10 Best Online PhD in Clinical Psychology Programs [2023 Guide]

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For a career as a licensed psychologist, you can take a look at clinical psychology PhD programs for the necessary training.

Best Online PhD in Clinical Psychology Programs

Getting a doctorate is an essential step in becoming a clinical psychologist who treats mental health disorders, joins the faculty of a university, or conducts psychology research.

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Many clinical psychology schools offer online coursework so that you can complete some of the requirements for your doctoral program from afar. Through online classes, you could develop your skills as a competent, knowledgeable psychology professional.

Clinical Psychology PhD Programs Online

Man taking Clinical Psychology PhD Programs Online

Psychology is an interesting and important field of study. Professional psychologists help people through mental illnesses, life stresses, and major decisions.

Whether a psychologist works as a practitioner or researcher, they can contribute to the well-being of other people. If your goal is to become a clinical psychologist, then you’ll first be required to earn a doctoral degree, such as a PhD.

The requirements for a psychology PhD may include:

  • Doctoral-level coursework
  • Internship
  • Practicums
  • Writing and defending a dissertation

The classes for this degree might cover advanced topics in various branches of psychology, such as social and behavioral psychology. You might also study ethics, assessment techniques, and pharmacology.

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Research classes can be important for doctoral students as well. They can help prepare you for conducting your own original research and writing your dissertation. Clinical psychologists’ work often focuses on people with mental illnesses. Within this field, you can choose to specialize in a particular area. Examples include treating adolescent patients or working in the criminal justice system.

During your program, you will spend time working in real-world psychology settings. You can gain quite a lot of experience through these practicums and internships. Accredited psychology doctorates may balance online and in-person learning. Taking some classes online could help you fit schooling into a busy schedule. Industry-accredited colleges also have students come to campus for a portion of their studies.

Earning a PhD from a program accredited by the American Psychology Association (APA) will qualify you to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. A passing score is required for state psychology licensure.

With licensure, you could become a practicing psychologist who treats patients. Some psychology professionals also join a college faculty, lead a mental health organization, conduct research, or work as a consultant.

Common Online PhD in Clinical Psychology Concentrations

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist discussing with some employees

Most psychology PhD students specialize in a particular area of psychology. Doing so can increase your expertise in that area and tailor your education to your professional goals.

  • Child Psychology. For a career spent working with children and their families, you may want a doctoral program that focuses on the psychological needs of young people. You can learn about human development, child-onset disorders, and treatment options for kids and adolescents.
  • Forensic Psychology. After completing this specialization, you’ll know more about mental health law, the role of expert witnesses, criminal profiling, and juvenile justice. The courses will help prepare you for a job in the criminal justice system.
  • Healthcare Psychology. Professionals in health psychology study the relationship between the mind and the body. They use psychological principles to influence people’s health behaviors and outcomes.
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology. The field of I-O psychology addresses psychological factors—such as conflict, group culture, and change management—in workplace settings. Choosing this track might prepare you to work as a consultant.
  • Teaching and Instruction. If you have an academic career in mind, then you might want to choose a teaching specialization that will prepare you for the role. You may learn how to design curriculum, deliver instruction, conduct evaluations, and supervise psychology students.

Your concentration track will probably influence the setting that you choose for your psychology PhD internship. It should play a role in selecting the topic for your dissertation as well.

Clinical Psychology Careers and Salaries

Clinical Psychology Careers and Salaries

The goal of many students is to earn a clinical psychology PhD so they can become licensed and work as practicing psychologists.

Clinical psychologists may see patients in private clinics, hospitals, and mental health facilities. Although clinical psychology will be your overarching field of practice, your work might overlap with other branches of psychology as well. Depending on your previous training and your professional interests, you might be involved with industrial-organizational, forensic, or school psychology, for example.

