Home Abnormal Psychology: What it is, Degrees, and Jobs

Abnormal Psychology: What it is, Degrees, and Jobs

The field of psychology continues to grow and gain recognition in and outside of the scientific community. Through this growth, the areas of study change over time. Today, psychologists cover dozens of specialties, including abnormal psychology.

Abnormal psychology is a psych discipline that focuses on mental illnesses. To be clear, “abnormal psychology” is not a specific degree within psychology. And “abnormal psychologist” is not a recognized profession title. While it’s not a specific degree or career, per se, you can take abnormal psychology courses throughout your undergraduate and graduate career. You’ll learn about the different conditions and diagnosing and treating mental illnesses.

This page will expand on abnormal psychology, the education requirements, and the jobs you can get in the field.

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What is Abnormal Psychology?

Abnormal psychology is a specialty within psychology. It’s the study of atypical and disruptive thoughts, conduct, and emotions in humans. Some abnormal conditions can prompt harmful or irrational behaviors — either within the diagnosed person or toward others. Psychologists observe, interpret, and record how individuals relate to one another and their environments, and then use these findings to help implement healthy changes. This field explores the causes, treatment options, and symptoms of behaviors and mental processes.

There are many diagnoses that fall under the scope of abnormal psychology: mood, adjustment, anxiety, developmental, and cognitive disorders. Examples include depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), learning disorders, and personality disorders. Practitioners may be able to further specialize in particular diagnoses or types of disorders once in the field. Psychologists can treat patients and/or perform research and develop theories.

Tens of thousands of students across the United States enroll in abnormal psychology courses each year. The majority of students are taught that mental illnesses are genetically determined malfunctions in the brain. The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 is considered the primary source of diagnosis and assessment information. Psychologists use cognitive and behavioral approaches and psychotropic medications as their main tools when treating patients.

Abnormal Psychologist Talking To a Patient After Getting His Degree Online

Abnormal Psychology Degrees

There is no such thing as an abnormal psychology degree. However, you can take abnormal psychology classes and specialize in abnormal psychology in a more generic master’s or doctorate psychology program.

Traditionally, the psychology degree levels are as follows:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree
  • Doctorate degree

Your career goals play a factor into which degree(s) you need. If you wish to work in a research or counseling setting, a master’s degree may be sufficient. However, if you’re interested in working independently in teaching or treatment, you’ll need a doctoral degree from an accredited institution.

Psychologists also need a license before they can practice and treat patients. Laws vary by state, but in most cases you need to earn a doctoral degree, complete an approved internship, have a defined number of years of on-the-job experience, and pass a licensing exam.

Bachelor’s Degree

Aspiring psychologists will begin their career by getting a four-year Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. Psychologists specializing in abnormal psychology usually seek out a B.S. in psychology to take advantage of more lab and science classes. While you’ll commonly earn a generic bachelor’s in psychology, you can take courses in abnormal psychology when pursuing your degree. You’ll be introduced to abnormal psychology and different, common mental disorders through certain undergraduate psychology classes.

Coursework usually includes an overview of “normal” versus “abnormal” conditions, historical perspectives on abnormal behavior, treatment, and more. Intro classes will introduce basic concepts and definitions, as well as legal and ethical issues. Culture and diversity also play roles in assessment and treatment and are typically part of the curriculum.

Master’s in Abnormal Psychology

After learning some basics of abnormal psychology and earning your bachelor’s, you’ll move on to your master’s degree. In a master’s program, you’ll dig deeper into the topics and begin to apply concepts. Many programs run eighteen months to three years, but time can vary depending on the individual program. You can specialize in abnormal psychology by getting a master’s in clinical psychology, counseling, or applied psychology.

Here are two examples of courses in master’s degree programs:

  • DSM/Psychopathology: In this class, students will be introduced to and learn to apply the mental health diagnostic system from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. The DSM contains all official mental health disorders and is used by therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists to diagnose their patients. Students in this course study diagnostic interviewing skills, appropriate interventions for each disorder (including information on psychopharmacology), and more. They will also review the effects of socio-environmental factors, diagnosis, and treatment.
  • Psychopathology: In this class, students study the nature, diagnosis, and treatment of psychiatric illnesses (anxiety disorders, affective disorders, addiction, psychosis, etc.). Through lectures, readings and assignments, students should gain a deeper understanding of these various conditions and how they’re treated. By the end of the course, they should have also developed knowledge that will serve as a foundation for more advanced and specialized skills in careers such as social work, psychiatric nursing, psychiatry, and more.

Doctorate Degree

At the doctoral level, be prepared to apply the concepts you’ve learned in previous abnormal psych classes. Most programs take five to six years to complete. You’ll typically go through courses in subjects such as clinical research design, psychopathology, psychological assessment, and intervention and therapy.

