Master's programs in clinical psychology prepare students to understand, assess, and treat individuals struggling with psychological issues. In these programs, students learn about psychological theories, cognitive function and behavior, developmental processes throughout the lifespan, and treatment strategies and techniques.
Clinical psychologists typically work in research or clinical settings, but they may also work in forensic or industry sectors, or a wide range of other sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned an annual median salary of $80,370 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for psychologists to grow 14% between 2018 and 2028, a faster rate than average.
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Clinical psychologists study, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. After a diagnosis, clinical psychologists treat and help patients manage chronic conditions or personal difficulties. They also conduct research on behavioral or emotional patterns, brain function and neurological conditions, mental health disorders, and best practices in the field.
Becoming a licensed clinical psychologist requires the completion of a master’s and/or a doctoral degree. Master’s in psychology programs typically require 36-60 credits and take 2-3 years to complete. Doctoral programs in psychology require 90 credits and take 4-7 years to complete. Some doctoral programs are structured so students may earn a master’s degree during the course of studying for a doctorate, while others may require students to possess a master’s before enrolling. Graduate students in clinical psychology complete coursework, clinical practicums or internships, and dissertations that prepare them for state licensure.
A master's in clinical psychology will focus on implementing psychology theories in real-life clinical situations. Rather than research and theory based studying, a clinical master's will prepare you for assessing, counseling and treating mental health and behavioral disorders.
According to the BLS, clinical psychologists can make anywhere between $80,000 and $120,000 a year depending on where you're employed. You'll likely need a doctoral degree to officially work as a clinical psychologist, but some entry level and training positions can be earned with a master's degree.
The average time to complete a master's degree in clinical psychology is two years if you are enrolled full time. Some programs may include longer clinical internships that could extend the time it takes to complete the program.
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How to Become a Clinical Psychologist
- Complete a master's degree
- To complete a master's degree, students must complete coursework, clinical experience, and a comprehensive exam or thesis. Most master's degrees in clinical psychology require 36-60 credits and can be completed in 2-3 years. Students can choose a master of arts or master of science degree in clinical psychology, both of which provide students with a background in the theory and practice of clinical psychology.
- Enroll in a Ph.D. program
- Students can complete either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. The latter prepares students to provide psychological services to patients; the former teaches students psychological theories, best practices, and research methods to prepare them to conduct their own original research and advance science in the field. A Ph.D. in clinical psychology takes 4-7 years to complete and results in a dissertation. Students may also have to complete comprehensive and qualifying exams as a part of the doctoral program.
- Complete clinical training
- Most states require a certain number of clinical training hours for licensure as a clinical psychologist. This can include two years of postdoctoral supervised clinical experience, roughly 3,000 hours of clinical experience, or a related requirement. In some states, clinical experience obtained during master's and doctoral programs may be sufficient to meet the requirement, while other states require postdoctoral clinical training. These clinical hours should be completed in a mental health setting related to the candidate's career goals.
- Become licensed
- State licensure requirements for clinical psychologists typically include the completion of a doctoral degree, a number of supervised clinical experience hours, and satisfactory scores on a licensing exam. Prospective psychologists should check with their state's licensing board to ensure their graduate programs and clinical training satisfy the state's requirements. After completing the necessary education and training requirements, eligible candidates must take and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Licensed psychologists must also maintain their licenses by regularly completing approved continuing education courses.
Common Clinical Psychology Courses
- Human Growth and Development: This course covers the fundamental principles and theories of developmental psychology, including infancy, early childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and aging. It covers physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth and development throughout the lifespan. Students also learn social frameworks and theories that explore and explain characteristics of individuals, groups, communities, and cultures.
- Psychopathology: This course introduces students to psychological disorders, including models and definitions, conceptualizations and theories about each disorder, and contemporary treatment approaches. Students explore the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' categories (e.g., anxiety, obsessive compulsive, bipolar) and learn to apply it as a basis for the diagnosis and classification of psychopathology. Students also learn about cultural, social, and ethical issues related to the field of psychopathology.
