What is a PsyD?

Earning a doctorate in psychology (PsyD) prepares you for a variety of careers in applied psychology. People who pursue this professional degree typically show interest in working directly with others. 

Psychological services have always been valuable, but demand for them has soared since early 2020. More than 40 percent of respondents in a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported struggling with mental health issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The country has an unprecedented need for competent, caring counselors and therapists.

PsyD Degree Overview

A PsyD is a doctoral-level degree in the field of psychology. PsyD programs combine classwork and hands-on training to give graduates a strong knowledge base in the discipline while letting them apply what they’ve learned into supervised practice. Students graduate ready to seek licensure as psychologists and therapists.

What Can I Do with a Psychology Doctorate?

Earning a PsyD opens up doors to employment in a variety of occupations that help people. Some graduates go into private practice as psychologists while others find work at schools, hospitals, mental health facilities, government agencies, and businesses.

PsyD Salaries and Career Outlook

In psychology (and most fields in general), higher education typically translates into higher pay. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a new graduate with a PsyD earns a median yearly income that’s about $15,000 higher than a counterpart graduating with just a master’s degree. 

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that median annual pay for psychologists ranges from a low of $45,380 to a high of more than $132,000. Information collected by Payscale.com notes that some of the highest-paying psychology jobs include:

  • Industrial-organizational psychologist ($79,202): Applying psychology to workplace issues
  • Sports psychologist ($72,257): Helping athletes overcome problems to improve performance
  • Clinical psychologist ($81,384): Helping patients identify and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues

The BLS projects overall employment of psychologists to grow 3 percent between 2019-2029. Note, however, that projections are not a guarantee of job growth. Various factors can influence what ultimately happens.

PsyD Career Paths

PsyD recipients use their knowledge and skills in a multitude of careers. Some common options include:

CareerSalaryProjected Job Growth (2019-2029)About the Position
Psychologist$80,3703%Psychologists interview, observe, and analyze patients in order to identify emotional and behavioral problems.
Marriage and Family Therapist$49,61022%Therapists help couples and families better understand one another and work through challenging life situations.
Survey Researcher$59,170-4%Survey researchers design questions to gather people’s opinions and preferences. They interpret data collected to help organizations make informed decisions.
Rehabilitation Counselor$35,95010%Counselors help people with disabilities with issues related to employment and independent living.
Source: BLS

Earning a PsyD

Students graduate from PsyD programs with a strong foundation in psychology and a strong understanding of the importance of observation, testing, and interpreting results. Their knowledge of treatment strategies helps those they work with better understand their behavior and institute changes to improve their lives.

Courses in PsyD Programs

The specific courses someone in a PsyD program takes differs by personal interests and institutional requirements. However, students can anticipate tackling some similar topics in virtually any PsyD program. These include:

  • Lifespan development – This type of class examines different stages of life. Topics might include what is physically and mentally “normal” at various ages, the influence of common life events, and how identity and personality develop over time.
  • Psychological testing and assessment – Students learn about personality assessments and other psychological measurements and how to interpret results.
  • Psychotherapy – Students learn about mental illnesses and emotional difficulties. They build a repertoire of ways to help patients with these conditions through talk therapy and coping strategies.
  • Ethics – What legal and moral codes of conduct exist within applied psychology? 

Skills Learned in a PsyD Program

Students graduate from PsyD programs with a greater understanding of human behavior and mental health. They possess an arsenal of strategies to help those dealing with psychological issues, hone communication skills in order to excel at listening to patients, and convey information to patients. Good observational skills aid in picking up on subtle clues about a client’s thoughts or condition. Graduates also walk away with solid ability to administer and interpret psychological tests.

PsyD vs PhD in Psychology

Students looking to earn a high-level psychology degree have two options: a PsyD (doctor of psychology) or a PhD (doctor of philosophy)

In general, PsyD programs attract individuals interested in pursuing careers in counseling or therapy. Students pursuing a PhD can also seek licensure and go into an applied psychology career. However, psychology PhD programs put a significant emphasis on generating new knowledge through scientific research. Degree-earners often remain in academia as professors and researchers, though businesses and health care organizations may hire them as consultants.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PsyD Degree?

Earning a PsyD degree involves both classwork and practical experience. Finishing the program typically takes 4-6 years (about the same as a PhD in Psychology) and full-time study leads to faster progress than part-time enrollment. You also need to complete a dissertation to earn your PsyD.

Also, students entering with a master’s degree in psychology may possess transferable credit that reduces the number of classes (and time) needed to obtain a PsyD.

Choosing the Best PsyD

There are several factors to consider when selecting a PsyD program. The school you choose should offer a curriculum in line with your career interests, including any niche areas. You should also make sure programs align with personal learning preferences such as online studies. Before committing to a program, also ensure the program has proper accreditation.

PsyD Specializations

The majority of PsyD degrees awarded are in clinical psychology. Recipients frequently go on to careers in clinical psychology or therapy. 

Besides clinical psychology, some places confer PsyD degrees in:

  • Behavioral psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • School psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Organizational psychology
  • Marriage and family psychology

Within these areas, students sometimes specialize their studies even further and may focus on a certain age group, such as children or senior citizens. Or, they may concentrate on a specific type of situation, such as counseling trauma victims, addicts, or athletes.

PsyD Certification and Licensure

Psychologists need a license in order to practice. Exact licensing laws vary by state and type of position, so individuals need to look at the requirements for the location where they wish to work.

Earning a PsyD typically satisfies educational requirements. Licensure also generally requires an internship, either 1-2 years of supervised professional experience or a one-year post-doctoral fellowship, and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

Therapists also need a license. Students should seek specifics from their prospective occupation’s state regulatory board.