You could also work as a counselor or a therapist by a different name. For instance, you might be considered a substance abuse counselor, a mental health counselor, a marriage and family therapist, or a behavioral disorder counselor.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists earn a median annual salary of $81,040.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $105,310
Psychologists (All Other) $102,900
Medical and Health Services Managers $101,340
Social Scientists and Related Workers (All Other) $84,430
Clinical and Counseling Psychologists $82,510
School Psychologists $78,780
Postsecondary Psychology Teachers $77,860
Social and Community Service Managers $74,000
Marriage and Family Therapists $49,880
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $48,520

Job titles and qualifications for some counseling and therapy roles vary from one state to the next. Earning a doctorate might advance your qualifications for leadership roles.

Some professionals lead other psychologists and counselors as the head of a nonprofit or community agency. Others might manage a healthcare organization, especially one that specializes in the field of mental health. People with PhDs sometimes teach college classes. As a professor, you might work with undergraduate or graduate students. Also, part of that job might involve research.

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Being a researcher is a career path that you could pursue outside of an academic setting as well. Social scientists may work for the government or organizations that focus on education, marketing, healthcare, or human services.

Clinical Psychology Doctorate Curriculum & Courses

students pursuing PhD in Clinical Psychology, studying in library

During your PhD in Psychology program, you can advance your knowledge with classes that provide new information, challenge your thinking, and encourage you to be a curious researcher.

  • Advanced Social Psychology: The subfield of social psychology focuses on interactions between individuals and groups and addresses topics like prejudice, conformity, and social pressure.
  • Biopsychology: As you study neuroscience, you’ll explore its relationship to psychology and consider the interplay between brain activity and behavior.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Studying CBT and related therapies may require both classroom instruction time and experiential learning in a practice setting.
  • Development Across the Lifespan: This class will go beyond your undergrad studies in lifespan development and dig into the roles that genetics and environment play in people’s growth.
  • History of Psychology: You’ll look into the history and development of psychological study and schools of thought.
  • Mental Health and the Legal System: Through studies in mental health law, this class can prepare you to work in the criminal justice system.
  • Psychological Tests: This course will teach you to give assessments and tests to patients and accurately interpret the results.
  • Psychopathology of Young People: You’ll look at mental and behavioral disorders that begin in childhood, consider their medical classifications, and discuss treatment options.
  • Research in Psychology: During one or more courses, you’ll learn about quantitative and qualitative research methods used in the field of psychology.
  • Supervising in Psychology: You can learn how to effectively supervise and guide psychology students who are training to become independent practitioners.

In addition, completing your program will likely require an internship that’s worth several credit hours. You may also be required to write a dissertation.

Admissions Requirements

Woman preparing requirements for PhD in Clinical Psychology

Doctoral programs are rigorous, so you’re often required to submit application materials that show you’re up to the challenge. Common requirements include:

  • College transcripts that show courses taken, GPA, and degrees earned
  • GRE scores, including the GRE Psychology subject test (often optional or not required)
  • Letters of reference
  • A resume that shows relevant experience in research or clinical practice
  • Sample of your writing

Many schools accept applicants who have only a bachelor’s degree. While a master’s degree may not be a requirement, it could potentially reduce the number of doctoral classes that you’re required to take. A growing number of universities now offer a masters in clinical psychology online.

Clinical Psychology Doctorate Programs Accreditation

University offering PhD in Clinical Psychology

Regional accreditation serves as a testament to a school’s reliability. Colleges apply for accreditation and are evaluated by one of the nation’s seven regional accrediting agencies.

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After showing that they meet the organization’s standards, they are approved as regionally accredited institutions. Accreditation can make a difference in your educational experience and your career. Choosing a regionally accredited school is essential for using financial aid, transferring credits, qualifying for licensure, and being hired as a psychologist.

PhD in Clinical Psychology Programs APA Accreditation

In addition to regional accreditation, it’s also advisable to look for programmatic accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA). This industry organization evaluates doctorate in clinical psychology programs to make sure that they properly prepare students to work as professional psychologists.

Becoming licensed may depend on attending an APA accredited school. State regulations can vary, but accreditation is a common requirement. The APA does not accredit online-only programs, so at least a portion of your studies would need to be done in person.

