Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated September 2010
Clinical psychology (the largest branch of psychology) combines science, theory and practice in order to assess, diagnose, treat and avoid the many types of mental illness from which people suffer. Clinical psychology graduate curriculums include topics in fields such as sociology, economics, the sciences, communication and public policy. Students enrolled in clinical psychology courses learn to diagnose and treat mental issues, from minor problems to major ones that lead patients to being institutionalized. What is important from the student’s perspective is that he or she gains a full understanding of the field in all its fascinating—and often complex—avenues of study.
Clinical Psychology Courses
Because many clinical psychologists work directly with patients and have a very real, daily impact on their lives, it is no surprise that the requirements of clinical psychology curriculums are quite stringent. To begin with, an undergraduate background in psychology or a related field is helpful. And while it is certainly not necessary for admission to a graduate clinical psychology curriculum, it will make the process of applying and gaining admission to clinical psychology courses that much easier.
But as with so many areas of post-undergraduate study, there are plenty of people with degrees in other fields who go on to rather successful careers in other arenas. As long as students are willing to put forth the necessary effort to succeed, they will be able to do it no matter what their educational background.
While there are masters degrees in clinical psychology, aspiring clinical psychologists may find that they have a hard time working at the level they choose without a doctorate degree. Students enrolled in clinical psychology curriculums will study the intellectual, emotional, biological, social, psychological and behavioral aspects of how people develop mentally throughout life.
Since clinical psychology is such a broad area, students usually choose one concentration on which to focus. Some possible clinical psychology concentrations include:
Marriage and Family Counseling
Clinical Health Psychology
Pediatric & Adolescent Psychology
Students can choose clinical psychology concentrations based on the age of the patients they wish to assist, by whether they opt to focus on research or practice, as well as other factors.
Clinical psychology courses that students are likely to take include psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, cognitive rehabilitation, social learning methods and psychopathology. Other clinical psychology courses will cover cognitive-behavior theory, ethics, personality theory, language and perception, developmental psychology and biopsychology. Students will explore issues such as adjustment, adaptation and stress.
Students enrolled in a clinical psychology curriculum will focus on prevention, intervention and treatment, and will learn how to implement these methods into practice. To understand the mind and human behavior, students will need to enhance their analysis, communication, critical thinking, problem-solving and research skills. Those who wish to practice once they enter a clinical psychology career must be creative, sensitive, empathetic, patient and compassionate.
All who plan to enter clinical psychology careers are required by all 50 states to be certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), which offers certification in 13 specific areas. Even after a student who has earned a doctorate in the field is licensed, he or she will be required to keep up with his or her education in the form of continuing education courses and the like. Of course, once one has achieved this high a level in the field, one will likely want to continue learning about it.
Careers in Clinical Psychology
Students who have graduated from clinical psychology curriculums have two basic options when it comes to deciding what professional avenue to take: practice or teach. Of course, like many people in the medical and health fields, the best professors are often practitioners. Either way, the earning potential is significant, but the actual salary figure would depend on the segment in which you choose to make a living. Government work, for example, tends to result in less money but, perhaps, more stability. Private practice, on the other hand, will earn you a higher salary, but the flipside is that it can be rather difficult to get into.
Those who earn a masters or doctorate degree in clinical psychology have many clinical psychology careers from which to choose. Most students find that they need a doctorate to land the best jobs. Researchers can earn an average of $75,000 a year to start. And students who earn a PhD in clinical psychology will be qualified for positions as professors, which command average yearly salaries of $95,000.
On the other hand, a PsyD degree in clinical psychology prepares students to work in clinical and practitioner settings, and the degree also takes one year less to complete than the PhD degree. Those with a PsyD degree will find that the average annual salary for clinical psychologists is about $72,000. And of course, where you work and the nature of that work can determine whether you earn more or less than the average.
For example, school psychologists can expect to earn an annual average of $65,000, while an industrial-organization psychologist can make $71,000 per year. Clinical psychology careers as developmental or social psychologists command an average annual salary of about $66,000. Neuropsychologists are at the top, earning about $100,000 each year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 34 percent of clinical psychologists are self-employed.
But no matter what, once they have completed a clinical psychology curriculum and have gained licensure, those with a masters or doctorate degree in clinical psychology have the unique opportunity to study science and help others at the same time. So start searching for the right program now.