number-one ranking stress factor for trainee clinical psychologists. The process of research includes reading extensive literature, narrowing a topic of interest, identifying a research supervisor, drafting a research proposal, getting ethics approval, conducting pilot studies, seeking participants, collecting data, analyzing results, writing the paper, and lastly defending the dissertation. No leniency is afforded despite research being conducted concurrently with clinical placements.

How much do trainee clinical psychologists get paid?

There are two forms of salary that a trainee clinical psychologist may receive during their clinical psychology program.

Firstly, your program funds your tuition costs and living stipend for a number of years they estimated to complete the doctoral degree. The University of Pennsylvania is one of the program that offers this support as well as USD$32K per year for living expenses up to 5 years. Similarly, Columbia University offers tuition and a stipend of USD$25K per year up to 4 years. In the UK, students are encouraged to seek funding from external sources and scholarships.

Secondly, you may receive a form of salary for your clinical placements. The emphasis is on the word, “may” as most placements either do not provide a salary or gives a tiny amount (USD$20K+ per year) just to cover travel expenses. For example, the University of Pittsburgh lists an annual stipend of USD$29K for trainees with an additional USD$1K for professional development (seminars, courses, classes).

Related articles:
A day in the Life of a Clinical Psychology Trainee (Malaysia Edition)

A day in the life of a clinical psychology trainee: RUN, WAIT, RUN, WAIT (Malaysia edition)

Life of a Clinical Psychology Trainee: The Supervisory Relationship