Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs

Clinical psychology is a subfield of psychology that focuses on the treatment of behavioral disorders, emotional conditions, and mental illness. Although some clinical psychology graduate programs offer master's degrees, a doctorate degree in clinical psychology is required to become a licensed clinical psychologist.

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In most states, aspiring clinical psychologists need a doctorate degree (PhD or PsyD) to sit for the clinical psychology licensing examination. In some states, graduates of master's programs in clinical psychology can become certified as licensed psychological associates, where they work under the supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist. They may choose to become licensed as professional counselors. A master's in clinical psychology helps prepare students for a doctoral program. The individual who is interested in enrolling in a clinical psychology doctoral program should choose a program that is fully accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS). Note that the APA only accredits doctoral programs; a master's program should be accredited by a general accrediting agency.

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Clinical Psychology Graduate Courses

A student who enters a doctoral program in clinical psychology typically completes master's level courses and a thesis before moving into the doctoral program. Course titles vary by program, however programs must meet the criteria for accreditation by the APA, so there should be consistency in content regardless of the school. The following are some of the courses aspiring clinical psychologists will take in both master's and doctoral programs.

Developmental Psychology

This course addresses developmental stages from prenatal through adulthood. Students study cognitive, emotional and other changes that occur throughout the lifespan. Developmental delays and their causes are also discussed in this course.

Social Psychology

This course explores theoretical and empirical research in social psychology. Students learn how environment and group dynamics shape decision-making. Other topics covered in this course include aggression, stereotypes, and prejudice.

Cognitive Assessment

This course is about measuring cognitive ability. Testing tools for diagnosing cognitive issues are addressed. Students get hands-on experience in administering, scoring and interpreting intelligence test and other cognitive test results.

Family Therapy

Participants study family systems and methods of therapeutic intervention. The course covers issues of childhood and adolescence, including disruptive behaviors, moods and substance use. Additional issues that impact family function are examined, including divorce, domestic violence, and maltreatment.

Research Methods in Psychology

This course explores research design and methodology. Students engage in critical assessment of research reports and journal articles. Participants also gain experience in developing research proposals.

Master's Thesis

The master's thesis consists of independent research that addresses a specific area or issue in clinical psychology. The student works closely with a faculty advisor during thesis research and development. Students defend the completed thesis in front of a faculty committee.


Practicums provide opportunities for applying skills learned in the classroom. Students participate in internal and external practicums where they teach, engage in research, and provide clinical services to clients. Faculty approval is required since students in practicum courses must have developed the skills to work with clients.

Doctoral Dissertation

The doctoral dissertation is an original research project that could have implications for the field. The student chooses an area of interest and chooses a topic for research. Prior to working on the dissertation, students attend pre-dissertation seminars and confer with faculty advisors. When the dissertation is complete, the student must present and successfully defend it before a faculty committee.

Internship in Clinical Psychology

The internship is a year-long experience that enables students to gain professional experience in working in the clinical environment. Being selected for an internship is a competitive endeavor. According to the APA, it is a good idea if a student can complete the dissertation process before beginning the internship.

Admission Requirements for Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs

Expect admission to a clinical psychology graduate program to be competitive, especially at the doctoral level. It is not unusual for a school to receive hundreds of applications but admit only a fraction of applicants. Those who are accepted for admission typically have high grade point averages and higher Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. In addition to stellar GPAs and GRE scores, requirements may include official transcripts of all undergraduate and undergraduate courses, statement of purpose, recommendations, resume or vitae, interview, and relevant work experience.

Clinical Psychology Graduate Program Length

A master's degree in clinical psychology takes about three years and 60 hours of coursework to complete. Earning a doctorate in clinical psychology requires coursework in the range of 118 hours and takes 5-7 years to complete, including master's level courses. Candidates must also complete several practicum experiences and a year-long internship. Students are not able to work due to the rigor of doctoral programs and course requirements, so they are typically offered financial assistance that provides stipends and pay for teaching and research.

Practicing as an independent clinical psychologist requires a doctorate degree from a fully accredited clinical psychology program. Clinical psychology graduate programs offer rigorous study plans that include research and practical experience, which prepares graduates for licensing examinations and to be successful practitioners.

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