Online Master’s in Clinical Psychology

What is Clinical Psychology?

Clinical psychology is the study of the mind as applied to provide mental health care to individuals and groups. Practitioners of clinical psychology are known as clinical psychologists. While becoming a clinical psychologist requires earning a doctoral degree, many professionals in the field first earn a bachelor’s degree, typically in psychology, and a master’s degree in psychology or clinical psychology, according to the American Psychological Association(APA). A master’s degree in clinical psychology focuses on assessment, intervention, consultation, and research in the service of providing mental health care.

Some specialties in psychology may focus on neuroscience, psychopharmacology, or cognition. Clinical psychologists draw from these fields to approach the mental health and wellness of their clients. A clinical psychologist may be tasked with training, education, supervision, or research, but it is always to the end of aiding individuals or groups address mental health issues, such as maladjustments, disabilities, and psychopathologies. The field of clinical psychology also has several areas of interest: clinical geropsychology, clinical psychology of women, and clinical psychology of ethnic minorities.

Getting Your Online Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology

Step 1: Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

While the APA acknowledges that not all clinical psychologists begin their undergraduate education with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, the organization nevertheless recommends it. Students may be able to learn the fundamentals of psychology and prepare for the master's in psychology degree program admission requirements.

Step 2: Find an Accredited Online Master’s Degree Program

Master’s in clinical psychology degree programs may be accredited by the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). In order to obtain accreditation from MPCAC, master’s degree programs must be equivalent to at least two academic years of full-time study with a minimum of 48 semester hours or equivalent quarter hours. 

Programs must also include at least 600 hours of supervised experience across two semesters, with a minimum of 240 hours in direct contact. Coursework must cover the fundamentals necessary to adequately prepare students for careers in psychology.

Step 3: Complete Your Online Master’s Degree Program

Earning an online master’s degree in clinical psychology is a means to an end — namely, a doctoral program in psychology is a necessary qualification for clinical psychologists working in the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of November 2019.

As doctoral programs in psychology are accredited by the APA, it’s worth keeping the association’s criteria in mind. While the APA does not stipulate the student selection process for doctoral programs that it accredits, it does acknowledge that demonstration of prior knowledge via standardized tests like the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and broad entrance criteria such as graduate grade point average (GPA) play into the selection process.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Clinical Psychology?

A master’s in clinical psychology degree program accredited by MPCAC will take at least two academic years of full-time study to complete. The program must be a minimum of 48 semester hours or equivalent quarter hours, and include at least 600 hours of supervised experience across two semesters, with a minimum of 240 hours in direct contact.

How to Choose Your Online Master’s in Clinical Psychology

First and foremost, selecting an online master’s in clinical psychology degree program should be a question of accreditation. As stated by MPCAC, accreditation attests to the quality of an educational program in preparing students to enter the professional field. Additionally, as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) notes, accreditation ensures that students have access to government financial aid programs. Thus, the right program will be accredited by MPCAC, CHEA, or both.

Following accreditation, prospective students will want to consider their program’s educational requirements, curriculum, and class interactions.

Education Requirements for Clinical Psychology Degrees

While MPCAC does not stipulate educational criteria specifically for master’s in clinical psychology degree programs, the council’s general requirements cover the fundamentals necessary for aspiring clinical psychologists. 

MPCAC requires that accredited programs be “scientist-practitioner-based,” or provide training in both research and delivery of services. Additionally, council standards necessitate that students amass at least 600 hours of supervised experienced, or therapeutic-related work under the oversight of professionals, with at least 240 hours of direct contact, or interaction with actual clients. These criteria emphasizing the delivery of services provide students with valuable experience for their future careers as clinical psychologists.

Clinical Psychology Curriculum

MPCAC does not dictate a curriculum specifically for master’s in clinical psychology degree programs, but the council does have general requirements. The core curriculum of MPCAC-accredited programs must cover:

  • Professional Identity, and Ethical and Professional Standards
  • Evidence-Based Theories and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy
  • Multiculturalism and Diversity
  • Theories of Psychopathology and Relevant Classification Systems
  • Tests, Measurements, and Other Assessments of Behavior
  • Research Methods and Program Evaluation
  • Career Development and/or the Role of Work in Peoples’ Lives
  • Biological Basis of Behavior
  • Developmental Basis of Behavior
  • Social/Organizational/Community Basis of Behavior
  • Understanding and Use of Supervision During Applied Experiences

Online Class Interactions

There are a number of common criteria that students should consider when choosing an online degree program. Prospective students should consider the program’s interactive aspects, particularly whether it offers real-time classes connected with conferencing technology or relies solely on self-paced learning modules. 

Students want to ensure that their computer equipment and Internet service meet the minimum technical specifications for hardware, software, and bandwidth. Lastly, students should consider the traditional aspects of a learning environment, such as class size and faculty credentials.

Information on clinical psychology programs was last retrieved in November 2019. For the most up-to-date information, refer to your preferred program of interest.