Differences Between Psy.D. and Ph.D. in Psychology Programs
As you consider your choices for getting your doctorate degree in psychology, it’s important to understand that there are two main types of degrees: A Doctor of Psychology degree (Psy.D.) and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology. Although there are likenesses between the two — either one will qualify you to work as a fully licensed psychologist, researcher, or professor — there are also some important distinctions.
This page will explain the similarities and differences between the two degrees and help you choose which degree is right for you.
Similarities and Differences Between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D.
In general, a Psy.D. program focuses on clinical psychology — treating patients. There are many career paths you can choose with this degree: you can specialize in school psychology, forensic psychology, or experimental psychology, to name just a few.
A Ph.D. program, on the other hand, is more academic. Graduates of this program tend to work in research or teach. However, it is possible to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, which will prepare you for working as a clinician as well as teaching or conducting research.
Here’s a table that compares the two degrees by key factors. You can find more in-depth information following the table.
|Focus||Practitioner-based model of education||Research-based model of education|
|Careers/specialties||Clinical psychologist, with many specialty options||Researcher, teacher*|
|Approximate length of time||4 to 6 years||5 to 8 years|
|Acceptance rate||Varies, but generally higher than for Ph.D.||Varies, but generally lower than for Psy.D.|
|Admissions||Academic letters of recommendation Academic writing samples In-person interview Official academic transcripts Professional letters of recommendation Proof of professional experience School-specific essays Tends to place more emphasis on clinical experience||In addition to the items at left: May require higher scores Often places weight on publishing and presentations|
|Funding||Traditional financial aid, grants, and scholarships||Tuition often waived, stipend often provided for assisting with research or teaching|
*Exception: A Ph.D. in clinical psychology prepares you to work with patients as a clinician.
Getting a Psy.D. Degree
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the Psy.D. degree emerged in the 1970s as a Ph.D. alternative. It was designed as advanced training for the clinical application of psychology in professional practice as opposed to a path for research and academia. In most cases, the degree is offered only through professional schools of psychology, whether they’re standalone graduate schools or institutions affiliated with research or teaching universities.
Steps to Getting a Psy.D.
Psy.D. programs tend to be slightly less competitive than Ph.D. programs. Most schools require you to first complete a graduate program from an accredited institution, although some programs offer tracks for admission with a bachelor’s degree. You’ll also likely be required to take the GRE general test, with some schools also requiring completion of the GRE psychology subject test. A strong background in psychology is almost always preferred, and those with in-field mental health experience often get preference.
Although you’ll conduct some research and spend the first year or two taking classes and attending seminars, you’ll be required to complete a supervised practicum in a clinic and write a doctoral dissertation in the latter part of the program. Although Psy.D. programs are usually shorter than Ph.D. programs, you’ll need to tack on up to two years of a supervised internship after you’ve earned your degree in order to practice and treat patients.
Curriculum varies depending on your program’s specialty and focus, although most programs include subject matter such as ethics, general psychology, methodology, assessment, and intervention. No matter the track, you’ll learn how to:
- Apply the scientific method and behavioral science knowledge in clinical settings
- Investigate research methods, theories, and practice guidelines involving various mental illnesses, different populations, and modalities of treatments
Careers and Specialties
A Psy.D. program offers many paths to careers that involve assessing and treating mental illnesses, disorders, and disabilities — the general umbrella term for this kind of work is “clinical psychology”. After earning a clinical doctorate, you can work in environments as varied as private practice, hospitals, military facilities, prisons, schools, government entities, and corporate settings. Here are some of the possible specialties you could consider:
- Child psychologist: work with children who have suffered trauma, who have abnormal psychology, or who suffer from learning disabilities.
- Developmental psychologist: examine changes in human development — including perceptual, intellectual, social, emotional, and personality changes — across the human lifespan.
- Educational psychologist: study how people learn, retain knowledge, and develop in educational settings. You’ll mostly work with children and examine the cognitive, social, and emotional learning processes, as well as the obstructions to those learning processes, like behavioral problems and social barriers.
- School psychologist: apply your expertise in learning, mental health, and behavior to support both students and teachers to create safe, healthy, supportive, and productive learning environments.
- Counseling psychologist: work with groups and individuals of all ages to focus on how people function in relationships and as individuals in their social groups, intimate relationships, family lives, work, and school settings. You’ll also serve people who struggle with emotional disorders, mental illness, or situational crises.
- Military psychologist: focus specifically on the enhanced and specialized needs of military personnel, veterans, and their loved ones to perform psychiatric evaluations and assess and treat emotional and mental disorders.
- Industrial-organizational psychologist: study individual and group behavior in the workplace and use your knowledge and expertise to develop solutions for problems in the work environment. Industrial-organizational psychologist are also sometimes called an I/O psychologist.
- Cognitive psychologist: study mental processes relating to memory, perception, and learning.
- Behavioral psychologist: use techniques such as behavioral modeling, cognitive restructuring, and classical and operant conditioning to identify and alter destructive, dysfunctional, or otherwise unhealthy behavior in the people you serve and treat.
- Neuropsychologist: apply the principles of assessment and intervention in cases of human behavior related to central nervous system function. That could include working with a wide variety of brain-behavior issues such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders.
- Criminal psychologist: work with law enforcement entities to prevent crime and apprehend criminals. You’ll examine the thoughts, patterns, motives, emotions, reasoning, and feelings of people who commit or are likely to commit crimes.
- Forensic psychologist: provide psychological assessments of people who are involved in the legal system. The field, which is frequently romanticized and misrepresented on TV and in the movies, requires training in law and forensic psychology, as well as strong clinical skills.
- Correctional facility psychologist: provide or oversee individual or group therapy, crisis intervention, drug-treatment services, client assessment, and employee-assistance programs in prisons, jails, mental institutions, and juvenile facilities.
- Social psychologist: study how people are affected by both other people’s behavior and their physical and social environments.
- Experimental psychologist: use basic and applied research to examine questions, including how behavior shapes the human experience, what influences human behavior, and what compels people to behave in certain ways.
- Less-common careers include evolutionary psychologist, positive psychologist, and sports psychologist.
The APA does not accredit doctoral programs that are conducted entirely online (although other accreditation may be available), and fully online programs will not prepare you for licensure. However, there are some APA-accredited hybrid doctoral programs in psychology; in such programs, a limited number of courses can be taken online.
Three such programs of note include:
- Alliant International University (Clinical Ph.D. and Clinical Psy.D. programs offered on the Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco campuses)
- The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (Clinical Psy.D., Los Angeles campus)
- Michigan State University (Clinical Ph.D., School Ph.D.)
Licensure and Accreditation
The required licensure and accreditation required for, and associated with, each program and career field will vary based on your career path and location.
Every state in America requires you to earn a license from the state board in order to work directly with patients. Details vary by state, but most boards require you to earn a doctorate and accrue a specific number of supervised clinical hours, often 2,000 hours of internship and 2,000 hours during postdoc. You’ll also be asked to provide documentation detailing the number of patients you worked with during postdoc and the types of issues they experienced. Visit the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards for information specific to your state.
No matter which path you choose, it’s critical that your Psy.D. program is accredited. Accreditation is the process by which a recognized and independent third-party governing body assesses and verifies the quality and standards of an academic institution and/or program. Degrees from unaccredited schools will not be sufficient for state licensure boards.
Make sure to check accreditations for any degree program you consider, and also check specific accreditation requirements for both your state and your career. Several specialized organizations offer additional accreditation. For example, accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA), the professional organization that represents America’s psychologists, is considered very prestigious.
Other accrediting bodies include:
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
Take the time to check out the criteria and meaning of each accreditation listed as not all are equally valuable.
Spotlight: Featured Schools
Following is a list of schools that we chose to feature based on a number of factors, including reviews, cost, number of degree programs, program length, and flexibility. Note that these schools focus on Psy.D. degrees — you can find featured programs for Ph.D. degrees on our doctorate of psychology page.
The Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology in Piscataway, New Jersey, was founded in 1974. The school is for full-time students only. It requires both the general and psychology subject test GREs for entry.
