Clinical Psychology Master's Program Guide

Clinical psychologyis a subdiscipline of psychology that integrates scientific research, theory, and clinical knowledge. Professionals in the field diagnose, prevent, treat, and work to understand common psychological disorders. Clinical psychologistsoften work as therapists, educators, researchers, and scientists who engage in assessment and clinical formulation to encourage mental health and wellness. Most professionals in this discipline hold at least a graduate degree in clinical psychology.

This guide outlines a typical master's in clinical psychology curriculum. The sections below detail common core requirements, course offerings, career paths, and professional development opportunities for clinical psychology students and graduates.

Degree Snapshot

Typical Admission Requirements:
Applicants typically need an accredited bachelor's degree in a related field, a competitive GPA, recommendation letters, and a personal statement. Applicants may also need to meet minimum GRE scores.

Time to Completion:
1-3 years depending on enrollment status

Average Salary:

Why Get a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology?

Most learners pursue a master's in clinical psychology for both personal and professional reasons. Graduates often enjoy the following benefits.

  • Increased Earning Power: Professionals with a graduate-level clinical psychology degree often earn higher salaries than bachelor's degree-holders.
  • Greater Professional Opportunity: Students earning a master's in clinical psychologydevelop a broad knowledge base and expert-level skills that can lead to advanced professional opportunities.
  • Personal Accomplishment: After earning a graduate degree in the field, most individuals feel a sense of personal accomplishment.
  • Licensure: Most clinical psychologistsneed a graduate degree to obtain a license to practice. Licensure requirements vary by state.
  • Further Study: Students interested in pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychologymust first earn a master's degree. Many learners complete a master's program as a stepping stone for additional studies.

Example Courses

The courses below represent a sampling of popular offerings in clinical psychology graduate programs. While most programs share common learning objectives, core courses and free electives vary by school. Students should research the specific requirements and curriculum description at each prospective program.

Master's students in the field typically take coursework covering all the major components of clinical psychology. Learners often take classes in foundational theories and counseling techniques, research methods and assessment strategies, professional ethics, and contemporary issues in cultural diversity.

Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy

This course introduces learners to the theoretical foundations for various approaches to counseling and psychotherapy. The class covers both historical and contemporary approaches to client interaction. Learners focus on practical applications and problem-solving throughout the therapeutic process by practicing strategies for listening actively, setting manageable goals, and giving constructive feedback.

Clinical Psychology

Students in this course gain a working understanding of the history, development, and current trajectory of clinical psychology as a discrete subdiscipline. Learners explore the clinical symptoms and characteristics of common psychiatric disorders, and they explore valid treatment plans. Learners examine several popular case studies and practice strategies for assessment and intervention.


This class explores various definitions and models that focus on problems in psychopathology and common psychological disorders. Students learn about prominent literature in the field, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Learners use this text to classify symptoms, offer diagnoses, and create long-term treatment plans for clients.

Human Development

Learners in this course examine major theories and concepts related to lifespan development in psychology. Students learn to use psychoanalytic, cognitive, and behavioral approaches. Coursework often covers language development, social development, object attachment, separation and individuation, and identity development. Near the end of the course, learners apply these theories and concepts to complete an integrative research project.

What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology?

This section covers professional and academic options for individuals with a master's in clinical psychology. Many graduates work as clinical psychologists, in private practices and large healthcare facilities; however, clinical psychologists need a doctoral degree to practice.

Where Do Clinical Psychologists Work?

Clinical psychologists work in elementary and high schools, for health practitioners and physicians, for individual and family services, at outpatient care centers, and as independent consultants.

Career Advancement

Many career advancement opportunities are available to professionals with a master's in clinical psychology. Graduates can pursue licensure, advanced studies, and membership with professional organizations. Each opportunity offers resources that can expand professional prospects and increase earning potential.

Doctoral Programs

In most disciplines, including clinical psychology, a doctoral degree is the highest academic credential. Many learners enroll in clinical psychology master's programswith the intention of pursuing a doctorate. A doctoral degree demonstrates expert-level skills and qualifies holders to obtain licensure to practice clinical psychology.

Additionally, professionals with a doctorate can work as scientific researchers in clinical psychology, in large laboratories and in the field. Other doctorate-holders pursue positions as postsecondary educators in a variety of higher education settings.


Clinical psychologydegree-holders must obtain a license to practice. Licensure requirements vary by state, so candidates should contact their local licensing board for details.

Candidates for clinical psychology licensure must typically hold a master's in clinical psychologyand provide evidence of several years of professional experience in the field. Some states require additional experience supervised by an approved professional. After meeting these requirements, candidates sit for a written exam that assesses skills, knowledge, and foundational competencies in clinical psychology. Most states grant initial licenses following the exam.

To maintain their license, professionals must periodically apply to renew the credential. Renewal generally requires an application and completion of continuing education credits.

Professional Organizations

  • American Academy of Clinical Psychology This organization serves as a hub that connects working professionals throughout the United States. The organization promotes advanced competency in clinical psychologyby sponsoring publications, hosting events, and providing continuing education resources.
  • Society of Clinical Psychology A subdivision of the American Psychology Association, this society supports clinical psychologiststhrough grants and awards and by offering toolkits and other resources to practicing clinicians.
  • Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology This organization focuses on scientific research in the discipline. The society serves as an integrative catalyst for researchers and practitioners by sponsoring events, providing grants and fellowships, and disseminating innovative scholarship.

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