The Difference Between PsyD and PhD

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Need some help navigating the difference between PsyD and PhD Programs in Psychology?

If you aspire to use the words, “licensed psychologist” on your office door, this path requires a doctoral degree, so how do you choose between a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a Doctor of Philosophy (phD) in Psychology?

For sure, earning one of the terminal degrees in psychology signifies your commitment to delving into issues of brain and behavior, mind and mood, perception and personality. We tend to focus on the type of psychologist that assesses and treats mental health problems, but maybe your orientation to psychology is different. Perhaps you have a keen interest in understanding what makes the criminal mind tick, but you don’t actually want to set up a private practice; you enjoy the laboratory. So how do you know which path to take? Read on for some useful tips.

Understand the Difference Between PsyD and PhD in Psychology

If you are considering a doctoral program in psychology, you’ll want to understand the main difference between a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD) and a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).

THE KEY QUESTION: A good starting place is to ask yourself: Would I rather work in research, academia, or administration or would I prefer to see clients in a clinical practice?

Doctor of Philosophy: PhD – The Research Oriented Degree

If you visualize yourself teaching psychology to university students, pursuing an administrative career, or conducting research within the field, consider a Doctor of Philosophy. Especially if you enjoy data analysis, and have a high level of curiosity!

A Ph.D. in psychology is a research degree, which means that you learn how to plan and conduct research within the field, to test older theories or be a thought leader in psychology. Often, by this point in your academic life, you are ready to focus on a specific area, such as addiction or applied behavior analysis.

DID YOU KNOW? The American Board of Professional Psychology awards specialty in 15 areas of psychology, such as clinical health, couple and family, or rehabilitation [i].

Your PhD is obtained after taking a comprehensive exam and writing a dissertation based on the original research mentioned above. In terms of coursework, as a PhD in Psychology student, some of the topics you might explore could include:

  • Experimental procedures
  • Ethical Issues in Psychology
  • Tests and Measurements
  • Advanced Inferential Statistics
  • Qualitative Analysis
  • Quantitative Research Methods in Psychology

The PhD: Common Career Outcomes and Salary

While being awarded a PhD doesn’t guarantee a specific job, some common career outcomes might include:

Professor of Psychology: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for postsecondary psychology teachers is growing; a 16% rise in demand is predicted from 2014 to 2024. In terms of salary, the median annual wage in 2014 was $68,690.

Market Research Analyst: This is also an in-demand career path, especially as marketers are using behavior patterns in their campaign strategies. The BLS projects a 19% increase in employment, same time frame as above. In terms of salary, the median wage in 2014 was $61,290, although the top 10 percent earned more than $116,740.

You may also find specialized areas such as industrial organizational psychology where your skills in gathering information and evaluating behavior come in handy in a more scientific as opposed to practitioner-oriented way. The median annual salary for psychologists was $70,700 in May 2014, and the job outlook – great with a 19% rate of growth expected between 2014 -2024.

Doctor of Psychology – The Clinical Practice Degree

As you can tell just from the description, there is a big difference in orientation between the two doctoral degrees. Earning a Doctor of Psychology is a good option if you enjoy listening actively, gleaning information, and applying it to a treatment plan for individuals and groups.

The PsyD is considered a professional degree that focuses on assessing and assisting different populations of clients in clinical practice. While there is research involved, it is secondary to preparing for state licensure. You might learn how to apply the research rather than conducting the same amount as you would for your PhD. Also, expect extensive training in different therapeutic techniques, practice-related theoretical knowledge, and of course, cultivating expertise in assessment and intervention skills.

FUN FACT: Clinical Psychologists focus on specific populations, such as children or might specialize in an area, such as health psychologists or neuropsychologists [v].

Another difference between the two degrees is that the Psy.D., as a clinical degree, so, being awarded one is based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation – as in the case with a PhD. It is also common that in clinical, counseling, school, or health service settings, students usually complete a 1-year internship as part of the doctoral program. In other words, there may be a different time commitment to earning your Psy.D.

Some of the courses you might take as a Doctor of Psychology graduate student might include:

  • Ethics in Psychology
  • Advanced Biological Psychology
  • Advanced Psychopathology
  • Evidence-based Practice
  • Strategies of Clinical Supervision
  • Consultation Methodology

The PsyD: Common Career Outcomes and Salary

This degree prepares graduates for licensure eligibility as a clinical psychologist. It is common to choose a concentration area of study, or find a niche in private practice or in another setting – schools, government, offices of health practitioners, hospitals or family services are all potential areas of employment.

Some of the job titles associated with this type of psychologist include:

  • Counseling Psychologist
  • Child Psychologist
  • Clinical Director
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • School Psychologist

The job outlook for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is projected to grow 20 %from 2014 to 2024, which is considered fast. In terms of salary, the median wage from clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $68,900 [vi].

Accreditation: The Meeting Point for Doctorate Degrees in Psychology

Accreditation is something that you want to look for in either of the doctorate programs we have been exploring. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council For Higher Education Accreditation recognize the APA, or American Psychological Association as setting quality control standards.

The scope of the APA is accreditation of:

  • Doctoral graduate programs
  • Internship programs
  • Postdoctoral residency programs

Whether you are exploring a Doctor of Psychology or a Doctor of Philosophy, we recommend that you verify that your program is accredited. Note as well that the APA does not accredit schools or universities, bachelors or masters degree programs [vii].

Ready to Choose a Doctorate Degree Program in Psychology?

The path you choose is going to depend on what you plan to do after you complete your degree. Choose the program that aligns with your career goals, the topics you want to study, and your personal strengths. Continued success as you navigate the next step in your education!


i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm | [ii]bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/market-research-analysts.htm | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-1 [v] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm | [vi]bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm | [vii] apa.org/ed/accreditation/about/index.aspx | other sources: onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1066.00 | onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3031.02

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