Online Clinical Psychology Degree Programs

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Do?

Clinical psychologists provide services to individuals; families; and groups with mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. These psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat people with short-term concerns and severe conditions. Clinical psychologists interview patients, administer diagnostic tests, and providing therapy to families and individuals. Although clinical psychologists may treat patients, they are not physicians and cannot prescribe medication in most states.

Clinical psychology is a large and diverse field, with professionals working in healthcare, education, research, and training. Some clinical psychologists provide general psychological treatment, while others focus on specific disorders or populations such as children, aging adults, or patients with physical health problems. In addition to direct care, clinical psychologists may also provide consultation to other health professionals and organizations.

Job satisfaction is very high among clinical psychologists. Because this job requires professionals to work with vulnerable populations, clinical psychologists must be compassionate, patient, understanding, and have strong communication skills.

What Is the Difference Between Clinical and Counseling Psychology?

Clinical psychology and counseling psychology are similar specialties. Professionals in both fields practice psychotherapy, sometimes referred to as talk therapy. The primary difference between the two is the types of clients and issues they usually treat. Counseling psychologists generally help patients across the lifespan understand and navigate problems at home, work, or in their community. Clinical psychologists often see clients who are experiencing more severe symptoms of mental disorders.

Counseling psychology doctoral programs delve into the theories of counseling, psychological assessment and evaluation, and human lifespan development. In clinical psychology programs, students may learn about clinical assessment and diagnosis, interviewing patients, and clinical psychopharmacology. Students also explore child and adolescent therapy, individual and group therapy, and cognitive and behavioral therapy. Graduates of either program are prepared to work in private practices, schools, hospitals, and other centers and agencies that provide care to populations in need.

Can You Get a Degree in Clinical Psychology Online?

Students can choose from dozens of online programs when pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Online programs generally include the same core curriculum as campus-based programs, so students will be just as prepared to enter the workforce as their on-campus peers. However, there are key differences between distance and campus programs. For instance, campus-based clinical psychology programs tend to be more heavily focused on research, especially at the doctoral level.

Online programs offer several advantages for learners who require flexibility. Students can access class materials whenever and wherever is most convenient for them. This allows students with work, family, and other responsibilities to complete schoolwork on their own schedules. Some online programs have several different start dates throughout the year, so students can enroll when it is most convenient for them. Online learners can typically choose whether to complete their studies part-time or full-time.

Clinical psychology students may also save money by earning their degree online. Some institutions give distance learners tuition discounts or charge flat rates for in-state and out-of-state residents. Online schools sometimes have shorter terms than traditional programs, so students may be able to graduate sooner and incur fewer costs.

Are Practicums and Internships Required in an Online Clinical Psychology Program?

Depending on the program and degree level, online clinical psychology students may be required to complete a practicum, internship, or both. Undergraduate programs do not always require students to complete a field experience.

Clinical psychology graduate programs typically include a mandatory practicum and internship component to prepare students for licensure. Students can usually complete this field experience at an approved location within their community.

In most states, a doctoral degree is required to be a licensed, practicing clinical psychologist. Each state sets its own internship and education requirements, so aspiring psychologists should check with the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) to determine necessary requirements. ASPPB will also inform students whether they need to graduate from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association, the ASPPB, or the National Register of Health Service Psychologists in order to be eligible for licensure in their state. The APA accredits doctoral programs only, and it does not accredit programs that only use online instruction. However, some APA-accredited programs may offer certain courses online or use some distance education methods.

Students should learn their state’s requirements before enrolling in a program so they can find one that meets their needs. Program websites usually say whether they prepare students for licensure, including the type of licensure and qualifying states. These sites should also state how many internship and practicum hours are included in the program.

How Do I Become a Clinical Psychologist?

Aspiring clinical psychologists should plan to devote several years to their education and supervised clinical experience before earning their license. An undergraduate degree does not lead to licensure, but is necessary before pursuing graduate-level education. Students typically complete a bachelor’s degree in four years. Psychology master’s programs take 2-4 years, depending on the school and how many credits students take each semester. Doctoral programs are more extensive, generally taking 5-7 years to complete. These programs also typically include a one-year internship. Many states also require candidates seeking licensure to complete one year of supervised clinical work after earning their doctorate, though many states are dropping this requirement.

A 2016 APA study found that students who earned a master’s degree in psychology accrued an average of $60,000 in debt. Recent graduates of clinical psychology doctoral programs had about $113,600 in debt. Additionally, licensure fees, which includes application and initial licensing fees and exam costs, can range from $500 to more than $1,000. Students who pursue their degrees online may save a significant amount of money. For instance, online learners do not have to pay fees for campus-based amenities. They are also generally able to continue working full-time or part-time while in school.

