How to Become a Psychologist

Dr. Lorin Bradbury, author of "Treasures from an Old Book, Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World".

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I am interested in becoming a psychologist and being able to some day have my own practice like you have. How many years does it take to become a psychologist, and what kind of schooling is required?

Becoming a psychologist is a long arduous process similar to becoming a physician or other licensed doctoral-level professional. The first thing you need is a good Bachelor’s Degree program with an emphasis in psychology. There is some flexibility in the type of undergraduate degree required, depending on the graduate program you enter.

It’s important that you make good grades in your undergraduate work because most graduate programs are very competitive. Also, almost every graduate program requires that you take and obtain high scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), including a subject test in psychology. I always encourage graduate school applicants to apply to a number of schools because most applicants look the same from a distance and there are usually limited numbers of slots available each year.

In choosing which schools to apply to, I highly recommend that you apply to a school that is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), because in many jurisdictions you are not eligible for licensure if you graduate from a non-APA program.

Alaska still licenses people from non-APA programs as long as the degree is a Ph.D., Ed.D, or Psy.D. in Clinical, Counseling, or other field in psychology that meets the core licensing requirements.

However, as time goes on, it is likely that more and more jurisdictions will require an APA accredited degree. Also, don’t waste your money on Internet-based degree programs at the graduate level, if you want to practice psychology independently. As with most jurisdictions, Alaska does not license non-traditional degree (online, distance learning, etc.) programs in psychology, unless it is APA accredited.

There are several doctoral-level tracks you can take to work toward licensure. A Ph.D. program in psychology is a traditional model and is often called the “Research-Practitioner” model. It provides psychologists with a strong research background, as well as training in clinical work. The Ed.D. usually is awarded by schools of education and train counseling and educational psychologists.

With the advent of professional schools in psychology, the Psy.D. has become common. Psy.D. programs put emphasis on becoming a practitioner first and a researcher second. This has become very attractive to those who want to become licensed practitioners.

For either the Ph.D. or Psy.D, it usually takes four to seven years of study to complete a doctoral program. One of the years is usually an internship at an approved internship site. A dissertation is usually required for graduation from all graduate programs, and an internship is almost always required for licensure.

Once you are awarded your doctoral degree, in Alaska and most other jurisdictions, you have to successfully complete one year of post-doctoral work (a residency) in psychology at a site approved by the Board in the jurisdiction in which you desire to be licensed.

In Alaska, you are allowed to apply for licensure and take State Board examinations while you are completing your post-doctoral experience/residency. Upon completion of your post-doctoral experience/residency and successfully passing both the EPPP (multiple choice exam for the U.S. & Canada) and the State Ethics and Law essay test, you will be awarded your license to practice psychology. 

If you have the grades to get into graduate school and the determination to complete it, I recommend you go for it. It’s an extremely interesting field with many subspecialties.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].

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