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A Comprehensive Guide: How to Become a Psychologist


If you want to become a psychologist in Canada, you must earn certain degrees and diplomas and complete a training program in order to become a licensed psychologist. But what exactly is involved in the process and what do you need to know before starting out in your career? Continue reading to find out.

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What is a psychologist?

Right off the bat, let’s begin by explaining what a psychologist is. A psychologist is a mental health professional who specializes in treating mental illnesses through talk therapy and other techniques. Psychologists have a strong understanding of the human mind and human behaviour and use their education and expertise to help people struggling with their mental health, whether they are dealing with anxiety, depression or other challenges and disorders. We will dive deeper into the educational requirements for becoming a psychologist in Canada a little later on, but generally speaking, psychologists either have master’s degrees or doctoral degrees.

What do psychologists do?

The general duties of a psychologist include diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, offering therapy, conducting medical research, and communicating with patients and their families. Some of the most common mental health issues, conditions, and disorders that psychologists treat are anxiety, addiction, depression, grief, and insomnia. Psychologists often use a mix of approaches and modalities to treat such conditions, like cognitive-behavioural therapy or humanistic therapy. The goal is that by using these types of therapies, their patients will develop the skills and tools they need to change unwanted behaviours.

Psychologists work in all kinds of spaces, from hospitals and clinics to schools, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and even prisons. Further, some psychologists offer their services in groups while others offer their services in individual settings. Some might also specialize in treating youth, such as children and teens, and some in adults or even people of certain genders or backgrounds.

If you’re still interested in becoming a psychologist, keep reading to discover all there is to know about what this process looks like in Canada.

How to become a psychologist in Canada

1. Get your high school diploma

Since becoming a psychologist requires multiple post-secondary degrees, the first step in the lengthy process is to get your high school diploma. You will need this in order to be admitted to a university and earn an undergraduate degree.

2. Earn an undergraduate degree

Step number two is to earn an undergraduate degree from an accredited university. To earn a bachelor’s degree, you must apply and be accepted to a Canadian university. You then must complete the undergraduate program, which typically lasts four years. Most aspiring psychologists choose to major in psychology, though this isn’t a requirement, and you will find other students who choose to major in other fields, such as sociology, anthropology, or even biology. During your undergraduate degree, you may wish to research work-study programs that will provide further insight into the field of psychology.

3. Attend graduate school

After completing your undergraduate program, the next step is to continue with your education by attending graduate school. Earning a master’s degree is a necessary step if you want to become a psychologist in Canada. Graduate programs in psychology take roughly two years to complete and will allow you to focus on a more specific subject within the realm of psychology, such as forensic psychology, clinical psychology, or child development.

The master’s degree that you earn in graduate school can be either a Master of Arts or a Master of Science. Either will prepare you for the next step: your doctoral studies. Please note that not all Canadian provinces and territories require psychologists to have a doctoral degree in order to be licensed. Some only require a master’s degree. For instance, if you intend to work as a psychologist in Saskatchewan, Alberta, or Newfoundland, then you can become licensed with only a master’s degree. That said, you might still choose to continue your education if you want to specialize in a certain field of psychology.

4. Complete your doctoral degree

The fourth step in the process of becoming a psychologist is to enrol in a doctoral program and earn a doctoral degree. As mentioned above, not all Canadian provinces require you to have a doctorate in order to become a licensed psychologist, though many do. Otherwise, you may be required to practice under the supervision of another psychologist who has a doctoral degree. This would prevent you from being able to practice psychology independently or open your own professional practice in the future. Please note that a doctoral degree in psychology can take anywhere between six and nine years to complete.

5. Do an internship

Before you can practice psychology in Canada, you must take part in an internship. This is how you will gain hands-on experience as a clinical psychologist. For many, it is the first time that they are treating patients. During your internship, you will work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist in a clinical setting. Internships vary in length between six months and two years, although most provinces in Canada require a minimum of one year of supervised practice. Ultimately, your internship will teach you bedside manner, how to effectively communicate with patients, and how to tell which modalities are effective and ineffective. These are the types of soft skills you can learn in a job placement, such as a psychology internship.

6. Become a certified and licensed psychologist

The final step in the process of how to become a psychologist in Canada is to become certified and licensed. The requirements for licensing and certification vary in Canada depending on the province you live in. However, you may need to take and pass an exam in order to legally practice in your province. Visit the medical board’s website in your province to find out what the requirements are. For example, aspiring psychologists in Ontario must pass multiple exams on professional practices and ethics in order to be licensed and certified in the province.

How long does it take to become a clinical psychologist in Canada?

There is no denying that becoming a clinical psychologist in Canada is a lengthy and complex process. After completing your bachelor’s degree, which is usually a minimum of three years, you should expect it to be another nine to twelve years before you become a licensed psychologist. Ultimately, how long it takes partially depends on whether you get a doctoral degree and how long you take to complete that degree. Remember that master’s degrees in psychology are typically two years, doctoral degrees are another six to nine years, and an internship is approximately one year. This can add up to a minimum of nine years or a maximum of 12 years.

How much does it cost to become a psychologist in Canada?

Becoming a clinical psychologist in Canada can be costly. On average, it costs $32,000 to complete your master’s degree and your doctoral degree in psychology in Canada. On top of this, the average cost of earning a bachelor’s degree in Canada is $7,000 per year over four years (an additional $28,000). Given these expenses, many psychology students apply for grants and scholarships, as well as take out student loans, to help them pay for their education. Making regular contributions to an RESP is an effective way to bypass post-secondary funding concerns.

Where can I study clinical psychology in Canada?

There are many accredited universities that offer clinical psychological programs in Canada, and a variety of things you should consider when choosing a school to attend. For example, some of the top psychology programs in the country are at McGill University and Concordia University in Montreal, Dalhousie University in Halifax, and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Be sure to check The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) for a complete list of accredited psychology programs in Canada.

How can I get a job as a clinical psychologist in Canada?

To get a job as a clinical psychologist in Canada, you must first start to complete the necessary steps outlined above. From there, psychologists typically join the staff at an existing facility, such as a clinic or hospital, or they start their own practice. Examples of facilities you might be able to apply for a psychologist job at include schools, prisons, and hospitals. Since joining a pre-existing facility is often easier and more cost-effective than starting your own practice, especially if you are fresh out of school, most psychologists choose this route.

Where do psychologists work in Canada?

Psychologists can get jobs in a wide variety of settings. Some of the most common places that clinical psychologists may end up working in Canada are schools (high schools, elementary schools, and post-secondary universities and colleges, such as medical schools), hospitals, medical clinics, independent practices, government agencies, corporations, and non-profit organizations.

How much do clinical psychologists make in Canada?

Clinical psychologists earn an average of $100,000 per year in Canada. As you can see, becoming a psychologist is a lucrative career path. While it will take time and an initial investment of funds for all of the schooling that is required, you can more than earn back what you spend on your education due to the high salaries that clinical psychologists often earn.

What is the job market like for clinical psychologists in Canada?

Clinical psychologists are a very in-demand job in Canada, which means that the job market is strong. If you are thinking of pursuing a career as a clinical psychologist, you can rest easy knowing that it is extremely likely that you will get a job in psychology following the completion of your doctoral program and internship.

Why should I become a psychologist?

Choosing a career can be difficult, so it’s important to know why you’d like to pursue a specific field. Ultimately, the answer to this question is very personal and will vary from person to person. That said, many people choose to become psychologists because the job market is strong, and the salary is lucrative, with many professionals earning six-figure salaries. In addition, many of the people who choose to pursue a career in psychology do so because they care about the well-being of others and want to help them better their mental health. This is a profession that generally requires a lot of empathy and compassion. Whether you work with children, adults, or even people with disabilities, many psychologists find their jobs to be extremely rewarding and fulfilling.

Types of degrees in psychology

As you now know, becoming a psychologist in Canada requires a lot of schooling. In fact, in most cases, clinical psychologists have three degrees in addition to their high school diploma. Below, we explain some of the different types of psychology programs that may be available to you.

Master’s degree in psychology

A master’s degree in psychology is required in order to become a licensed psychologist in Canada. There are two main types of master’s degrees that can make you qualified to be a psychologist: A Master of Arts (MA) and a Master of Science (MS). The former is typically designed for students who want to pursue careers in social work, counselling, and psychology, while the latter places more of an emphasis on research and statistics. Nowadays, many universities offer online master’s programs in psychology. That said, most will still include an in-person component known as clinical coursework. Master’s degrees in psychology, whether you opt for the MA or the MS, typically take two years to complete. Although some Canadian provinces will allow you to practice psychology with a master’s degree, many require a doctoral degree (more on that next).

Doctoral degree in psychology

A doctoral degree, also known as a PhD, is another type of degree that you can earn in psychology. This is the most common post-graduate psychology degree and is required to become a licensed psychologist in many Canadian provinces. Doctoral programs in psychology involve everything from data collection and scientific research to writing a lengthy dissertation. As such, these programs take much longer than a master’s to complete, often lasting between six and nine years. Once you have completed your PhD in psychology, you will have a number of career paths available to you. You will even be able to open your own practice if you wish.

PsyD in psychology

A PsyD is another type of doctoral degree that you can get in psychology. A PsyD, compared to a PhD in psychology, focuses more on clinical practice and less on research and theory. These programs take between four and six years to complete. Psychologists with PsyDs tend to work in more people-facing roles, such as a therapist or a counsellor.

EdD in psychology

A doctor of education, otherwise known as an EdD, is another type of program that a person may complete if they want to become a psychologist. This degree is granted by the faculty of education at a given university and it helps students to learn skills and acquire knowledge that they can apply to the management of school systems. As such, some of the most common types of psychology-related jobs that EdD students work in include education administrator, academic officer, and community service manager.

Choosing what to specialize in as a psychologist

There are not only different types of degrees that you can earn if you want to become a psychologist but there are also different types of career paths you can take within psychology. For example, psychologists work with diverse clientele in various healthcare settings and specialize in different types of modalities. There are also research-based psychologists, as well as practitioners. Some of the most common types of psychologists out there include:

  • Clinical psychologists
  • Community psychologists
  • Counselling psychologists
  • Developmental psychologists
  • Environmental psychologists
  • Forensic psychologists
  • Health psychologists
  • Rehabilitation psychologists
  • School psychologists
  • Social psychologists

To help you decide what type of psychology is right for you, we outline a few key differences between some of these roles.

Counselling vs. clinical psychology

A counselling psychologist is a type of psychologist that primarily works with people to help them realize their strengths, as well as how capable they are, in order to help them cope with day-to-day stress and anxiety. Counselling psychologists work in a wide array of settings from independent practices and hospitals to university counselling centres and even as academic teachers. As with clinical psychologists, counselling psychologists use talk therapy, or psychotherapy, to treat patients. That said, one key difference between the two is that counselling psychologists focus more generally on a person’s well-being throughout their entire life, whereas clinical psychologists focus on treating specific mental illnesses that they identify in their patients. Both types of psychologists work with people of all ages and both require a doctoral degree.

Psychologist vs. psychiatrist

Many people are confused about the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. The reality is that as with clinical psychologists and counselling psychologists, both psychologists and psychiatrists treat patients using psychotherapy. In addition, both professions deal with people suffering from mental health issues. However, a key distinction between the two is that a person needs a Doctor of Medicine (MD) in order to become a licensed psychiatrist, which is unlike the PhD which psychologists are required to have. Thus, psychiatrists are licensed medical physicians whereas psychologists are not. Similar to doctors, aspiring psychiatrists are often required to complete a residency program in order to become licensed. Further, since they have medical degrees, they are allowed to prescribe medication to patients, whereas psychologists do not usually prescribe drugs directly. However, they may work alongside or in conjunction with other medical or health professionals who can prescribe medication.

