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Abnormal Psychology Major: Information and Requirements

While colleges and universities typically do not offer an abnormal psychology major, courses in abnormal psychology are common, and some Ph.D. programs allow you to specialize in it. Learn about various programs, licensing requirements and careers.

Essential Information

Abnormal psychology is the study of mental and emotional disorders that affect behavior and moods. Offered as coursework within bachelor's and master's programs in psychology, abnormal psychology is additionally available as a concentration within some Ph.D. programs in psychology.

For psychology programs in general, coursework will highlight such topics as neuroscience, psychological testing, research methods and assessment techniques. Many master's and doctoral programs include clinical experiences and research opportunities.

To become a psychologist, you generally will need to earn a Ph.D. and obtain licensure. Coaching and counseling positions may be available without a doctorate degree, though professional requirements vary by state.


Bachelor's Degree in Psychology

Bachelor's degree in psychology programs provide students with an understanding of the scientific theories and principles of the field, with students often delving into many sub-disciplines, such as abnormal psychology. Facets of psychological study that are covered in these programs include social behavior, sensory perception and memory.

A key component of these programs is training students in the research methods employed by psychologists. Students often progress in their studies from developing reasoning skills to performing basic research projects. Psychology bachelor's degree programs are generally open to applicants with a high school diploma. Psychology coursework typically progresses from the study of general theory to more focused study of specializations and research techniques, through courses that can include:

  • Experimental psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Child psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Human sexuality
  • Social psychology

Master's Degree in Psychology

Some master's degree programs, such as a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology, offer advanced coursework in abnormal psychology. These programs are available as stand-alone programs that train students to work in counseling and as Ph.D. track programs that prepare students who wish to become practicing psychologists. Admission requirements for master's degree programs vary, but generally include a bachelor's degree, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores and academic recommendations. Some programs require a pre-admissions test in a specific psychological subject.

Students typically take core classes that focus on different aspects of psychology, including ethics and diversity. Those on the clinical counseling track may have coursework that explores the different careers available and may have an internship. Coursework is usually a combination of core and upper-level subjects. Areas of study can include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Counseling practices
  • Psychodiagnostics
  • Psychological testing

Ph.D. in Psychology

Ph.D. programs in psychology prepare students for practice as a psychologist, as well as for careers in education and research. Students are often trained in advanced techniques of assessment, intervention and treatment. Psychology Ph.D. programs are typically divided into multiple concentration areas, with students studying primarily in an intended career field.

Prior coursework in psychology is often required, with many programs preferring applicants with a master's degree in psychology. In addition, applicants are judged on their grade point average, standardized test scores, prior work experience and recommendations. Concentrations may include abnormal psychology, clinical psychology and child psychology. Common subjects of study include:

  • Assessment techniques
  • Research methods in psychology
  • Neuroscience
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Ethical issues in psychology

Popular Career Options

While a doctoral degree is generally necessary for a career as a psychologist, graduates from psychology bachelor's degree programs still have many career possibilities. These options can include:

  • Alcohol and drug counselor
  • Psychiatric technician
  • Case manager
  • Career coach

Graduates of master's degree programs often continue in their education to become practicing psychologists. However, those who don't wish to earn doctorate degrees have a variety of career options, although some may require state licensing or certification. Possible careers include:

  • School counselor
  • Family counselor
  • Marriage counselor

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 173,900 psychologists were employed in 2014 (www.bls.gov). Between 2014 and 2024, this number was expected to grow 19%, much faster than average for all occupations, with the best opportunities for those with a specialized doctoral degree from a top university. As of May 2015, median annual wages were $70,580 for counseling, clinical and school psychologists.

Continuing Education Information

For students interested in progressing beyond entry-level careers in psychology, a graduate degree is required. A master's degree provides advancement opportunities and limited potential for some career fields, including industrial-organizational psychology. For most senior positions in psychology, including independent practice as a psychologist, a Ph.D. is required.

Though specific requirement vary by state, psychologists working in private or group practices must be certified or licensed. Licensing is often limited to an area of specialization, determined through education and experience. Licensing typically requires completing a combination of an internship and professional experience, earning a Ph.D. and passing a state-administered examination.

Students interested in abnormal psychology can major in psychology and pursue a master's or Ph.D. in psychology as well. Some Ph.D. programs offer abnormal psychology as an area of concentration; psychologists typically need a doctoral degree and to be licensed.

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