What is a PsyD? [2021 Guide]

What is a PsyD? A Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is one of the highest credentials you can earn in the field of psychology.

What is a PsyD

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As a professional doctorate, a PsyD program is designed for preparing students to deliver psychological services to groups or individuals in need of clinical therapy and mental health support.

What is a PsyD?

psychologist talking to a young patient

If your goal is to be a practicing psychiatrist who meets with clients or provides mental health support in an organization, then you might be a good candidate for pursuing a Doctor of Psychology degree, often called a PsyD.

This traditional or online degree in psychology is what’s known as a professional doctorate. It’s intended for people who want to work in the field as psychology practitioners. This may include providing therapy services and overseeing counseling teams.

Universities began developing Doctor of Psychology programs in the 1970s. Before that, if you wanted to earn a doctoral degree in this field, a PhD was your only option. With the introduction of PsyD programs, students could focus on acquiring doctoral-level knowledge with direct applications for counseling settings.

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As a PsyD graduate, you might open a private practice where you meet with clients one-on-one or hold group therapy sessions. Your responsibilities might include conducting mental health evaluations, developing treatment plants and supervising teams of assistants and interns.

Additionally, this degree can help pave the way for pursuing psychology jobs in many other settings. Hospitals, medical centers and health clinics often keep psychologists on staff. Corporations may hire someone to oversee mental health initiatives for employees.

Schools, faith-based organizations, rehabilitation facilities and government agencies may also seek your services.

What’s the Difference Between a PhD and PsyD?

psychologist talking to an elderly patient

While a PsyD is a professional doctorate, a PhD in Psychology is an academic degree that’s suitable preparation for a career in scientific research and postsecondary teaching.

PhD PsyD
Main Focus Research Preparation for clinical practice
Professional Goals Academic pursuits — teaching or research Clinical practice — direct contact with clients
Program Length Often 5–7 years Often 4–6 years
Internship One year One year
Final Project Dissertation Applied research project or dissertation

The main thing to consider when choosing between a PsyD vs PhD in Psychology is what you want to do with your degree once your schooling is complete.

PsyD Careers & Salaries

PsyD Careers & Salaries

Typically, students choose to pursue a PsyD because they want to work with people and help them work through difficult situations, stressful decisions or mental health struggles. Despite sharing that common interest, practicing psychologists work in many different capacities.

Some see clients in private practices and mental health clinics. Others choose different settings in which to connect with people in need: hospitals, community centers, long-term care facilities, drug rehab centers, religious organizations or correctional facilities. Schools also need trained psychologists who can provide social, emotional and academic supports to students.

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Instead of working directly with clients, some PsyD graduates use their practical skills in behind-the-scenes capacities. Government agencies, law enforcement organizations and corporations rely on the insights of psychologists to guide their decision-making and policies.

Although a PsyD is usually thought of as a professional degree, and a PhD is considered the academic approach, becoming a Doctor of Psychology won’t necessarily preclude you from working in academia. You may end up teaching at a college or conducting original research.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists make an average annual salary of $82,180, and jobs in life, physical, and social science field are expected to grow at a rate of 5% over the next ten year. Some careers in this field include:

Careers Annual Median Salary
Forensic Psychologist $105,780
Industrial-organizational Psychologist $96,270
Clinical Research Scientist $91,510
Clinical Psychologist $79,820
Counseling Psychologist $79,820
Psychology Professor $78,180
Child Psychologist (Day Care Services) $77,860
School Psychologist (Elementary and Secondary) $77,230
Marriage and Family Therapist $51,340
Behavioral Psychologist $47,660

Average salary figures are not a guarantee of income; pay rates can vary widely among employers, throughout various regions of the country and in accordance with experience.

PsyD vs. PhD in Psychology Salary

psychiatrist talking to a couple during consultation

According to Pay Scale, the average annual salary for someone holding a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) is $79,000. In contrast, professionals holding a PhD in Psychology earn an average salary of $88,000.

Curriculum & Courses for a Doctor of Psychology

For your doctoral program, you may take a series of core classes on general psychology topics as well as a variety of electives that relate directly to your area of interest.

  • Biology, Thought and Behavior addresses the biological foundations of how people think and act.
  • Ethical Psychology Leadership prepares you for leadership. Becoming a licensed psychologist can make you a leader in your field, and it will be critical that you operate in legal, ethical ways.
  • Personality Theory analyzes historical and contemporary schools of thought on personality.
  • Psychology Research Methods discusses various methods. Although a professional doctorate’s primary focus isn’t research, it’s likely that you’ll still take one or more research-focused courses.
  • Testing for Psychology teaches the various methods used for gathering and interpreting client data.

After taking these classes, you will likely put the lessons into practice during a year-long internship experience.

PsyD Requirements

doctor of psychology students studying in a classroom

You’ll likely move through multiple stages during the four or more years of your doctoral program.

