PsyD vs PhD: Which Psychology Degree Should You Get?

Studying psychology provides a window into human behavior. Doctoral psychology programs teach both an understanding of how people think and analytical and reasoning skills to further success in various careers. But deciding to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology means dedicating yourself to the highest level of education available in the field and represents a commitment of several years and significant effort.

While both a doctor of psychology (PsyD) degree and a doctor of philosophy (PhD) promise remarkable opportunities for advancement, the two offer very different career outcomes. While a PhD puts you on a path to pursue research and further understanding, a PsyD allows you to practice as a psychologist. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for psychologists with both degrees is expected to continue growing at a rate of approximately 3% over the next several years as more and more individuals, organizations, and academic institutions have greater need of counseling services and insights into the way that people act, think, and engage with one another.

What Are PsyD and PhD In Psychology Degrees For?

While both a PsyD and a PhD provide you with a doctoral degree and the highest level of education in the field, the two provide different types of expertise, and it is important for you to understand their distinctions so that you can make the choice that best matches your goals.

A PhD in psychology trains you in research and statistical analysis in preparation for adding to the body of knowledge, either through your own scientific pursuits or by helping to educate others studying psychology. By contrast, PsyD studies focuses more extensively on providing psychological services, whether counseling or applying psychology’s principles to further an organization’s goals.

Though pursuing either one will not preclude you from crossing over to a career that’s more aligned to the other, choosing the degree that best suits your long-term interests provides you with the education that is best suited to your aspirations.

Picking Between A Doctor of Psychology or PhD In Psychology Program

To help you determine which of the two doctoral degrees is the best choice for you, let’s take a look at what each type of program entails and what type of future each prepares you for.

What is a PsyD?

A doctor of psychology program generally takes between 4-6 years to complete and prepares you for a career in clinical practice. It has less of an emphasis on research than human behavior and development, psychological assessment, and intervention.

Most programs require completion of approximately sixty credits of study, participation in 2,000-to-3,000 hours of clinical practice and internship, and preparation and presentation of a dissertation. 

Upon completion of the program, graduates demonstrate the understanding and skills needed to guide one-on-one, family and group therapy sessions, to guide organizational strategies around anticipated human behaviors and engagement, to conduct neuropsychological assessments, and to treat mental health problems and issues.

Who Should Get a PsyD?

Doctoral candidates best suited for a PsyD are those who want to engage directly with individuals, families or groups, using their education and training to provide service rather than conducting research.

Those enrolled in PsyD programs receive extensive training in assessment and intervention, on human development, and on the role of cultural and economic contributors, all with the goal of better facilitating their understanding of behavior. PsyD students also study the practical aspects of clinical psychology, including legal, ethical, and professional issues.

PsyD Careers and Salaries

With a PsyD degree you become prepared for professional practice within any number of applications of psychology science. A PsyD degree trains you to use your knowledge and training in service and practice, with an emphasis on assessment, diagnosis, intervention, and making improvements in the condition of and relations between humans in a variety of environments. Depending upon the career that they choose, their practice can include engaging with people in a clinical setting, at their workplace, in school, or elsewhere.

Typical careers held by those with a PsyD degree include:

Clinical Psychologist

Median Salary: $78,200 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 3%

Clinical psychologists work in a wide range of settings, including private practice, corporations, hospitals, government agencies, academic institutions and nursing homes. In most cases the work that they do focuses on those with mental health issues as compared to healthier individuals simply in need of counseling. Clinical psychologists apply their education to help their patients develop coping strategies to overcome negative thoughts and behaviors.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Median Salary: $49,610 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 22%

Family and marriage therapists work with couples and families with the goal of mediating and guiding the way that they engage with one another while providing coping strategies to improve family dynamics and to help those within these relationships deal with a wide range of issues, including behavioral problems, grief, domestic violence, marital conflicts, and substance abuse. 

Marriage and family therapists observe the interactions between the individuals in these groups and provide them with insights about troubling patterns, guidance on navigating crises, diagnosing mental health issues and disorders, and replacing disruptive or dysfunctional behaviors with alternatives that offer more positive engagement.

