All psychologists are trained to observe human behavior and determine the reasons people behave the way they do. But for clinical psychologists, the focus is different. A clinical psychologist works with people who may have minor behavioral problems that interfere with their day-to-day lives or relationships, or with those who are so seriously disturbed they must be institutionalized. Clinical psychologists are trained to assess, interpret and correct behavioral and mental health disorders.
A clinical psychologist must have a doctorate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Training begins with a bachelor’s degree, progresses to a master’s degree and finally a doctorate. In addition, clinical psychologists complete supervised clinical coursework, an internship or fellowship, and must be licensed. The bachelor’s degree might include courses in introductory psychology, experimental psychology and statistics, but does not have to be in psychology. At the master’s level, programs usually include research design and industrial-organizational psychology.
Choosing a BA or a BS
The first decision on the road to a clinical psychology doctorate will be a choice between a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science in psychology, according to Pennsylvania State University. Penn State recommends a BA for clinical work, as the BS degree is more business-oriented and focused on the workplace. The BA is better preparation for a graduate degree or work with children and provides a broad education that includes the arts, humanities and social sciences.
The Master's Degree
Although each university may offer different coursework, the St. Louis University website notes that some of the foundational aspects of the discipline include biological, cognitive-affective and social aspects of behavior; cultural diversity; individual differences; history and systems of psychology; psychological measurement; research methodology; and techniques of data analysis. In the SLU Master’s degree program, clinical assessment, psychopathology, ethics and clinical practicum courses are required. SLU also recommends different courses, depending on the student’s major. For clinical child psychology, SLU recommends clinical child assessment, interventions, couples and family therapy and cognitive behavior therapy.
In the master’s degree program at Notre Dame de Namur University, students must complete classes in group psychotherapy, group counseling theories and techniques, neurophysiology and psychopharmacology, psychopathology and cross-cultural issues. A master’s thesis is required. In the doctorate program at Pepperdine University, courses include social foundations of behavior, cognitive assessment, personality assessment, interviewing and intake assessment. Students also spend time in supervised clinical interactions with patients and must complete a doctoral dissertation.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Psychologists
- Pennsylvania State University: Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
- St. Louis University: Clinical Program Handbook
- Pepperdine University: Inspiration for Change
- American Psychological Association: About Clinical Psychology
- Notre Dame de Namur University: Catalog Clinical Psychology
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