Abnormal Psychology Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
Get the truth about salaries in the field of abnormal psychology. Read the job descriptions and learn about education requirements and career prospects to decide if an abnormal psychology career is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Career in Abnormal Psychology

The field of abnormal psychology involves evaluating and treating patients with psychological, emotional or behavioral disorders. See the chart below for a glimpse into these careers:

Clinical Social Worker Clinical Psychologist Forensic Psychologist
Career Overview Clinical social workers diagnose patients with mental, emotional or behavioral issues and provide services to assist them Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders Forensic psychologists apply psychological principles to the practice of law and the criminal justice system
Education Requirements Master's degree Doctoral degree Doctoral degree
Program Length 1-2 years beyond a bachelor's degree 5-6 years beyond a bachelor's degree 5-6 years beyond a bachelor's degree
Additional Training Internship or supervised fieldwork Internship, residency or other post-doctoral clinical work Internship or other practical work
Licensure and Certification License required in all states License required in all states to practice independently; voluntary board certification is available in various specialties License required in most states; optional board certification is available
Experience Requirements Two years of supervised experience 1-2 years of professional experience 1-2 years of professional experience
Job Outlook for 2012-2022 Faster than average growth of 19% predicted* As fast as average growth of 11% predicted* As fast as average growth 11% predicted*
Median Salary About $41,000 (2014)* About $69,000 (2014)* Around $61,000 (2015)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

Clinical Social Worker

Clinical social workers diagnose and treat patients with emotional, mental and behavioral issues. You could help patients cope with such problems as child abuse, divorce, unemployment, anxiety or terminal illness. You can provide counseling services for individuals, families or couples as well as refer your patients to services such as food stamps or healthcare. You often consult with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians and psychologists, to develop a treatment plan for patients, but social workers may also work in private practice.

Requirements

All states require clinical social workers to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) and obtain a license to diagnose and treat patients. A social work program typically includes coursework in human behavior, clinical assessments and caseload management plus an internship or other experiential learning component. In addition to the MSW, license applicants must clock 2,000-3,000 hours of practical clinical work post-graduation and pass an examination.

Below are some examples of licensed clinical social worker positions available in December 2012:

  • An Air Force base in Florida was looking for a clinical social worker to provide counseling and psychotherapy services to active military personnel and their families. Applicants must have a master's degree in social work and an unrestricted license to practice in any state. The employer requires applicants to have at least two years of experience in independent practice in a mental health facility.
  • In New Jersey, a clinical social worker was needed to treat older adults in an assisted living setting, particularly veterans with dementia. Applicants needed a master's degree in social work, a New Jersey license to practice as a clinical social worker and experience treating geriatric patients.
  • There was a job advertisement for a clinical social worker to assess and treat inmates in a California correctional facility. Case management duties were also part of the job. A California license to practice clinical social work plus certification in basic life support and cardiopulmonary resuscitation were mandatory.

Standing Out

Specializing in a patient population may help you gain an advantage in the job market, since employers often request experience with particular groups or in certain settings. For example, some clinical social workers specialize in treating children and adolescents, while others work in hospice care or drug rehabilitation.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose and develop treatment plans for patients with mental, emotional or behavioral disorders. You might assist patients who have drug abuse problems, veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder, teenagers who are pregnant or individuals who have suffered brain injuries. You may counsel patients through family, group or individual psychotherapy. Clinical psychologists often work as part of a team of healthcare professionals. According to the BLS, in most states, they must consult with medical doctors to prescribe medications to patients.

Requirements

A Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in clinical or counseling psychology is typically required to become a clinical psychologist. For some employers, a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree in psychology is also sufficient. Courses in a degree program typically include cognitive behavior and testing, statistics, psychodynamic theory, social psychology and psychopharmacology. State licensing requirements for clinical psychologists commonly include completing a doctoral program and an internship, gaining 1-2 years of post-doctoral experience and passing a licensing examination. Many states use the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Completing professional development workshops or continuing education courses is typically necessary to maintain licensure.

