Is clinical psychology graduate school right for you?


Do you agree with the following four statements?

I think research on psychopathology is critical to improve treatment.

I want to practice psychotherapeutic approaches that have been scientifically demonstrated to work.

I want to read and contribute to the scientific literature as a way to help me develop my clinical skills.

I want to do clinical research to increase our understanding of mental illness, how to measure it, and how to treat it.

If you answered "Yes" to all four, then Clinical Psychology may be the right path for you!

A clinical psychology Ph.D. program is quite a commitment! Before you spend a dime, do your due diligence and sort through your options. Be sure to discuss the options with your your psychology professors in college. You will learn that different types of programs will put you in the best position depending on your career goals.


What do clinical psychologists do?

Clinical psychologists are trained to generate knowledge based on the best scientific evidence, applying this to the assessment and improvement of all forms of mental illness and psychological functioning. Further, Clinical Psychologists are committed to disseminating this information to the public through teaching, advocacy and the provision of empirically validated clinical treatment. Clinical psychologists work in a great variety of settings including colleges and universities, academic medical centers, hospitals and private practice settings. Clinical psychologists also are often hired to consult to medical practices, health care industries, and corporations.


Two types of doctoral degrees in clinical psychology

Clinical psychologists serve in many roles as they work to understand, assess, and alleviate a wide range of mental, emotional, and behavioral symptoms in varied settings (see http://www.clinicalchildpsychology.org, http://www.div12.org, or http://www.health-psych.org, for example). There are two types of doctoral degrees in clinical psychology. University-based Ph.D. programs (http://www.cudcp.org) emphasize doctoral-level training in conducting research as well as provision and evaluation of clinical services. Psy.D. programs, which can be based either at traditional universities, or at free-standing universities/professional schools, (http://www.thencspp.com/students) emphasize training to practice psychology at the doctoral level. Related fields that offer doctoral-level training are counseling psychology and school psychology.

University-based Ph.D. programs. This option prepares students to provide psychological services and also to conduct research.  Most graduates from university-based clinical psychology Ph.D. programs also are eligible to teach at a traditional university, conduct research at a private company or government agency, or open a clinical psychology practice.

Psy.D. programs. This option also prepares students to provide psychological services; however, there typically is far less research training.  Graduates from this type of program typically seek careers as clinical service or health care providers, within health care institutions or in private practice. Graduates of PsyD programs are less likely to be employed full time as faculty at traditional universities, or be engaged full time in clinical research than graduates of PhD programs. 

Note that class sizes, tuition rates, and passing rates on the national psychology licensing exam (EPPP) differ significantly across different types of institutions that offer doctoral degrees in psychology.

Students interested in a practice career also may want to consider doctoral degrees in Counseling Psychology and School Psychology.  Ph.D. programs in these fields typically accept a higher ratio of applicants.


Master's or Doctorate?

Clinical psychologists are just one of many types of professionals that are trained to offer mental health services.  Master's degrees in social work (http://www.socialworkers.org), marriage and family therapy, and counseling also will allow you to offer therapy. As Masters level providers, social workers and counselors also tend to have lower salaries than therapists with doctoral degrees, and often have different responsibilities and opportunities.  Psychiatrists (http://www.psychiatry.org) also can treat individuals with mental illness after attending medical school.  As compared to clinical psychologists, psychiatrists are much less likely to conduct therapy.  Most offer medication management in 15 minute appointments.

If your goals do not require a doctorate program, you may wish to pursue masters level programs such as:

MSW in Social Work or MS in Counseling Psychology – conduct advocacy or become licensed to work as a therapist for hospitals, non-profits, or the Department of Social Services. For more info about social work, visit http://www.beasocialworker.org/ and for more information about licensed professional counseling, visit http://www.counseling.org.

Specialist-level degree in School Psychology – School psychologists provide direct support and interventions to students; consult with teachers, families, and other school-employed mental health professionals; work with school administrators to improve school-wide practices and policies; and collaborate with community providers to coordinate needed services.  See https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology for more information on school psychology.

Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy or Professional Counseling – provide treatment to individuals with adjustment issues, but not severe psychopathology. For more information about Marriage and Family Therapy, visit http://www.aamft.org.

MS in Applied Behavior Analysis – conduct treatment based on the principles of learning theory.  ABA is commonly used tro treat Autism Specturum Disorder.  For more information about Marriage and Family Therapy, visit http://www.abainternational.org.


Choosing and next steps

We recommend that you look into a few programs while you are deciding which type of program to pursue. If you finish your research into clinical graduate school programs and still aren't sure whether you want to choose that path, a research assistantship can help give you an up-close look at a clinical program. Check out our list of Post-Baccalaureate Positions. (You may also want such a position for experience to improve your resume. See more about how to maximize your chances of getting in at our Application Tips page.)

If you decide that clinical psychology graduate school is indeed where you want to go, your next step should be to research schools. Our Accredited Programs page will brief you on some of the relevant factors in deciding where to apply. Additionally, we recommend that you check out a published guide (the American Psychological Association (APA) publishes one: http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4270099.aspx) available at your library or online. Faculty mentors and current graduate students are also good sources of information. Be smart about your decision!