Online Master’s Degrees in (Clinical) Psychology
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Psychology is an academic discipline that takes learners through intimate explorations of the inner workings of the human mind, human motivation, and human behavior. Because every industry that involves people requires professionals that understand how people move through the world, the career manifestations for a student of psychology can occur in any industry and at various levels.
One major career track for those interested in psychology happens at the clinical level, where psychology expertise is applied to helping people cope with or overcome mental health struggles, cultivate greater self-awareness, and move toward lives that center on self-confidence, self-reliance, and well-being.
Those interested in clinical psychology will find that demand for mental health professionals of this kind is on the rise. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), occupational growth for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is predicted to grow by 15 percent between 2018 and 2028, three times faster than the predicted growth for all occupations nationwide (5 percent). During this decade, there is a possibility for up to 23,800 new clinical psychology positions available, for a total of 185,800 by the end of this time period.
The BLS remarks that the reason for this growth rests on growing populations increasing the need for school counselors, professionals who can help clients cope with aging, an increase in access to support for people with developmental disorders like autism, and the continued need for services for veterans suffering from war trauma, amongst other needs.
Prospective students interested in becoming a part of this field will find that there is a multiplicity of master of psychology programs available that offer formalized psychology training. For students who wish to continue working while studying, can’t physically move to pursue higher education, or want the flexibility to fit an academic program into their current life’s schedule can pursue master’s-level training online.
There are many high quality and accredited master of psychology programs that are offered 100 percent online, or in a hybrid online-on campus format. While most online programs do not require any sort of in-person commitment, those that do often attempt to minimize disruptions to student life by offering residencies, immersions, or orientations that happen only for a few days.
The following comprehensive guide to master’s degrees in clinical psychology orients prospective students to typical admissions requirements, coursework to expect, supervision and internship requirements, accreditation, featured online programs, distinguished professors teaching in online programs, and possible careers for those with an earned master of psychology.
Typical Admissions Requirements for Clinical Psychology Master’s Degrees
Online master of psychology degrees come in many flavors, with a wide range of prerequisites needed to apply. Prospective master’s-level students will need to ensure they are familiar with admissions requirements by carefully studying admissions pages on program websites or by contacting admissions officers.
Generally, a prospective student applying to an online master of psychology programs can expect requirements like the following:
- Official transcripts demonstrating graduation from an accredited bachelor’s program
- Official transcripts demonstrating any completed post-secondary coursework and GPA
- Personal statement or letter of interest
- One to three letters of recommendation
- Application fee
- Resume or CV
- GRE, MAT, or other standardized test scores.
- Proof of licensure or license eligibility (rarely)
Courses in Master of Clinical Psychology Programs
Coursework in a master of clinical psychology program varies greatly depending on the program, concentration, or clinical focus. The following is a list of sample coursework that a student may encounter while earning a master of psychology online:
- Abnormal Psychology & DSM 5
- Advanced Individual Counseling
- Advanced Psychopathology and Diagnosis
- Advanced Research Methods
- Applied Statistics for Psychology
- Assessment and Treatment of Substance Abuse
- Clinical Issues in Human Diversity
- Comparative Theories of Personality & Psychotherapy
- Developmental Psychology
- Essential Interviewing Skills
- Ethical and Professional Issues
- Ethics and Standards of Professional Psychology
- Family Therapy Theories and Techniques: A Modern Emphasis
- Foundations of Addictions and Co-Occurring Disorders
- Foundations of Adlerian Psychology
- Foundations of Professional Psychology
- Introduction to Professional Writing and Portfolio
- Introduction to the Counseling Profession
- Life Span Development/Aging and Long Term Care
- Multicultural Counseling
- Principles of Research
- Psychological Assessment
- Research and Bibliographic Methods
- Testing, Measurement, and Assessment
- The Counseling Process
- Theory and Practice of Group Counseling
Supervised Clinical Hour Requirements & Internships – Master of (Clinical) Psychology
Supervision hours and internships within a master of psychology program are of particular interest to those prospective students who wish to eventually become licensed mental health professionals.
Master of psychology programs are highly diverse and offer a wide array of career preparations; there are some programs that focus on licensure, some that do not, and many that offer sliding scales of preparation for licensure. Before applying to a master of psychology program, it is essential that the prospective student cultivate a deep understanding of program offerings by reading program websites and speaking with program officers to understand what supervision and internships are available.