Professional Consultant

Median Salary: $101,790 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 3%

The services of those holding doctoral degrees in psychology are increasingly in demand from a wide range of organizations and corporations seeking assistance with improving organizational behavior or providing coaching to managers and executives. These professionals apply their clinical skills in areas such as integrating systems theory or family therapy to companies hoping to address cultural issues or improve communication and cooperation within and between teams.

What is a PhD in Psychology?

A doctor of philosophy in psychology degree generally takes between 5-7 years to complete, and prepares you for a career in research and academia. The focus of a PhD in psychology program tends to be on statistics along with qualitative and quantitative research methods. The career goals of most students point towards teaching or scientific inquiry rather than private practice or direct engagement with patients.

Most PhD in psychology program require approximately a year-long internship and credit requirements that range between 60 and 125 credits. The programs require a significant level of concentration and are often so demanding that students need to dedicate themselves to the program on a full-time basis. The admission criteria into a PhD program tends to be more competitive than that of PsyD programs.

Once students in PhD in psychology programs successfully prepared and presented their dissertation, they have proven their command of the biological, intellectual and cognitive foundations of behavior, assessment, statistics and research techniques, research strategies, and more. They graduate prepared for careers in specialty areas including behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology, human growth and development, with a particular emphasis on research and its application.

Who Should Get a PhD in Psychology?

In assessing whether you should pursue a PhD in psychology, you need to determine what type of career you hope to have and how you plan to apply your education. If your goal is to become a tenure-track professor at a research-oriented university or to dedicate yourself to academic research, then there is no doubt that a PhD is the right degree for you. The same is true if you hope to work in a business-oriented field such as market research or product development with an emphasis on consumer insights. 

The benefit of a PhD in psychology is its emphasis on research design and analytical skills, and that training can be applied to numerous fields that do not involve direct engagement with, assessment, diagnosis, or interventions with patients.

PhD in Psychology Careers and Salaries

Those who pursue a PhD in psychology tend to be less focused on the monetary benefits of their education than in the intellectual stimulation that they receive or the benefits that their education can provide to clients or to greater understanding of human behaviors gained through their efforts.

The career goals of those who opt for a PhD can include clinical roles, but more frequently veer towards professions that place them in a position of conducting research and applying their knowledge to educating students and providing insights that can be used by other fields. Possible careers for PhD graduates include:

Forensic Psychologist

Median Salary: $80,370 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 3%

The field of forensic psychology applies general principles of research in the field of clinical psychology to legal issues. This can include assessment, treatment, and evaluation of topics such as eyewitness identification, suggestibility, competence to testify, motivation and threat assessment. Forensic psychologists are often called on to provide custody evaluations, counseling services to crime victims, screening of law enforcement applicants and intervention and treatment for juvenile and adult offenders.

Professor of Psychology

Median Salary: $76,620 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 9%

Those who teach psychology are also frequently researchers who split their time between conducting scientific inquiry within an academic environment and teaching it to students at the undergraduate and graduate level. Professors with a PhD in Psychology gather, document and communicate psychological knowledge.

Political Scientist

Median Salary: $122,220 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 6%

The knowledge and training gained with a PhD in psychology is extremely valuable to numerous industries seeking greater understanding of human behavior, and this is particularly true of the world of politics. PhDs in psychology are well positioned to guide candidates in the way that they present themselves to voters and to help legislators craft laws or discuss issues with their constituents, assessing what their priorities and perspectives are and how marketing efforts, speeches, votes and political positions could be received.

PsyD Vs PhD At A Glance

Choosing between a PsyD and a PhD is a matter of personal choice, and your answer depends upon your personal goals. Though both doctor of psychology degrees provide you with the education, training and credentials to put you at the pinnacle of the field, there are important differences, including:

  • A PsyD program better prepares you for a service-based psychology career geared towards counseling, while a PhD program better prepares you for a career geared towards discovery through research and academia.
  • Acceptance into PsyD programs are generally less competitive than PhD programs.
  • PsyD programs are better suited to online learning, while PhD programs favor in-person learning.
  • PsyD program lengths generally take four-to-six years to complete, while PhD programs generally take five-to-eight years to complete.
  • A PsyD curriculum is likely to include classes focused on assessment and intervention, while a PhD curriculum is likely to focus on statistics and analysis.

