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How Can I Earn a Clinical Psychology Degree?

Cindy Quarters
Cindy Quarters

Clinical psychology is the area of psychology that is concerned with diagnosing and treating mental disorders, including behavioral problems and emotional disturbances. As an undergraduate student you can get a four-year psychology degree, but to get a clinical psychology degree you typically have to attend graduate school for the specialized training required. This typically means a master’s degree at the very least, and usually a doctorate before you can enter clinical practice.

Prior to earning a clinical psychology degree, you must complete your bachelor’s degree, normally in psychology. There are many colleges and universities that offer such a degree, so at this level it is largely a matter of finding a school that you like and completing your initial work there. You should consider this degree as a stepping-stone to your clinical psychology degree, as it will most likely not allow you to enter the field of psychology unless your goal is to be a research assistant or to work in a laboratory under the guidance of others.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

The next step is to earn a master’s degree in your chosen field, during which time you will not be limited to generalized psychology classes, but will also be doing work in clinical psychology. In most programs this will take a minimum of two years, and often three, to complete all the required course work. You should investigate the schools available to you and enroll in one that has a strong psychology department with instructors that have experience in performing research and have been published in the field. While not absolutely essential, such a school is more likely to be able to provide you with a good grounding in the subject.

Following a master's level degree the next type of clinical psychology degree that you can earn is a doctorate, and you can go in one of two ways when working toward this degree. If you are interested in teaching or research, the best degree for you is probably a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD ), which focuses more on theory and less on hands-on work. Getting your PhD will require two to four more years in school, immersing yourself in classes and projects related to clinical psychology.

For those whose interest lies in actually becoming a clinical psychologist, a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) is likely the best choice. This is a more practical, hands-on type of clinical psychology degree, and students at this level begin to spend time working with patients under the supervision of licensed psychologists. It typically requires several years of advanced training and clinical work to complete the PsyD. Once you have your degree you will need to work as a resident in actual practice for one or two years before you are fully qualified. Some type of government licensing may be required for you to work as a clinical psychologist, but the requirements vary by location.

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