Abnormal Psychology Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in an abnormal psychology degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and PhD and potential careers.
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Studying Abnormal Psychology: Degrees at a Glance

It may be difficult to find abnormal psychology programs specifically; however, you may find that graduate degree programs in clinical psychology deliver the abnormal psychology training you seek. While abnormal psychology is the study of psychological pathologies, clinical psychology is the field that deals with assessing and treating these conditions. As a graduate student in a clinical psychology program, you'll build a foundation of knowledge in psychotherapy and assessment in addition to abnormal psychology. To begin your career as a clinical psychologist, a doctoral degree is typically required.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of clinical, counseling and school psychologists was expected to increase 22% from 2010-2020. Clinical and counseling psychologists will be needed to treat mental disorders and guide people through social problems. Job opportunities were expected to be best for psychologists who have doctoral degrees in a specialty area of psychology.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to prepare for doctoral programs in clinical psychology or work as counselors or psychological assistants Individuals who want to work in academia or as independently practicing clinical psychologists
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Master's degree programs typically prepare graduates for doctoral programs. However, the following careers are open to graduates with a master's degree:
- Psychological assistant (salary unavailable)
- Mental health counselor ($43,000)*
- Applied psychology positions ($73,000 with less than 5 years of experience)**
- Clinical psychologist ($73,000)*
- Postsecondary psychology teacher ($75,000)*
Time to Completion Two years, full-time 5-6 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Thesis
- Clinical practicum or internship
- Master's thesis
- Comprehensive exam
- Doctoral dissertation
- Clinical practicum
- Internship
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree with an undergraduate course in statistics (if the bachelor's degree is not in psychology, additional prerequisite courses may be required) - Bachelor's degree with an overall undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **American Psychological Association (2009 figures).

Master's Degree in Abnormal Psychology

Master's degree programs in clinical psychology are usually not designed to prepare you for a career as a psychologist. Instead, they usually serve as preparation for doctoral studies. However, you could go on to work as a mental health counselor or psychological assistant after earning your degree.

As a master's degree student, you'll be encouraged or required to collaborate with faculty members on clinical research projects. These 2-year programs may require a full-time commitment, making it difficult to balance outside work with your studies. Therefore, you may be required to take out loans or participate in paid assistantships to fund your education.

Pros and Cons


  • Master's degree programs in clinical psychology can prepare you for doctoral programs by honing your clinical and research skills
  • Class sizes are typically small (only 8-12 students may be admitted per year), so you'll receive a lot of individualized attention.
  • Your bachelor's degree doesn't need to be in psychology in order to be admitted, which can be beneficial if your undergraduate studies were in another field


  • Master's degree programs in clinical psychology generally won't qualify you to work as a clinical psychologist, and many master's degree holders find work outside the field
  • If you want to become a clinical psychologist, you'll also need to complete a doctoral program, which means that you'll spend at least seven years as a graduate student
  • It may be difficult to work while completing your program, creating a financial burden for some

Courses and Requirements

The curriculum in a master's degree program in clinical psychology focuses on both research and clinical aspects of the field. In addition to traditional classroom training, you'll receive clinical training through required practicum or internship courses. You'll likely also be required to complete a thesis based on independent research. Some examples of courses you might take at the master's level include:

  • Research methods in psychology
  • Statistics
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Psychological assessment
  • Psychotherapy

Online Info

Online master's degree programs in clinical psychology are available, but they are usually offered at for-profit schools. It is difficult to find individual online courses in abnormal psychology at the master's level. While you may be able to complete your coursework online if you decide to enroll in an online program, you'll still be required to complete a practicum in the field. Your program may also require you to attend some in-person residencies, which last a few days at a time. Some programs allow you to choose a concentration in counseling, which will prepare you to work as a mental health counselor after graduating.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Whether you want to work as a psychological assistant or counselor after you graduate, you'll be interacting with people through your job. For this reason, you may consider taking interpersonal communication courses while earning your master's degree. You may also want to take advantage of opportunities to collaborate with faculty members on research projects. This will provide you with valuable experience whether you want to work in the field after graduating or continue your education through a PhD program.

PhD in Abnormal Psychology

Like master's degree programs in clinical psychology, PhD programs train you in both clinical and research skills. Some programs will give you the opportunity to choose a track, such as clinical child psychology, health psychology or applied quantitative psychology. Your PhD program may be completed in as little as five years, but could take longer depending on how long it takes you to complete your dissertation and internship requirements. After earning your PhD and gaining supervised professional experience, you'll be eligible to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) in most states.

Pros and Cons


  • A doctorate is typically required to earn licensure as a clinical psychologist
  • Employment of clinical, counseling and school psychologists is expected to increase at a faster-than-average rate in the coming years (22% from 2010-2020)*
  • A PhD program can prepare you for academic careers in teaching or research in addition to clinical careers.


  • Clinical, counseling and school psychologists have lower average salaries than do other types of psychologists (about $67,000 vs. $90,000 in May 2010)*
  • Evening and weekend hours may be required to accommodate clients
  • Admission to some PhD programs can be very competitive (only around ten percent of applicants or less may be admitted per year)**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Ohio University, Department of Psychology.

Courses and Requirements

In order to graduate from a PhD program in clinical psychology, you'll be required to complete coursework on research and psychology-related topics, as well as complete clinical training through practicums and internships. It is likely that you'll also be required to complete both a master's thesis and a doctoral dissertation in addition to a comprehensive examination. Some programs may require you to choose a professional concentration and take a minimum number of courses in that area. Some of the courses you might take as a PhD student include:

  • Statistics
  • Clinical research design
  • Psychopathology
  • Personality
  • Psychological assessment
  • Intervention and therapy

Online Info

It is difficult to find individual courses in abnormal psychology offered online through PhD programs. However, you may find online PhD programs in clinical psychology. Similar to online master's degree programs in the subject, these programs are usually offered primarily at for-profit schools. Like their on-campus counterparts, online PhD programs in clinical psychology require you to complete a clinical practicum, internship and dissertation in addition to the program coursework. While much of the program can be completed online, you may need to complete part of your courses in person during what is known as an Academic Year in Residence. Your internship and clinical practicum must also be completed in person.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

To stand out after earning your PhD, you may consider earning specialty certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology. Because certification demonstrates expertise in your specialty area, it could attract clients or lead to more professional opportunities. Specialty areas you might choose include clinical health psychology, clinical neuropsychology or rehabilitation psychology. In order to be eligible for specialty certification, you'll need to have graduated from an approved doctoral program and earned licensure. You'll then need to have your credentials and practice samples reviewed and pass an oral examination. Depending on the specialty you choose, you may also need to pass a written exam.

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