See the examples of clinical psychologist positions available in December 2012 below:

  • A North Carolina Air Force base advertised for a clinical psychologist to provide counseling services, behavioral assessments and psychological tests to patients in mental health clinics and medical homes. Conducting research and participating in professional meetings were additional duties. Applicants needed a doctorate, a license to practice in any state and at least one year of professional experience in clinical psychology.
  • A nursing home and assisted living health company in New Jersey was looking for a licensed clinical psychologist to treat older patients with dementia and other behavioral disorders. A doctoral degree in psychology and a New Jersey psychology license were required. The employer preferred applicants with experience treating geriatric patients and fluency in Spanish.
  • A Veterans Affairs office in Texas sought a clinical psychologist to provide assessments and treatments to clients in an outpatient mental health facility. The psychologist would work alongside a team of healthcare professionals, including nurses, social workers and psychiatrists. Applicants needed a doctoral degree and an unrestricted license to practice in any state. The employer also required applicants to have at least three years of experience.

Standing Out

Board certification is not a strict requirement for clinical psychologists, but it can demonstrate expertise in a specialty area of the field and improve employment prospects. Moreover, some hospitals and clinics require this credential, so earning certification can open additional doors for seeking employment.

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers a few specialty certifications for clinical psychologists: clinical child and adolescent psychology, clinical neuropsychology, clinical health psychology and general clinical psychology. Completion of a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and a 1-2 year internship plus several years of professional experience are necessary to qualify to take the exam; for sub-specialties of clinical psychology, training and experience in the particular field are necessary.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists provide psychological evaluations and assessments for the criminal justice system. You may be called to testify in court and explain psychological principles to investigators, lawyers and judges. Some of the legal issues you may assist with include recognizing battered woman syndrome, evaluating competency to stand trial or helping judges decide child custody rights. Forensic psychologists may specialize in an area of the justice system, such as criminal or civil.

Requirements

Forensic psychologists typically need a doctorate in psychology and a license in most states. All states require a license for psychologists in independent practice. Some clinical psychology degree programs provide an opportunity to specialize in forensic psychology. A concentration in forensic psychology may provide an education in courtroom testimony, family trauma, child custody ethics in forensic psychology and forensic assessments. Licensing for psychologists requires you to complete a doctoral degree program and internship, obtain professional experience and pass a licensing examination.

Below are some examples of forensic psychologist positions available in December 2012:

  • A correctional services and mental health management company in Florida advertised for a forensic psychologist to provide forensic evaluations and assessments, psychotherapy and family therapy. Applicants needed to have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and a Florida license to practice. The employer also required a minimum of three years of experience in clinical psychology and preferred candidates with experience in forensic psychology and fluency in Spanish.
  • A Massachusetts psychiatric hospital was searching for a forensic psychologist to provide forensic evaluations for the state. Applicants must have a graduate degree, Massachusetts psychologist license and a minimum of one year of experience.
  • A forensic clinical psychologist was needed in a Virginia mental health outpatient center. The psychologist would provide psychological evaluations for patients with substance abuse issues who were ordered by the court to receive treatment. Applicants must have a doctoral degree, a license in Virginia to practice clinical psychology and experience providing mental health treatment.

Standing Out

The ABPP offers a specialty certification in forensic psychology. While board certification is not a requirement for a career as a forensic psychologist, it can demonstrate your capabilities in the field and give your resume a boost. In order to qualify for the examination, you need a doctoral degree in counseling or clinical psychology, proof of completion of an internship, current professional employment and continuing education credits since completion of the degree program. Out of the education and work requirements, 100 hours of training and 1,000 hours of professional practice must be in forensic psychology specifically.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • MS in Psychology
      • MS in Educational Psychology
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Psychology in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
      • BS in Psychology in Addictions
      • BS in Psychology in Applied Behavior Analysis
      • BSCJ: Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA: Psychology
      • BA: Psychology - General
      • BA: Psychology - Experimental
      • BA: Psychology - Clinical/Counseling
      • BA: Psychology - Developmental
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Psychology
      • Bachelor of Science in Psychology
      • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Clinical and Counseling Psychology
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Leadership Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Integrating Technology, Learning, and Psychology
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
    Master's
      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
      • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Health Psychology
      • MS in Psychology: Industrial & Organizational Psychology
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Grief and Bereavement
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Psychology
      • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Trauma
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Family Dynamics
  • Campus Locations:
    6. CDI College

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Diploma in Child and Youth Services Worker
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
  • Towson, MD

    Towson University

  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • MS in Psychology
  • BS in Psychology in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
  • BS in Psychology in Addictions

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Psychology
  • BA: Psychology - General
  • BA: Psychology - Experimental

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring
  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Psychology
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • BS in Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

CDI College

  • Diploma in Child and Youth Services Worker

What year did you graduate high school?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?