Clinical Psychology Degree Overview

| Nina Chamlou Modified on June 10, 2022

Learn what clinical psychologists do and what kind of educational background they need to practice.

Clinical Psychology Degree Overview

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Are you interested in the factors that influence human behavior and personalities? If so, you may enjoy a career in clinical psychology. Candidates who pursue a clinical psychology degree learn to identify, diagnose, and treat a variety of mental illnesses.

Degrees in Clinical Psychology

All licensed clinical psychologists must earn a doctoral degree in psychology and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. More specific licensing requirements vary between states. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards provides a resource that details guidelines throughout North America.

All prospective mental health professionals explore fundamental concepts and skills during their undergraduate studies. Master's and doctoral programs build on these basic themes and present the opportunity for students to develop a specialty within the field.

Bachelor's Degrees in Clinical Psychology

Bachelor's in clinical psychology programs are relatively rare. If you are interested in becoming a clinical psychologist, you may major in biology, sociology, philosophy, or another humanities subject.

However, majoring in psychology offers the strongest academic foundation for graduate-level studies. An undergraduate psychology curriculum typically includes courses like history of psychology, social psychology, cognition, and research methods.

Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology

Candidates pursuing a master's degree usually specialize in a certain area, like neuropsychology, psychoanalysis, or forensic psychology.

Schools offer a master of arts (MA), a master of science (MS), or both. MS psychology programs sometimes emphasize biological concepts, while MA programs may focus more on psychology's cultural and social aspects. Either degree is suitable if you plan to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology.

As you research master's programs, you may come across the terms "terminal" and "nonterminal." Terminal programs are intended for students who aren't planning to pursue further education, like prospective licensed counselors, who only need a master's degree. Nonterminal programs provide the academic foundation for doctoral study.

Doctorates in Clinical Psychology

Prospective clinical psychologists can earn one of two doctoral degrees: a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) or doctor of philosophy in psychology (Ph.D.). The former best suits students who want to become practicing psychologists. The Ph.D. is ideal for those who are interested in academia, research, and clinical practice.

Ph.D. programs generally maintain stricter admission guidelines and feature more challenging curricula. However, Psy.D. and Ph.D. programs both prepare candidates to become licensed psychologists and qualify graduates to take state licensing exams. Both types of programs usually require students to complete a research project and/or a dissertation.

Most Ph.D. programs take 5-8 years to complete, while Psy.D. programs last about 4-6 years. Your specialization may also affect your graduation timeline. Common specialized tracks include biopsychology, cognition, neuropsychology, developmental psychology, and social psychology.

Featured Online Psychology Bachelor's Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

Frequently Asked Questions About Clinical Psychology

Can I study clinical psychology online?

You can find online psychology programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Online clinical psychology degree programs feature the same curricula as their campus-based counterparts.

What are the best graduate programs in clinical psychology?

As you explore graduate-level clinical psychology degree programs, consider any prospective school's reputation, affordability, and accreditation status. The best graduate programs in clinical psychology prepare students for practice.

What is the difference between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in psychology?

The main difference is that the Psy.D. is intended for students interested exclusively in providing therapy, while the Ph.D. is better for those who are also interested in academic and research careers. Most students who are not interested in teaching or research pursue a Psy.D. because it is less demanding than the Ph.D. and tends to be shorter in length.

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

Clinical psychologists work in schools, hospitals, healthcare centers, and private practice settings. They work with clients of all ages, although some specialize in treating certain demographics. They are qualified to diagnose and treat a variety of psychological difficulties and disorders, including mood disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma-related mental illness, and psychoses.

Clinical psychologists use techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy to help clients. As new treatment methods are explored in research, clinical psychologists may adjust their therapeutic approach throughout their careers.

What Else Can I Do With a Clinical Psychology Degree?

Most people with a doctorate in clinical psychology practice in their field, or pursue careers in academia or research. However, some apply their education to other areas, such as consulting or upper-level administration.

If you hold a doctoral degree in psychology and are thinking of changing careers, consider taking a short course in the industry you wish to enter. Familiarizing yourself with the basic concepts and vocabulary can provide the necessary context to succeed in a new field. For example, if you are interested in consulting, you may benefit from taking a course in business psychology.

Feature Image: Fiordaliso / Moment / Getty Images

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