Getting a Psy.D. Degree

| Staff Writers

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If you want to become a practicing clinical psychologist, you might consider earning a doctor of psychology degree (Psy.D.). The Psy.D. first came into being in the 1970s out of an emerging need in the field. The degree specifically caters to those individuals who want to offer services to patients as practicing psychologists but don’t necessarily want to conduct psychology research.

In order to qualify for licensure, a psychologist’s doctorate must be from an accredited institution. Accreditation guarantees that the degree offers a quality education and adequately prepares students for careers in their chosen field. Potential Psy.D. students should look for programs accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Read on to learn more about Psy.D. programs, including typical program requirements, potential coursework, and the differences between Psy.D. and Ph.D. in Psychology degrees.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does having a Psy.D. make you a doctor?

    Psy.D. graduates are doctors of psychology and can be referred to as doctors. However, it’s important to note Psy.D. degree-holders are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medication in most states.

  • How long does it take to obtain a Psy.D.?

    Psy.D. programs typically last 4-6 years, depending on the program format and a student’s experience and schedule. Degree-seekers who begin their degree with transfer credit, or who enroll in an accelerated program, can finish faster. Students who enroll part time might take longer than six years to graduate.

  • What's the difference between a Ph.D. and a Psy.D.?

    Students who want to become practicing, licensed clinical psychologists often obtain a Psy.D., which focuses more on the practice of psychology and requires supervised work. A Ph.D. in psychology emphasizes research in the field and appeals to students looking to conduct research, become university professors, or work as scientists at a research organization.

  • Can you prescribe medications with a Psy.D.?

    Psy.D. graduates work as clinical psychologists instead of psychiatrists. In most states, psychologists cannot prescribe medications in the same way that psychiatrists can. Five states, however, allow psychologists with advanced training prescriptive authority, largely in an effort to enable efficient access to mental health services in specific areas; those include New Mexico, Louisiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Idaho.

Admissions Requirements For a Psy.D. Degree Program

Psy.D. programs

can prove challenging and typically involve a competitive admissions process. Prospective students should hold a master’s degree in psychology or a related field. Competitive applicants usually boast minimum GPAs ranging from 3.0-3.5 and high GRE scores.

Admissions departments also consider a student’s holistic application, including their materials. Many schools require applicants to write personal essays and recommendation letters from past professors.

Once admissions committees evaluate the first round of applications, they sometimes ask final cohort candidates to participate in an admissions interview. Traditionally, these occurred on campus, but many schools now allow applicants to participate in virtual interviews.

Curriculum Focus in a Psy.D. Program

The purpose of a Psy.D. program is to prepare students to become practicing psychologists. Because of that, Psy.D. programs focus on coursework and supervised work experience instead of research.

Degree-seekers take courses about human cognitive processes and behaviors, mental illness, and treatment of disorders. Students might take courses like psychological assessment, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, lifespan development, and ethics.

Additionally, it’s important for Psy.D. candidates to practice their skills in supervised settings. They usually need to complete a practicum and an internship, although specific hourly requirements usually depend on the state and school. Internships usually operate as full-time positions and last one year.

Students can graduate in 4-6 years, or sometimes longer if they enroll part time. However, Psy.D. candidates tend to benefit from a quicker timeline than their Ph.D. peers because a Psy.D. does not include as many research-heavy requirements.

Concentrations for Psy.D. Programs

While Psy.D. programs focus on clinical psychology, candidates can further tailor their degrees to gain expertise in a specific psychological specialization, like severe mental illness or couple and family psychology. The following list explores some of the APA identified concentration options.

  • Addiction Psychology

    Professionals specializing in addiction offer services to people dealing with addictions to substances like alcohol and drugs. They also learn how to treat people with addictions to certain behaviors, like gambling or gaming. Learners study about the biological, psychological, and social aspects contributing to addiction and its treatment.

  • Child Psychology

    Child psychologists offer psychological services to children ranging from infancy to adolescence. Research shows that human brains continue to develop into a person’s young adulthood, so counseling children requires scientific techniques and skills that differ from those used to treat adults. Students learn how to guide children through trauma, cognitive deficits, and other psychological issues.

  • Counseling Psychology

    Counseling psychologists offer therapy to people experiencing anything from life stresses to more complicated psychological and behavioral disorders. Degree seekers focusing on counseling psychology learn how to guide people through stressful situations at school and work, relationships, and major life changes.

  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology

    This area of psychology focuses on human behavior in workplaces and other organizations. Students specializing in industrial-organizational psychology learn about workplace motivation, performance measurement, and how work structures affect human behavior. I/O psychologists, as they’re called, develop workplace training programs and formulate ways to evaluate employees, among other duties.

