Master’s degree in clinical psychology programs guide

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Introduction to master’s degree in clinical psychology

Clinical psychology is a broad discipline with many areas of interest including the treatment of mental illnesses, addictions, behavioral problems, and numerous other psychological and emotional issues. As more people become aware of the issues that negatively impact their lives, they are willing to seek help to deal with them. As a result, there is a growing demand for clinical psychologists, with an anticipated 15% increase over the next decade.

If you have an interest in working with people who need professional help to improve the quality of their lives, then clinical psychology may be the career for you. The work of a clinical psychologist is multi-faceted. While the most common scenario of a clinical psychologist working with individual clients is correct, many clinical psychologists focus on analysis, research, and the development of new theories and treatments.

A master’s degree will not only expand your knowledge about human psychology, but it can also set you up for a doctorate program or be a step towards an exciting career as a clinical psychologist.


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Study requirements

To study clinical psychology at the master’s level, you need to first obtain a bachelor’s degree. While a bachelor’s degree in psychology is ideal, it is not essential as many programs accept students with other undergraduate degrees, especially in the health and social sciences. Generally, most colleges require a minimum GPA of 3.0.

The following list of undergraduate electives are considered as strong foundation subjects:

  • Anthropology – the study of humans
  • Biology – the study of life and living things
  • Communications – the process and patterns of human behavior, communications, and relationships
  • Health sciences – the study of human and animal health
  • History – the study of humans in the past
  • Public affairs – public interest and social issues and problems
  • Social work – understanding and working with people in communities, families, and individuals
  • Sociology – the study of human behavior
  • Statistics – collecting and analyzing data and applying it to social and scientific problems

Should you wish to study clinical psychology at the graduate level but you don’t have a bachelor’s in psychology, it will be necessary to take some psychology classes.

Common requirements to get onto clinical psychology graduate programs are:

  • Abnormal psychology – looking at and understanding the causes and effects of different psychological and mental disorders
  • Developmental psychology – studying development and related changes that happen throughout childhood
  • Cognitive psychology – learning about different mental processes like speech and language, problem-solving, creativity, and memory
  • History of psychology – looks at the development of theories and how they change and adapt
  • Personality psychology – studying why and how people differ due to various psychological factors
  • Social psychology – looks at how people’s thoughts, opinions, and beliefs are shaped, influenced, and changed by others
  • Statistics – the collection and analysis of data, including the development of skills to communicate topics based on statistical findings

Additionally, many graduate programs require you to take the GRE test before you submit your application to a master’s program.

A master’s degree in clinical psychology usually takes 2 years to complete. Courses are offered on campus, online, or as a hybrid program. It is important to remember that the practical component of the course is not available online, and must be completed in-person and under the supervision of a fieldwork supervisor. Have a look at some of the top master’s in clinical psychology programs.

Although programs differ from college to college, some examples of what you will study are:

  • Clinical assessment
  • Crisis intervention
  • Family and marital therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Personality testing

The American Psychological Association (APA) considers the following subjects to be core components in a master’s level clinical psychology program:

  • Assessment
  • Consultation
  • Intervention and understanding of psychopathology
  • Mental health (spanning all ages)
  • Research and its applications

Degree options

As with other specializations in psychology, you will have the choice to study a Master of Arts (M.A.) or a Master of Science (M.S.) in clinical psychology. This decision will be based on your undergraduate program, study goals, and future career plans. Ensure that the master’s program you choose has been accredited by the APA. This accreditation shows future employers and clients that your studies are to the highest standard and are up-to-date with new theories and practices.

Regardless of whether you are in an M.A. or M.S. program, the focus of your coursework will be the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues, such as personality disorders and emotional trauma.

Your classes will cover different relevant topics that may include:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Adolescent therapy
  • Family counseling
  • Professional ethics
  • Statistics

How much is this going to cost?

