If you’re researching what kind of course load you’ll find in a clinical psychology program, you probably already know what clinical psychology is. Students studying to be clinical psychologists have to complete challenging coursework and gain hands-on experience before starting a career in psychological services. Perhaps you’re currently working on a bachelor’s degree in psychology while thinking ahead to grad school and what your future salary might be. Whatever the case may be, here you’ll find typical course requirements for the degree, including how long it takes to complete.
Clinical Psychology Degree Program
Make sure that the clinical psychology degree program you choose is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). This accreditation means that the program meets professional standards in the field and that the training it provides is valuable. The APA maintains lists of accredited doctoral programs, internship and postdoc residency programs. In your grad school search, check this list for a program that’s right for you.
Choosing a doctoral degree. There are two doctoral programs in clinical psychology: the doctor of philosophy (PhD) and the doctor of psychology (PsyD). Choosing between them largely depends on which side of psychology you prefer: research or clinical practice. Both degrees give you experience in research and clinical practice, and require you to complete a dissertation and an internship. The PhD program emphasizes research and theory, while the PsyD program emphasizes assessing and treating clients. Later we’ll look at a sample course load for each program.
Choosing a specialization. Some psychology PhD and PsyD programs include course loads tailored around different areas of specialization. These specializations represent some of the various career opportunities within the field of clinical psychology. Choosing a specialization is not required, but it may help you find a degree program related to your particular interests. Possible specializations include:
- Clinical health psychology
- Family/child and couple psychology
- Multicultural community and international psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Psychodynamic psychology
- Integrative psychology
- Trauma, stress, resilience and health psychology
Classes for clinical psychology. You should encounter much of the same clinical psychology content no matter which grad school you choose. But different schools and faculty members follow different curriculum plans and may not offer the specialization you’re looking for in a master’s program. And even within the same graduate school, course offerings will vary from semester to semester. So as we look at clinical psychology course loads for PhD and PsyD programs, keep in mind that these are only examples and may depend on your psychology school.
PhD Program Course Load
We’ll look at two sample clinical psychology course loads from Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP), San Diego. The 150-unit PhD program covers five academic years, but offers a part-time internship option that adds an extra year.
- Semester 1 (13.5 units) courses include Advanced Statistics I, Biological Aspects of Behavior, Advanced Psychopathology, and a Research Practicum.
- Semester 2 (15.5 units) courses include History and Systems of Psychology, Intellectual Assessment, and Introduction to Psychotherapy. It also includes a Research Practicum.
- Semester 1 (16 units) courses include Principles of Research Design, Issues in Chemical Dependency, and Multicultural Competency Development. In addition to a PhD Practicum, you begin developing your dissertation proposal this year, and continue development through year 3.
- Semester 2 (17 units) courses include Cognitive & Affective Bases of Behavior, Social Bases of Behavior, and Developmental Psychology. It also includes a PhD Practicum.
- Semester 1 (12 units) courses include Psychopharmacology and Neuropsychology: Foundations. In addition to your PhD Practicum, you participate in a Clinical Consultation Group and practice presenting client cases using evidence-based therapies.
- Semester 2 (15 units) courses include Introduction to Behavioral Medicine/Health Service Psychology, and Third Wave Therapies or Personality Assessment. You continue the Clinical Consultation Group and PhD Practicum as you finalize your dissertation proposal.
- Semester 1 (10.5 units) courses include Advanced Ethics and Professional Issues, and Supervision Seminar or Intro to Clinical Medicine I. This year, you move to the next phase of dissertation work in the PhD Doctoral Dissertation Research Design and Research Seminar.
- Semester 2 (12.5 units) courses include a Clinical Elective, and a Cultural Seminar or Health Psychology Intervention, depending on your specialization.
- Unless you choose the half-time option, this final year is divided into two 15-unit semesters and one 8-unit semester. You begin your Full-Time Pre Doctoral Internship in Clinical Psychology, which requires 40 hours per week of clinical work in a mental health setting. Meanwhile you continue researching and writing your dissertation.
PsyD Program Course Load
This sample course load also comes from Alliant’s CSPP, San Diego. Its PsyD program consists of 120 units over four years, though the half-time internship option adds an extra year.
- Semester 1 (16 units) courses include Multicultural Competency Development, Intellectual Assessment, and Introduction to Psychotherapy. You also begin your First Year Practicum, consisting of 8-10 hours per week of voluntary community service or casework.
- Semester 2 (15 units) courses include History and Systems of Psychology, Qualitative Methods of Research, and Personality Assessment (Objective). Your First Year Practicum continues.
- Semester 1 (16 units) courses include Psychometrics and Advanced Statistics, Cognitive & Affective Bases of Behavior, and Personality Assessment (Projective). This year you begin a Practicum in Professional Psychology, consisting of 12-20 hours per week at an agency setting. And in PsyD Proposal Development, you gain research and writing skills you’ll need later for your clinical dissertation.
- Semester 2 (15 units) courses include Biological Aspects of Behavior, Social Bases of Behavior, and Developmental Psychology/Lifespan Development. You continue Practicum in Professional Psychology and PsyD Proposal Development.
- Semester 1 (13 units) courses include Issues in Chemical Dependency and Treatment, and Advanced Ethics and Professional Issues. In the Supervision Seminar and Supervision Lab, you learn about and apply clinical supervision techniques. You’ll earn 16-24 hours of clinical experience per week as part of your Practicum, while also participating in a Clinical Consultation Group. The PsyD Clinical Dissertation Group seminar helps you progress on your dissertation this year.
- Semester 2 (15 units) includes Therapy or Clinical electives, depending on your specialization, and a Multicultural Practice elective. Your Practicum and Clinical Consultation Group continue, as does your dissertation seminar.
- This final year before you graduate is divided into two 11-unit semesters and one 8-unit semester (unless you choose a half-time internship). Your Full-Time Pre Doctoral Internship in Clinical Psychology begins, requiring 40 hours per week of clinical work in a mental health setting.
If you’re looking for a clinical psychology program online, be aware that the APA does not accredit programs held mostly or completely online. Hybrid programs with online and on-ground components are acceptable as long as clinical experience is included. But the majority of the coursework must be completed in traditional, in-person classroom settings. Alliant’s APA-approved clinical psychology programs combine rigorous scholarship with hands-on experience and peer interaction. To learn more about our psychology department and faculty members, contact Alliant today for more information.
- “About APA Accreditation,” American Psychological Association, https://accreditation.apa.org/about
- “Clinical Psychology,” Alliant International University, https://www.alliant.edu/psychology/clinical-psychology
- “PhD in Clinical Psychology Curriculum, San Diego,” Alliant International University, https://www.alliant.edu/psychology/clinical-psychology/phd/san-diego/cu…
- “PsyD in Clinical Psychology Curriculum, San Diego,” Alliant International University, https://www.alliant.edu/psychology/clinical-psychology/psyd/san-diego/c…
- “Implementing Regulations, Section C: IRs Related to the Standards of Accreditation,” APA Commission on Accreditation, https://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/section-c-soa.pdf#page=23