In choosing courses, there are four goals to consider
Many students considering earning a doctorate in Clinical Psychology wonder, “what courses are required for clinical psychology graduate school? In selecting courses consider four goals. First, complete any official prerequisites. Second, take those courses which will make you the most competitive. Third, take those courses that are most likely to ensure your success once you are admitted to clinical psychology graduate school. Fourth, take a series of courses that allow you to systematically test-out your interests in clinical psychology. Obviously, there is significant overlap in the course work required to achieve each of these goals.
The requisites required vary from program to program and can best be assessed by reviewing graduate catalogues. I recommend at least two terms of statistics. However, providing that you are mathematically competent, I would urge you take as much as possible. In fact, I’d advise anyone to seriously consider a minor or a double major in statistics. If statistics is terribly difficult for you, you may want to consider an alternative graduate school experience inasmuch as research is a cornerstone of any Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. Many people who are not mathematically-inclined opt to apply to Clinical Psychology Psy.D. programs. These programs often, though not always, have less rigorous statistics and research requirements. In place of a more robust clinical research requirement, they have a more intensive clinical focus.
Here in Washington DC, George Washington University has an outstanding Psy. D. program. Students graduate in only four years; and, they are extraordinarily well prepared to do clinical work, particularly, psychodynamically-informed, clinical work.
In the computer arena, you should be conversant with all of the current statistical packages for the social sciences. As with statistics, this is an important skill area, the goal is not to be savvy in programming; rather, you should be able to use computers effectively in data management.
Neuroscience and Biology
Another important area is that of neuroscience and biology. Today’s climate is extremely biologically-oriented. It is important to take as much neuroscience as possible; you may want to consider biology or neuroscience as an alternate minor or double major.
Finally, in the psychology arena, it is important to develop your research skills as fully as possible. Although you must collaborate with faculty on independent research efforts in order to gain admission to graduate school, course work is important too! Thus, I would encourage you to take at least two research methods courses at the undergraduate level. Moreover, if you are fortunate enough to be in a university with a graduate program, it is a very good idea to take a graduate course in this vital area. Why? You will feel much more comfortable designing your doctoral research if you have finely honed skills in experiemental design and research methods.
What about Abnormal Psychology? Or, Clinical Psychology?
Many students mistakenly believe that it is important to take course work in abnormal psychology and clinical psychology. Actually, course work in experimental psychology is a far more important requisite. Take course work in cognitive psychology, learning, the history of psychology, and sensation and perception.
As for the psychopathology arena, it is a good idea to take these courses for two reasons. First, if you find these classes dull and uninteresting, you may be headed on the wrong trajectory. Second, although all of this material will be repeated in greater depth at the clinical psychology graduate level, having completed this coursework will give you greater comfort in your early graduate school days; the material will feel familiar.
Obtain Clinical experience in course work & internships
I would particularly encourage you to take a “hands-on” course aimed at developing your listening skills. Many schools do not offer this kind of course because they feel that it is unscholarly. If this is the case at your school, I would urge you to consider volunteering at your local crisis-intervention center. Although their training may not have the rigor of your undergraduate program, it will provide valuable “hands-on” experience. Experience of this sort will allow you to feel more comfortable in the clinical setting. Again, at many doctoral programs this is not essential for admission. But, if you begin to develop these skills you will feel like a rock star when you arrive.
Develop Writing Skills
Finally, and very importantly, success in progressing toward to doctorate in a timely fashion entails good writing skills. It is critically important that you develop exceptionally good writing skills. Thus, I would urge you to select, virtually, all course work based on the frequency of writing assignments. At Carnegie Mellon, the methods courses provide significant opportunities to develop research writing skills. If your department does not offer a psychological or research writing course, lobby for them to do so. Alternatively, take advantage of your English Department’s professional writing offerings. Beyond this, many colleges have a writing center. Even if your writing skills are solid, consider approaching the staff to help you more finely hone them.
Seek out clinical research experience & gain exposure to clinical settings
All of these suggestions provide an important beginning. However, anyone applying to graduate school should have significant experience in clinical research and some exposure to clinical settings. Also, experience as a teaching assistant is a valuable adjuvant to these skills.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D. (c) 2019
This is a revised version of a 1999 blog post, previously published on Dr. Lynn Friedman’s Carnegie Mellon website.
This material is copyrighted. However, Psychology Departments, Psi Chi Chapters, Psychology Clubs and University and College Career Centers may republish this column, free-of-charge as long as it is reprinted in its entirety and without alteration. Also, along with this column, copyright and the following byline must be attached: Dr. Lynn Friedman is a clinical psychologist, training and supervising psychoanalyst and executive coach in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She is on the associate faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Website: drlynnfriedman.com She can be reached at: (301) 656-9650.