Degree Programs: The doctor of psychology program in clinical psychology (clinical Psy.D.) is designed to train and educate psychologists for a career practicing in clinical and other applied professional settings. There is also a doctor of psychology program in school psychology (school Psy.D.), which prepares psychologists at the doctoral level for practice in professional settings with children in schools and youth in other community settings.
Tuition: $10,848 for New Jersey residents, $18,072 for out-of-state residents
Located in Waco, Texas, Baylor University’s graduate school delivers education from a Christian perspective. Chartered in 1854, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. More than 16,000 students call Baylor home.
Degree Programs: The Psy.D. in clinical psychology follows a practitioner-scientist model of training to give professional psychologists the necessary conceptual and clinical competencies. The five-year program, which is fully accredited by the APA, includes four years in residence in Waco and a fifth-year internship.
Tuition: Tuition is paid for all students accepted into the program, who also receive a stipend.
Indiana U. of Pennsylvania
Nearly 12,000 students are enrolled in IUP, which was founded in 1875. Located in the city of Indiana, Pennsylvania, this public university is a research-based school that incorporates both traditional and non-traditional learning models.
Degree Programs: The doctor of psychology in clinical psychology program emphasizes professional applications of psychology based on scientific knowledge of the practice. It meets the academic requirements of licensure and prepares graduates for immediate practice in professional settings.
Tuition: $18,144 for in-state students, $27,296 for out-of-state applicants
More than 3,000 graduate students study at Widener, and 90% of the school’s faculty has earned a doctorate or the highest degree in their field. The school boasts the longest-running Psy.D. program in the United States.
Degree Programs: The Psy.D. program, which follows the scholar-practitioner model, is available in several concentrations: child, adolescent, and family therapy; cognitive-behavioral therapy/acceptance and commitment therapy; consulting psychology; cross-cultural and diversity psychology; forensic psychology; health psychology; and psychoanalytic psychology. One unique feature of the program is that it may be pursued as a dual degree, along with a graduate-level degree in either business, criminal justice, or human sexuality.
Tuition:$1,178 per credit
La Salle University
La Salle has been a Philadelphia institution since its founding in 1863. The private university’s School of Arts and Sciences offers the graduate-level psychology degree, which is delivered by more than a dozen combined faculty members.
Degree Programs: The full-time, five-year Psy.D. in clinical psychology program is designed for students who have a master’s degree in a mental health discipline or a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. There are three potential areas of concentration: clinical health, child clinical, and general practice.
Tuition: $985 per credit hour
Located in the western Virginia foothills, Radford is a public university with fewer than 10,000 students. Its APA-accredited Psy.D. program focuses on rural mental health with a secondary emphasis on social justice and cultural diversity.
Degree Programs: Applicants for Radford’s doctor of psychology in counseling program must come with a master’s degree in a human services field and must have provided face-to-face counseling services by August of the year in which they wish to enroll. The program includes a 2,000-hour internship.
Tuition: $12,203 in-state students and $17,441 for out-of-state students. Remission is available for some applicants
Indiana State University
Located in Terre Haute, Indiana State University boasts a 94% placement rate. You may be eligible for financial aid, payment plans or, if you’re a resident of Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, or the Midwest Consortium, you may qualify for a special scholarship.
Degree Programs: The doctor of psychology in clinical psychology program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and has been APA-accredited since 1985.
Tuition: $412 per credit hour for in-state students, $527 for Interstate or Midwest Consortium scholarship recipients, and $809 for out-of-state residents
Getting a Ph.D. Degree
Unlike a Psy.D., which is a doctor of psychology degree, a Ph.D. is a doctor of philosophy degree. If you choose the latter, your training will emphasize the scientist-practitioner model. This degree, according to the APA, is for those interested in “generating new knowledge through scientific research” (e.g., setting up experiments, collecting data, applying statistical and analytical techniques) “and/or gaining teaching experience”.
The psychology Ph.D. is slightly more demanding in terms of time than the Psy.D. Your work will include:
- Greater in-depth exposure to past and current theories, and heavy focus on research methods
- A clinical internship and a supervised residency
- A written doctoral dissertation, which includes your own original research
You are eligible to apply for national and state licensure with this degree as well, making it a great choice if you are looking to obtain as much knowledge as possible.
For more detailed information, please refer to our Doctorate in Psychology page.