- Counseling Theories: This course provides an overview of theoretical approaches and best practices related to counseling and psychotherapy. Topics covered include client and counselor roles, assessment and evaluation, intervention strategies and techniques, and fundamental counseling response skills. Students learn about contemporary psychotherapy types, such as psychoanalytical, humanistic, existential, and behavioral. Some counseling theory courses may also cover issues related to counseling practice, including confidentiality, working with minority clients, and conducting group therapy.
- Neuropsychology: This course introduces students to the branch of psychology focused on the relationship between brain injury or disease and psychological disorders. Students learn how the brain affects cognition and behavior. Topics covered may include brain function in relation to memory, judgment, reasoning, language, intelligence, and emotions. Learners study various brain disorders, their diagnoses and categorizations, their effects on cognitive and behavioral functioning, and effective treatments. The course provides an overview of conditions commonly dealt with in the field of neuropsychology, such as autism, learning and attention disorders, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, stroke, and dementia.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This course introduces students to cognitive behavioral therapy, a treatment that centers on changing patterns of behavior or thinking in order to help patients overcome personal struggles and difficulties. Students learn to apply cognitive and behavioral techniques to treat depression, anxiety, addiction problems, marital issues, and eating disorders. The goal of CBT is to teach clients skills to change their thinking and behavior to create lasting improvement in their mental well-being.
Clinical Psychology Concentrations
Concentrations in a psychology graduate program allow students to narrow their focus and prepare for a subfield within clinical psychology. Clinical psychology graduate programs offer concentrations in forensic psychology, neuropsychology, developmental psychology, childhood and adolescent development, substance abuse and addictions, and other specialties related to a practice area or working with specific populations.
- Developmental psychology: This concentration focuses on adolescent psychology and childhood development. Schools, foster and adoption agencies may be more likely to hire clinical psychologists with this concentration since their organizations work primarily with students and children.
- Forensic psychology: A concentration in forensic psychology provides students with an understanding of the justice system and the role of psychology in family, civil, and criminal court cases. Forensic psychologists often serve as expert witnesses during trials to help the jury and judge understand the psychological elements of cases. They may also provide counseling or psychological services to populations involved with different facets of the criminal justice system.
- Neuropsychology: This concentration focuses on how the brain and nervous system affect cognitive function. Students who want to diagnose and treat cognitive disorders related to brain injury may choose a concentration in neuropsychology.
- Substance abuse and addiction: If you wish to become a substance abuse counselor and help patients with addiction, this concentration will focus on addiction brain chemistry, psychological dependence, and different facets of treatment, such diagnosis and treatment planning.
Clinical Psychology Master's Degree Requirements
Admissions criteria to graduate programs in psychology include a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related discipline, a minimum GPA requirement, satisfactory GRE scores, and the completion of prerequisite courses.
Admission to graduate programs in psychology do require a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related discipline. Some programs require candidates who completed their undergraduate degree in a discipline other than psychology to take prerequisite courses in psychological statistics, research methods, and abnormal psychology before progressing to graduate-level coursework.
Most graduate programs require at least a 2.5 or 3.0 GPA from your undergraduate degree coursework. Some institutions admit students who do not meet the minimum GPA requirement under a probationary status. Other programs do not have a minimum GPA requirement but allow for other elements of an application to offset a low GPA, such as a high GRE score, strong recommendation letters, and a personal statement.
Not all schools require GRE scores for admission, especially if you have work experience in the field or an exceptionally high GPA. Taking the GRE can be a good way to expand your options open while applying for a variety of programs.
Can You Get an Online Master's in Clinical Psychology?
You can complete an advanced degree in clinical psychology with an online program. Online programs offer unique flexibility to complete your degree while balancing a job, family, or other responsibilities. There are many online programs that provide the same academic challenge as on-campus programs — though you may want to be sure the program is approved by the American Psychology Association before enrolling.
