PsyD vs PhD – Differences Explained


A PsyD is a Doctor of Psychology, whilst a PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy. Both are doctoral degrees, but their focuses and goals differ. A PsyD focuses on the application of knowledge and aims to train students in clinical psychology. A PhD in psychology focuses on research and adding new knowledge, often leading to a career in research or academia, rather than clinical work.


Many graduate students who possess a psychology degree look to improve their career outlook through postgraduate study. In particular, aspiring psychologists look to complete a doctoral degree. There are two popular choices for these psychology students, the PsyD and the PhD. Please note this article has been written for the perspective of a US audience.

What is a PsyD and a PhD?

There are two types of doctoral degrees in psychology: a PsyD and a PhD. Here is what they stand for:

  • A PsyD is a Doctor of Psychology.
  • A PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy.

Both doctoral degree programs prepare students for careers in psychology, but their goals and purposes differ.

Definition of a PsyD (American Psychological Association)
“The focus of PsyD programs is to train students to engage in careers that apply scientific knowledge of psychology and deliver empirically based service to individuals, groups and organizations”.
Definition of a PhD (American Psychological Association)
“PhD degrees are intended for students interested in generating new knowledge through scientific research (i.e., setting up experiments, collecting data, applying statistical and analytical techniques) and/or gaining teaching experience”.

A Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree focuses on the practical and clinical applications of psychology. The PsyD program provides clinical training to doctoral students teaching you how to apply scientific knowledge of psychology and how to work with patients in a professional environment. A PhD in psychology places a greater emphasis on research methods and the theoretical concepts of the subject, requiring students to contribute novel findings to their area of research.

Is Someone With a PsyD a Doctor?

A PsyD is a doctoral degree, in the same way a PhD is, and those who possess one use the title of doctor in their name (e.g. Dr. Surname). To be clear however, PsyD holders are not medical doctors unless they also hold a medical degree, such as an MD in the US or MBBS in the UK.

Both doctorates are valuable to possess, but PsyDs have less international recognition and are more commonplace in the US.

Is a PsyD or PhD Better?

Neither degree is better than the other, but one may be more suitable for you, based on your career goals.

Generally, PsyD programs are suited to students who wish to pursue a career in providing psychological services in a clinical setting. In comparison, PhD programs are suited to those who wish to pursue a career path in research or academia.

This does not mean that those with a PsyD degree cannot pursue a career in research or academia, nor does it mean that those with a PhD cannot practice clinical psychology.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PsyD?

We are often asked “how many years is a PsyD?”. Although the duration of a PsyD varies depending on the institution, the typical program lasts 4 to 6 years. This usually includes a yearlong clinical internship toward the end of the program.

In comparison, a PhD in Psychology typically takes 6 to 8 years to complete.

A PsyD program is usually less expensive than a PhD psychology program. However, funding is more widely available for PhD programs, which means PsyD programs are often associated with higher levels of student debt.

What is the Difference Between a PsyD and PhD Program?

As mentioned previously, PsyD programs are designed to focus on the direct application of scientific knowledge. Coursework and topics of study include human behavior, providing clinical care to patients, assessment & diagnosis, therapy, and mental health conditions. This may involve a clinical training program and trainees undertaking clinical placements.

PhD programs focus on the theory behind psychology. