What will the future of clinical psychology look like?
The field of clinical psychology has come a long way over the last few decades. And as technological advancements progress and demographics change, the field will continue to evolve.
Continue reading to explore six predictions for what the field may look like in the near future.
Clinical psychologists will become younger and more diverse
In the not-so-distant past, many clinical psychologists were white men. Today, women have not only caught up but actually surpassed men as both the percentage of field practitioners and current students in graduate-level programs, and there is a continuing trend in the direction of clinical psychology becoming a younger and more diverse field.
A report from the American Psychological Association analyzing demographic changes in clinical psychology from 2007 to 2016 discovered the following:
- The median age of psychologists has decreased from 50.1 to 48.9 years and baby boomers have been surpassed by younger generations as the majority of the workforce.
- The percentage of psychologists who are women increased from 57 percent to 65 percent.
- From 2007 to 2016 the number of psychologists who are racial/ethnic minorities nearly doubled, although it still accounts for a relatively small proportion of the total workforce (16 percent in 2016).
John Kluczynski, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist for more than three decades and an adjunct faculty in The Chicago School’s Clinical Psychology program, believes that the future pipeline of professionals in the field is reflected in the students he sees every day in class.
“From the time I started until now, I have seen the demographic changes that are taking place firsthand,” he says. “And the future of this field looks increasingly diverse as the students I teach come closer to graduation and prepare for their eventual licensure.”
Technology will expand accessibility and increase effectiveness
Technology has changed the everyday lives of professionals in many different fields, and psychology is no exception.
“I tell my students all the time that I truly believe they will be the first generation of clinical psychologists to practice internationally,” Dr. Kluczynski says. “And they won’t even need to leave the U.S.”
The World Health Organization has declared access to mental health services an important priority in its Mental Health Action Plan, noting a tremendous gap in access to services around the world. And in the U.S., many rural areas lack access to local mental health professionals. Virtual treatment options and online therapy may help future psychologists begin addressing this issue both on a domestic and international scale.
Licensure will be more broadly recognized within the U.S.
To legally practice psychology, it is required that you receive licensure through your state’s licensing board. Typically, you must meet minimum requirements before licensure, such as meeting a required number of hours in practicum and internships in addition to receiving a doctoral degree. But even once you become licensed, you are often restricted to the state where you received your licensure.
“When you begin getting into state licensures and different state laws, our field becomes kind of constrained,” Dr. Kluczynski says. “There is no such thing as national licensure, but a lot of states are now beginning to come together and form interstate compacts where your license in one state may be recognized in another state. That is going to make practice much easier.”
Through interstate compacts, clinical psychologists will be able to treat patients from across state lines.
For example, someone living near a state border may still be able to seek treatment if their closest mental health provider is across the state line. Or if a licensed clinical psychologist moves to a new state, they may not have to go through a new licensure process.
Ultimately, this puts the focus back on patients and on improving access to mental health services.
Clinical psychologists will work in primary health care
As awareness around the importance of mental health continues to increase, it will become more normal to see clinical psychologists in traditional health care settings.
“I would actually take it further than just working in primary health care,” Dr. Kluczynski says. “Why can’t clinical psychologists be primary health care physicians? In other words, if you are ill then you can call your psychologist first who can refer you to a specialist from there.”
According to Dr. Kluczynski, some estimates say that nearly 50 percent of the issues people are suffering from in primary care offices are emotional or psychological problems.
“These are issues like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia,” he says. “Or, on the other end of it, they may have issues related to addiction like alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or eating disorders. All of this comes back to which role psychologists should be playing and what the future of health care looks like.”
Dr. Kluczynski also points to medical cost offset research, some of which has found that if people have access to good mental health treatments, their utilization of other medical services is reduced.
“Think about someone who struggles with obesity and elects for mental health treatment instead of bypass surgery,” he says. “It’s an example of expensive or costly procedures that can often be handled in a more cost-effective manner.”
Clinical psychology and pharmacology will become more integrated
There are some psychologists who simply don’t want to be prescribing medication, and that is fine. But the knowledge about the biological components of mental illness and issues like substance abuse can be crucial for a clinical psychologist, even if they don’t want to be the one prescribing.
“We still have this battle going on over what the boundaries of psychology practice are, and the prescription component is a really big part of that.”
However, while Dr. Kluczynski believes prescription privileges can be an important evolution in the field of clinical psychology, he also believes it will encounter tremendous pushback.
“With prescriptions, we are going up against a financial interest of the medical community,” he says. “There was a time when psychologists couldn’t bill for insurance, and I’m talking about during my career. So we’ve come a long way over the years. But you start getting into prescription privileges and other responsibilities of the medical community and you really begin stepping on some toes. There is no doubt that we deserve a place at that table, but we have to continue to fight for that place.”
Clinical psychologists will become more politically active
Examine the top industry lobbyists in the U.S. and you’ll find representation for health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals in relation to money spent annually.
But you won’t find any major representation for the field of psychology.
“Psychologists don’t necessarily like to talk about money, but we have to start talking about it,” Dr. Kluczynski says. “Because there are battles that we are going to have to fight in the struggle over health care dollars and it will determine the extent of the role that psychologists can play in someone’s life.”
To achieve the future outlined above, clinical psychologists will need to become more active in advocating for their field. According to Dr. Kluczynski, advocating for the field is really advocating for their clients and the people who depend on their services.
“Let’s use the opioid crisis as an example,” Dr. Kluczynski says. “The vast majority of the new money that has been proposed is going to law enforcement. And when it does go into the treatment world, it is focused around biological treatments and interventions. Part of this is because we are still fighting for our place at that table.
“We haven’t informed the public well enough; we haven’t learned to lobby for the use of government resources to advance our clients’ best interests. There’s no shortage of people who need our services, but there is a shortage of money to provide our services. Advocating for our clients also advocates for the field and that is going to be a much longer-term issue that we must begin to address. It is the key to truly begin serving the underserved.”
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Blake C. Pinto
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