For those interested in working in the field of psychology, the work you want to do will determine what to study and the relevant experience you need to collect. Students of psychology generally have infinite possibilities before them in a broad range of fields when choosing a line of work which suits them.
But for those who want a career geared towards helping patients and families, studying clinical psychology is the best and most direct path to achieving those goals.
Potential students may be wondering which degree path is best for them when it comes to choosing whether a particular degree satisfies their career goals. Below are a few key pieces of information to understand if you’re curious about whether a master’s in clinical psychology is the right choice and what you can do with such a degree.
What is Clinical Psychology?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), clinical psychology is defined as a psychological specialty that provides continuing and comprehensive mental and behavioral health care for individuals and families. Clinical psychologists are concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illness, abnormal behavior, and psychiatric problems.
In the most traditional sense of a psychologist, we tend to think of individuals who provide therapy to their patients through a private, independent practice. In this sense, these working professionals are more than likely to have studied clinical psychology.
Working as a psychotherapist isn’t the only reason to study clinical psychology, but it is a common career path for some psychologists.
Approaches to Treatment
Clinical psychologists often utilize different treatment approaches when working with patients. While some have a very specific focus on the kind of treatment to administer, many clinicians draw on different theoretical methods to develop the best treatment plan for each patient.
Here are a few major theoretical perspectives within clinical psychology:
- Psychodynamic: Spawned by one of the world’s most famous minds in the field, Sigmund Freud believed that the unconscious mind plays an important role in our behavior. Psychologists who utilize psychoanalytic therapy may use techniques such as free association to investigate a client’s underlying, unconscious motivations.
- Cognitive, behavioral: Developed from the cognitive and behavioral schools of thought, these perspectives look at how a client’s feelings, behaviors, and thoughts interact. Cognitive and behavioral therapy often focuses on changing thoughts and behaviors that contribute to psychological distress.
- Humanistic: This approach came about from humanist thinkers such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. This perspective treats patients from a more holistic standpoint and focuses on things such as self-actualization.
The Path to Licensure: PsyD vs. Ph.D. vs. Master’s
Before diving into potential careers, it’s important to understand that to work as a psychologist, many states have specific guidelines set forth by their appropriate licensing boards. In some cases, states require that applicants must have a doctoral degree in order to receive full licensure.
That’s not to say that a master’s in clinical psychology by itself limits job opportunities. For example, in the state of West Virginia, applicants can achieve master’s level licensure to become a psychologist, school psychologist, or school psychologist at an independent practice.
But to become some kind of clinical psychologist in many states, students should know that one of the doctorate degrees below will be necessary down the line:
PsyD—Doctor of Psychology
Developed as an alternative to Ph.D. psychology programs, a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) program is intended for practitioners who are interested solely in the hands-on, straightforward practice of psychology. This means that unlike a Ph.D. degree, a PsyD focuses exclusively on clinical work to prepare themselves to practice psychology in a range of settings.
Because of the stronger focus on more clinical practice, this requires less time spent on research. In the end, students could potentially attain their PsyD doctorate more quickly than they would with a Ph.D. However, because of the lack of research, Ph.D. graduates could have more opportunities in their careers.
Ph.D.—Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology
Considered the traditional route, a Ph.D. in psychology places a strong emphasis on research, meaning students will spend a considerable amount of time in academia to receive their degree. Programs typically have rigorous entrance requirements and can be quite competitive to gain acceptance.
In comparison to a PsyD, a Ph.D. in psychology can open up a multitude of career paths; from teaching to patient care, to forensic psychology, to academia, and more.
To become a licensed psychologist in some states, applicants will need to complete one of the two mentioned doctorate programs to be eligible for licensure.
Benefits of Getting Your Masters in Clinical Psychology
Getting a master’s in clinical psychology is a helpful stepping stone to getting into a reputable doctorate program. However, the benefits of getting a master’s degree aren’t limited to becoming a Ph.D. or PsyD.
Here’s a look at three types of individuals who will benefit by studying clinical psychology at the master’s level.
1. Pursuing a Doctorate
Primarily, one of the best reasons to enroll in a master’s program for clinical psychology is to prepare you and strengthen your knowledge when enrolling in a doctoral program. What many don’t know is that a master’s degree is not required to gain admission to those programs.
But as mentioned above, Ph.D. and PsyD programs are extremely difficult to get into, even with impressive grades without a master’s degree. Completing a master’s level of study gives students a more advanced proficiency in clinical psychology, which matters to schools considering new doctoral students.
Additionally, master’s degrees are typically awarded for completion of a lengthy clinical internship on top of their coursework. The experience gained during such an internship is invaluable when programs consider applicants for their doctoral programs.
So, if you want to improve your chances of being admitted into a doctorate program, a master’s degree should be kept in mind.
2. Students Without Prior Psychology Coursework
For students without any experience or former coursework in psychology, a master’s degree is an attractive option to get into the field.
Most schools with a master’s program in clinical psychology do require applicants to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and sufficient scores in the GRE subject test in psychology. However, a bachelor’s degree in psychology is certainly not required to gain admittance into most programs.
3. Career Switching—No One is Too Old!
Many people often wonder about the prospect of finding alternative career paths. For older individuals, many fear that their age determines their chances of jumping into a new line of work.
The truth is that no one is too old to switch careers. Age is never a determining factor for master’s level students. Provided you have a bachelor’s degree and prepare for the GRE, a master’s education is well within reach.
As it happens, the U.S. currently has a high demand for workers with a master’s in clinical psychology. There are several paths one could take after completing a program.
Once students have received their master’s degree, they can either move on to getting their Ph.D. or PsyD or begin working right away.
Outside of further education, here are a few careers that are possible with a master’s in clinical psychology:
- School/Career Counselor
- Counseling Psychologist
- Forensic Psychologist
- Marriage & Family Therapist
- Substance Abuse Counselor
- Learning Disabilities Specialist
Master’s in Clinical Psychology — Final Thoughts
The possibilities are endless for students of psychology as the insights gained can be applied to so many different career paths. Psychologists are in demand for way more than typical clinical settings.
Whether you eventually want to enroll in a doctorate program or you’re interested in one of the many careers which do not require a doctoral degree, getting your master’s in clinical psychology is an immensely valuable tool to get into the field of psychology. Interested in learning more about the M.A. in Clinical Psychology program here at West Liberty University? Schedule an on-campus visit today to get started.