As a profession and a discipline, clinical psychology essentially dates back to the very beginning of psychology as a formal area for research and inquiry. In fact, the emergence of clinical psychology as a discrete area of study may be said to have heralded psychology's early 20th-century movements away from pure research and into the application of psychological principles to the treatment of patients.
The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) defines its practice this way: "Clinical psychologists provide professional services for the diagnosis, assessment, evaluation, treatment and prevention of psychological, emotional, psychophysiological and behavioral disorders across the lifespan." By that description, it seems reasonable to say that when most people picture a psychologist, it's usually a clinical psychologist they have in mind.
In other words, clinical psychology is a foundational discipline with an influence that extends into almost every area of the larger field of psychology. We'll talk about the study of clinical psychology and its constituent parts at every level of the academic structure, including some information about schools that stand out for their programs at that level and a few possible careers for graduates.
Clinical psychology degrees online and on campus
Most degrees for aspiring clinical psychologists tend to take a more general approach to psychology as an undergraduate discipline, with the goal of ensuring that future clinicians build the right scaffolding for the advanced material taught in graduate school. Here's some quick detail of each degree level on the road to clinical psychology degree programs for graduates and post-grads:
Certificates and non-degree awards in clinical psychology
Certificates in clinical psychology can be earned in several forms. Post-baccalaureate certificates are one common branch of non-degree study, designed to add depth to an existing psychological education or help students who haven't had much previous clinical psychology instruction prepare for the application process to graduate programs. Another common certificate program is the post-doctoral respecialization certificate, which can allow an established psychologist with schooling in a different specialty to pick up the skills and knowledge necessary to provide clinical services as well.
Undergraduate certificates in clinical psychology are extremely rare, although other branches of psychology do field certificate programs for pre-bachelor's students, including educational psychology, child psychology, behavior analysis and more.
Notable clinical psychology certificate programs
Certificate from University of California, Berkeley
Students who have to catch up on some prerequisites before applying to a clinical psychology graduate program can find a solid program to fill in those gaps at the University of California, Berkeley. Courses in clinical psychology, developmental psychopathology, health psychology and research methods anchor the program, which focuses on giving students with unrelated bachelor's degrees the training they need to pursue advanced education in psychology.
- Department: University of California, Berkeley Department of Psychology
- Location: Berkeley, CA
- Online options: An online post-baccalaureate certificate in clinical psychology is available from the UC Berkeley Extension School.
Certificate from Fielding Graduate University
Despite being founded fairly recently (1974), Fielding Graduate University has established a reputation as an institution that keeps the interests of non-traditional and adult learners in mind. Psychology degrees make up a large part of its program base, and it offers certificate programs for psychology professionals as well as psychology students. Effective distance education is also a key element of the mission at Fielding, so aspiring graduate students who have an interest in clinical psychology degrees online might find what they're looking for here.
- Department: Fielding Graduate University School of Psychology
- Location: Santa Barbara, CA
- Online options: Fielding is primarily an online university and offers its psychology certificate programs largely in the virtual classroom, although some programs may require a few in-person sessions.
Associate degrees in clinical psychology
Associate of Science (A.S.) and Associate of Arts (A.A.) degrees in psychology typically cover foundational elements of psychology that every student needs in order to succeed at studying the more focused, upper-division work that comes further down the path. A few universities may offer associate degrees in psychology — particularly those who have robust online education programs — but most of the associate degree plans available come from community colleges, junior colleges and other two-year institutions.
Many programs that lead to associate degrees in psychology are designed for students who plan to transfer to four-year universities, but the knowledge you gain in pursuit of the degree can bring certain advantages on the job market. Counseling aides and psychiatric aides can both benefit strongly from some training in psychology, for example, and childcare workers can add some important skills to their repertoire with the courses in human development and child psychology taught in some of these programs.