  • Forensic Psychology

    Forensic psychology involves the niche area of psychology within the legal and criminal justice systems. In these settings, forensic psychologists assess defendants, offer testimony related to mental health, and provide psychotherapy services to crime victims. Degree-seekers who choose this specialization learn about the complex intersections between psychology, behavior, law, and criminal justice.

  • Couple and Family Psychology

    Couple and family psychologists work with individuals, couples, and families to navigate the complexities of relationships. They might address individual problems, such as mental health illness or group problems within the context of group dynamics.

  • Geropsychology

    Geropsychology focuses on the behavioral and mental health of older adults. Students learn how to address challenges unique to people within an older age range, including dementia, end-of-life care, and loneliness. Psychologists with this specialization also learn how to guide older people adjusting to major life transitions and changing roles, helping them to lead fulfilling lives at all stages.

  • Serious Mental Illness Psychology

    Severe mental illnesses include schizophrenia, severe depression, and serious bipolar disorders; essentially, a severe mental illness encompasses anything that hinders a person’s capability to function. Students within this specialization learn about these major disorders, how to assess patients with these illnesses in clinical settings, and how to help patients toward the goal of recovery.

Practicum and Fieldwork Requirements

Supervised practicum or fieldwork functions as a key component of all psychology doctoral programs, including both Ph.D. and Psy.D. degrees. In-person experience allows students the opportunity to observe professionals in clinical settings. Degree-seekers can also utilize these observations to practice their own counseling techniques and skills in a supervised setting within their specialization.

At the very least, students can expect to complete a one-year, full-time internship. This internship program must be APA accredited. Some schools also require additional practicums or one year of supervised part-time work, depending on state licensure requirements for supervised experience.

Online Psy.D. Degree Programs

Many graduate students choose to balance other responsibilities along with their studies. They might work full time or need to care for their families. Online Psy.D. degrees offer students a certain degree of flexibility, helping make graduate study more accessible for busy students.

Online programs frequently follow an asynchronous format, allowing students to virtually watch lectures or participate in class discussions at their convenience. Distance learners who live far away from their college campus or deal with work-related time constraints often prefer asynchronous-only programs for this reason. Depending on the program, students might be expected to attend live virtual sessions.

Some programs might require in-person components, and Psy.D. students must attend their supervised work experience in person. Consider your program’s in-person requirements as you make your decision.

It’s also important to select an accredited degree program. Online graduate programs that possess APA accreditation hold the same value as traditional programs, including a similar curriculum and access to top faculty in the field.

Licensure Requirements for Psy.D. Graduates

To legally practice, clinical psychologists must obtain licensure from their state government. Each state sets its own licensure rules, which means aspiring psychologists should check with their state’s licensure board for the requirements they need to fulfill.

Generally speaking, licensure candidates need a doctoral degree in psychology to apply. They must also complete a set number of supervised clinical hours through a practicum and internship, which are typically incorporated into accredited Psy.D. degrees.

Candidates must also pass at least one test: the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). They may also need to take a state-specific exam, depending on where they intend to practice. Licensure candidates can find the requirements for their state through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

What’s the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a Psy.D.?

When aspiring psychologists apply to graduate school, they face the question: should I pursue a Psy.D. or Ph.D.? Prospective students should consider their career goals.

Both pathways include advanced courses and a one-year required internship. However, a Ph.D. in psychology focuses more on research, while a Psy.D. concentrates on clinical practice.

A Ph.D. can prepare graduates for a variety of different careers. Many go on to become professors at universities or researchers at institutions, but they might also go into patient care or forensic psychology, for instance. In contrast, students who enroll in a Psy.D. program typically know that they plan to become a clinical psychologist and obtain the necessary expertise to pursue the profession in a Psy.D. program.

What Can I Do With a Psy.D. Degree?

In short, a Psy.D. prepares graduates to work as a psychologist in a clinical setting, providing services to patients. In general, clinical psychologists earn a median annual pay of $80,370, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These professionals might work independently, or they could find employment at healthcare settings like hospitals or ambulatory services.

Psychologists might choose to pursue jobs specific to their concentration. School psychologists offer services to students with family issues or mental or emotional struggles that interfere with their schoolwork. BLS data indicate that school psychologists working in elementary and high schools earn an annual mean wage of over $80,000.

BLS data also shows that industrial-organizational psychologists make a median annual salary of about $111,150. These psychologists find employment at scientific research and development services and consulting services.

In addition, the BLS projects the number of jobs for counseling, school, and industrial-organizational psychologists to increase by 3% from 2019-29, on par with the average for all jobs.

Psy.D. graduates can work in many fields, depending on their interests. They might find work as forensic psychologists, family and marriage therapists, or even clinical social workers.

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