Programs in psychology at the master’s level that are specifically designed to prepare graduates for licensure, will include requirements that push students to achieve the required number of supervision and direct-client hours needed to qualify to sit for licensing exams. For example, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers a licensure-track for its forensic psychology program that requires students to complete 700 supervised hours, including 280 face-to-face client hours through a practicum. Most online programs empower students to earn supervision hours close to their residences.
Other master’s programs in psychology, like the online programming offered at Walden University, are not licensure-focused and do not require clinical supervision or hands-on internships. Despite the lack of infrastructural support for licensure within programs such as these, graduates can still pursue supervision hours and internships independently during enrollment and following graduation.
In terms of the number of hours required, this will largely be determined by the state in which the school is located and/or the states in which the program is offered. Because supervision hours required for licensure as mental health professionals vary from state-to-state and from license type to license type, schools will often use their home-state as a baseline, while others adapt their requirements to the home state of the student.
Program Accreditation for (Clinical) Psychology Master’s Programs
Accreditation is the process by which universities submit to being adjudicated by a third-party accrediting organization to prove institutional and/or programmatic relevance and quality. For students looking for a master of psychology program, accreditation is a sign of the quality of education, and graduating from an accredited program is powerful for professionals looking to be competitive in the job market. Accreditation is essential for those interested in pursuing education at the doctoral level and for those who intend to become licensed mental health professionals.
Accreditation occurs at national, regional, and programmatic levels. At the master’s level, prospective psychology students should ensure their prospective program is offered by a university accredited at the regional or national levels. The accrediting body should be amongst those approved by the Department of Education (DOE) or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
At the programmatic level, accreditation for psychology programs is generally only done at the doctoral level. With that said, some master’s in psychology programs offering specializations bring in programmatic accreditation from outside the psychology realm. For example, Purdue Global University offers a master’s of psychology with a concentration in addiction that is accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC). Purdue offers four other concentrations that fall under Purdue’s institutional accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), but that do not have any specialized programmatic accreditations.
Drexel University offers an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of accreditation for those interested in learning more.
Featured Online (Clinical) Psychology Programs
Brandman University offers a hybrid or 100 percent online master of arts (MA) in psychology program designed to prepare students for a career as a mental health clinician. Students enrolled in the program can choose between four emphases: a 60-credit emphasis in marriage and family therapy (MFT), a 48-credit counseling emphasis (Washington residents only), a 63-credit emphasis in professional clinical counseling (PCC), or a 69-credit combined of MFT and PCC emphasis (California residents only).
Foundational coursework across the programs includes the counseling process, life span development/aging and long term care, psychological assessment, research and bibliographic methods, and ethical and professional issues. The counseling emphasis requires students to find a practicum site and complete 180 practicum hours; the PCC emphasis requires students to complete practicum hours based on their state of residence; and the MFT/PCC program requires students to complete a minimum of 339 practicum hours.
Prospective students applying to Brandman with an earned master’s degree, a strong portfolio, or a GPA of 3.0 or higher across the most recent 30-semester credits do not need to submit GRE scores. Those with a GPA of 2.5 to 2.99 must submit a general GRE with a score of 300 or higher, a psychology GRE score in the 60th percentile or higher, or a Miller Analogy Test (MAT) score of 400.
- Location: Irvine, California
- Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
- Duration: Up to two years
- Tuition: $660 per credit-hour
Adler Graduate School offers five different online or hybrid master of art in Adlerian counseling and psychotherapy programs designed to prepare students to practice clinical psychology within the Adlerian school of thought.
Prospective students interested in Adler can choose a 69- to 72-credit-hour program in art therapy, a 60-credit program in clinical mental health counseling, a 64- to 73-credit program in co-occurring disorders and addiction counseling, a 60-credit program in marriage, couples, and family counseling, and a 50-credit program in school counseling.
All programs are also available in 21- to 42-credit certificate programs, all of which are post-master’s with the exception of the addictions program, which is post-baccalaureate. Coursework in the program includes multicultural counseling, the foundations of Adlerian psychology, ethics and professional identity, group psychotherapy and counseling, and essential interviewing skills.