Clinical Psychology Licensure and Certifications

a licensed clinical psychologist counseling a child

To work as a professional clinical psychologist who sees patients independently, it’s necessary to become licensed by your state after graduating with your doctorate.

The application packet that you send to your state may include:

  • Fee (often several hundred dollars)
  • Transcripts showing completion of an APA-accredited psychology doctorate
  • Records detailing your practicum and internship hours
  • Passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology

In addition, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers board certification in various specialty areas. Examples of specialty areas include forensic psychology, clinical neuropsychology, serious mental illness, police and public safety, and clinical child and adolescent.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Clinical Psychology financial aid

There may be funding opportunities available to you to help you cover the cost of your doctoral studies. State or federal government loans could help with upfront tuition payments. Some students might also receive grants. The first step is to see if you qualify by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

You could explore scholarship or fellowship opportunities from various organizations as well. Examples include national psychology groups or membership associations. Some colleges offer stipends to PhD students, but they may be reserved for those in on-campus programs. If you’re an online student with a full-time job, your workplace might contribute.

What Can You Do with a Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology?

Psychologist in a session with elderly patient

Having a doctorate in clinical psychology can help qualify you to become licensed in your state as a professional psychologist.

Licensed clinical psychologists work with people who have mental illnesses or other mood or behavioral concerns. Psychologists often see patients in hospitals, mental health clinics, or educational settings. Teaching college classes could be another line of work to consider.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time professors often engage in research in addition to teaching. Some PhD graduates are managers. They may lead teams of healthcare staff or employees of nonprofit mental health organizations.

How Long Is an Online Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program?

student taking Online Doctorate in Clinical Psychology

You might be able to earn your online doctorate in clinical psychology within 3 to 5 years. It will depend on the program’s requirements and how much time you can commit to your studies. Part-time enrollment usually takes longer than full-time.

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Online programs without dissertation requirements may take just 3 years. PhDs that include a dissertation often last longer. The exact length will depend on how quickly your project comes together, but many students spend about 5 years on their PhD studies. Schools often allow up to 7 or 8 years for finishing the program.

What’s the Difference Between PsyD vs. PhD Programs in Clinical Psychology?

There are two types of doctoral programs available to psychology students. Either can lead to a successful career, but it’s worthwhile to learn the differences between them.

Clinical Psychology PhD Programs Clinical Psychology PsyD Programs
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology
  • Academic- and research-focused course of study
  • May be strategic for those who want jobs as professors or researchers
  • Often requires a dissertation
  • Doctor of Psychology
  • A practitioner-focused course of study
  • May be strategic for those who want to be practicing clinical psychologists
  • Often requires a major doctoral project

Both types of doctoral programs usually include internships and can be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).

What’s the Difference Between Doctoral Programs in Clinical Psychology vs. Counseling Psychology?

You can prepare for a career as a psychologist by studying either clinical or counseling psychology.

Clinical Psychology Doctoral Programs Counseling Psychology Doctoral Programs
  • Greater emphasis on mental health disorders
  • May provide services to mental health patients in clinics or hospitals
  • Assists with conditions like bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, and schizophrenia
  • Greater emphasis on helping people with short-term life stressors
  • May provide counseling for students on college campuses
  • Assists with situations like vocational counseling, relationship problems, and drug addiction

There are distinctions between these two fields, but even still, there is a lot that these two branches of psychology have in common.

Is a Clinical Psychology PhD Worth It?

I-O Psychologist counseling a group of employees

Yes, a clinical psychology PhD is worth it for many professionals. Clinical psychologists provide treatment for people with mental and emotional health issues, or they offer invaluable research and instruction in that area. This is a career choice that can make a lasting difference in people’s safety, happiness, and well-being.

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Employment for psychologists is steady, and some subfields are experiencing notable growth. Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 6% growth rate for psychology positions over the next decade. In the area of clinical and counseling psychology, a 10% rate of growth is expected.