Financial Aid and Scholarships for Clinical Psychology Students
The APA awards graduate students based on their research proposals related to psychology. You must be nominated by your psychology department.
The Melanie Foundation awards several scholarships to graduate students who are specializing in the mental health field. To apply, you must submit a resume, letters of recommendation, transcript, and an essay.
Annual award to one graduate student studying neuropsychology. Must submit a research proposal or project that involves the neuropsychology field.
Professional Organizations for Clinical Psychology
There are several organizations and institutions you can look to for information on the field and guidance as you pursue your career. These places also offer scholarships and certifications. You can also join memberships that can help you network, improve expertise, and share research as you become a professional in the field.
The American Academy of Clinical Psychology is an organization that helps connect working professionals in clinical psychology. The group hosts events, funds publications, and offers continuing education opportunities.
A broader organization for counselors in a variety of fields — including clinical, school, agency, etc. There are membership levels for students, new professionals, experienced counselors, and retired professionals.
The Society of Clinical Psychology is a subgroup within the American Psychology Association that specializes in supporting clinical psychology. The organization has grants and awards to support research and resources for clinicians.
This organization is particularly dedicated to the scientific research behind clinical psychology. Researchers can find grants, fellowships, events, and community here.
The Top 25 Master's Degrees in Clinical Psychology for 2021
Although TWU was founded as the Girls Industrial College in 1901, the school has enrolled male students since 1972.
TWU offers a master of science in psychological science, which consists of 36 credits. Most students graduate after one year of continuous enrollment. The program will prepare you for a career as a clinical psychologist with courses like "Professional and Ethical Issues in Counseling Psychology," "Clinical Therapeutic Group Processes," and "Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling." You can also choose courses that focus on counseling different levels of development and specialties.
Texas Woman's University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
Augusta University offers more than 160 academic programs across 10 schools and colleges. The university has a full-time year-round master of science in psychology program. Students can pursue a clinical/counseling, applied experimental, or general experimental track. The clinical/counseling track comprises 60 credits and requires the completion of 600 hours of clinical internship. The curriculum meets the educational requirements for counselor licensure in Georgia. Degree-seekers can pursue a thesis or non-thesis plan of study.
Augusta University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
Hunter College offers a master of arts in psychology that comprises 30 credits and requires the completion of a thesis prior to graduation. The degree allows students to explore and learn about the various aspects of the field. It also allows learners to focus on one of three content areas — applied and evaluative psychology, biopsychology and comparative psychology, and social, cognitive, and developmental psychology. All can be applied to clinical psychology in a variety of career fields.
CUNY Hunter College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
California State University-Los Angeles
Founded in 1947, Cal State LA enrolls more than 26,000 students and comprises eight academic colleges offering more than 100 certificate, undergraduate, graduate, and pre-professional programs.
The university offers a master of arts in psychology that follows a cohort model of education. The program consists of 31-32 credits and requires a thesis. The program is designed for students who wish to eventually pursue a doctoral degree as well. Each student is paired with a faculty mentor who oversees progress towards your degree and career goals.
California State University Los Angeles is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
University of New Orleans
UNO was established in 1958 as the Louisiana State University in New Orleans. The school offers a master of science in applied psychology comprising 40 credits. Students seeking to complete the program as a terminal degree do not need to write a thesis. Instead, they must complete a five-section practicum. Learners can participate in several psychology research labs on campus covering topics such as autism, brain and language, and biological and environmental risk for affective disorders.
The University of New Orleans is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
Columbia University in the City of New York
Columbia is the oldest university in New York and the fifth oldest in the nation. Columbia offers a master of arts in psychology, from which students can select from several concentrations — cognition, behavioral neuroscience, sensation and perception, and social and personality psychology. The program requires students to serve as teaching assistants for one semester each year. Degree-seekers must also complete some mandatory classes to support their educational and career objectives — including courses specifically focused on clinical psychology.