Notable clinical psychology associate degree programs
A.A. in Social Psychology from Park University
This small Missouri institution with an interstate campus system may not be on every student's radar, but Park University makes associate-level study of psychology accessible to students in nearly 40 cities across the country. It's branded as a degree in social psychology, rather than clinical or general psychology, but students learn much the same fundamentals from its major-concentration curriculum that they would be taught in other psychology programs at the associate level.
U.S. News and World Report lists Park University as one of the best universities headquartered in the Midwest region in 2016, and the school's online bachelor's degrees are also listed among the best available in the country by U.S. News. Coursework for students of psychology at the associate level at Park includes general psychology, human growth and development, social psychology, statistical methods and more.
- Department: Park University Department of Psychology and Sociology
- Location: Parkville, MO (flagship campus)
- Online options: The psychology associate degree program at Park can be earned on campus at the Parkville flagship and on select nationwide campuses, as well as in an accelerated program online.
Bachelor's degrees in clinical psychology
Depending on the institution, you may be able to begin specializing your education toward a clinical psychology focus during your bachelor's program. Typical psychology study plans at this level include courses in in biological basis of behavior, sensation and perception, memory and cognition, human memory, perception and more, while those that focus more narrowly on clinical concepts might include principles of psychotherapy, abnormal psychology, theories of personality and other subjects that are somewhat more specialized.
The list of possible careers for graduates with bachelor's degrees in psychology is fairly long, from human resources to marketing and real estate to media design. There are scant few jobs that specifically require a bachelor's degree in psychology, but the skills and knowledge you gain on the way to your degree can be an asset in a wide range of professions.
Notable clinical psychology bachelor's degree programs
B.A. from University of Nevada, Reno
As one of the top 200 schools nationwide according to U.S. News and World Report, the University of Nevada - Reno offers its students an array of lauded programs to choose from. Its clinical psychology graduate/post-grad degree is among its highest-rated programs — No. 62 in the country on the 2016 U.S. News Rankings — and the same department through which that top-tier program is delivered is responsible for organizing and conducting the courses that make up the bachelor's degree curriculum. What's more, undergraduate options at University of Nevada, Reno include a research focus for students who hope to use their education to become professional scholars.
- Department: University of Nevada, Reno Psychology Department
- Location: Reno, NV
- Online options: The University of Nevada, Reno does offer online courses in statistical methods and behavior analysis through its psychology department, but no bachelor's degrees or clinical psychology courses are listed as available online.
B.A. from Pennsylvania State University - University Park
Psychology degrees are available at many of the campuses in the Penn State system, but Pennsylvania State University - University Park holds a special distinction. U.S. News and World Report ranked the clinical psychology programs available at the flagship campus in a tie for the No. 25 spot nationwide in 2016, and its general and developmental psychology graduate programs came in at No. 30 and No. 5 in the country respectively. Add all that to its placement among the top 15 public universities in the country and its tie for No. 1 as an online undergraduate university, and the central Pennsylvania institution holds a considerable number of endorsements.
- Department: Pennsylvania State University Department of Psychology
- Location: University Park, PA
- Online options: The specific University Park curriculum may not be used, but Penn State World Campus does offer an online bachelor's degree in psychology.
Master's degrees in clinical psychology
One of the most obvious advantages to earning a master's degree in clinical psychology is that the clinical discipline remains a central pillar of the professional practice of psychology. Unlike some more specialized areas of academic concentration in psychology, clinical psychology can function as a portal to any number of careers in the field, including research and training, direct patient care and consultation work with businesses, government agencies, and other organizations.
A master's in clinical psychology may be sufficient to qualify you for research assistant jobs in the field of psychology, and, in some states, it's possible to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC) or licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) with a master's in clinical psychology and no doctorate. Many institutions award master's degrees to psychology students while they work toward completion of a lengthy doctoral program, but standalone master's degree programs in clinical psychology do exist and typically take around two years of full-time study to complete.