Online vs. On-Campus Degrees

Students have options on how to go about earning a PsyD. Some choose on-campus studies because they enjoy the social aspect of physically meeting for class or prefer a rigid course structure. Others enjoy the flexibility provided by online studies. Working professionals and individuals with familial commitments often find this route convenient because they can tailor studies around other obligations.

Projects, labs, and clinical hours are vital components of PsyD programs. Thus, both online and on-campus students should be prepared to spend some of their time gaining hands-on experience at a variety of locations.

How Long do Online Courses Take to Complete?

Online course length depends on the individual school’s set-up and the pace a given student chooses. PsyD programs typically take 4-6 years to complete.

Online courses often suit both students who want to progress at a quick rate as well as those who prefer from some extra time to complete classes. For instance, online programs may follow a quarter system of 10-week increments. During this period, a student could elect to take one course or two.

Accreditation

Selecting a school with regional accreditation ensures the institution has met certain educational standards. Choose one approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the nonprofit Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The place’s PsyD program also should be accredited by one or both of these organizations.

You should also only apply to PsyD programs that are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). The organization operates a site where students can check for APA accredited PsyD programs.

Applying to PsyD Programs

Acceptance into a PsyD program involves applying to individual institutions. Some places are more selective than others and may set tougher entrance requirements. Someone who has not completed an undergraduate degree in psychology or a sufficient number of psychology courses likely needs to address this gap before seeking a PsyD.

Admission Requirements for PsyD Programs

Depending on where a student applies, the prospective school may ask for:

  • An official transcript from undergraduate studies that shows classes taken, GPA, and degree awarded with date
  • Proof of any graduate classes completed, internships, certifications, or licenses
  • A list of places the student has worked, including dates and duties
  • A description of other relevant activities, such as volunteer work or participation in professional associations
  • Scores from the GRE Psychology Test 
  • 2-3 letters of recommendation that support the candidacy
  • Responses to essay prompts
  • A personal statement explaining why the student wants to pursue this degree
  • Interviews with faculty

Paying for a Doctorate in Psychology

To finance their PsyD studies, students often seek grants, loans, and scholarships. Some serve as teaching or research assistants at their educational institution.

People often pay for graduate education after putting away money from a job. Going to school part-time or increasing scheduling flexibility through online programs may allow students to remain employed while pursuing a degree.

PsyD Degree Costs

PsyD tuition costs and expenses vary greatly. In-state tuition at public schools tends to be more affordable than private schools. Also, online studies oftentimes prove economical by removing the costs of travel and campus housing.

Individuals seeking financial aid should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form serves as a starting point in determining eligibility for loans, grants, and institution-specific aid.

Scholarships for PsyD Students

As money that does not get paid back, scholarships prove an attractive way to help finance graduate education. Some scholarship opportunities particularly suited to those pursuing a PsyD include: 

American Psychological Association – This professional organization offers a range of scholarship opportunities for graduate students in psychology.

APF Graduate Student Scholarships –The American Psychological Federation awards more than 20 annual scholarships of $2,000-$5,000 each for graduate student research.

American Association of University Women – This group’s Career Development Grants of $2,00-$12,000 help women who already possess a bachelor’s degree to continue their education.

Future Counselors of America Scholarship – DatingAdvice.com holds an annual scholarship competition for psychology majors seeking a career in relationship counseling. It chooses winners based on academic achievement and an essay about online dating.

NAJA Scholarships – The National Association of Junior Auxiliaries awards money to graduate students in fields dealing with children and youth.

PsyD Career Resources

People enrolled in a PsyD program may find the following organizations helpful to their education and career:

American Psychological Association – The APA has long been the discipline’s major professional organization in the United States. Its website contains a wealth of information on publications, research, education, current events, and careers.

Association for Psychological Science – The APS is an international group dedicated to advancing scientific psychology. It is a particularly good source of information on psychological research going on throughout the world. Weekly podcasts keep people abreast of current topics.

American Counseling Association – Since 1952, the ACA has dedicated itself to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession. It provides members with connection networks, publications, continuing education, and mental health resources.

American Academy of Clinical Psychology – This group promotes high standards and ethical practice in clinical psychology. Its website offers a variety of professional resources and continuing education opportunities.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy – The AAMFT represents the professional interests of those practicing marriage and family therapy. Students may find its website particularly helpful for information on COVID-19, racial justice, and other timely topics. Its job connection section shows hundreds of companies hiring in the mental health field.

FAQ

Is a PsyD or PhD better?Is a PsyD a doctor?

Someone possessing a PsyD is not a medical doctor. Rather, a PsyD is a Doctor of Psychology. In recognition of the expertise obtained from completing this rigorous course of study, holders of a PsyD are entitled to use the title “Doctor” if they so choose.

Is a PsyD or PhD better?

One isn’t better than the other, just different. Thus, the answer depends on individual interests and career aspirations. PhD programs focus heavily on research and often lead to working in an academic setting or in consulting. PsyD studies concentrate on applied aspects of psychology. Graduates generally work directly with patients.

What’s the difference between a PsyD and PhD?

Both are respected degrees in psychology. Students interested in providing psychological services often pursue a PsyD (doctor of psychology). Individuals looking to generate new knowledge through scientific research or who want to teach psychology at the post-secondary level frequently choose a PhD (doctor of philosophy) program. Both programs can prepare students to become licensed psychologists.

Is a PsyD easier than PhD?

Both degrees take a significant amount of time and commitment to complete. PsyD programs run 4-6 years, while PhD studies generally take 5-7. Completing an internship or other type of hands-on experience is a vital part of both. Likewise, both programs culminate in a doctoral project or dissertation. Whether one is “easier” than the other depends on the individual institution’s requirements and on what students themselves find difficult.