What to Look for In Psychology Doctoral Degree Programs

Online vs. On-Campus Learning

Doctoral degrees in psychology are offered in traditional, on-campus settings as well as online. Both options provide similarly high levels of education and the same curriculum requirements, often pairing students with an individual faculty advisor responsible for guiding their path to a doctoral degree.

There are many advantages to pursuing a degree online, including providing students the ability to choose a program based on its focus rather than on geographic proximity and allowing them to continue upholding family responsibilities. Despite this convenience, many students pursuing either a PsyD or a PhD choose an in-person program that allows them to fully immerse themselves in their studies.

As is the case with choosing between a PsyD or a PhD, there is no right or wrong choice. Students that choose online programs graduate with the same credentials as those who choose in-person programs, so each candidate should choose the option that best suits their personal needs.

Psychology Certification and Licensure

Though requirements vary, most states require that psychologists counseling patients complete a doctoral degree in psychology and have a state-issued license. The requirements for these licenses generally include:

Many graduates recommend investigating the credentialing requirements of the states where they are interested in working to ensure that their doctoral degree properly prepares them and meets their standards.

Accreditation

The best way to ensure that the PsyD or PhD program you select prepares you for licensure is to select a program that has gone beyond the basic regional accreditation of institutions of higher learning and been recognized by the American Psychological Association. This specialized accreditation is recognized by both the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education, and specifically addresses the high standards needed for professional education and training in psychology.

The APA currently accredits hundreds of programs throughout the nation, providing those interested in pursuing their doctoral degree an extensive range of offerings for their professional future.

Applying to Psychology Doctoral Programs

Choosing to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology represents a significant investment of time, money and effort with the anticipated outcome of becoming either a noted academician and scholar or an accomplished, difference-making professional. Entry to these programs is competitive, particularly for those seeking entry into one of the programs offering a PhD in psychology program, which generally only accept 10-15% of applicants.

The first step in the application process is similar to the one you likely pursued when applying to undergraduate programs: You need to identify the programs that best match your long-term goals and your personal needs, then address each of their application requirements by assembling needed materials including letters of recommendations and personal statements and ensuring that they are in each program’s possession well in advance of their deadlines.

Admission Requirements for PsyD and PhD Programs

Individuals choosing to pursue either a PsyD or a PhD come from a wide range of backgrounds and interests, and this is reflected in the fact that programs do not necessarily require that applicants possess an undergraduate degree in Psychology, though those who have not taken foundational courses likely need to investigate how they’ll need to supplement their education before proceeding with their doctoral degrees.

Acceptance into both PsyD and PhD programs generally requires:

  • Transcripts from accredited baccalaureate program showing a minimum 3.0 GPA, preferably in psychology
  • Personal statement or statement of purpose
  • Submission of scores on both the general GRE exam and the GRE subject exam in Psychology
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Personal Interview (in person or by phone or video conference)

FAQ

Is a PsyD a doctor?

A PsyD is a doctoral degree in psychology. It is an indication that an individual has attained the highest level of education available in the study of psychology, but they are not a medical doctor.

Is a PsyD or PhD better?

PsyD and PhD are both terminal degrees in psychology that indicate having attained the highest level of education and expertise in the field. The determination of which is better depends upon the goals of the individual pursuing the degree.

What is the difference between a PsyD and PhD?

The PsyD degree provides education and training geared towards clinical practice and a professional career in treating patients, while a PhD education focuses more heavily on research and academic pursuits. The PhD generally takes longer to attain.

Can a PsyD write prescriptions?

In the majority of states, psychologists are not able to write prescriptions for medication. Illinois, Louisiana and New Mexico permit licensed psychologists to qualify for prescribing authority after taking additional courses in psychopharmacology.