What is a PsyD Degree? What Can You Do?

What is a PsyD? – The PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) is a terminal degree that provides educational and practical preparation to become a practicing clinical or counseling psychologist through the study of mental illness, treatment options, and assessment practices, and fulfills state requirements for psychologist licensing. As a decidedly practice-focused professional degree, it is distinct from a PhD in psychology.

So how to be a doctor of psychology? A doctoral degree in psychology prepares the student to perform scientific research, professional psychological practice, or a combination. Most students receive either a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Each degree provides students with skills and knowledge in psychology. But there are major differences between the degrees. There also are differences in the training and career plans of students earning these degrees.This page describes in detail what a PsyD. degree is, employment opportunities, job demand, licensing requirements, sample curriculum, scholarships, pros and cons, online programs, and more.

What’s On This Page

  • What is a PsyD
  • Pros and Cons
  • Degree Concentrations
  • Curriculum Samples
  • Employment Options
  • Job Demand
  • Licensing
  • How to Decide
  • Scholarships

What Is a PsyD Degree?

The Psy.D. degree dates to the 1970s, when it was introduced as a practice-focused alternative to the Ph.D. Generally, the Psy.D. program is intended for students and professionals who wish to provide psychological services, rather than conduct research, or work in academia.

EXPERT VOICE: As you might guess, the primary goal of the PsyD is to create an excellent “practitioner” of psychology, but one who is also a scholar – and can use (maybe even create, but certainly use) empirical data and research. Ryan R. Cooper, Ph.D. | Licensed Psychologist & Professor

The Psy.D. degree is offered by professional schools of psychology. These may be affiliated with psychological research or teaching university. They also may be contained in a stand-alone graduate school. The major focus of the Psy.D. program is to train postgraduate students in skills that they can use in psychology careers that apply their advanced scientific knowledge of psychology.

Then, they deliver psychological services to groups, individuals or organizations. Most Psy.D. programs require the student to prepare a thesis or dissertation. Students can use qualitative or quantitative techniques and methodologies to show how specific psychological research may be applied to human behavior. (APA.org).

Pros and Cons of Psy.D. Degree

These are the major pros and cons of a Psy.D. degree:

Psy.D. Pros

  • You have the opportunity to help people. You will study the practical application of psychology and put theories and therapeutic techniques in practice with patients. This is the program for you if you want to be a licensed psychologist or counselor.
  • You enjoy practical psychology. Psy.D. programs often look deeply at therapy techniques and serious mental disorders. You may take courses in pharmacology, assessment and specific forms of therapy. You also will study clinical interviewing, psychometrics, behavioral training substance abuse, and mental trauma.
  • You do not want to do a dissertation. Most Psy.D. programs end with clinical work and an internship. You can expect to spend a year as an intern with a community center or psychologist. So, while students in Ph.D. programs work in laboratories and libraries, you will work with patients and put your skills to practical use.
  • Less cost and less time. A Psy.D. program usually can be completed in four years and generally is less expensive, while a Ph.D. can take up to six or even eight years.

Psy.D. Cons

  • Limited research. A Psy.D. program focuses on practice, not theory, which is good, if you want to be a practicing psychologist. In a Psy.D. program, you will be trained in the practical applications of the subject and not on things such as data analysis and research methods. If you want a career in research or academia, you are better suited for a Ph.D. Also, if you want to work more in reading, researching and writing about psychology, a Ph.D. is a better fit. With a Psy.D., you spend much more time studying mental health conditions, methods of assessment and modes of therapy.
  • Limited theory. Most Ph.D. programs offer several concentrations for your psychological studies. You could opt to study research, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, social psychology and more. These courses will examine the same mental health problems and therapy choices as a Psy.D. program, but you will focus more on theory and research with a Ph.D. If that is what you want, you may want a Ph.D.
  • No dissertation. A Psy.D. will culminate in a clinical internship instead of a research dissertation. If you want the latter, you may want a Ph.D.
  • Less recognition. The Psy.D. is a legitimate doctoral degree, but it is not as well known and established as a Ph.D. Some professionals and academics may view the Psy.D. in some circles as less worthy than a Ph.D.
  • More debt. There generally is more financial help available for Ph.D. students than Psy.D. students. Even if the Psy.D. is less expensive, you still could have more student debt. An AMA survey found that loan debt on average for PsyD. students was $200,000, and $75,000 for Ph.D. students.
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Psy.D. Degree Concentrations

Many Psy.D. programs are general in nature and cover all areas of psychology and psychotherapy, but there are some programs that do offer concentrations. For example, Long Island University offers the following concentrations:

  • Serious Mental Illnesses
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Interventions with High Risk Families
  • Assessment and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders

Psy.D. Curriculum

Each Psy.D. program will have its own curriculum, but many of the courses you will take will be similar from program to program. At Long Island University, these are required courses:

