Students who pursue studies in clinical psychology may be fascinated by the neurobiological and physiological processes underlying human behavior, or cutting-edge research in assessment and diagnostic practices. Others approach the degree program with a desire to work directly with clients in a therapeutic setting. The common aim among all professionals in the field is to assist individuals suffering from mental health issues by employing the most appropriate methodologies possible.
At the master’s level, students are immersed in psychological theories, concepts, and research. They are also expected to challenge these theories using critical thinking and analysis, and to defend their arguments through their research and in class.
Why a Master’s Degree?
The core knowledge and research that clinical psychology master’s students receive during their program prepares them for occupations in the field beyond those suited for undergraduate degree holders. At the graduate level, students narrow their focus beyond basic psychology and pinpoint a specialization. Many enter the program with a general idea of the research project they will complete and present in order to obtain their degree.
Graduate students in clinical psychology often hold research assistantships within the department. Add that to the advanced curriculum, and the workload of a master’s degree clinical psychology program can be quite demanding. However, the incentives for completing a rigorous program are clear. With a master’s degree in clinical psychology, students have the credentials to embark on careers in a field that would otherwise remain out of their reach. Furthermore, some departments do not offer a terminal master’s degrees. Students applying to these programs have their sights on the doctorate in clinical psychology.
Inside a Clinical Psychology Master's Degree Program
Many programs allow students to select specializations. Common concentrations include addictions, general psychology, or applied behavioral analysis; courses include ‘Advanced Research Design in Applied Behavior Analysis,’ ‘Drugs and Behavior,’ ‘Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis,’ and ‘Psychotherapy and Behavior Change.’ Students who earn terminal degrees take between one and three years to complete their degree. Most programs require students to pass an exam, write and defend a thesis, or both, in addition to completing the curriculum.
A comprehensive program culminating in a doctorate degree takes roughly five to seven years to complete. At this level, students select courses informed by their advisors and graduate committee.
What's Next for Clinical Psychology Master's Degree Holders?
Graduates who wish to secure jobs in their field may find work in research. Subjects include potential causes and treatment of psychological disorders across demographics such as age and gender. Other graduates who want to work directly with people may find work treating clients in hospitals or private practice settings. For work in counseling, students must complete between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience for licensure and pass the exam for their state of residence.
Employment rate for most occupations in the field of clinical psychology is growing in response to population growth, and corresponding increase of mental health disorders. As stated by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), mental health counselors earned a median salary of $42,250 in 2014. Similarly, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earn a median salary of $39,270 for the same year.
The next step for those who aim to secure a job for which their specialized degree is absolutely essential is the Ph.D. or Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology. The salary for occupations available to both degree holders is considerably higher.