Counselling-related career paths that do not require a psychology degree

If you are interested in a counselling-related career path but are not concerned that becoming a psychologist is for you, you’re in luck! There are many types of careers that are related to the field of psychology but that do not require the same level of education or training. From social workers to marriage and family therapists, continue reading for a list of non-psychologist careers that might be of interest to you.

Social worker

Licensed social workers have an extremely rewarding job that involves providing services to underprivileged neighbourhoods and families. People in this occupation may work for a school district, healthcare system, or even a non-profit organization. To become a licensed social worker in Canada, you are usually required to complete a bachelor’s degree in a related field, as well as a master’s degree or college program in social work.

Marriage and family therapist

Marriage and family therapists specifically help couples and families solve various relational problems. People in this occupation use psychotherapy, similar to psychologists, to improve their clients’ lives, as well as teach them valuable coping mechanisms and tools. In Canada, most marriage and family therapists are required to have a master’s degree along with a certain number of clinical hours in order to become licensed.

School psychologist

A school psychologist is another type of psychologist that you might be interested in becoming if you enjoy working with young children. As the name of this profession indicates, a school psychologist primarily works in an elementary, middle, or high school setting. They work to improve the mental, emotional, and behavioural development of their clients, who are typically children and teenagers. School psychologists frequently work alongside other staff members at the school that they are employed by, as well as the parents of the affected child. Please note that school counsellors are not the same as school psychologists, with the latter requiring more education. To become a licensed school psychologist in Canada, you usually must complete both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, alongside over 1,000 hours of practical experience under a supervisor.

Behavioural analyst

Becoming a behavioural analyst is another job you may be interested in if you are considering a psychology-related career path. The primary role of these types of analysts is to identify and improve behaviours using applied behaviour analysis. Many behavioural analysts specialize in certain types of behavioural conditions or fields, such as autism, pediatrics, gerontology, education, and sports. In Canada, you typically only need a master’s degree to be certified as a behavioural analyst.

Key considerations before becoming a psychologist in Canada

If you are thinking seriously about pursuing a career as a psychologist, we strongly urge you to consider the following factors before doing so.

The process of becoming a psychologist is long

Now that you know a little bit more about how to become a psychologist in Canada, you can see that it is a lengthy and complex process. Becoming a licensed psychologist requires a lot of hard work and dedication, not to mention over nine years of post-secondary school. You will need to strongly consider whether you are willing to embark on this long journey. Any ten-year + commitment should be considered carefully.

Many psychology degrees involve math

Many prospective psychology students don’t realize that many degrees in this field involve math. You might think that since a psychologist is not a medical professional that you can avoid math, but this isn’t the case. For instance, some courses you might be expected to take and pass during your degree include “Quantitative Research Methods” or “Statistics of Psychology.” If you aren’t prepared to continue learning math, psychology may not be for you.

Achieving work-life balance can be difficult

Another factor to consider when deciding whether to become a psychologist is that work-life balance can be difficult to achieve in this profession. Not only should you be prepared to work long hours, but the content of your job is heavy. This can make it difficult to come down from a long day. Many psychologists struggle not to take their work home with them. If you let it, your patients and the challenges they face can easily affect your personal life. Understanding this and knowing how to safeguard your personal life by keeping it separate from your work life will be critical should you decide to become a psychologist.

Licensing is different in each Canadian province

It is worth emphasizing that licensing for psychologists varies between provinces. This means that just because you are a licensed psychologist in Ontario doesn’t mean that you are also a licensed psychologist in Saskatchewan. If you plan on moving provinces or countries in the near future, make sure that you do your research and know what the requirements are to practice psychology in other locations.

Choose your specialization wisely

When choosing a specialization, make sure that you think long and hard about why a certain specialization might make sense for you. There are many career paths for psychologists, and they differ widely. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself by diving into something you aren’t prepared for. Instead, take the time you need to determine what type of psychology-related job makes sense for you, your interests, and the lifestyle you want for yourself.

Written by Embark

Embark is Canada’s education savings and planning company. The organization aims to help families and students along their post-secondary journeys, giving them innovative tools and advice to take hold of their bright futures and succeed.