Each program requires students to complete a minimum threshold of supervised practicum hours and an internship in order to cultivate practical skills in their chosen field. No GRE or other standardized test scores are required to apply to Adler.
- Location: Minnetonka, Minnesota
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
- Duration: Up to two years
- Tuition: $599 per credit-hour
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers four online master of arts programs that prepare graduates for a career in clinical psychology. Students applying to the Chicago School can choose an MA with one of the four following concentrations: general psychology, social and community psychology, child and adolescent psychology, and forensic psychology.
The Chicago School offers several options within forensic psychology that prepare students to become clinicians including a non-licensure to licensure bridge program, and a professional counselor licensure track. All programs are 100 percent online with the exception of the forensic psychology licensure track, which requires students to attend two, four-and-a-half-day residencies at the Chicago campus. In addition to the on-campus requirement, students enrolled in the forensic psychology licensure tracks will be required to complete 700 training hours with a minimum of 280 face-to-face client contact hours.
Coursework across the programs include trauma and crisis intervention, theories of personality, social psychology of cultures, and evidence-based programs for children and adolescents. In addition to psychology-focused degree programs, students interested in studying at the Chicago School can also pursue online master’s degrees in clinical mental health counseling, clinical psychopharmacology, and business psychology. No GRE or other standardized test scores are required to apply to the Chicago School.
- Location: Chicago, Illinois
- Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
- Duration: One to three years
- Tuition: $1,198 per credit-hour
Purdue Global University offers a 60- to 75-quarter-credit-hour online master of science in psychology degree program that provides a blend of historical tradition and contemporary application. Students pursuing an MS in psychology at Purdue can choose between five concentrations in general psychology, addictions, applied behavioral analysis, forensic psychology, and industrial/organizational psychology.
The program in addictions is accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC) and provides the coursework requirements necessary to sit for the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) certification exam.
Purdue Global’s course sequence also provides the minimum coursework needed for those in the behavioral analysis concentration to sit for the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) Board Certified Behavior Analyst examination.
Coursework in the program includes foundations of professional psychology, applied statistics for psychology, lifespan development, and testing, measurement, and assessment. Students enrolled at Purdue Global can choose to complete their program with a master’s thesis or with a comprehensive exam. The addictions track also requires completion of a practicum, and students pursuing industrial/organizational or applied behavioral analysis have the option to participate in a practicum. No GRE scores are required to apply to Purdue Global.
- Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Duration: 1.5 to 2.5 years
- Tuition: $420 per credit hour
Walden University offers three 48-credit online master of science in psychology programs. Walden’s master of science in forensic psychology prepares students for clinical careers in corrections and offers students the ability to specialize in criminal justice, cybercrimes, family violence, legal issues, the military, police psychology, sex offender behavior, terrorism, or victimology.
Walden’s master of science in developmental psychology prepares students for clinical careers with certain demographics by offering specializations in administration and leadership, adult development and gerontology, child and adolescent development, health and human development, and international perspectives in developmental psychology.
Walden’s master of science in psychology prepares students for disciplinary understanding of psychology by offering specializations in applied behavioral analysis, applied psychology, educational psychology, general psychology, health psychology, and social psychology. All three programs offer self-designed tracks as well.
Coursework in the programs includes the themes and theories of developmental psychology, lifespan development, gender and human development, and development in the digital age. While programs at Walden can prepare students for a career as a licensed clinical professional, the programs are not licensure-driven. No GRE scores are required to apply to Walden.
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Duration: Two to three years
- Tuition: $535 per quarter-hour
The Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University offers three programs to prepare students for careers in psychology: an online master of arts in clinical psychology, an online master of arts in psychology, and an online master of science in applied behavioral analysis.
The 62- to 68-unit MA in clinical psychology offers two tracks to prepare students for clinical work: a licensed professional counselor track (LPC) and a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) track. In addition to coursework, the online LMFT track requires students to complete 700 clock hours of supervised field experience, 225 of which must be direct client contact. The LPC track requires 280 hours of direct contact.
The 36- to 48-credit online master of arts in psychology is structured by a clinical framework and designed to give graduates a broad understanding of the principles of psychology. Although no official specializations or concentrations are offered, students have the ability to customize their course of study through the completion of two elective courses.