Notable clinical psychology master's degree programs
M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Ball State University
The highly selective master's degree program at Indiana's Ball State University only accepts 8-10 students each year, which tends to result in small class sizes, more individualized faculty attention and increased opportunity for students to collaborate with established scholars on research projects in their chosen discipline. Ball State also boasts two separate APA-accredited doctoral programs — one in school/educational psychology and one in counseling psychology and guidance services — for psychologists who wish to take their career in either of those directions after finishing their master's.
- Department: Ball State University Department of Psychological Science
- Location: Muncie, IN
- Online options: Ball State does offer an online master's degree in quantitative psychology, a graduate certificate in neuropsychology and a non-degree undergraduate specialization in applied behavior analysis, but the master's in clinical psychology is listed as an on-campus program.
M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Sam Houston State University
As a medium-small institution in the east Texas town of Huntsville, Sam Houston State University may not be on the radar screen of aspiring psychology students from across the country, but its psychology credentials suggest that its programs might be worth a second look. Not only does it offer two standalone M.A. degrees in clinical psychology (one thesis and one non-thesis) but its clinical psychology doctorate has won APA accreditation and U.S. News and World Report recognizes its graduate programs in general and clinical psychology as being among the best in the nation.
- Department: Sam Houston State University Department of Psychology and Philosophy
- Location: Huntsville, TX
- Online options: SHSU is a well-regarded purveyor of online programs, and it does offer an online bachelor's degree in general psychology, but prospective students in the clinical psychology M.A. program must be able to attend classes on campus.
Doctoral degrees in clinical psychology
There are two paths to earning a doctorate in psychology — the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology typically take a research and scholarship focus, while Psy.D. programs are designed for practitioners, typically placing a greater emphasis on psychotherapy and supervised experience with patients. Some Ph.D. programs, however, use what's called the scholar-practitioner model to provide students with a more balanced program of instruction.
Many clinical psychology degree programs at the doctoral level include the option to specialize your coursework in a sub-discipline of the clinical field. Here's a list of some of the more commonly recognized areas of specialization in clinical psychology:
- Child psychology
- Clinical counseling psychology
- Clinical health psychology
- Clinical neuropsychology
- Forensic psychology
- Industrial-organizational psychology
- Social psychology
- Sports psychology
Most Ph.D. and Psy.D. study plans take five or six full-time years of study to complete, including internship or doctoral fieldwork requirements, although programs that also confer a master's degree may take an extra year or more to accommodate the master's-level coursework.
Notable clinical psychology doctorate programs
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from University of California - Los Angeles
The clinical psychology Ph.D. program at the University of California - Los Angeles is one of the more rigorous psychology doctorates available, and that attention to detail has paid off with a No. 1 ranking among all clinical psychology programs evaluated by U.S. News and World Report in 2016. Students in this top-ranked, APA-accredited program are encouraged to approach their post-graduate education as a year-round endeavor, in order to get the most possible value out of the experience, and close relationships with academic and research advisors are strongly encouraged.
- Department: University of California - Los Angeles Department of Psychology
- Location: Los Angeles, CA
- Online options: UCLA has a well-established reputation as a purveyor of online course material — its online graduate programs in engineering are rated No. 1 in the country as well — but its Ph.D. in clinical psychology is not offered in the virtual classroom.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Ranked just behind UCLA in a tie for No. 2 on the U.S. News list of clinical psychology programs, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill also takes the Ph.D. form and is designed to take 4-5 years to complete. Students can choose between two distinct study tracks — adult clinical psychology and child/family clinical psychology — and both programs contain an academic breadth provision that requires students spend some of their class time in graduate-level study of a psychology concentration related to but separate from their primary focus.
- Department: The Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
- Location: Chapel Hill, NC
- Online options: UNC Chapel Hill offers some online graduate programs, such as its No. 3-ranked online MBA, but its doctoral programs in psychology take place in a traditional campus setting.
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