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Psychology Specializations

Academics / Departments & Programs / Psychology / Careers & Outcomes / Psychology Specializations

Within the field of psychology itself, there are several professional specializations that apply the principles of psychology to solving human problems.

Many psychology majors at Calvin are interested in pursuing graduate education to achieve a master's or doctoral degree in a field of study related to psychology. Others seek graduate training in the applied areas of psychology, those professions that apply the principles of psychology to solving human problems. These areas commonly include clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology, organizational psychology and social work.

Note: The greatest opportunities to engage in counseling and psychotherapy and the greatest flexibility in job opportunities in applied areas of psychology are available for someone who is a licensed psychologist, which can be obtained with either a Ph.D. or Psy.D., depending on the field of study.

Clinical psychology

Students who wish to enter the field of clinical psychology can do so at either the master's or the doctoral level.

Master's programs in clinical psychology focus training on psychopathology, including training in the use of psychological tests of cognitive capabilities and intelligence tests. Typically master's degree programs are completed within two years and are ideal for those who have unexceptional academic records and who wish to prove themselves in a master's program before re-applying to doctoral programs.

Students who choose to complete doctoral programs in clinical psychology are either awarded the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) degree or the Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree. Graduates from either of these programs can be fully licensed as psychologists, and both are typically completed within five to six years. Ph.D. students are trained heavily as researchers, teachers and practitioners in clinical psychology. Students completing the Psy.D. degree take courses in a variety of areas in psychology, which allows for more coursework in psychotherapy and psychopathology relative to Ph.D. programs. Within both the Ph.D. and the Psy.D. programs there are a variety of areas of specialization that can be pursued. Students interested in a particular type of psychotherapy (e.g. children, the elderly or brain injured patients) can choose certain courses that will assist them in their work and can choose practicum and internship settings within these areas of specialization.

Counseling psychology

Similar to clinical psychology, students can pursue graduate training in counseling psychology on either the master's or the doctoral level.

Those with master's degrees in counseling psychology typically work in secondary education settings, most often in high schools. They cannot become licensed as a psychologist, but can become a limited licensed professional counselor.

On a doctoral level, students with a graduate degree in counseling psychology can become licensed psychologists. Most often, doctoral students complete a four-year program that emphasizes vocational and psychological counseling.

School psychology

School psychologists perform assessments of and develop specific treatment programs for students with special needs. They use a variety of methods to assess the social, emotional, intellectual and academic needs of students from infancy through the high school level.

To become certified as a school psychologist, the student must complete a two-year graduate program in school psychology. After the master's program is complete, the student then completes a one year full-time internship working as a school psychologist. Upon completion of this internship the student receives the education specialist degree (Ed.S.) and qualifies for certification as a school psychologist.

On the doctoral level, the student takes the same courses as those in the master's level program, followed by an additional two years of graduate work. After the additional two years and the completion of an internship, the student can work in a variety of settings including as a school psychologist, an administrative supervisor of school psychologists or doing clinical assessment and treatment. Those with the Ph.D. degree in school psychology can become licensed psychologists.

Organizational psychology

Industrial (or organizational) psychologists focus on applying principles of psychology to the work setting. Most often their emphasis is on performing research and consulting on issues related to work, such as job performance, motivation, job satisfaction, substance abuse in the work setting, absenteeism, executive selection and labor/management relations. On the doctoral level, many industrial psychologists teach in college and university settings. Industrial psychologists are less involved in dealing with pathology and more involved with solving human problems related to work.

Social work

There are several areas of specialization within the field of social work, though only two areas focus on coursework and training in counseling and psychotherapy. These areas are clinical social work and school social work.

Clinical social workers are trained to perform counseling and psychotherapy services to individuals, couples, groups and families. Clinical social workers receive training with specific age groups and problems through field placements. Following graduation, a professional with a Master's in Social Work (MSW) in clinical social work continues with several years of supervision and can become a licensed social worker.

While some MSW programs may allow a student to choose between a specialization in school or in clinical social work, most MSW programs require the student to select between the two programs when he or she applies to the graduate program.

The vast majority of counseling services offered in schools are offered by school social workers. While often this counseling service is individual in nature, increasingly with the greater need for counseling services, school social workers are involved in group counseling.

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