Curriculum and Program Requirements

Master’s Program

The Master’s portion of the program includes a sequence of courses that exposes students to the core components of clinical science. Students also begin fulfilling the APA discipline-specific knowledge (DSK) requirements, they are actively involved in their MA thesis research projects, and they begin practica (in their 2nd year).

Required Courses

Required courses for the Master’s program are described below. History of psychology is distributed across all of the required courses so that students learn the history of each subfield.

Research Methods and Statistics

Our students are required to take Quantitative Research Design & Analysis (PSY 815) and Psychometric Methods (PSY 818). In addition, research methods are taught in each of the clinical courses using distributed chapters from two textbooks (Kazdin, A. E. (Ed.) (2003).Methodological Issues & Strategies in Clinical Research, 3rd ed.; Kazdin, A. E. (2003). Research Design in Clinical Psychology, 4th ed.) as well as through required attendance at the Clinical Science Forum (see Forum below).


Our students are required to complete Behavior Disorders (PSY 853). This course emphasizes a lifespan approach to understanding Axis I and II disorders in children and adults.

Assessment and Intervention

Our students are required to complete two courses focusing solely on Assessment:  Cognitive and Neuropsychological Assessment (PSY 852) and Personality Assessment (PSY 831). These courses cover assessments with children and adults and include the major standardized assessment instruments. Students are taught both to administer and interpret the tests and gain expertise in writing assessment reports. 

Our students are required to take courses in Psychodynamic (PSY 952) and Cognitive-Behavioral (PSY 954) approaches to psychotherapy. Both of these courses teach theories of human behavior and focus on evidence-based treatments as well as research on treatment process and outcomes.

In addition, students are required to take one course that focuses on Child Therapy and Assessment.  This course will emphasize normal and abnormal child development as part of its focus on teaching students the specialized skills needed to conduct child assessments and interventions.


A developmental psychopathology approach undergirds our curriculum and training model.  We emphasize development, including normal development, in our curriculum through our course on Child Therapy and Assessment.  In addition, students are expected to attend the speaker series run by the Human Development Initiative, which involves the departments of Psychology, Human Development and Family Studies, and the Schools of Education and Nursing.


Our students are required to take our Scientific and Professional Ethics (PSY 926) course that focuses on the APA Ethical Principles and Standards. Adherence to these principles is also modeled in our Clinical Science Forum and all of our research and clinical training activities.

Social Justice and Diversity

Our students are required to complete Social Justice and Diversity in Psychology (PSY 992). This course examines the ways in which social justice, privilege, and diversity influence, and are influenced by, our personal daily experiences, research interests, and engagement in academic and non-academic settings.

APA Discipline Specific Knowledge and Integrative Requirement

In order to fulfill APA DSK requirements, students must (1) take 1 course that covers the other psychology disciplines (social, cognitive, biological, and affective) and (2) fulfill an advanced integrative knowledge requirement. 

(1) All students are required to take our course on Social, Cognitive, Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) in their 2nd or 3rd year of the program to gain graduate level knowledge of the broader disciplines within psychology.   

(2) Advanced Integrative knowledge: The integrative knowledge requirement may be fulfilled through either the comprehensive exam option which integrates across two of the following disciplines (social, cognitive, affective, biological, or developmental psychology), or through an integrative course (e.g. PSY 809). 

Michigan Licensing Requirements

One additional course from the following list OR the advanced integrative course listed above.  (Michigan licensing requirements require 3 of 4 classes in the following areas:  Social, cognitive, biological, and individual differences.  Individual differences are covered as part of PSY 853.  SCAN counts as a course in one of the three remaining areas.  Thus, students need one more actual course or need to take the advanced integrative course.

Biological bases of behavior (PSY 809, 811, 851, 992)

Cognitive bases of behavior (PSY 802)

Social bases of behavior (PSY 834, 837) 

Master’s Thesis

The Master’s thesis is designed to facilitate the development of core research skills and methods as well as an in-depth understanding of at least one topic within clinical science. During the first semester, the student and his/her advisor develop their thesis proposal, with an emphasis on designing a project that is of publishable quality in terms of research topic and methods. The student then defends the proposal in front of a Master’s thesis committee which consists of the thesis chair and two other faculty members. The final, completed thesis must be orally defended to the thesis committee during the student’s second year and presented to program faculty and students during a spring Clinical Science Forum.

