Online Clinical Psychology Degrees
More colleges are starting to offer online-based instruction in psychology, one of the most popular academic programs in the country. An undergraduate degree in psychology at the associate or bachelor’s level can be used as a starting point to a future career in clinical psychology.
While years of training and advanced education are needed to become a clinical psychologist, such an investment often pays off, with clinical psychologists earning an average salary of more than $74,000 in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While there are several possible paths to becoming a licensed clinical psychologist, an online undergraduate degree in psychology is one way of beginning the process. Students should ensure that a program is accredited by an established educational organization, offers sufficient scheduling flexibility, has an excellent reputation, and provides access to research opportunities.
Clinical psychology is a specialized branch of psychology that draws upon multiple disciplines to provide comprehensive care to individuals dealing with intellectual, social, mental or behavioral health issues. These problems range from short-term work or personal stress to severe chronic conditions such as depression or schizophrenia.
Online Clinical Psychology Degree in Focus
The American Psychological Association (APA) regulates clinical psychology education at the graduate level, but does not do the same at the undergraduate level. In turn, there are few, if any, clinical psychology programs at either the associate or bachelor’s degree level. This lack of online clinical psychology degree options is not a problem for future clinical psychologists, however. A broad undergraduate education in general psychology is recommended by both the APA and some graduate schools. The breadth of coursework offered at the undergraduate level is considered vital to preparing future graduate students for the challenges of studying clinical psychology in master’s and doctoral degree programs.
Because of the nature of the subject matter, an online environment can enrich the learning experience of psychology students. Undergraduate psychology programs are foundational in nature, exposing students to the core fundamentals of the field, including the biological framework of human behavior, the principles of psychotherapy, and the philosophical underpinnings of psychology.
Online approaches generally lend themselves well to situations in which students are learning fundamental precepts instead of specific clinical skills, and where a greater degree of independence allows them to take a more individual approach. Still, it is important to note that as students progress into graduate programs, face-to-face instruction is critical to their training; these experiences are essential for building mentor relationships with faculty, developing competency in assessment techniques, and acquiring clinical skills that are specific to their future careers.
Breaking Down the Online Clinical Psychology Degree Program
Distance learning programs are designed to meet the same academic standards as those of their traditional on-campus counterparts. The instruction is not watered down, and students are not expected to deliver less rigorous effort. Indeed, online classes are just as challenging, and in some cases even more demanding than classroom-based courses.
The difference lies solely in the way the material is delivered. Traditionally, online psychology programs are offered in two formats: fully online and blended. Fully online programs allow students to complete an entire degree online, without requiring their physical presence in a classroom, while blended programs combine online and face-to-face instruction. With either format, students can complete their education largely on their own schedule. However, online classes may be delivered in asynchronous (self-paced) or synchronous (real-time) formats, with the latter requiring a commitment at a specific time. Both fully online and blended options share many of the same components; the list below offers an overview of elements of an online program in psychology:
Online Course Management System (CMS)
Also known as a Learning Management System (LMS), these are software applications responsible for the administration, delivery and reporting of online education. They allow students to access course materials, turn in assignments, respond to other students’ queries, or check grades. Common content management systems include Blackboard, Moodle, and Edmodo.
Online classes use standard classroom instructional materials (books), along with supplementary readings, online assignments, and online lectures. Lectures may be delivered in text-based or video format. In most cases, students may download or access their course materials through the school’s course management system.
All online classes use computers and an Internet connection for course delivery. However, specific technology requirements (e.g. Mac versus Windows) vary from program to program.
Online psychology courses are typically instructor-led, not self-paced. Assignments have certain deadlines, and students are expected to meet other requirements for interaction, such as responding to peers’ work or having online discussions with the instructor. Classes are usually divided into modules that last two or three weeks each and are contained within a traditional school semester, trimester or quarter.
Online psychology bachelor’s programs generally include an in-person training component that takes the form of an internship or field experience. Students work with a placement coordinator or faculty member to arrange an internship opportunity in their local area.
Getting Started in Clinical Psychology: Online Associate Degree
As noted above, a doctoral degree is the typical minimum educational requirement to legally practice as a clinical psychologist. For many students, the associate degree is the first step in the journey to earning a doctorate. Curriculum at the associate level is designed to give students a basic understanding of the foundational theories and concepts of psychology and prepare them to transfer to a four-year institution. Although the specific curriculum varies by program, students should look for one that does the following:
- Offers a broad selection of different subject areas in psychology
- Teaches students about the principles and processes of scientific inquiry
- Exposes students to research methods
- Introduces students to the clinical practice of psychology
Curriculum is generally divided between general education courses, electives, and classes that satisfy the major requirements in psychology. Although the psychology courses are introductory in nature, the breadth of instruction lays an important educational foundation for future clinical psychologists. Taking classes in abnormal psychology, social psychology and applied psychology can be beneficial as students prepare to transfer to a bachelor’s program. The table below outlines common courses students may encounter in an online associate program in psychology: