Psychopharmacology Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a psychopharmacology degree program? Read about program requirements, pros and cons of Ph.D. and postdoctoral master's programs, and potential careers.
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Studying Psychopharmacology: Degrees at a Glance

As a subfield of both psychology and pharmacology, psychopharmacology is the study of how drugs affect an individual's mind and behavior. You're unlikely to find a master's degree program in psychopharmacology, but you can find postdoctoral master's programs in this field. Postdoctoral programs in psychopharmacology usually require a Ph.D. in Psychology for admission.

Psychopharmacology professionals are considered medical scientists. Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that medical science careers were expected to grow by 36% from 2010-2020. This was well above the average projected growth for all occupations.

Ph.D. Postdoctoral Master's
Who is this program for? People interested in becoming clinical psychologists or experimental psychopharmacology researchers Psychology professionals who want to gain additional training or conduct research in psychopharmacology
Common Career Paths (with approx. median annual salary) - Clinical psychologist ($68,000)*
- Medical scientist ($76,000)*
- Postsecondary psychology professor ($68,000)*
- Psychopharmacologist senior researcher (salary unavailable)
- Neuropsychologist ($90,000)*
- Substance abuse psychologist (salary unavailable)*
Time to Completion 5+ years full-time Up to 7 years part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Core psychology courses
- Psychopharmacology concentration courses
- Clinical internship hours
- Comprehensive exams
- Teaching requirements
- Dissertation
- About 30-35 units of coursework
- Participation in practicum hours
- Creation of patient case studies
- Comprehensive exams
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Research experience
- Ph.D. in Psychology
- Research experience
- Licensure as a psychologist or completion of the Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology
Online Availability Not at this time Hybrid programs available

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Ph.D. in Psychopharmacology

There aren't many Ph.D. programs in psychopharmacology, but there are Ph.D. programs in experimental psychology that offer concentrations related to behavioral neuroscience and psychopharmacology. Most Ph.D. programs in experimental psychology will prepare you for a career in research. You'll be expected and encouraged to join ongoing psychopharmacology research projects. Likewise, you'll have the opportunity to design and run your own projects.

Ph.D. programs related to psychopharmacology are in the field of biological medical science, so expect to spend a significant amount of time in laboratories as you examine specimens and conduct experiments. Many programs structure courses so that students work with groups for most research projects, which can help you improve your communication skills. Most projects are designed to help students apply psychopharmacology theories to real-world situations.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Careers in fields related to clinical psychology were expected to increase by 22% between 2010 and 2020*
  • You'll come away from the program with training that few people have, including knowledge of experimental psychology, behavioral neuroscience and psychopharmacology
  • Required research hours may count toward the laboratory and research experience employers want

Cons

  • Most Ph.D. programs in psychology are highly selective and only accept a small number of students each year
  • You'll be in school for a minimum of nine years to earn your bachelor's degree and Ph.D. in this field
  • Even after earning your Ph.D., you'll most likely need postdoctoral experience to find employment*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Most courses will require you to conduct research and run experiments on both human and animal test subjects. Since most programs only offer a concentration in psychopharmacology, you'll likely have to complete core courses in experimental psychology, which might cover more general topics, such as cognitive processes, physiological psychology and experiment design. The majority of these Ph.D. programs will also require you to take several classes in research statistics, since you'll have to translate the results from your research data into statistical information. Courses and topics related to psychopharmacology may include the following:

  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Neuropharmacology
  • Psychological drug treatment plans

Most Ph.D. programs in experimental psychology require students to fulfill teaching requirements, and Ph.D. candidates often teach lower-level psychology classes. Students also have to meet research requirements, which often involves participating in research projects that can include laboratory testing and data analysis. Throughout the course of a Ph.D. program, you'll take several comprehensive exams related to psychology, behavioral psychology, neuroscience and psychopharmacology. Dissertation standards vary by academic institution, but Ph.D. candidates in the field of behavioral psychology are often required to design and run experiments as part of the research for their dissertations.

