Psychology Doctoral Programs

Doctoral education is the standard for practice as a psychologist in the United States. Just as there are many types of psychologists, there are many types of psychology programs. A person must make sure that the program selected not only gives the skills needed, but qualifies them for whatever state credential is required.

The first question to consider is whether one intends to provide health services. Broadly defined, ‘health services’ can include assessments and treatments provided in settings from hospitals to correctional institutions. If this is the goal, it is important to pursue a track that leads to state credentialing. If one intends to employ psychological methods in a less direct manner, as a researcher or organizational consultant, state credentialing may or may not be required. All states license psychologists, but they don’t necessarily license all psychologists.

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A psychologist who intends to provide health services should enroll in a clinical or counseling psychology program or in some program that may be considered a sub-specialty of one of these. Clinical psychology and counseling psychology have more similarities than differences. Both prepare psychologists to work one-on-one with individuals who are impaired or at risk. (School psychology programs are considered health service, but school psychologists are not necessarily subject to the same licensing requirements or agency, and sometimes practice with less than a doctoral degree.)

PhD or PsyD?

PsyD Programs

Phd Programs in Psychology

What to Expect

There are three components to the typical psychology doctorate: coursework, practical experience, and a dissertation or other project. Virtually all psychology programs include coursework in the biological, cognitive-affective, and social bases of human behavior and in individual differences. They also include courses in psychological methods like research design and psychometrics or psychological measurement.

Doctoral students who are studying applied branches of psychology (for example, clinical or counseling psychology) do a formal internship that is the equivalent of a full-time year; guidelines state that it may be done part-time over a period of up to 24 months. Students typically go through a matching process not unlike medical students do.

PhD programs prepare scholars as well as practitioners. They often include a master’s level research project and a traditional dissertation. They can be lengthy: four to seven years. PsyD programs focus on the practitioner and are, on average, shorter. PsyD admission is selective, but typically less so than PhD admission (,%20Issue13.pdf).


All states take into account accreditation at the school and/ or program level. Most specify that the university itself hold regional accreditation. Some broaden it slightly and accept any accrediting agency recognized by CHEA and/ or the U.S. Department of Education.

Many states mandate that a program be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or that it be APA-accredited and/or designated by the Joint Committee of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards and National Register. The APA accredits clinical and counseling psychology programs, but not all diciplines.

Often, jurisdictions state that a program that is deemed equivalent is acceptable. However, it is import to go straight to the source before making educational decisions.

Traditional vs. Online

A very important if not the most important thing to take into account when considering an online PsyD or PhD program: It will not prepare you for licensure in all states. The APA does not accredit programs that are conducted entirely online (

One goal is that faculty members have the opportunity to evaluate students in more ways than just academic skills. They need to be able to gauge, for example, their emotional maturity.

Many states have very strict guidelines for assessing programs that are not APA-accredited. Often, they impose a residence requirement: a minimum number of hours, months, or years actually spent on campus. If the program is APA-accredited, then most states will accept it no matter what the format. However, there are exceptions.

If one is not seeking licensure as a health service provider or practitioner, then the distinction between online and traditional may be less important. However, it is important to consider the laws in one’s own state and in other states where one might move; some states license those who work in indirect roles.