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A psychology PhD is a ‘doctor of philosophy’ with a major in psychology. It is one of two doctoral degrees that is commonly granted in psychology. It typically represents five to seven years of graduate study.
There are multiple types of PhD programs. A person who plans to provide mental health services and evaluations will apply to a clinical, counseling, or school psychology program. There are multiple concentrations and subspecialties within these disciplines.
PhD students typically give consideration to the research interests of faculty members of the psychology programs they are considering. After all, these will be their mentors. The PhD is known as a scientist-practitioner degree. It will simultaneously prepare an individual for a career in clinical practice or a career in research and academia. It covers most of the same material as the PsyD, but there is relatively more attention given to research.
The doctoral student typically takes seminars and courses in the early part of the program. Many states require that a psychologist has at least 60 semester hours of graduate coursework in psychology. Coursework covers the various bases of human behavior as well as the methodologies of the discipline.
Students in the health-related disciplines do a full year of internship. Some students spend two years in half-time internship positions. Although internship may be a graduation requirement, it is generally not done for academic credit in the form of semester or quarter hours.
Doctoral students generally go through a formal matching process through the American Psychological Association (APA) and/ or the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). Nationwide, not all students match the first time around. Having a stellar record – including practicum work in the desired sub-specialty -- can help. PhD students have a better match rate than PsyD students, but the difference is slight.
A student in experimental psychology may not have a formal internship.
Another major component of the doctoral program is research. PhD students often do both a master’s level research project and a dissertation. The dissertation may reflect several years of work.
One key difference between the PhD and the PsyD is that the PhD is heavier on research. It typically takes a little longer than a PsyD: about one year. The research can pay – in a literal sense. Long Island University notes that PhD students are working for the university. PhD students often receive generous stipends from their school. They are less likely than PsyD students to graduate with debt. Once they have that degree in hand, they often have an easier time securing tenure-track faculty positions – if that is indeed the goal.
On the other hand, the PhD isn’t always the degree of choice for the clinical practitioner. PhD students sometimes begin clinical work later than PsyD students (http://web.indstate.edu/psychology/psyd_program/faq.htm).
Programs often do not include as much training in psychological assessment. It’s important to remember, though, that the actual requirements vary by program – as do program reputation and outcomes. The American Psychological Association notes that the lines between PhD and PsyD are not as distinct as they used to be.
If a person has their eyes set on a PhD in psychology, it’s best to get some research experience as an undergraduate. PhD programs are more likely to place weight on publishing and presentations and may not place quite the same value on clinically related work experience, according to Long Island University.
Doctoral programs in psychology are highly competitive, and as a rule, the PhD is a little more so than the PsyD. Furthermore, City University of New York notes that PhD programs typically expects students to be full-time which is an impossible commitment for some students.