Clinical Psychology degree requirements

September 13, 2016

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Undergraduate degrees teach students the fundamentals of psychology, preparing students for clinical work through internships and volunteer opportunities. Even if your undergraduate major was not psychology, many graduate programs will accept students from a variety of academic disciplines. Pursuing a full-time, two-year master’s degree will qualify students to practice in a number of clinical psychology fields, such as marriage and family counseling or industrial and organizational psychology.

To have the full array of practice options open, however, most state licensing boards require a doctorate. When considering doctoral programs, there are two major options: The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree that requires a doctoral dissertation and clinical research experience or the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) whose focus is on working with patients in a clinical setting and may or may not require research and a dissertation. In either case, aspiring clinical psychologists will find both traditional and online programs to meet their advanced educational needs.


Internship programs that give real-life experience with patients are an essential feature of both master’s and doctoral programs. Internships to complete a master’s degree typically require a minimum of 52 weeks at 40 hours per week with adjustments for vacation and holidays. Two-year intern programs for social or family counseling and three-year programs for other specialist licenses (such as school counseling) offer robust treatment experiences for the clinician-in-training.

Most doctoral programs have internship requirements during which clinical psychology students gain firsthand knowledge of the field. Most students take five to seven years to complete the requirements for the PsyD or PhD degree with their internship and training opportunities.

Licensing and/or Certifications

Practicing clinical psychologists must pass state-specific exams and meet the state licensing requirements. These requirements may include a doctoral degree and several years of clinical experience. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards website is an excellent starting point for both students and professionals seeking information about state licenses and certifications.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Similar to other healthcare professionals, clinical psychologists must be emotionally stable and have the ability to establish rapport with clients and patients. Part of the diagnoses and treatment offered by clinical psychologists involves keeping detailed confidential records, offering specific goals to their patients, and assessing progress. Effective communication and interpersonal skills are critical in all clinical psychology specializations, including teaching or research.

Opportunities for Advancement

Psychologists find employment in almost all areas of government, business or entertainment. Clinical psychologists can benefit from applying their knowledge of behavioral and social relationships to such wide-ranging fields as sports, industrial design, politics and even the military. Opportunities to advance to new positions depend upon types of specialization, length of experience and formal educational level.

In the academic sphere—university professors and researchers—career advances are tied to the number of publications and appearances at key conferences. Moving into the administrative side of higher education, such as department head or college president, allows for additional opportunities to affect budgets and funding. Outside of academia, private consulting is the most common route to increasing the level of compensation. Collaborating with colleagues in writing proposals for government-funded research projects or establishing clinics specializing in behavioral disorders are also advanced career goals for many experienced psychologists.

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