Clinical Science Forum

Clinical Science Forum is held weekly and involves presentations from students, faculty, and outside speakers that foster the communication of findings in the research lab and clinic to better understand mental health problems and their amelioration. Empirical articles are frequently reviewed to enhance critical thinking and research-practice integration. Clinical Science Forum helps trainees:  1) develop and communicate research questions that can be tested with clinical and basic science hypotheses that recognize contextual factors; and 2) provide feedback to others within a clinical science framework through questions and advice that fosters professional development, cultural competency, and ethical practice.


Practicum begins in the fall semester of the second year and takes place under the auspices of the MSU Psychological Clinic, which is run by the Department of Psychology. Our clinic serves clients from the community, most of whom are seeking low-fee options for mental health care. We conduct assessments and psychotherapy with clients across the lifespan. We work with clients with a full range of outpatient mental health disorders, including autism spectrum disorders (ASD), ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, and personality disorders. All adult clients who enter the Clinic are given a standard battery of assessments, including the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI; Morey, 1991), the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems (IIP; Horowitz, Rosenberg, Baer, Ureno, & Villasenor, 1988), and the Outcome Questionnaire-45 (OQ-45; Lambert et al., 1994). These questionnaires are administered every eighth session throughout treatment to facilitate ongoing evaluation of treatment progress and model a science-based approach to clinical care. All child clients who enter the Clinic are given a standard battery of assessments (including the Child Behavior Checklist, Parenting Stress Index, Connors 3, and Revised Children's Anxiety and Depression Scale) based on developmental level as well as the presenting problem. These instruments are typically re-administered regularly throughout treatment and at the end of treatment. Finally, all psychotherapy and assessment sessions are videotaped for the purposes of supervision and training. 

Students are expected to be involved in clinical training following their first year in the program throughout their residence at MSU. The first two years of practicum are expected to be conducted in the MSU Psychological Clinic. The second two years of practicum (or more, if the student is in residence beyond the 5th year of the program) are intended to be specialized and consistent with the student’s clinical competency and career goals. One of these advanced years may be an externship approved by the Clinic Director and the Director of Clinical Training.

Official practicum credits begin in the fall semester of the second year. However, in the spring of the first year, students are introduced to clinical work and the MSU Psychological Clinic via an orientation led by the Clinic Director and the completion of two assessment cases (one in the spring and one in the summer), supervised by the Clinic Director. This experience is intended to provide on-going learning following the fall and spring diagnostic and assessment courses. 

Starting in the fall of the second year, students are expected to carry a case-load of 3 psychotherapy clients and to conduct 1 additional assessment that year.  In the following years, students are expected to carry a case-load of 4 psychotherapy clients and to conduct a total of 6 additional assessments. Psychotherapy and assessment cases are expected to include both child and adult cases, to ensure exposure across the lifespan. In addition, cognitive, personality and diagnostic assessments are required. Students obtain group psychotherapy experiences by leading groups in our own clinic (e.g., social skills for children with ASD) or local mental health organizations (e.g., a domestic violence shelter, a Head Start school). 

Students are assigned a primary supervisor for their psychotherapy cases with whom they meet weekly for 1-hour, individual clinical supervision. Supervision sessions typically involve an evaluation/discussion of the past week’s session(s) focusing on topics such as therapeutic process/relationship issues, treatment techniques, and application of science to practice. Psychotherapy supervisors also review and edit all of the students’ psychotherapy diagnostic assessment reports to ensure that case conceptualizations, diagnoses, and treatment plans are science-based and appropriate for the presenting problem and individual characteristics of each client. During the first year, clinical supervisors review their students’ videotaped sessions and give direct feedback in supervision on therapy techniques and process. In subsequent years, videotape viewing by supervisors is done on a periodic basis and is frequently used with more difficult cases. 

Students also meet with assessment supervisors who are assigned based on the type of assessment in which they have expertise (e.g., adult neuropsychology, child cognitive, etc.). Assessment supervision entails guidance on selection of assessment instruments, review of scoring procedures, and test interpretation and report preparation. As with the psychotherapy supervision, this supervision focuses heavily on the development of empirically supported hypotheses and conclusions about each case. Students also are assigned a supervisor for their group psychotherapy to discuss each group session, plan for future sessions, and evaluate treatment progress. 

