How to Become a Psychologist in Canada
Discover everything you need to know about psychologists in Canada, from education and training to salary.
As more and more honest conversations about mental health continue to happen, the need for people trained in providing counselling services increases. If you’re interested in the mental health field and understanding cognitive, emotional, and behavioural disorders, and you’ve got a desire to help people, then a career as a psychologist could be right for you!
Learn more about what a career as a psychologist looks like, what it takes to become a psychologist in Canada, and how much your salary could be.
What is a psychologist?
A psychologist is a trained professional who studies how humans think, feel, and behave. They help people work to maintain and improve their psychological, intellectual, emotional, social, and interpersonal states. They’ll often work as researchers or practitioners, or both!
Psychologists will typically work in private practices or clinics, hospitals, mental health facilities, rehabilitation centres, schools, universities, private research agencies, and in the government.
What does a psychologist do?
A psychologist will typically assess and diagnose behavioural, emotional, and cognitive disorders, provide therapy and counsel clients, and research disorders and treatments. A psychologist’s day-to-day tasks may vary depending on where they work, but some common responsibilities include:
- Assessing a patient, diagnosing them, and providing therapy
- Writing reports on patient’s mental status
- Using standardized psychological tests and measures to assess a patient
- Conducting interviews with friends and family
- Attending clinical conferences
- Providing consultation services
Psychologists can also have different specialties where they’ll focus their research and practice. These can include:
- Mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, phobias, etc.
- Addictions, and substance use and abuse, like smoking, alcohol, recreational drugs and more
- Developmental and behavioural abilities
- Psychology in the workplace (ex. leadership, motivation, etc.)
- Marital and family relationships
- Stress, anger, and other lifestyle management
- Criminal behaviour, crime prevention, and services for victims and perpetrators of criminal activity
For a more detailed list of other areas of focus, check out the Canadian Psychological Association.
How to become a psychologist in six steps
Becoming a psychologist in Canada takes commitment, as it can take many years of education and training to achieve your designation. Discover the six steps you’ll need to take to become a psychologist.
Step one: Undergraduate education
The first step to becoming a psychologist is to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. With this degree, you’ll understand the basics of psychological theories, methodologies, and research practices which will be beneficial as you follow the route of becoming a psychologist.
You’ll need to make a decision between pursing a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BSc) for your psychology program. A BA in psychology focuses more on the humanities, building your communication and analytical skills in a general sense. A BSc in psychology prepares you for a career in research and clinical professions as your degree will concentrate on applied psychology, research methods, and statistics. One thing to note, is some grad schools may prefer applicants who have a BSc, but every school has different requirements, so make sure you do your research!
In your undergraduate degree, you’ll want to take courses like statistics, an honours thesis or some research experience, and a range of psychology courses (abnormal psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, etc.) as they are recommended and may be required by grad schools. You’ll also want to maintain a high average, as graduate programs in psychology are competitive.
Step two: Gain work experience (optional)
After completing your undergrad, a good next step is to gain some practical work experience in the field you’re interested in. This experience will provide you with a look into what a career as a psychologist could look like, valuable skills, as well as opportunities for networking.
You could begin earning experience as an assistant or working in psychological research roles. These positions can help you in your applications to grad school as you’ve gained valuable experience and put your knowledge to practice, and can also benefit you as your find employment as a psychologist down the line.
Step three: Graduate education
The next step to becoming a psychologist is to earn a graduate degree in psychology. Depending on where you plan to practice in Canada, you may need either a master’s degree, or both a master’s and a PhD degree in psychology to become a licensed psychologist. Check out each provinces’ regulatory bodies to see what level of education you’ll need to register as an accredited psychologist:
- A PhD degree in psychology is required in Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island
- A master’s degree in psychology is required in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut
Make sure you do your research on grad schools and their application requirements. Some schools may require you take the Graduate Record Examinations as part of your application.
In a master’s program, you’ll take courses, do your own original research, and defend your thesis. This is where you’ll identify your interested areas of specialty. A master’s degree will typically take two to three years to complete, and some programs may include a clinical practicum.
Once you’ve completed your master’s degree, your next step is a PhD program. Many provinces prefer programs that are accredited by the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), but they will review applicants from psychology programs that aren’t CPA accredited to ensure the program meets the basic core curriculum required. In a PhD in psychology program, you’ll take a variety of courses in different areas, like individual behaviour or biological bases of behaviour. You’ll also likely have an internship as part of your program, but you can read more about that in the next step. A PhD in psychology can take four to six years to complete.
Step four: Gain supervised experience
If you want to provide psychological services, you’ll also need to spend at least one year interning under supervision as a requirement for most jurisdictions. Some PhD programs may provide the internship opportunity as part of the degree — often taking place in your third or fourth year.
Each province’s regulatory body may require a different minimum number of hours for your internship. For example, Ontario requires a minimum of 1,500 hours, whereas British Columbia requires a minimum of 1,600 hours.
Step five: Register with your province’s regulatory authority
The next step to becoming a practicing psychologist is to begin the process of registering with your province’s regulatory authority. During this process, you’ll need to provide information on your education and internships, and some regulatory authorities may require additional information like references, criminal reference checks, and more.
Every regulatory body will have different procedures that applicants must take to become licensed. For example, the College of Psychologists of Ontario requires applicants to apply for the Certificate of Registration Authorizing Supervised Practice while interning before they can apply for the Certificates of Registration for a Psychologist Authorizing Autonomous Practice. So, make sure you check out what process your province’s regulatory body wants you to follow.
Step six: Pass licensing exams
Once you’ve begun the process of becoming a licensed psychologist with your province’s regulatory authority, you’ll need to pass certain exams to complete your eligibility. There are three types of exams you’re likely to encounter:
Some provinces, like Ontario, may require applicants to take and pass all three exams, whereas others may only require applicants to pass one or two of the exams.
As the mental health field continues to grow, more and more psychologists are needed. There are currently more job openings than there are people to fill them, and over the next ten years there will continue to be a shortage of psychologists in the country. Check out what kinds of employment opportunities are currently available on the Government of Canada’s Job Bank site.
So, now you may be asking yourself, “how much do psychologists make in Canada?” On average, psychologists make $92,123. However, your salary can depend on your experience, education, certification, and whether you work in private practice or other settings.
If you’re interested in offering counselling services to people, but aren’t sure that psychology is the right route for you, then there are other paths you can take. Social workers, therapists, counselling psychologists, and psychiatrists also offer counselling services, but will require different education, training, and certification than psychologists.
If you’re interested in working in the mental health field and want to help others, then a career as a psychologist could be the way to go! Good luck in your journey to becoming a psychologist in Canada!
Learn more about Psychologists in Canada