There are several types of graduate programs in psychology. The most common are experimental, developmental, social, biopsychological, cognitive, clinical, counseling, school, and organizational psychology (also known as industrial-organizational psychology, or simply I/O). These last four (clinical, counseling, school and I/O) are considered by the American Psychological Association (APA) to be the four distinct areas of applied psychology. Other more specialized graduate programs might be devoted to sports psychology, psychology and law, or behavioral medicine. Large psychology departments at large universities may include many of the most common programs mentioned above, but most universities will have only a few of them.
Programs in Applied Psychology:
Master’s Programs (full time or part time)
There are a variety of master’s programs in fields related to clinical and counseling psychology. Usually these programs train students in basic counseling skills. Some programs may have specialized areas of training such as marriage and family counseling, drug addiction counseling, group counseling, vocational counseling, family therapy, child therapy, divorce mediation, prison counseling, and so forth. When it comes time to apply for jobs, it is very advantageous to have an area of specialization. People with master’s degrees usually work in group counseling practices, clinics, programs for niche populations (drug abusers, victims of domestic abuse, chronic psychiatric patients, and so forth), and employee assistance programs. Having a Master of Social Work degree or a Master in Family Therapy degree can also open up opportunities to practice therapy. In many states, people with master’s degrees cannot have their own private practice. Earning a PhD will enable you to make more money and may open up different doors for you, but it is not absolutely necessary to have one. In some cases, a master’s degree may be ideal! In fact, with the current rise of managed care systems in the field of mental health, insurance companies may only pay for psychotherapy provided by clinicians who are part of a group practice. While PhDs may be in charge of the group, they may very well hire clinicians with master’s degrees to do therapy with the clients who are referred to the group. If you are determined to get a PhD, you can sometimes get a master’s degree from one school and then transfer to a PhD program at another school. However, you will probably lose credits, as some credits will not transfer between schools. Many PhD programs also prefer to train students right from the start of their graduate careers and do not give advantages to transfer students.
Counseling Psychology (EdD or PhD, usually 4–5 years full time; sometimes less competitive programs to get into than clinical psychology programs)
Counseling psychology programs usually emphasize training in counseling or psychotherapy methods. These programs also include some training in research methods (i.e., statistics and experimental courses), but usually are not as rigorous as courses in clinical psychology programs. However, counseling programs that offer a PhD rather than the traditional EdD often have intense research training. Similarly to clinical psychology programs, counseling programs require internship experience and a dissertation. In recent years, the distinction between counseling and clinical psychology programs is disappearing. A counseling program is often completely separate from the psychology department at some universities.
PhDs in Clinical Psychology (5 years minimum; full time; can be difficult to get accepted)
These programs educate students about issues related to mental health and mental health treatment. Many programs emphasize research and will require you to take courses in statistics and experimental design. You will be expected to conduct experimental research, which will culminate in your dissertation. A dissertation is a year-long research project that you design and conduct on your own (with help from a committee of faculty members). Most programs are behavioral, cognitive, biological, or psychoanalytic in their approach. Some programs mix all of the above. A few are humanistic/ existential. During the first few years in a clinical program, you will get some training in psychotherapy and psychological testing, but the most intense clinical training usually comes later, during an internship. A few PhD clinical psychology programs underplay the research component and spend more time on training you to do psychotherapy, but most programs weigh heavily on the research.
PsyD in Clinical Psychology (4–5 years; full or part time; can be difficult to get accepted)
PsyD programs lead to the degree Doctor of Psychology rather than the traditional PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy. They were created as an alternative to PhD clinical psychology programs. They are designed specifically for people who want to practice psychology and are less interested in quantitative research. There is some research training, but much more time is spent on learning the various aspects of clinical work (i.e., individual and group psychotherapy, testing, marriage and family counseling, and so forth). Usually internship experiences in a wider variety of settings are required more than in PhD programs. PsyD clinical psychologists usually work in hospitals, clinics, and private practice.
Clinical Social Work (MSW, 2–3 years full time)
Social work programs are an alternative to psychology training. Clinical social work programs teach students about working in the mental health and social welfare systems. Training in counseling and psychotherapy sometimes is not as extensive as in psychology programs, especially PhD and PsyD programs. Research usually is not emphasized. Many clinical social workers do individual and group psychotherapy.