Psychopharmacology: How to Become a Prescribing Psychologist 
Amy Wacholtz, PhD, program director of Clinical Psychopharmacology at CU Denver, talks with a student.

Psychopharmacology: How to Become a Prescribing Psychologist 

June 24, 2024

Colorado ranks 45th nationally in unmet mental health needs according to non-profit Mental Health America, and nearly every county within the state reports a shortage of mental health professionals. “The meantime to see a psychiatrist in the state of Colorado is two years, and it’s usually a one-shot consult” said Amy Wachholtz, PhD, the program director of Clinical Psychopharmacology at CU Denver. And this problem isn’t exclusive to Colorado: States across the nation are grappling with similar issues. 

When Colorado governor Jared Polis signed HB23-1071 on March 3, 2023, it marked a significant milestone in improving mental health care by creating a framework for psychologists to become prescribing professionals within the state. With the legislative change, the role of psychologists and psychopharmacology has expanded. 

The integration of psychological and pharmacological treatment approaches enhances the accessibility and comprehensiveness of mental health care services, and gives the people of Colorado a significantly larger pool of mental health professionals to assist them in times of need. But Colorado is not the only state that is addressing mental health needs through psychopharmacology. Job listings for psychopharmacologists have grown steadily year-over-year across the country. Lightcast, a labor market data company, reported a 29% growth in annual proxy job listings and a 66% growth in annual doctoral-level job postings from 2018 to 2022. 

To meet the mental health needs of our communities and to support the strong job market for this field, CU Denver’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) recently unveiled the post-doctoral Master of Science in Clinical Psychopharmacology (MSCP). The MSCP is the first and only program in development in Colorado and is just one of six programs nationally. The program—which was designed to produce licensed, prescribing psychologists—strives to meet the needs of Colorado’s citizens at a time when the state is moving quickly to meet a growing demand for mental health professionals. 

Clinical Psychopharmacology at CU Denver 

The post-doctoral MSCP has a background in clinical psychopharmacology, immerses students in new psychopharmacology research, and encourages the ethical and cultural integration of responsive clinical psychology practices. It is primarily for post-doctoral psychologists but is open to many career paths within the medical field.  

The program offers the option to become a licensed, prescribing psychologist through the Prescribing Fellowship Certificate (PF-C). This program, which is housed in the Clinical Health Psychology PhD program, is led by Wachholtz. 

Why did we create the MSCP? We need prescribing psychologists that do therapy and medication, while also interacting with primary care providers. Prescribing psychologists are experts in psychotherapy and the biopsychosocial model—we have more tools in the toolbox to treat patients’ mental health, much more than just medication. In this program, we’re combining medicine and psychotherapy to more holistically treat an individual.

—Amy Wachholtz, PhD, MDiv, MSCP, Program Director Clinical Health Psychology and Clinical Psychopharmacology

MS Clinical Psychopharmacology Program  

CU Denver’s MSCP also has valuable connections with CU Denver’s Biology department and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. It’s designed to meet the rigorous standards set by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the state of Colorado for training prescribing psychologists. Led by experienced faculty members, the curriculum covers essential topics, including clinical science, neuroscience, pharmacology, pathology, and clinical medicine. The program combines online coursework with an on-campus intensive class, to ensure flexibility for working professionals while maintaining academic rigor. 

Prescribing Fellowship Certificate 

Along with the MSCP, students have the option to pursue a Prescribing Fellowship Certificate (PF-C). This certificate program, which comprises the third year of study, provides supervised practice opportunities to fulfill state requirements for licensure. Through clinical rotations and in-field experience, students develop the skills necessary to prescribe medication safely and effectively, under the guidance of experienced professionals.  

Career Projections and Opportunities 

Both nationally and within Colorado, psychologists—and mental health professionals as a whole—are in demand. Lightcast reported that job listings for psychologists have grown year-by-year, with 2,836 jobs added nationally from 2021 to 2022 and that psychologists in Colorado have reported median salaries at $130,300. Adding to this, Lightcast’s reports indicated that the employment picture for psychologists is growing in Colorado: 

  • 85% growth, annual proxy job postings (2018-2022) 
  • 89% growth, annual doctoral-level job postings (2018-2022) 

Not only is there growth in the professional sphere, and psychology education has also grown steadily year-over-year since 2018. The National Center for Education Statistics reported:  

  • Number of APA program conferrals in 2022: 59 
  • Year-over-year conferral growth: 44% 
Amy Wacholtz, PhD, program director of Clinical Psychopharmacology at CU Denver.

Amy Wachholtz, PhD, MDiv, MSCP is an associate professor of Psychology at CU Denver and the Director of the Clinical Health Psychology program. Wachholtz graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from Boston University where she specialized in Bioethics. She earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Bowling Green State University with a dual specialization in Behavioral Medicine and Psychology of Religion. She completed her internship through fellowship training at Duke University where she focused on medical psychology and pain management. She also completed a post-doctoral master’s degree in Psychopharmacology. Her primary research, teaching, and clinical interests focus on a bio-psycho-social-spiritual model of chronic pain disorders and the complexities of treating comorbid pain and opioid addiction in both acute pain and chronic pain situations. Her translational research ranges from human laboratory psycho-physiological assessments to developing and implementing empirically validated treatments. She is funded by the National Institutes of Health to study comorbid pain and opioid addiction, and also has a number of smaller grants to improve multi-dimensional pain management in advanced cancer patients, to reduce burnout among health care workers, and assess cross-cultural concepts of health and well-being. She enjoys teaching students about health psychology and links between biology and psychology across classroom, clinical, and research settings.