Should you choose to study for your master’s degree on-campus, you can expect to pay an average of $19,314 per year, according to NCES. This just includes tuition. An on-campus degree, especially for an out-of-state student, will entail extra costs such as room, board, travel, and additional expenses including books and library fees. Online study programs are also available, and as with the on-campus program generally take 2 years to complete. The cost of the online program ranges from $18,000 – $45,000 for the whole tuition.

Financial aid

Choosing an online or on-campus program is going to be a significant expense. Luckily, however, there are different financial aid opportunities that you may be eligible for. Aid comes in the form of grants and scholarships, and also in federal grants. To find out what you are eligible for, head to the Federal Student Aid website and fill out their online form.


All psychologists must have licenses in their specific fields. To make sure that your patients get the best help possible, you must have a master’s in clinical psychology from an accredited program (although many licensing boards require a doctorate) and proof of experience in this field. Licenses vary from state to state. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards website provides a list of what is required in the state you’d like to practice in. Be ready for licensing to put a dent in your savings, as the process costs can exceed $1,000 according to research done by the APA.

Further study

To be at the top of your profession in clinical psychology, it is necessary to complete a doctoral program in this area to gain appropriate licensure. The doctoral options are either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., with both degrees demanding, on average, 4-6 years to complete as a full-time student.

The composition of most doctoral degrees is usually coursework, research, and practical experience. Ph.D. students write, present, and defend a dissertation at the end of their degree. This differs for many Psy.D. programs, which replace the dissertation with internship requirements. Completing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology can lead to a career as a college professor of psychology or as a child psychologist. Some interesting careers after completing a Psy.D. can be found in forensic psychology or neuropsychology.

Career options

With the expected growth in employment prospects for clinical psychologists, it is good to know about your career options, including information on employment settings and salaries. Just remember that most clinical psychologist jobs demand a doctorate, so competition for master’s level jobs is tight. Mostly, according to the APA, to practice as a psychologist you must do so under the supervision of someone with a doctorate.

Often, those with master’s degrees work in careers like research or as psychological assistants. In both positions, one-on-one contact with clients is limited. For this reason, you may find work in colleges, research facilities, and some health facilities.

Clinical social workers – work in communities to help people find solutions to problems that negatively impact their daily lives. The everyday work in this profession can be with children and young people, adults, and the elderly, as well as with people from different social and economic classes. Issues you may assist people with as a social worker are an addiction, poverty, medical problems, mental health problems, and disabilities. A clinical social worker commonly works for non-profit or government organizations, in hospitals, and long-term care facilities.

2019 average salary for a clinical social worker: $50,470

Learning disability specialist – these specialists often work in schools, from kindergartens to high schools. They can help diagnose different disabilities and disorders, such as autism or attention deficit disorder (ADHD), which inhibit a student’s ability to learn in the same way as their peers. This role includes working with students to assess their needs, adjusting and developing a curriculum, and collaborating with teachers in the classroom. Having taken special education courses as part of your study would be necessary to enter this profession.

2019 average salary for a learning disability specialist: $61,030

Substance abuse counselor – work with people (and their families) who have been affected by alcohol or drug abuse and addiction. As part of your job as a substance abuse counselor, you would use therapy, teach coping mechanisms, provide help with careers, and, in some cases, prepare reports for the court. A substance abuse counselor often works in healthcare, rehabilitation, and treatment facilities.

2019 average salary for a substance abuse counselor: $46,650

The Society of Clinical Psychology is recognized by and has members from the APA. They aim to show the importance of clinical psychology in education and public policy. Some activities they are involved in include looking into inequalities in healthcare for minorities and the effects this has on mental health.

The American Academy of Clinical Psychology is an organization set up in 1993 to ensure high-quality care in clinical psychology. They also work to encourage ethical practice in this field.

The Association for Psychological Science is an organization that focuses on advancing psychology through international research. To bring attention to the discipline, they promote psychological science, teaching, and conventions.

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