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Students in the Clinical Psychology PhD Program typically complete the program in five or six years. The length of time required to complete our program depends on several factors: the student’s career and personal goals, the demands of the student’s lab, the expectations of the student’s primary mentor, the student’s desired clinical training and the complexity of the student’s research qualifying paper and dissertation. Although some labs expect that all of their students will take six years to complete the program, other labs have a mix of students who finish in five or six years. As students progress through program, they are expected to take on greater responsibilities and to be more autonomous, independent and productive. The description below provides general guidelines for what is expected during each year in the program.

View a graphical representation of the program timeline.

 First Year

The first year of training provides foundational knowledge in the science of psychology and clinical practice, including core clinical courses, such as psychopathology, psychological assessment and introduction to psychological interventions. Students are also active members of a research lab, receiving mentoring from a faculty member within their Major Area of Study from the time they enter the program. Students begin their clinical practica training in the summer of their first year, within Northwestern Medicine and Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

 Second Year

The second year builds upon foundational skills through advanced coursework, participation in a research lab and progress on clinical and research milestones. Students begin their first clinical practicum at the start of the second year. Unlike many clinical psychology programs, students do not have to compete with other clinical psychology students for most practicum positions.

Students also begin to develop their Research Qualifying Paper (RQP), which is an original empirical study that is modest in scope, often using existing data within the research lab, and is conducted with substantial support from the student’s research mentor. 

Depending on their Major Area of Study, second-year students are typically placed at:

  • Northwestern Medical Group's Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Outpatient Clinic
  • Northwestern Medical Group's Neuropsychology Clinic
  • Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Diagnostic/Neuropsychological Testing Service

 Third Year

The third year continues with advanced coursework, research progress and clinical practicum. By the end of the third year, students must complete two major milestones:

  • The Research Qualifying Paper: An original empirical study that is modest in scope, often using existing data within the research lab, and is conducted with substantial support from the student’s primary mentor. A modified version of the paper can be used to obtain a master’s degree in clinical psychology in the process of obtaining the doctorate.
  • Clinical Qualifying Examination: Designed to demonstrate competence in fundamental clinical skills, theory and judgment.

Depending on their Major Area of Study, advanced students are typically placed at the following sites:

  • University of Chicago Medicine
  • University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center
  • Hines VA
  • Jesse Brown VA
  • Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Psychiatry Outpatient Services
  • Shriners Hospital for Children
  • Illinois Masonic Medical Center (Advocate)
  • Depression and Anxiety Specialty Clinic of Chicago
  • Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Inpatient Neuropsychological Consultation Service
  • The Neurobehavior and Memory Clinic of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Northwestern Behavioral Medicine Practicum
  • Shirley Ryan AbilityLab
  • Metropolitan Correctional Center

 Fourth & Fifth Years

The fourth/fifth year is focused on completion of the final research milestone, the dissertation. The dissertation is an original empirical study that is more ambitious in scope and requires a greater level of independent functioning than the Research Qualifying Paper. The dissertation proposal or prospectus must be defended by the end of the fourth year. Read more about TGS deadlines.

In addition to the dissertation, students in their fourth/fifth year of training are required to take an advanced practica placement that requires greater independence and higher-level assessment, case formulation and treatment skills.

Fourth-year students are also required to complete one academic quarter as a teaching assistant for instructors teaching courses to first-year doctoral students in the program. Read more about this requirement.

 Fifth & Sixth Years

The fifth/sixth year involves a full-time, 12-month clinical internship at an APA-accredited site. Our students successfully compete for internship positions at the most competitive institutions nationally and locally. It is strongly recommended that students have either fully defended their dissertation or have their dissertation nearly complete by the time that they begin their clinical internship. To assist in this process, we require that students have their dissertation proposal/prospectus defended before Sept. 30 of the year they apply to internship.

For students who extend their education and training an additional year (e.g., conducting their F31 research), they will engage in an additional practicum during their fifth year and complete their clinical internship in their sixth year.

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