An example of a course you might take in a doctoral degree program is:

  • Mental Health Policies and Services: In this class, students will observe the processes and politics of mental health policy making and program development at a local, state, and national level. They will review alternate approaches of defining mental health and illness, developmental disabilities, and substance-related disorders, and ethical and value dilemmas connected to these topics.

To graduate, you’ll need to complete a master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation, take a comprehensive exam, do a clinical practicum (when a graduate student puts their psychology knowledge and clinical skills to use) and complete an internship.

Abnormal Psychology Online Courses

There are two major types of online programs: hybrids and fully online. Per the former, you take some of your classes online and some in person. Per the latter, you take all or most of your classes online. Today, there are many online bachelor’s programs available where you can take all of your courses online to satisfy your degree requirements. Abnormal psychology is also a class you could take online in a hybrid program. There are also some online master’s degree programs in psychology where you can take classes in abnormal psychology.

Bonus: Many traditional (in person) bachelor’s programs accept credits received from other accredited online schools, so you could take an online abnormal psychology course from one place and transfer the credits to your traditional program. Online programs may be a cheaper alternative for students, and the flexibility is a plus. Overall tuition may be cheaper than a physical program. You also won’t pay for extraneous on-campus fees, a pricy meal plan, or a parking pass. However, these programs generally require more discipline since you won’t be seated in a lab or classroom. You will need to be focused to take on curriculum that exists wholly online.

With all that stated, there are no American Psychological Association (APA)-accredited online doctoral programs in psychology. You will need to attend an in-person program to get an APA-recognized doctorate. You can use the APA’s free tool to explore different bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs.

Abnormal Psychology Jobs

The field of abnormal psychology is broad, and professionals can work in a number of different settings. Many psychologists work in universities, and mental health and research facilities. We’ll break down the different jobs you can get based on your education level.

Jobs in Abnormal Psychology with a Bachelor’s Degree

There are a variety of abnormal psychology jobs you can get with a bachelor’s degree. You can become an assistant social worker, research assistant, or psychiatric technician, and in some states you can become a substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselor. Keep in mind that different states and organizations may have specific education requirements.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that in 2018 substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors typically made a median of $44,630 per year or $21.46 per hour. These jobs are also expected to grow 23%, much faster than the national average. People in these roles provide support and treatment to clients, and help them change their behaviors or help them recover from addiction. Counselors mainly work in private practice, and community health and mental health centers. Most of these positions require a bachelor’s degree at minimum, but again, this may vary.

Jobs with a Master’s in Abnormal Psychology

Graduates with a psychology degree have the opportunity to work in the same settings as undergrad psych degree holders. They generally also have a wider variety of choices in the field. Grads with master’s degrees can do research and work as a therapist, within the school system, or at a public health center. Specifically related to abnormal psychology, in all states practitioners can get roles as a mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor, social worker, or sometimes as an adjunct instructor. However, you can’t be a psychologist; you need a doctorate to earn that title.

Here is some data on a couple of these professions:

  • Mental health counselor: Someone who works with individuals and groups to promote mental and emotional well-being. The 2018 mean hourly wage was $22.14 and the mean annual wage was $46,050.
  • Social worker: Someone who works with people on everyday problems; clinical social workers can diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional conditions. 2018 median hourly wage of $23.79 and median annual wage of $49,470.
  • Adjunct instructor: Someone who serves as an instructor or researcher at an institution, usually part time. A doctoral degree is sometimes required, though community and vocational colleges usually only require a master’s. Average hourly wage in 2019 is $37.81 and average annual wage is $35,334.

Jobs in Abnormal Psychology with a Doctoral Degree

Once you have your doctorate, more opportunities will open up for you in the psychology field. In particular, you’ll be able to work in abnormal psychology in different jobs and settings.

Here’s some data on five jobs for people with a doctorate in psychology:

  • Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists: Someone who diagnoses and treats mental disorders, learning disabilities, and cognitive, behavioral, and emotional issues. They may also design and roll out behavior modification programs. The 2018 mean hourly wage was $41.03 and mean annual wage was $85,340.
  • Psychology professor: Someone who serves as an instructor or researcher at an institution of higher learning. The 2019 average annual wage was $65,000.
  • Psychology researcher: Someone with an advanced degree who focuses on research and discovering new things within the profession. Average hourly wage is $17 and annual wage is $51,000 as of 2019.
  • Forensic psychologist: A licensed psychologist with a forensic concentration. They usually diagnose disorders for people in the justice system. In 2019, the average hourly rate is $30.99 and annual wage is $66,295.
  • Neuropsychologist: A psychologist who specializes in the brain and how behaviors, mental abilities, and emotions relate to the brain’s systems. Average hourly rate in 2019 is $49.32 and annual wage is $91,139.

Resources for People Interested in Abnormal Psychology

If you’re interested in a career in abnormal psychology or exploring the field some more, there are a number of available resources. Here are a few we highlighted for you to check out.

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