Columbia University in the City of New York is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
Florida Atlantic University
FAU offers a master of arts degree in psychology that comprises 36 semester hours. The program only accepts full-time applicants and students typically graduate in 2-3 years. Since the program is mentor-based, admission during any given year depends on the number of faculty members who can directly supervise a new student.
FAU provides fundamental experimental training specifically for students who plan to continue on to a doctoral program in psychology. The school does not currently offer graduate opportunities for counseling or clinical psychology. But if you wish to pursue that as a Phd student, this masters program can still apply.
Florida Atlantic University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
SBU degree-seekers can enroll in a full-time, one-year master of arts in general psychology program that comprises 30 credits. The curriculum includes coursework in graduate statistics, cognitive science, integrative neuroscience, and clinical psychology. Although GRE scores are optional, applicants need a minimum undergraduate 3.25 GPA to be considered for admission. The school will help connect you with a variety of internship opportunities to gain practical clinical experience.
Stony Brook University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
California State University-Long Beach
CSULB offers a full-time, two-year master of arts in psychology degree in psychological research that comprises 30 graduate credits. Called MAPR, the degree prepares graduates for doctoral studies or master's-level careers in the field. Students enroll in classes that cover key psychological subjects such as statistical design and analysis, developmental psychology, perception and physiological psychology, and health, behavior, and intervention. MAPR applicants need a bachelor's degree in psychology or at least 24 upper-division units of psychology coursework.
California State University Long Beach is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
CCNY offers a master's in general psychology that allows learners to follow a thesis or non-thesis course of study. The thesis option requires the completion of 31 credits, while the non-thesis program requires 41 credits. The curriculum includes coursework in psychometrics, cognition, psychopharmacology, and neuroscience. You can also complete the program as a part time student. You must have completed some form of statistics or research method courses in your undergraduate degree before beginning at CCNY.
The City College of New York is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
California State University-Northridge
CSUN offers a master's in psychological science that allows students to pursue an emphasis in clinical research or clinical fieldwork. The clinical research emphasis allows learners to focus on independent research projects and culminates in a master's thesis. Students pursuing the clinical fieldwork option participate in a practicum experience in either the child and adolescent diagnostic assessment clinic or the anxiety and mood disorders clinic. Students who choose this option must pass a comprehensive exam prior to graduation.
California State University, Northridge is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
National Louis University
National Louis University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Learners at Marshall can enroll in a master of arts in psychology comprising 36 graduate credit hours. Students complete a common core of 24 credits in subjects such as advanced or applied developmental psychology, psychometrics, biological bases of behavior, and ethical and legal issues in psychology. You can then complete the remaining credits in general psychology or clinical psychology. The program offers a thesis option for students who wish to write one. All degree-seekers must pass a comprehensive exam prior to graduation.
Marshall University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
QC's master of arts in general psychology comprises either 30 graduate credits (thesis option) or 36 graduate credits (non-thesis option). Only students with a 3.7 GPA can pursue the thesis option. Learners who do not meet this qualification must take a comprehensive exam as their culminating experience. The program requires all students to enroll in the history of psychology, advanced experimental psychology, and statistical methods.
Queens College, CUNY is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
California State University-Dominguez Hills
CSUDH offers a master of arts in psychology comprising 30 credits. Learners typically take two years of full-time study to complete the program. Students can follow a clinical psychology or health psychology track. Clinical psychology students must complete a minimum of 550 practicum hours in research, teaching, or clinical work. The clinical track is also heavily mentored so you can learn from supervised application of clinical skills.
California State University Dominguez Hills is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
California State University-San Bernardino
San Bernardino, CA
CSUSB offers a master of arts in psychological sciences that consists of 34-35 graduate credits. The program features a general concentration and a behavioral and cognitive neuroscience concentration. Students must complete a minimum of 25 credits at the university. The curriculum includes coursework in biological psychology, analysis of variance, advanced methods in psychological research, and theories of learning and motivation. Regardless of their concentration area, all enrollees must complete a master's thesis.
