Psychology Doctorates: The PsyD

The PsyD is a doctoral degree in psychology: one that is oriented toward clinical practice. A person can go into private practice administering assessments and providing psychotherapy on the strength of either a PhD or a PsyD. Degree holders are eligible for the same state licenses.

Doctoral programs in psychology generally take four or more years — that’s time to cover a lot and prepare an individual for many roles. However, the emphasis is different. PsyD programs tend to emphasize clinical work more while PhD programs place more weight on research. Most PsyD degrees are granted in clinical psychology, though they are also available in other health service specialties like school counseling. PsyD programs are often one to two years shorter than PhD programs. One won’t find PsyD options in all branches of psychology.

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What to Expect from a PsyD Program

During the first couple years of a PsyD program, the doctoral student takes classes and seminars. Coursework covers research methodologies, psychometrics, and psychological interventions as well as the various factors that influence human behavior. A counseling psychology student typically takes some coursework in career development and counseling while a clinical psychology student focuses more on evaluating abnormal states.
An integral part of any PsyD program is field experience. Beginning field experiences may be termed “practicum”. PsyD students sometimes do several years of practicum, concurrent with taking classwork.

When all requirements have been met (with the possible exception of dissertation) the student will do a formal internship — a full-time year or two half-time years. This is a requirement for healthcare-related psychology programs, whether PsyD or PhD. However, the PsyD student may have more clinical experience prior to beginning the internship. PsyD students often get more practice administering client assessments.

Placement into an internship isn’t automatic – doctoral students typically go through a formal process called “matching”. It helps to have practicum experience in the area of interest.

Comparing PsyD and PhD Programs

Psychology doctoral programs are competitive. Top programs are reported to be more competitive than medical school. PsyD programs are often a little less competitive than PhD programs.

Long Island University notes some difference in admission expectations. Both programs give weight to academic credentials, references, and interviews. PsyD programs are more likely to value work experience and experience that is “clinically related’.

PsyD programs generally don’t expect as much research. Most programs do require a dissertation or other significant research project. However, the student is less likely to find themselves heavily involved in research during the early stages of the program. PsyD dissertations are more likely to involve ”local research”. Division 12 of the American Psychological Association notes that PsyD programs tend to emphasize understanding and applying research over producing original research (

PsyD students are less likely to receive stipends or have their research compensated through grant money. Thus they are more likely to need student loans to cover educational expenses. However, they may be eligible for various forms of support, including assistantships.

PsyD’s Beyond the Classroom

How is the PsyD degree viewed out in the professional world? It has become the more common clinical psychology degree, accounting for 53% of clinical doctorates bestowed.

Candidates should be aware, though, that not all PsyD programs are equal. APA accreditation is an important licensing consideration. Prospective students may also want to consider match rates.

PsyD students typically find it more difficult to get tenure-track academic positions. However, this depends in part on the strength of the individual program. Indiana State University, for example, notes that a number of program graduates have gone on to become educators, some full-time (