How Do I Become a Clinical Psychologist- An Interview with Dr Nadia Al Tamimi
As of May 2018, the annual average salary for clinical, counselling and school psychologists was US$76,990, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you’re considering a career in this rewarding – albeit challenging – sector, you’ll need a stand-out CV demonstrating not just your experience, but your passion and strong work ethic as well.
We spoke to Dr Nadia Al Tamimi and Dr Stephanos Ioannou, program director and co-director, respectively, of the new Master of Clinical Psychology program at Alfaisal University in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to find out just what it takes to break into clinical psychology.
You’ll need the relevant qualifications, including a master’s and doctorate degree
There are a number of bachelor’s degree programs which can lead you up the right path when it comes to enrolling in a master’s degree program later on. But be aware that for some master’s programs, such as the Master of Clinical Psychology at Alfaisal University, having a bachelor’s in psychology is the only way students can enroll in the program.
When it comes to a master’s degree in clinical psychology, it’s expected that you will already have some prior research experience as well.
“The Master of Clinical Psychology program
will bridge theory and practice in the clinical psychology field,” explained Dr Al Tamimi.
“The ultimate goal is to enable graduates to participate effectively in evaluating and treating psychological disturbances, and to contribute practically in research to increase the effectiveness of prevention and therapy.
“Enrolled students will receive state-of-the-art, cutting-edge training and exposure to material relating to diagnosis, assessment, and intervention strategies based on the latest research efforts, followed by practical, hands-on clinical internships in different specialties, including, female health, neuroscience, rehabilitation, as well as child/infant services,” she added.
The program is run in collaboration with the King Fahad Medical City (KFMC) and students benefit from this connection in several ways, according to Dr Al Tamimi.
“KFMC is one of the largest and fastest growing medical complexes in the Middle East. It has highly qualified and efficient Technical Management Teams, all engaged in making KFMC a benchmark of medical care, dealing with an estimated 30,000 inpatients and 500,000 outpatients.
“KFMCs working environment provides increased levels of care quality and commitment to patients, with priorities including knowledge dissemination, and promoting a culture of development and achievement in the community.
“Clinical psychology is sectioned with Psychiatry under Mental Health administration, and is a leading unit among others in National Neuroscience institutions. KFMC is the first to have such a unit in the Middle East.”
Direct work experience is absolutely essential
“There is a growing need for the existence of psychologists in all specialties and health sectors, particularly the growing requirement of a high quality mental health service in all tiers of healthcare,” according to Dr Ioannou.
Much like not having a related undergraduate and postgraduate degree, a lack of relevant work experience will also make it very tough to progress any further as a clinical psychologist. Undertaking internships and work placements alongside your studies are a great way to assess your own competencies in the field and develop your knowledge and necessary skillset.
Assistant psychologist and research assistant roles are the most sought after when it comes to gaining experience. To even get these roles though, it’s highly likely you’ll need to have previous experience in another healthcare role, such as a care assistant, healthcare assistant or social worker.
It can seem like a typical catch-22, where to get experience, you need experience. But if you’re able to clearly demonstrate your passion for the field, as well as the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired from your academic studies, you’re already halfway there.
Students who enroll on the Master of Clinical Psychology at Alfaisal University will have the opportunity to undertake internships at King Fahad Medical City under the supervision of practicing consultant clinical psychologists.
“Students will take advantage of a 12-month rotation among all these services, covering all areas of healthcare at the KFMC,” said Dr Ioannou.
“Students will gain exposure to outpatients referred from other services and will have the opportunity to assess, diagnose and implement intervention all under expert supervision.”
The key traits of a clinical psychologist
We’ve established what qualifications and experience you need. But how can you really tell if a career in this intellectually challenging field is right for you?
First of all, clinical psychologists do what they do because they ultimately want to help people improve their health and well-being. Clinical psychologists work with a wide range of patients, from the elderly to young children, all of whom experience behavioral issues, mental health issues, emotional difficulties, and even physical health problems which can have a knock-on effect on their wellbeing.
It’s therefore important to appreciate that in order to work in this specific area of psychology, you’ll need a strong work ethic, the ability to empathize, reserve judgement, be open-minded as well as work well in large interdisciplinary teams.
“We envisage that our program will produce graduates capable of addressing issues encompassing (among other things), intellectual, emotional, psychological, social and behavioral maladjustments, disability and discomfort, minor adjustment issues as well as severe psychopathology,” said Dr Al Tamimi.