The course sequence for the 31- to 37-unit master of applied behavior analysis is verified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) and meets the coursework requirement necessary to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) exam. The program prepares students to understand behavioral psychology from a data-driven, evidence-based perspective. Coursework in the programs includes research and evaluation methods for mental health professionals, physiological psychology, psychopathology, and diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. No GRE scores are required to apply to Pepperdine.
- Location: Los Angeles, California
- Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WSCUC)
- Duration: 15 to 24 months
- Tuition: $1,585 per unit
Professors to Know in Online Master of (Clinical) Psychology Programs
Nakisha Castillo, DMFT, MS
Dr. Nakisha Castillo is an assistant professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Science at Brandman University. She has been a professor at Brandman since 2015 and her specialities include psychology and psychiatric mental health.
Dr. Castillo’s work can be found in refereed academic journals including the International Journal of Arts and Humanities and Family Relations. Professionally, she has experience conducting qualitative and quantitative research, writing grants, and coordinating clinical services. She also has helped underserved and mentally ill patients as a clinical therapist in the Riverside County Department of Mental Health Desert Adult Full Service Partnership. She earned her master of science in marriage and family therapy and her doctorate of marriage and family therapy, both from Loma Linda University.
Amy Tuttle Guerrero, PhD, LMFT
Dr. Amy Tuttle Guerrero is an associate professor and director of clinical training for the online MFT program offered through the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University. Her professional interests include intervention with marginalized families and communities, relational parenting, intergenerational processes regarding issues of trauma and injustice, diversity issues, and relational, systemic, and social constructionist informed family therapy theories.
In addition to being elected to serve as the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) president between 2109 and 2021, Dr. Tuttle Guerrero earned the AFTA Early Career Member Award in 2012. Dr. Tuttle Guerrero is a widely published scholar with works focused on families in the Child Protective Services system and is currently engaged in a qualitative research study regarding issues of trauma and injustice. She earned her master of science from California State University in Fresno and her PhD from Loma Linda University.
Kelley Haynes-Mendez, PsyD
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
Dr. Kelley Haynes-Mendez is an associate professor of psychology in the master of arts in psychology program online at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Her areas of expertise include clinical psychology and mental health, diversity, psychology, sexuality and gender issues, and therapeutic and theoretical orientation, with specific expertise in topics including psychopathology, African American psychology, racial identity development, international psychology, gender identity, constructivist/narrative theory and more.
Dr. Haynes-Mendez worked as a licensed psychologist in private practice where she provided specialized and culturally-affirming psychotherapy to clients with needs related to depression, anxiety, trauma, grief/loss, life transition, identity, acculturation stress, and more. She is also a member of the American Psychology Association and serves as the Committee Chair for the International Relationship Committee for the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. She earned her PsyD from the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant University in 2001 and her diploma in social innovation from the UN’s University for Peace Centre for Executive Education.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in (Clinical) Psychology?
In addition to a traditional career path such as becoming a licensed professional counselor (LPC), here are two other roles to consider.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) work with individuals, couples, and families to create positive and life-enhancing behaviors through a family-centered approach. MFTs help clients to express and understand their emotions regarding relationships, major life-changes, decision making, familial roles and niches, mental health issues, attitudes, feelings, thoughts, and more.
In addition to client work, MFTs refer clients to necessary services, keep detailed confidential records, and if in private practice, they take care of the marketing, client acquisition, budgeting, billing, and other responsibilities related to owning a small business.
According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (2020), between 2018 and 2028, the demand for MFTs is predicted to grow 22 percent nationally, more than four times the predicted rate of growth for all occupations nationwide in the same time frame (5 percent). The BLS notes that the reason for this rapid rate of growth lies in the rise of integrated care, where MFTs are becoming more essential.
An art therapist helps clients through struggles in mental health using the modality of art-making. Art therapists improve cognitive functioning, sensory-motor functioning, improve self-esteem, foster self-awareness, help clients to build emotional resilience, improve social skills, manage conflict, reduce stress, and more.
Art therapists use a wide range of techniques to engage clients in expression beyond verbal, using kinesthetic, sensory, perceptual, and symbolic techniques. In addition to working directly with clients, art therapists will engage in the documentation of visits, patient monitoring, giving referrals to needed social services, and the co-creation of treatment plans with clients, families, and other healthcare providers.