Universities Offering Online Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

California Southern University

California Southern University campus

California Southern University offers a Doctor of Psychology. The program requires the completion of 66 credits and a doctoral program. It can typically be finished in 4 to 5 years by full-time students. Potential courses include Advanced Theories of Personality, Advanced Psychopathology, and Statistical Methods and Analysis.

California Southern University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Capella University

Capella University campus

Capella University’s PsyD in Psychology program includes a blend of online learning and in-person experiences. It requires the completion of a dissertation and participation in a clinical practicum and internships.

Potential courses include Advanced Psychopathology, Theory and Evidence-Based Practice in Clinical Psychology, and Neuropsychological Assessment. The program is designed to prepare students for state licensure.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Fielding Graduate University

Fielding Graduate University campus

Fielding Graduate University offers a PhD in Clinical Psychology program that includes online and in-person learning.

Potential courses include Psychopathology, Multicultural Psychology, and Developmental Bases of Behavior. The program also requires the completion of a dissertation and participation in more than 1500 clock hours of supervised clinical practicum and internship experiences.

Fielding Graduate University is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University offers a PhD in Psychology program that requires the completion of 60 credit hours and a dissertation under faculty mentorship. It usually takes 3 years to finish. Courses can be taken in a 100% online, 8 week format. The curriculum is designed to teach about human thought and behavior from a biblical worldview.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Meridian University

Meridian University campus

Meridian University offers a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. The program offers several optional concentrations, including Collective Trauma and Social Healing, Transformative Leadership, Somatic Psychology, and Organizational Development. Courses are offered in hybrid and online formats and follow a quarterly academic calendar.

Meridian University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University’s online PhD in Counseling and Psychological Studies program requires the completion of 51 credit hours. All courses are taught from a Christian worldview. Concentration options include Human Services Counseling, Addictions Counseling, Marriage and Family Ministry, Industrial-Organizational, Trauma and Crisis Counseling and more.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Saint Mary’s University

Saint Mary's University campus

Saint Mary’s University offers a Doctor of Psychology in Counseling Psychology. This program requires the completion of 87 credits and two community practicum placements. It can typically be completed in 4 years. Classes meet on Wednesdays and Thursdays and have afternoon or evening time slots. It is possible to continue working while in the program.

Saint Mary’s University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Saybrook University

Saybrook University campus

Saybrook University offers a PhD in Clinical Psychology that can be earned online. The program usually takes 5 years of full-time study to finish. It is designed to prepare students for professional licensure in many states. Optional specializations are available in Advanced Psychological Assessment, Complex Trauma and the Healing Process, Existential and Humanistic Psychology, and more.

Saybrook University is accredited by the Senior Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

University of Colorado – Denver

University of Colorado Denver campus

The University of Colorado—Denver offers a licensure-track School Psychology PsyD program with a 100% job placement rate. It offers an optional Bilingual Spanish-English School Psychologist concentration. The program usually takes 4 years to complete. Potential courses include Introduction Counseling in School Psychology, Biological and Neuropsychological Bases of Behavior, and School-Based Multicultural Interventions.

CU Denver is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Walden University

Walden University campus

Walden University offers a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Much of the program can be completed online, but to gain hands-on experience a supervised practicum, internships, and four 4 day residences are required. The program offers specializations in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Health, Forensic Psychology, and Teaching.

Walden is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Online

student getting Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Online

Becoming a practicing clinical psychologist requires earning a doctoral degree, and you can take online classes to help fulfill the requirements for this degree.

Through a distance-learning format, you can learn from experienced professors and engage in meaningful assignments. Getting a doctorate in an online psychology degree program can provide valuable flexibility for working professionals, and you may be able to put some of the lessons into practice right away. After completing your doctorate, you’ll likely be ready to take your career to its next stage.

To find the online opportunity that’s right for you, you can start exploring accredited colleges with PhD in Psychology programs.

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Joy Cromwelle
WRITTEN BY
Joy Cromwelle
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.