Average Salary for Psychologists by Degree Level

Bachelor of Arts (BA), Psychology $78,321
Master of Arts (MA), Psychology $71,667
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) $73,482

Source: PayScale

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical Psychology

Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming a clinical psychologist. Schools do not typically have undergraduate programs in clinical psychology. Instead, they offer a bachelor’s in psychology with a clinical or counseling concentration. These degrees prepare students to pursue a master’s in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or social work. Some online programs also offer dual degree options, allowing undergraduates to begin coursework for their master’s degree. Some online clinical psychology Ph.D. programs accept applicants who only hold a bachelor’s, potentially saving students a significant amount of time and money.

Example Courses

Physiological Psychology

In this course, students study the biology behind human behavior, including emotions, motivation, learning, and memory. Practicing clinical psychologists must have a strong understanding of the body’s biology in order to suggest different treatment methods for patients.

Human Development: Childhood and Adolescence

This class examines developmental theories for infants, children, and adolescents at the social, biological, and cognitive levels. Topics include attachment issues and temperament, personality development, and puberty and sexual development. This may serve as a helpful introductory course for students hoping to eventually specialize in clinical child psychology.

Cognitive Psychology

Students in this class learn the fundamentals of human thought processing, including perception and pattern recognition, learning and memory, problem-solving, and decision-making.

Abnormal Psychology

This course explores behaviors deemed to be deviant and the way in which society defines, explains, and treats these behaviors. This is an important topic for clinical psychologists, who often treat patients with severe mental illnesses.

Health Psychology

This course prepares students for a career in clinical health psychology, one of the several specialities recognized by the APA. Students learn the interrelationships among the biological, cultural, environmental, and psychological factors critical to physical health and preventing illnesses.

Online Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology

After earning an undergraduate degree, clinical psychology students may either enter a master’s program or a doctoral program. Students interested in an online master’s in clinical psychology may choose either a master of arts degree, which generally includes a stronger emphasis on a liberal arts curriculum, or a master of science degree, which is more focused on STEM-related topics. Some clinical psychology master’s programs include specializations so students can focus on a particular subject or demographic. Potential concentrations include clinical counseling, forensic psychology, sex therapy, and applied research. Convenience and flexibility are two of the key advantages to completing a clinical psychology master’s program online. Online master’s programs are typically full-time, but some offer part-time schedules. Online master’s students are usually able to complete any required practicums or internships at an approved agency in their communities.

Example Courses

Introduction to Psychopathology

This course focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of various forms of psychopathology. Students also explore theories of psychopathology, as well as the politics of mental disorders, contemporary diagnoses, and ethical and multicultural issues within the field.

Ethics and Standards of Professional Practice

Students in this class learn the principles of conduct, ethics, and standards of practice for psychologists. They also review guidelines for practice in certain psychological services and with specific populations. Topics include informed consent, confidentiality, mandated reporting, recordkeeping, and duty to warn.

Personality Assessment

This class discusses the administration, scoring, and interpretation of tests used in the clinical assessment of personality. Students learn interviewing techniques, personality inventories, and projective techniques. They may also gain experience in assessment and professional report writing.

Group Process and Dynamics

This class delves into group therapy, including the study of methods for counseling various types of groups. Students also learn about multicultural and diverse populations, as well as the stages of group development.

Multicultural Counseling

Students review how race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, spirituality, sexual orientation, gender, and ability, are considered in individual, couple, and family counseling. This course helps aspiring psychologists stay mindful and sensitive to all patients and their backgrounds.

Online Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology

Earning a doctorate in clinical psychology is a major step towards obtaining licensure. In most states, clinical psychologists must hold a doctoral degree in psychology. Students can earn either a Ph.D. in clinical psychology or a Psy.D. in clinical psychology. A Ph.D. is research-oriented and requires students to write a dissertation based on original research. A Psy.D. generally focuses on practical work instead of a dissertation, and is targeted toward students who want to pursue clinical practice. All accredited psychology programs require field experience, which may include clinical hours and/or an in-person internship. Online students can typically complete these field experiences near their residence. However, some clinical psychology Ph.D. programs require distance learners to attend residencies on campus.

After a student graduates and completes the necessary licensure requirements set by their state, they can practice as a general clinical psychologist or pursue a speciality, which includes clinical neuropsychology, health psychology, child psychology, and geropsychology.

Example Courses

Strategies of Clinical Supervision and Consultation

This class reviews theories, functions, and methods of clinical supervision, consultation, and advocacy. Students learn about contractual, ethical, and legal issues involved in providing these services. These skills may prepare students for a career as a clinical supervisor.

Psychology and Social Change

This course delves into important topics such as power and social inequalities, ethnic inequalities, and gender and sexism. Students learn how social change theories can impact children, families, and communities. Future psychologists learn how they can serve as change agents.

Psychopharmacology

Students in this class review the neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and biologic actions of psychopharmacological agents such as medical drugs. They learn the indications for prescribing medication, the potential side effects, and what they should consider when referring patients for medication evaluation.

