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Clinical Psychology Master’s Programs
Enrolling in a master’s program for clinical psychology is one of the best ways to work toward furthering your career in the field. Clinical psych combines a number of approaches with the major principles of general psychology to assess and treat mental illness, behavioral health issues, and psychological distress. With the goal of promoting well-being and personal development, it’s a branch of psychology with numerous career paths and real-world applications.
If you’re interested in pursuing a master’s in clinical psychology, read on to learn more about this rewarding and increasingly important field.
What Is a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology?
While programs vary in nature and scope, most clinical psychology master’s programs place a heavy focus on research, theory, and practice. Topics covered may include developmental psychology, evidence-based treatments, and community psychology, among others.
An important difference between master’s degrees in clinical psych and other psychology degrees is the emphasis on practice-based work in a clinical setting instead of a larger focus on conducting research. Students learn to diagnose and treat anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other mental health issues in hands-on, real-world settings.
Deborah Kerr, a clinical psychology grad student in Madison, Wisconsin, chose clinical psychology, especially in the field around the cognitive basis of mood and anxiety disorders, saying she’d been interested in the field “since high school.” After completing her bachelor’s degree, she worked with medical school researchers and participated in neuroimaging studies. Now, her research is focused on using these technologies to develop more effective therapeutic strategies.
Are MA and MS degrees in clinical psychology different?
In short, yes. Both Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) degrees are offered for clinical psychology, and while academic requirements can be similar, the difference can be found in the overall focus of the subject matter. While both programs will cover the general principles of theory, method, and practice, MS programs may place a stronger focus on research and brain science than MAs.
In the end, however, what differentiates MA and MS programs will vary from one institution to another. Deciding which degree to pursue will depend on how the course curriculum will prepare you for your ultimate career goals.
Who are clinical psychology graduate degrees intended for?
Master’s programs in clinical psychology are designed for students who have already earned their bachelor’s in the same or a related field, and want to work directly with patients to address mental health and behavioral issues.
Note that if you prefer not to work with patients or the public, a degree that puts a higher emphasis on research might be a better fit.
Terminal vs. non-terminal degree programs
Terminal degree programs are those that don’t require further education once completed. This means that, in some states, those who earn a master’s in clinical psychology might be able to practice psychotherapy under the guidance of a licensed clinical psychologist.
Non-terminal master’s programs are designed for those who want to continue on toward earning a doctoral degree. This is required to get your license as a psychologist and practice independently.
Careers with a Master’s in Clinical Psychology
Obtaining an MA or MS degree in clinical psychology can open up a number of doors for those who are looking to either switch careers or continue progressing in the field. While many careers in clinical psych require a doctorate, there are also job options for those who seek a terminal master’s.
Clinical psychologists work with individuals—usually on a 1-on-1 basis—to assess, diagnose, and treat a wide variety of mental health disorders. Many clinical psychologists choose to work in private practice, while others may wish to work in a healthcare facility setting.
According to the U.S. Bureau Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical psychologists earn an average salary of $87,450 per year. This number varies based on the type of setting and the state where you work. States where clinical psychologists earn the highest average salary include New Jersey, South Dakota, California, New York, and Oregon.
While it’s possible to gain employment within clinical psychology with just a master’s, a doctoral degree and state licensing is often required before entering into this type of role. This requires passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), though what’s considered a passing score varies by individual state.
Substance abuse counselor
Substance abuse counselors work primarily with those who have been affected by drug and/or alcohol addiction. They typically work with both individuals and groups, occasionally moving between private practice and hospital settings.
BLS data shows that substance abuse counselors earn an average annual wage of $49,950. This also includes those who focus on gambling and eating disorders, either in addition to or in place of substance abuse. States where these counselors earn the highest salaries include New Mexico, Alaska, North Dakota, New Jersey, and New York.
If you work in private practice as a substance abuse counselor, you must be licensed by your state. While requirements vary, you’ll need to hold a master’s degree, have thousands of supervised hours, and pass at least 1 state-issued exam.
Clinical social worker
Clinical social workers provide community outreach and may find themselves working directly in the field in a variety of different settings. They work to help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives by identifying the programs and services that individuals need. Nonprofit and government organizations often hire clinical social workers to work with their clients.
According to the BLS, healthcare social workers earn an average annual salary of $59,300. Locations where these social workers earn the most include Nevada, California, Washington, D.C., Oregon, and Connecticut.
All states require clinical social workers to be licensed. This requires a master’s degree and a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience following graduation.
Typical Degree & Career Paths in Clinical Psychology
Clinical psychologists can work in a number of different environments, ranging from schools and educational institutions to prisons, hospitals, and private practice settings. While mostly interacting directly with patients, some in the field find themselves either working as a researcher or an educator at some point in their career.
For those who are setting out to pursue this career, the first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, or a related field. Some students may choose to earn a degree in areas such as business or marketing instead, which can actually be helpful if you end up developing a business plan for a private practice.
From there, the logical next step is to pursue a master’s degree in clinical psychology. While a terminal master’s can be sufficient for finding certain types of work in the field, many choose to work toward earning a doctorate and gaining their license.
In Kerr’s case, she selected a PhD program with excellent resources for research and an open communication policy between students and faculty members. During the first two years of her studies, Kerr took core courses in areas like statistics, depression, and psychopathology. At the end of the second year she learned clinical strategies for working directly with patients, and began seeing patients professionally in the third year.
The time investment doesn’t faze Kerr. “I’m almost three years into a 6-year program, and I haven’t even noticed the time passing. The payoff is that I’m going to be able to do what I want for the rest of my life—helping people.”