Finally, we have three in-house, evidence-based clinical teams aimed at integrating science and practice via didactics and treatment-specific data collections. One clinical team focuses on behavioral therapy/assessment of autism spectrum disorder cases, another is testing psychodynamic treatment approaches with children and adults suffering from a range of psychological disorders, and a third focuses on cognitive-behavioral treatment of children and adolescents.

Doctoral Program

Entering the doctoral program in year three after successful completion of the master’s thesis signifies the development of the student as a budding independent scholar and clinical scientist with expertise in research, clinical care, and their integration.

Required Courses

Most students will have completed their required core courses and will be focused on finishing the DSK courses, continuing their participation in the Clinical Science Forum (required for all years of graduate training), and taking elective courses tailored to their individual training needs. Most of our students also elect to take additional statistics courses during their doctoral program. Indeed, in the past 5 years, 80% of our students have taken at least one additional statistics course beyond those required, and 65% have taken two or more courses. These courses include advanced statistical training in structural equation modeling, hierarchical linear modeling, categorical data analysis, Bayesian analysis, and longitudinal data analysis.

Cognate and Doctoral Guidance Committee

The doctoral program begins with the identification of a “cognate” for each student and the formation of a doctoral guidance committee. The cognate is an area of expertise within clinical science that is chosen by the student based on clinical science career goals. The cognate ensures that our students not only show breadth of training in clinical psychology, but also develop scholarly depth in an area that is relevant to their own research and clinical interests. Some examples of recent cognates include: 

  • Personality
  • Behavior Genetics
  • Translational Research
  • Behavioral Neuroscience and Genetics
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Interdisciplinary Graduate Specialization in Women's and Gender Studies
  • Psychophysiology and Psychophysiological Methodology 

The doctoral guidance committee helps the student develop their cognate and an individualized doctoral plan of study. The committee must consist of at least two clinical science faculty members and frequently includes faculty from other areas/departments who have expertise related to the cognate area. The individualized doctoral training plan includes, at a minimum, a course in the chosen cognate and a focus on the cognate topic in the comprehensive examination (see below) and dissertation research. Notably, some students might choose to complete a certificate program or graduate specialization for their cognate, including the Quantitative Methods and Evaluation Science Program Certification, the Interdepartmental Graduate Specialization in Infancy and Early Childhood, the Interdepartmental Graduate Specialization in Cognitive Science, the Graduate Certificate in Community Engagement, the Interdisciplinary Graduate Specialization in Women's and Gender Studies, the Graduate Specialization in Global Urban Studies, and the Graduate Specialization in Gender, Justice, and Environmental Change. A full list of graduate specializations can be found here.

Comprehensive Examination

The examination has two requirements, both of which must be completed by October 1st of the 5th year in order for the student to apply for internship in their 5th year.

First Author Publication

In addition to the comprehensive examination paper, each student is also required to submit at least one first-author, empirical paper for publication. This paper can be the student’s MA thesis or an unrelated study, but ideally, the paper topic is related to his/her cognate area. Successful completion of this part of the comprehensive examination is not contingent upon the paper being accepted for publication; the paper merely needs to be submitted for publication for successful completion. Notably, our explicit requirement of a submitted paper is not due to a lack of publishing by our students (click here to see mean student publication information), but is instead an explicit expression of our belief that clinical scientists must be trained to be consumers and producers of empirical research.

Comprehensive Examination Paper

Each student is required to propose and complete an in-depth, independent review paper. The paper is a theoretical and empirical review of a research area(s) relevant to the student's cognate area (e.g., neuropsychological factors and exposure to child abuse in the development of antisocial behavior; the organizational and activational effects of gonadal hormones on developmental trajectories of eating disorder risk). The goals of this paper are to: 

  • further develop the student’s clinical science orientation through a meaningful integration of science and practice as it relates to a specific area(s) of clinical science
  • increase the student’s breadth of understanding of the field of psychology as whole as well as his/her depth of understanding in the cognate area; and
  • ensure that the student has a firm grasp of the conceptual and theoretical basis for his/her dissertation. 

If the comprehensive paper is to be used to fulfill the student's integrative knowledge requirement, then the review must cut across two of the discipline-specific knowledge areas (i.e. social, cognitive, affective, biological and developmental psychology).  This must be approved by the student's doctoral guidance committee as part of the plan to fulfill the DSK integrative knowledge requirement, and signed off on by the DCT (to ensure that the proposed comp will fully meet all elements of the DSK advanced integrative knowledge requirement).