Online Degree Options

Online Ph.D. programs in experimental psychology or psychopharmacology are currently unavailable, since these programs require students to participate in multiple research projects. Some research projects might be conducted at laboratories away from campus, so you may have to use online platforms to report off-campus laboratory experiences. Be wary of any school that claims to offer this program completely online, and make sure it is accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation before enrolling.

Stand Out with This Degree

One way to stand out to potential employers is accruing as much research experience as possible while still in a Ph.D. program. You should have many opportunities to participate in research projects throughout your program, and you might consider participating in different types of projects so you can develop a diverse background of psychopharmacology experiences.

When considering potential research projects, you might explore the different subfields of psychopharmacology, such as drug abuse research, behavioral studies and neuroscience. If possible, join research projects that are run by different organizations. For example, the BLS pointed out that most research projects are run by government agencies, private businesses or universities. If you can acquire research experience with each of these groups, it could make you highly desirable to potential employers.

Postdoctoral Master's Degree in Psychopharmacology

The majority of postdoctoral master's degree programs related to psychopharmacology are designed to teach licensed psychologists about the use of pharmaceutical treatments on patients. Many programs also help psychologists gain a better understanding of how psychological issues might affect the body and vice versa. Additionally, these programs allow students to improve their collaboration skills, especially in regards to working with healthcare professionals, such as doctors, psychiatrists and other medical personnel.

Postdoctoral programs are structured under the assumption that students already have a strong background in psychological theory and clinical psychology. Most programs include advanced lecture courses, theoretical case studies and supervised clinical hours working with patients. Since many of these programs are designed for working psychology professionals, classes may be offered at nontraditional intervals, such as one weekend a month.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some of the fastest-growing medical science careers are those associated with pharmaceutical research and development*
  • Psychology professionals can gain psychopharmacology training that might make them more marketable
  • A postdoctoral program can lead to a unique full-time career that you couldn't get with only a Ph.D.*

Cons

  • Most of these postdoctoral programs require applicants to be licensed psychologists
  • Although these programs offer flexible schedules, if you miss a class, you may have to wait a year before that class is offered again
  • Postdoctoral master's degree programs are often expensive and take many years beyond a Ph.D. to complete

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

Several courses in these programs cover anatomy and physiology topics, which tend to be areas of study psychologists may be less familiar with. Students also learn about chemistry, including chemistry of the body and ways the body filters and absorbs different chemical compounds. Chemistry courses also might teach students about processes involved in developing and producing pharmaceutical products. Some common courses in a psychopharmacology postdoctoral master's degree program may include:

  • Pharmaceutical interactions
  • Neurophysiology
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Psychotherapy
  • Pharmacology and psychological disorders

Students may also be required to complete practicum projects that involve working under the supervision of licensed medical professionals. During practicum projects, you'll be expected to interview and diagnose patients dealing with psychological issues. Students are often expected to complete case files for each patient and determine potential pharmaceutical treatment options. Some programs require students to pass comprehensive exams in psychopharmacology prior to graduation.

Online Program Info

Several psychopharmacology postdoctoral master's degree programs are offered as hybrid programs. Students can participate in lectures either in person or through interactive online classrooms. Many programs also post lectures online as well as information about hypothetical case studies used for class assignments. Although a good amount of coursework can be completed through these online classes, most psychopharmacology programs still require students to complete practicum hours in person. However, some colleges have practicums available in different cities, so distance learners can often complete practicum hours at off-site locations.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Most psychology professionals use postdoctoral programs such as these as a form of continued education. In other words, the specialized training you'll receive in these programs can help you get ahead in your career as you move from clinical psychology into clinical psychopharmacology. Most employers in this field are looking for candidates who have postdoctoral experience with patients and laboratory research, so completing a program like this can give you an edge in the job market.

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