  • Cognitive and Neuropsychological Assessment
  • Advanced Adult Psychopathology
  • Behavioral Assessment
  • Behavior Analysis
  • Child & Adolescent Psychopathology
  • Developmental Psychology: Lifespan
  • Personality Assessment
  • Clinical Interviewing
  • Assessment of Children
  • Ethics
  • Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy
  • Cognition, Perception & Cognitive Therapy
  • Professional Development Seminar
  • Statistics I

Psy.D. Employment Options

There are many solid career options once you earn your Psy.D. degree:

  • Private practice psychologist: One of the most popular psychological professions. Work with patients in a variety of settings to deal with various mental health issues and personal problems.
  • Hospital psychologist: Typically work in a management capacity in a healthcare facility where management of other hospital psychologists is involved.
  • Counseling psychologist: Do many of the same jobs as a clinical psychologist, including provide psychotherapy and mental health treatment. Often work with clients with less severe types of mental health problems. See also how to become a counseling psychologist.
  • Engineering psychologist: Work with companies to increase efficiency and profitability, and also eliminate safety concerns that can lead to liability.
  • Forensic psychologist: Work in assessment and treatment of many types of criminals; also work in the execution of criminal investigations. See also how to become a forensic psychologist.
  • Correctional facility psychologist: Responsible for managing the psychological and mental health of prisoners in a correctional facility. Work in training, dealing with mental concerns, motivations and behavioral disorders.
  • Clinical psychologist: One of the most common and popular areas of psychology. Primary work centers on assessing behavioral problems and devising treatment plans that are effective in working through problems related to serious mental illnesses. See also how to become a clinical psychologist.
  • School psychologist: Monitor child performance and watch for signs that they need any help with their personal development and academic performance. Work with the school or district to treat and diagnose behavior and learning problems with children. See also how to become a school psychologist.

Psy.D. Job Demand

The job demand for psychologists with a Psy.D. or Ph.D. is strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports a 14% increase in psychology jobs from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than average. Further, employment for clinical, counseling and school psychologists will increase by 14% as well in the same time period.Licensing

Whether you earn a Psy.D. or Ph.D., you are required to obtain a license through your state’s licensing board to practice as a psychologist. Those who are employed at a college, university, state or federal institution, research lab or company MAY be exempt from licensure in some states. But it varies widely by state and it is your responsibility to verify your state’s exemptions from licensure. For example, industrial/organizational psychologists may not need licensure in some states.

To qualify for licensure, most state licensure boards usually require you to have a doctoral degree in psychology from an accredited university. Some states require you to have a doctoral degree from an APA-accredited program. Also, all US states will require you to pass the EPPP test, which is a 225 multiple-choice test that will verify your knowledge on the key areas of psychology, such as assessment and diagnosis.

Further, you should have at least 2,000 internship hours and 2,000 work hours in your post-doctoral work to qualify for state licensure.

How To Decide?

Should you get your Psy.D. degree or Ph.D.? As this page has noted, the Ph.D. generally is intended for professionals who want to obtain research training and ultimately work in academic research. A Psy.D. program generally does not focus on research training. It is designed for people who desire a clinical career. Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs tend to differ based upon their types of training models. But many programs in both categories can be classified as research-focused. So, it is possible that some Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs may have identical focus on practice and research. It depends upon the specific university and program.

SEE ALSO: Ph.D. vs PsyD

Another aspect to consider is the varying training requirements. To graduate from either program, you must complete both coursework and training requirements, and an internship of at least a year. There can be subtle differences in the courses: less focus on clinical classes with the Ph.D. for example. Training requirements for a Ph.D. might take four years to complete, while training in a Psy.D. program may take a year less.

Due to the variances between the two doctoral programs, there is no way to say for sure which is best for every student. But a Psy.D. program could be the best fit for you if you are most interested in a practice-focused doctoral program that takes less time to complete and has less rigorous training requirements, generally speaking.

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According to the APA, these are some scholarships and grant sources to consider to help to fund your doctoral education:

  • National Science Foundation: The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program offers three years of support for postgraduate study that leads to a doctoral degree. Recipients will receive $2500 per month stipends, as well as $10,500 sent to their program for tuition and fees.
  • National Institutes of Health: National Research Service Awards are provided in the form of grants and fellowships, as well as loan repayment programs through the Office of Extramural Research.
  • Department of Defense: the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship is given to US citizens and nationals who are obtaining a doctoral degree in one of 15 disciplines. Recipients get full tuition for three years, monthly stipend and $1000 per year in health insurance.
  • State psychological associations: Many of these organizations offer scholarships to doctoral students to offset their research costs, reward work for advocacy and more. Amounts vary by state association.
  • APA: The Science Directorate sponsors may research based awards, such as a yearly competition for dissertation research funding. Dissertation funding can range from $1000 to $5000.