California State University, San Bernardino is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
UB offers a master of arts in general psychology that consists of 30 credit hours and features concentrations in four areas: clinical psychology, behavioral neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social-personality psychology. Most students take two years to earn the degree.
A mentor-based program, student admission largely depends on the number of faculty members who can take on a new student each academic year. Coursework includes subjects such as attitudes and social cognition, developmental psychopathology, cognitive processes, and psycholinguistics.
University at Buffalo is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
University of Houston-Clear Lake
Students at UHCL can pursue a master of science in psychology, which comprises 36 credits for the thesis or special project option, or 39 credits for the internship or comprehensive exam option. The curriculum includes classes in advanced experimental methods and statistics, human growth and development, learning principles, and advanced cognitive and affective psychology. UHCL does not count courses in which students earn a C+ or below toward the master's degree.
University of Houston Clear Lake is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
California State University-Fresno
Fresno State students can pursue a master of arts in psychology that comprises 30 graduate credits. Learners study developmental psychology, psychobiological bases of behavior, and role and function of research data analysis. Students advance to candidacy only if they receive a grade of A or B in their advanced research design and statistical techniques class, meet the graduate writing requirements, and pass the department's statistical proficiency exam. Students wanting to pursue clinical psychology can choose courses like "Introduction to Counseling," "Topics in Clinical Processes," and "Applied Behavior Analysis."
California State University, Fresno is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
Texas A & M International University
The university offers a master of science in psychology that comprises 36 credits and supports both thesis and non-thesis options. Students who choose a non-thesis program must complete a six-credit internship experience. Core coursework for both options includes classes in addictions counseling, cognitive science, human development across the lifespan, and survey of social psychology.
Texas A&M International University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
University of Wisconsin-Madison
UW-Madison offers a master of arts in psychology as a step toward a Ph.D and a masters in counseling. The program consists of 30 credits, at least 16 of which learners must complete at the university. Students earn the master's degree after completing a research paper that they begin during their first year in the program. Only courses for which students receive a grade of B or higher count toward the credit tally required for the degree. Its counseling program emphasizes skills in both group and individual counseling, ethics, social justice, and vocational psychology.
University of Wisconsin-Madison is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
New Mexico State University
NMSU offers a master of arts in general experimental psychology, which comprises 36 credit hours. Degree-seekers can pursue emphasis areas in engineering, cognitive, or social psychology. Students must complete a first-year project and a research thesis to earn the degree. The curriculum includes coursework in learning theory and methodology, behavioral neuroscience, psycholinguistics, and history and systems of psychology. Most students graduate from the program in 2-3 years. NMSU does not offer a non-thesis option.
New Mexico State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Brigham Young University-Provo
BYU students can pursue a master of science in psychology as an embedded program within the Ph.D. in clinical psychology. The master's curriculum comprises a minimum of 36 credits and makes up the first two years of study for the doctoral degree. The program includes coursework in data analysis in psychological research, professional and ethical issues in psychology, psychopathology, and relationships and psychodynamics. Learners must complete a master's thesis before proceeding to doctoral work.
Brigham Young University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin
UTPB offers a master of arts in psychology with concentrations in clinical and experimental psychology. Clinical psychology students can choose to complete a master's project or write a thesis as their culminating experience. Experimental psychology students must write a thesis. The curriculum includes courses in advanced statistics (analysis and variance), ethical and professional issues, lifespan development, and social psychology.
The University of Texas Permian Basin is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
California State University-Sacramento
Sac State offers a master of arts in general psychology that consists of 30 credits and can prepare you for a doctoral program in clinical psychology. Students must complete required courses in methods in empirical psychology and contemporary statistical methods in psychological research. The curriculum also includes courses in advanced psychopathology, learning and behavior, and theories of personality. Learners can choose to write a thesis or complete a master's project as the culminating experience.
California State University, Sacramento is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
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