Examples of past comprehensive paper titles include: 

  • Genetic and Media Influences on the Etiology of Eating Pathology in Women: A Review and Integration of Findings
  • Applying Bayesian Probability to Betrayal Trauma Theory
  • Understanding of the Role of Parents in Offspring’s Development of Disordered Eating: Integration of Environmental Predictors and Genetic Influences
  • Identifying Depressogenic Mechanisms in Battered Women: An Integrated Review of Patterns
  • Toward an Integrative Model of Acculturative Stress Among International Students: A Person-Environment Fit Approach
  • Risk Factors for Binge Eating: The Role of Ovarian Hormones and Impulsivity
  • The Interpersonal System: A Model for Integrating Traits and Processes
  • The Effects of Bias Crimes on Sexual Minority Individuals: Minority Stress, Collective Identity, and the Physiology of Fear and Trauma.
  • Parenting as a Heritable Behavior: An Examination of the Genetic Etiology of Parenting and an Exploration of Potential Mechanisms
  • Understanding Reward System Mechanisms in Palatable Food Intake and Substance Use: Implications for Binge Eating 

Importantly, the comprehensive paper is expected to be the student’s own work. The student writes an abstract and develops a reading list of sources that is presented to the doctoral guidance committee for approval. The student’s advisor may provide input into the development of the paper topic, abstract, and reading list prior to approval by the guidance committee. However, after approval, the student works independently on the writing of the paper without further input or consultation from anyone. The final paper is then reviewed by the doctoral guidance committee and graded similar to a grant (i.e., scale of 1-5) based on the quality of the literature reviews and integration of the two research areas. The paper can be passed (grade = 1.0-2.0), failed (grade = 4.0-5.0) or given a revisions required rating (grade = 2.1-3.9). If revisions are required, the same review process occurs after the second submission. Thus far, all students have passed on either the first or second submission (for more information on the evaluation process and scoring system, click here).


The dissertation is viewed as an independent research project, frequently involving independent data collection by the student that is supervised by the faculty mentor. The dissertation proposal is written under the supervision of the primary advisor/mentor. We again emphasize, as a faculty, multi-disciplinary work across multiple levels of analysis in these projects, as evidenced by two recent dissertations, entitled “Prenatal intimate partner violence and depression during childhood: The role of physiological stress response dysregulation” and “Exploring mate preferences from an evolutionary perspective using a speed-dating design.” 

It is expected that the dissertation proposal will be written and submitted to the dissertation committee by September of Year 5. It is required that three members of the dissertation committee must be in the Department of Psychology, and it is recommended that two members be clinical science faculty members. This committee may have the same members as the doctoral guidance committee, but this is not required, particularly if the student needs particular expertise (e.g. specific statistical methods). We also encourage students to include at least one non-clinical faculty on their committee to emphasize connections with psychological science more broadly. If there is no committee member outside of Psychology, the Dean of the College of Social Science will appoint a faculty member to serve as her representative. The final dissertation is orally defended in a public meeting attended by the dissertation committee and interested parties.


Individualized Clinical Training Plan (ICTP) with their advisor and doctoral guidance committee. The goal of the ICTP is to develop a plan for clinical training that meets the individual career goals of each student. Because these plans are very individualized, they can look quite different across students. For example, some students may choose to complete their remaining years of practicum in the MSU Psychological Clinic doing assessments and therapy, while others may choose to do externships at other sites. For a sampling of the plans that can be developed, please see these examples that show ICTPs for students interested in: 1) an academic, research career; 2) a clinical-research career; and 3) a clinical career. Examples of externship sites that have been included in recent ICTPs are: 

  • University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital, Comprehensive Eating Disorder Program
  • MSU Counseling Center Cross-Cultural Treatment Externship
  • Jackson State Prison Externship
  • VA Ann Arbor Health Care System
  • MSU Counseling Center Eating Disorder Externship 

The benefit of the ICTP is that each student tailors their experiences to their own interests/career goals. This aspect of our clinical training ensures that every student is able to fully explore their professional goals and accrue all of the necessary experience/expertise to succeed in their internship hunt and excel in their future professional career. 

For more information on the ICTP and practicum requirements, please see the Psychology Handbook.

Internship Training

All of students must complete a 2000-hour APA accredited internship. Our students have done very well in the match process (we have a 100% match rate over the last 15 years) and have obtained internships at highly competitive and selective sites. For more information on applying for internship training, click here.