Looking to the future, Kerr anticipates that clinicians will make good use of new medical solutions to psychological problems.
“People are moving away from using medication on its own, toward combining medicine with therapy and a variety of other treatments. People are paying more attention to what’s going on in the body and the brain, medically, not just self-reporting from the patients but looking at empirical evidence as well.”
Academic Requirements Before Starting a Master’s in Clinical Psychology
To enter into a graduate program for clinical psych, you’ll need to have completed the equivalent of a bachelor’s-level education with at least 120 credits.
Is there a GPA requirement?
While there’s no standardized GPA requirement for getting into a master’s program, most schools require a 3.0 or higher. Competition for spots can be strong, so the higher your GPA, the better.
Can you get in if your bachelor’s isn’t in psychology?
Yes, many clinical psych programs accept bachelor’s degrees that aren’t in psych, though they may require that at least part of your previous studies can be directly applied to their program.
Do you need to take the GRE?
While not required for all master’s programs, taking the GRE may be helpful for those who are interested in pursuing an advanced degree. Some schools require the exam, some offer alternate tests, and some don’t require scores at all.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree?
Master’s degree programs in the field of clinical psych can usually be completed within 1–2 years. Doctorate programs, in comparison, can sometimes take up to 8 years to complete.
The Master’s in Clinical Psychology Curriculum
Students entering into a clinical psychology master’s program may encounter a wide range of subject matter ranging from ethics and assessment to the sociological implications of behavioral health on both micro and macro levels. In general, curriculums are designed to help facilitate a student’s ability to understand best practices for fieldwork taking place in real-world environments.
What core classes are involved?
Core classes will depend upon the specific program you choose. However, typical classes offered as part of a master’s in clinical psychology include those that focus on:
- Clinical assessment
- Group therapy
- Personality testing
- Crisis intervention
- Family and marital systems
- Individualized therapy
Number of course credits
Though requirements vary depending on the master’s program you choose, many require between 36 and 54 credits.
Due to the breadth of applications that clinical psychology can have in both real-world and research settings, students may choose to focus on a number of unique concentrations within the field. These include but are not limited to:
- Personality disorders
- Child psychology
- Behavior therapy
- Memory and neuropsychology
- Social psychology
Is Fieldwork or a Practicum Required?
While many master’s programs in clinical psychology do require fieldwork, this might not be true of all degrees. However, if you’re planning to pursue a doctoral degree, some level of clinical fieldwork will likely be required.
Can You Get an Online Master’s in Clinical Psychology?
Yes, although format and focus may differ between online and campus-based master’s programs.
Online programs offer a great deal of flexibility and are perfect for students with busy schedules. That said, they tend to be less research-oriented than programs taken on campus, and this is especially true at the doctoral level. While your classes can be taken online, it’s likely that you’ll still be required to participate in supervised fieldwork.
In a classroom setting, coursework in clinical psychology will feature more group and 1-on-1 interactions than what’s possible with online classes. Like with certain online programs, a practicum or internship may be required for completion.
Many people choose to take a hybrid approach to earning a master’s degree in clinical psychology, which can allow you to take many of your courses online and attend classes on campus just 1 or 2 times a week. In order for this type of approach to work, care must be taken to ensure that credits between online and campus-based classes transfer properly.
Accelerated degrees may be available for those who wish to earn a master’s as quickly as possible and have the time to tackle a fast-paced program. In general, however, the soonest a person will be able to obtain a degree after starting a program is 1 year.
Can I Apply Credits Toward a Doctorate?
This depends on the doctorate program being considered. However, many people who obtain a master’s degree in clinical psych do go on to pursue their doctorate, and often apply credits they earned in their previous program.
Master’s/doctorate joint degree programs
Those interested in obtaining both a master’s and a doctorate may wish to consider a dual program in clinical psychology. This allows you to work on your master’s and your doctorate simultaneously. While the average length of time it takes to complete this type of program is 5 years, that can still be significantly shorter than if you pursue your master’s and doctorate separately.
Financial Aid for Clinical Psychology Students
There are several different types of financial aid available for students seeking a master’s degree in clinical psychology. Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines the amount of assistance you’re eligible to receive in the form of government loans, grants, and work-study. You might also want to consider private loans from banks and other institutions, as well as applying for scholarships and grants based on academics and other factors.
Does Clinical Psychology Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?
The government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program offers loan forgiveness for those who meet certain criteria. Typical requirements include having direct loans and securing full-time employment at a government or nonprofit agency.
You may also qualify for state-sponsored forgiveness programs, which have their own criteria for eligibility.
Professional Organizations for Clinical Psychology
Becoming a member of a professional organization can provide a wealth of opportunities for networking, obtaining certification, and more. Professional organizations operating in the field of clinical psychology include:
- American Academy of Clinical Psychology (AACPSY): The American Academy of Clinical Psychology is made up of board-certified clinical psychologists who work to promote high-quality services while encouraging high standards and ethical practice.
- American Psychological Association (APA): The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest scientific and professional organization representing the field of psychology in the U.S., with a global reach of over 134,000 members. Membership is offered to researchers, educators, clinicians, students, and consultants working in the field of clinical psychology.
- National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers (NAPPP): The NAAP focuses on promoting and advancing the clinical practice of psychology and promotes doctorate-level practice as a way to improve upon the nation’s healthcare policies. While members are primarily holders of PhDs, those at the master’s level may find this organization helpful at some point in their career.