  1. Core Classes. All students in your doctoral program will likely need to take a series of foundational classes.
  2. Electives. In elective classes, you can explore areas of interest.
  3. Practicums. These can help you gain hands-on experience in the field on a part-time basis.
  4. Cumulative Assessments. Your program may require a dissertation, exams or an applied doctoral project.
  5. Internship. You’ll likely spend a year completing a full-time internship in an APA-approved setting.

The order in which you complete these requirements may vary among schools.

Regional and APA Accreditation

Regional and APA Accreditation

Any psychology school in which you enroll should hold regional accreditation. Without that, you can’t rely on receiving a solid education, and you may graduate with a degree that’s not respected by employers or other schools.

Any qualifying school would be glad to furnish proof of its regional accreditation, so don’t hesitate to ask the admissions department for this information.

The American Psychological Association provides programmatic accreditation for PsyD, PhD, and all other psychology graduate programs that don’t require GRE. Many states require you to attend an APA-accredited program and complete an APA-approved internship as requirements for licensure.

Choosing Between a PhD and PsyD

psychology student thinking

To decide between a PhD and a PsyD, consider your career goals. A PhD may be better at preparing you for an academic career. A PsyD may be more appropriate if you want to engage in professional practice.

When selecting a program it’s also important to consider:

  • APA accreditation
  • Financial aid opportunities
  • Graduation rate
  • Professional placement of graduates

If your having a hard time deciding between a PhD program at one school and a PsyD program at another, these criteria may help you make your final selection.

Financial Aid & Doctoral Funding

Financial Aid & Doctoral Funding for Psychology students

Government grants and loans are some of the primary ways for students to cover a portion of their tuition costs. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out about your eligibility.

Scholarships and fellowships may further lessen your tuition burden. To receive these, you’ll have to apply and be selected as a winner.

While PhD programs often extend tuition waivers and stipends, that’s not as common for PsyD programs. Even still, you may be able to work as a teaching or research assistant in exchange for reduced fees.

Psychology Licensing and Certification

psychologist receiving a certificate

State licensure is required for practicing as a psychologist. Requirements vary among states but always involve passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).

You may choose to pursue specialty certifications, such as:

  • Geropsychology is a board certification for those who work with the elderly.
  • Forensic is a certification if your psychology skills are in criminal justice or the court system.
  • Organizational and Business Consulting is beneficial for I-O psychologists and organizational coaches can benefit from obtaining this certification.

These board certifications are administered through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).

Is a PsyD a doctor

Is a PsyD a doctor?

Yes, a PsyD is a doctoral degree. After earning a PsyD, you’ll be able to use the title “Doctor” as part of your name. Even still, this is different from being a medical doctor.

If your goal is to prescribe medications to patients for their mental health disorders, you’ll need to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist.

Is a PsyD or PhD better?

psychologist comforting a client

A Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology have overlapping coursework and career areas, but they each have a different emphasis.

A PhD program is more heavily research-focused. This terminal degree is common for those who want to work in research or academia. On the other hand, a PsyD is more practice-based. Those who only want to provide psychological services to patients tend to pursue a PsyD.

Whether a PsyD or PhD degree is better for you ultimately depends on your interests and career goals.

What is a PhD in Psychology?

A PhD in Psychology is a research-oriented doctoral degree in the field of psychology.

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Students study the science of human thought and behavior, and they learn to conduct original research. A dissertation and an internship are usually  required before graduation.

What is a PhD in Clinical Psychology?

psychologists listening to a client during therapy session

The branch of psychology that focuses on addressing and overcoming mental, emotional or behavioral disorders defines clinical psychology.

With a PhD in Clinical Psychology, you might conduct scientific research on such disorders and their treatment, train future psychologists or provide mental health therapy to clients.

What is a PsyD in Clinical Psychology?

Like a PhD in Clinical Psychology, a PsyD in Clinical Psychology focuses on ways to help people adjust their unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

Although scientific research may be addressed, the greater emphasis in this program is typically on applying practical skills in clinical settings.

How Long Does it Take to Get a PsyD?

psychiatrist listening to patients during group counseling

Many students manage to complete their PsyD programs in four to six years, but some take closer to seven years.

When planning your course of study, remember that you’ll probably need to complete a year-long internship before graduation.

Are There Any Other Doctoral Degrees in Psychology?

For a terminal degree in psychology, you could pursue a PsyD, a PhD in Psychology or an EdD in School Psychology.

Within the PsyD realm, there are many concentrations to consider, including industrial-organizational, clinical, forensic, child and health psychology.

Is There a Difference in PsyD vs PhD Reputation?

Although some people believe that PhDs are more respected than professional doctorates, you can have a successful career with either degree.

It may be harder to land an academic job with a PsyD, but if your goal is to work with clients, that doesn’t need to be a concern.

Getting Your Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) Online

psychologist comforting her patient during therapy session

A PsyD program can help you obtain the skills and credentials needed to pursue licensure in your state and practice as a psychologist.

To select a program, ask:

  • Is the school accredited?
  • Is my preferred specialty available?
  • What scores do students earn on the EPPP?
  • Does the school have connections to promising internship programs?

Submitting applications to universities that meet your criteria is the best way to begin your path toward a professional psychology career.

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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.