While degree programs do not focus specifically on abnormal psychology, many psychology bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs offer courses related to this sub-specialty. Bachelor's programs tend to provide a broad overview of the field of psychology, while master's programs are more narrowly focused and can be tailored to students' interests through courses and research opportunities. A bachelor's degree is typically required to apply for a master's program, with clinical practica and a thesis being required for completion.
While a Bachelor of Science or a Master of Science in Psychology is sufficient for some entry-level job opportunities, individuals interested in professional licensure must earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). The distinction is that Ph.D. programs focus more on research, while Psy.D. programs emphasize clinical practice. Completion of a bachelor's or master's degree in psychology is required before applying to some doctoral-level degrees. All require completion of clinical practica, internships and/or a doctoral dissertation.
Bachelor's Degrees in Psychology
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Bachelor of Science in Psychology degrees generally include coursework in abnormal psychology, although the Bachelor of Science curriculum often focuses on the more quantitative aspects of psychology. Students educated in psychology are introduced to the concepts underlying theoretical and applied psychology including the analysis of human behavior, motivation, learning, sensation and perception, cognition, neuropsychology, and human emotional development. A bachelor's degree program in psychology often includes general educational requirements. Students may take classes in:
- Principles of psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Basic conditioning and learning
- Abnormal psychology
- Theories of personality
Master's Degree in Psychology
The study of abnormal psychology is commonly part of a broader program leading to a Master of Science in Psychology. Students may specialize in cognition, behavior, clinical psychology or neuroscience, among other areas. Coursework plus clinical practica review theories and concepts in counseling, research and statistical methods, history of psychology, learning, sensation and perception, and human development. A master's degree program prepares students for doctoral-level study or employment. Internships and clinical requirements are common. Some courses topics include:
- Personality and psychopathology
- Culture and cognition
- Psychotic disorders
- Behavior theory
- Ethics and legal issues in psychological practice
Doctoral Degree Programs in Psychology
A doctoral program educates students to become researchers and/or to practice psychotherapy in a clinical environment. Clinical psychologists help patients with emotional disorders and life issues, such as death, divorce, relationships and behavioral abnormalities. Students can either earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). Generally, those pursuing a Psy.D. will emphasize clinical practice whereas students pursuing a Ph.D. will emphasize academic research with the potential to expand the scope of psychological knowledge. Advanced study and clinical practice in psychology at this level are generally tailored toward the student's area of concentration. Some course topics offered include:
- Fundamentals of learning
- Psychology and biology of fear and anxiety
- Motivation and behavior
- Biology of psychiatric disorders
- Abnormal psychology
- Biology of abnormal psychology
Few entry-level jobs can be obtained with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Bachelor's degree graduates who want to become practicing clinical psychologists or conduct original research will need to continue their education through a master's degree program or a doctoral program, depending upon their career goals.
Students wishing to counsel individuals in a clinical setting or in private practice will need a doctoral degree and licensure as mandated by states. Doctoral programs often allow students to concentrate more deeply in a specific area of interest.
Popular Career Options
Bachelor's degree graduates may be qualified for entry-level employment with companies or organizations that offer mental health services, social services or education. Graduates may consider careers like:
- Psychologist's administrative assistant
- Vocational rehabilitation assistant
- Training facilitator
- Social worker's assistant
An advanced degree in psychology may qualify graduates for job opportunities in education or social services settings. Popular career choices include:
- Research assistant
- Industrial/organizational psychologist
- School counselor
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment for psychologists will grow 19% for the years 2014 through 2024 (www.bls.gov). In 2015, the BLS reported that clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned a mean annual salary of $76,040.
Degrees in psychology prepare students for roles in research, social work and clinical work. While the bachelor's level gives a broader view of the psychology field, the master's and doctorate degrees allow students to focus on abnormal psychology.