What is the difference between a PsyD and a PhD?

Close up on the hands of a group of graduates holding their diplomasA doctorate is not required for treatment and many specialist mental health professionals who work with clients do not have one. But some psychology professionals continue their studies in research, professional psychology, or both with a doctorate.

Even in psychology, doctoral degrees are not all the same and they differ in a few basic ways. In general, people with a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree generally use their psychology training to work with people seeking treatment. Individuals with a Doctor of Philosophy typically teach, conduct research or consult professionally in the field of mental health.

Whether you are limiting a career or trying to understand a potential therapist's credentials, it can help you learn more about what distinguishes a PsyD from a doctorate.

Doctoral research circles and professional doctorates

Completion of any doctorate involves conducting research, but the focus of the research usually depends on the type of degree pursued.

For example, students in a PhD program will work to develop and discover new knowledge and theories. This research project is useful for preparing for educational careers or for collaborating with other researchers conducting experimental trials and studies.

Students in a PhD program work to apply existing research to better understand (and try to solve) issues in their field of study. This application may lead to the development of new ideas, but original research is not the primary objective. This applied research work helps students prepare for careers as mental health clinicians.

From a psychology point of view, people with a doctorate are more likely to have a career teaching psychology or working with other researchers to develop experimental trials and studies examining mental health and treatment issues. People with PsyD are more likely to become clinical psychologists.

But that's not always the case. Some people with doctoral theses may choose to apply specialized knowledge and research in a clinical setting and work directly with people. Similarly, some people who own a PsyD can enter a research-based field to learn more about the factors that contribute to mental health concerns and evidence for or against certain therapies. Both research and professional doctoral theses can lead to success in any area.

What is a PhD?

Prior to 1970, a doctorate was the only option for students who wanted to get a doctorate in a psychology field. Today, mental health professionals who are interested in research, clinical trials, or psychological training may choose to obtain a doctorate.

Prior to 1970, a doctorate was the only option for students who wanted to get a doctorate in a psychology field.

Some professionals with a doctorate will continue to provide treatment. For example, a therapist who is dealing with a particular mental health issue may have obtained a doctorate that conducts research on the issue and possible treatments to provide the best care. In other words, a therapist whose doctoral research focused on a particular mental health issue or type of treatment may be able to offer more specialized treatment than a therapist who addresses a number of concerns.

The introduction of a doctoral program usually requires a master's degree, although a degree may be accepted in programs that allow students to complete a master's and doctoral degrees at the same time.

Because space is limited in doctoral programs, the acceptance rate is generally no more than 15%. To be accepted, good GRE scores, a high GPA, and strong letters of recommendation are generally required.

The duration of a doctoral program varies, but between 5 and 8 years is quite standard. The cost may be quite high depending on the school, but many schools offer tuition waivers and / or grants to students who teach or assist in research. Graduate thesis required. Students must be licensed after graduation.

What is PsyD?

PsyD programs are designed for students who want to develop their knowledge of psychology research and apply it when providing therapy.

Although it is not necessary to have a PsyD to work with clients, some may prefer to continue their education and become licensed psychologists before establishing a therapeutic practice. Having a doctorate can mean increasing your income and a wider range of employment opportunities to choose from.

Although PsyD programs focus more on clinical care than research, mental health practitioners with a PsyD should apply research to their studies. Professionals with PsyD may have more specialized knowledge than professionals with only a master's degree. This can be important for some people seeking help for a rare or difficult to treat mental health problem.

As with a doctoral program, a master's degree may be required to enter a PsyD program. Acceptance rates for PsyD programs tend to be higher than those for PhD programs. About 40% of the candidates are accepted. On average, a PsyD program takes a little less time to complete than a doctoral program. Students who wish to enter clinical practice may find a PsyD program better tailored. However, the overall cost of acquiring a PsyD may be higher, as tuition assistance is usually not available. Graduation requires a dissertation or plan, and students must also obtain permission after graduation.

Do I need to pursue a PhD or PsyD?

Some people may consider a doctorate the highest degree available in psychology or believe that a doctorate is superior to other degrees in psychology, but this is not necessarily the case. What sets the two grades apart are the skill sets they are most likely to develop.

If you are trying to decide between curricula, think about which direction you want to pursue your career. Do you want to teach? Interested in research? A doctoral thesis program may be the best application. If you already know you want to work with clients, a PsyD can be ideal.

A PhD and PsyD are different, but they are still similar. They both help psychology students develop skills and knowledge that they can apply to education or clinical practice.

If you are a recent graduate and starting your career as a mental health professional, click here to find out how GoodTherapy can help you get started with referrals and the resources you need to start your career.

Bibliographical references:

  1. Michalski, D.S., & Fowler, G. (2016). PhD in Psychology: How Different Or Not So Different? American Federation of Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2016/01/doctoral-degrees
  2. PsyD vs. PhD: What's the difference? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.allpsychologyschools.com/psychology/psyd-vs-phd-programs
  3. What is the Difference Between a PsyD and a PhD in Psychology? (2017, April 25). Retrieved from https://www.capella.edu/blogs/cublog/doctor-of-psychology-or-phd-in-psychology

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