Biopsychology

Biopsychology combines neuroscience with basic psychological models in order to understand how the brain and neurotransmitters affect human behavior. Students in this course examine subjects such as the structure and functions of the central and peripheral nervous systems; the effect of neurobiology, endocrinology, and physiology on human behavior; and functions of the brain.

Advanced Psychopathology

This class delves into differential diagnosis, etiology, prognosis, and the treatment of mental illness. Students will also explore how culture, human diversity, legal, and ethical factors relate to the treatment of illnesses. Learners also review the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Required Licenses and Internships to Become a Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists must be licensed by their state in order to practice psychology. Licensure requirements vary, but most states require clinical psychologists to hold a doctorate in psychology, complete an internship, and perform a year or two of supervised clinical work. Depending on the state, students will need to accrue between 1,500 and 6,000 total hours of supervised experience.

Candidates also must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, a licensing exam administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. According to the ASPPB, test takers must correctly answer about 70% of the questions to pass. Candidates pay a $450 exam fee and a $65 fee to the testing center. Some states also charge extra administrative fees. The total cost after submitting the application, fees, and taking the exam can range from $500 to more than $1,000. Psychology students should refer to the ASPPB to learn the specific requirements for their state.

Careers for Clinical Psychology Degree Holders

After graduating from a doctoral program and earning licensure in their state, clinical psychologists may work in various settings, including hospitals, private health care practices, mental health facilities, and schools. They can practice as general clinical psychologists or pursue a speciality in the field. The APA recognizes the specialties of clinical neuropsychology, health psychology, child psychology, and professional geropsychology. Common traits of strong psychologists include communication, analytical, interpersonal, observational, and problem-solving skills. They must also have integrity and patience, as patients need to trust them to treat sensitive problems.

  • Clinical Psychologist
    These psychologists evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients with psychological issues. They commonly see patients with depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems. Clinical psychologists provide therapy to individuals and groups. Aspiring psychologists should earn a doctoral degree in clinical or counseling psychology from an APA-accredited organization.

  • Clinical Child Psychologist
    Child psychologists diagnose and treat children who are under 17 and have mental, social, behavioral, or emotional problems. They commonly help children and teens with problems associated with their age group, including phobias, eating disorders, or aggression. Common work settings include schools, large clinics, and private practices. Child psychologists need a doctorate in psychiatry, psychology, developmental psychology, or a related field. Most also hold an undergraduate degree in psychology, developmental psychology, or a similar subject.

  • Clinical Therapist
    Clinical therapists may specialise in many areas, including mental health, marriage and family therapy, or drug addiction therapy. They commonly have their own practice, but may also work in hospitals, government agencies such as the Department of Veteran Affairs, or corporations that provide mental and emotional services to their employees. Clinical therapists hold master’s degrees in psychology, social work, mental health, marriage and family therapy, counseling, or a related field. They are also required to obtain a relevant state license. Therapists who have meaningful research experience are competitive on the job market.

  • Clinical Director
    These directors oversee and develop an organization’s clinical departments. Responsibilities include planning, developing, coordinating, and supervising the delivery of patient care services. They also work closely with the finance staff and develop and monitor budgets for service programs. Clinical directors typically need experience in management, staff supervision, and client billing. They should also be knowledgeable about generating revenue streams for clinical services.

  • Clinical Supervisor
    A clinical supervisor is responsible for a clinic’s operational activities. Duties include scheduling, coordinating, and directing the activities of clinic employees. Their goal is to ensure a high degree of patient care. Supervisors often maintain clinic records, fill out clinic forms, and file reports in a timely manner. These managers are commonly registered nurses, and those with a clinical education typically have higher salaries.

Salary for Clinical Psychology Degree Holders

Clinical psychologists may earn anywhere from less than $50,000 to more than $100,000. Salaries vary based on experience, location, and degree level. According to PayScale, professionals with fewer than five years of experience can expect, on average, to earn $69,000 annually. Professionals with 10-20 years of experience take in an average of $90,000 each year. Where a clinical psychologist practices can also make a big impact on their paycheck. Dallas has the highest paid professionals in this field, with the median pay about 36% higher than the national average at $105,359. Psychologists in the District of Columbia and Seattle also earn more than the national average.

Pay also varies depending on whether clinical psychology students pursue a graduate degree. Professionals with a BA in clinical psychology report an annual average salary of $63,442, according to PayScale. Psychologists who earned a Ph.D. report the highest earnings at $80,188, with Psy.D. graduates at $74,975.

Position Median Annual Salary
Clinical Psychologist $75,196
Clinical Child Psychologist $65,000
Clinical Therapist $45,572
Clinical Director $72,817
Clinical Supervisor $55,993

Source: PayScale