Master’s Programs in Clinical Psychology

Reviewed by: Kathy Barnett, Ph.D.

Clinical mental health counselors diagnose, prevent, treat, and work to understand common psychological disorders. These professionals often 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 graduate-level 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: Each applicant typically needs to hold an accredited bachelor’s degree in a related field with a competitive GPA, provide recommendation letters, and submit a personal statement. Applicants may also need to meet minimum GRE scores.
  • Time to Completion: 1-3 years, depending on enrollment status
  • Average Salary: $54,000

Why Get a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology?

Most learners pursue a master’s in clinical psychology degree for personal and professional reasons. Graduates can 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 degree in clinical psychology develop 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 psychologists need a graduate degree to obtain a license to practice. Licensure requirements vary by state.
  • Further Study: A student interested in pursuing a doctorate in clinical or counseling psychology must first earn a master’s degree. Many learners complete a master’s program as their first step toward additional studies.

Featured Online 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.

Example Courses

The courses below represent a sampling of popular offerings in 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-level learners typically take coursework covering all the major components of clinical psychology. Learners explore 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 active listening, 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. Coursework explores the clinical symptoms and characteristics of common psychiatric disorders, along with valid treatment plans. Enrollees examine several popular case studies and practice strategies for mental health assessment and intervention.

  • Psychopathology

    This class explores definitions and models that focus on 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 theory, understand the origination of cognitive processes, and identify some behavioral approaches. Coursework 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, and may complete an integrative research project.

What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in 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. A clinical psychologist needs a doctoral degree to practice.

  • What is the Role of a Clinical Psychologist?

    Clinical psychologists help patients overcome mental health challenges or conduct research. They may function as generalists or focus on specific patient populations or disorders.

  • Where Do Clinical Psychologists Work?

    Clinical psychologists work in private practice, hospitals, mental health clinics, outpatient care centers, and as independent consultants.

  • Can You Practice Clinical Psychology With a Master's?

    A clinical psychologist needs a doctoral degree to practice independently in most states. Many doctorate programs require a master’s degree in clinical psychology for admittance. A professional counselor with a master’s degree in psychology, may be able to obtain licensure for clinical work, though state requirements vary.

Career Advancement

A professional with a master’s in clinical psychology can consider many career advancement opportunities. Graduates can pursue licensure, advanced studies, and membership with professional organizations. Each opportunity offers resources that can expand professional prospects and increase earning potential.

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Doctoral Programs

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

Additionally, professionals with a doctoral degree can work as scientific researchers in clinical psychology. Other doctorate-holders pursue positions as postsecondary educators in higher education settings.

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Licensure

Graduates from psychology master’s and doctorate programs who plan to work in clinical psychology must obtain a license to practice professionally.

A candidate for licensure to practice clinical psychology must typically hold at least a master’s degree in psychology and complete an internship that includes a state mandated number or clinical hours with supervision by an approved professional. After meeting these requirements, candidates typically sit for written and oral exams that assesses skills, knowledge, and foundational competencies in clinical psychology. Most states grant initial licenses following the exam.

To maintain their licenses, professionals must periodically apply for renewal, which generally requires an application and completing continuing education credits.

FAQs

  • What Exactly Is Clinical Psychology?

    The psychological specialty of clinical psychology encompasses behavioral, emotional, and mental healthcare for individuals, families, and groups, along with research into interventions and treatments.

  • What Is an Example of Clinical Psychology?

    Child psychology is an example of a clinical specialty area. Child psychologists help young patients with the effects of abuse, developmental disorders, and learning disabilities.

  • Why Is Clinical Psychology Important?

    Training for work in clinical psychology prepares practitioners to help people with complex behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders, including chronic conditions and those resulting from injury or illness.

Professional Associations

  • 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 psychology by sponsoring publications, hosting events, and providing continuing education resources.

  • Society of Clinical Psychology

    A subdivision of the American Psychology Association, this society supports clinical psychologists through 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 scholarships.

  • Reviewed by:

    Kathy Barnett, Ph.D.

    Kathy Barnett, Ph.D.

    Dr. Barnett has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Utah. In her private practice she contracts with entities to administer full psychological assessments with adults including cognitive, memory, learning, development, personality, and some neuropsychological testing. These diagnostic services provide prognosis and recommendations. In addition, Dr. Barnett has experience providing counseling in the areas of domestic violence, anger management, substance abuse, women’s issues, and veterans’ psychological challenges. She has specialized training in geriatric, polytrauma, traumatic brain injury, and posttraumatic stress. Dr. Barnett served for eight years on the Utah Psychological board in several roles including as president and education chair.

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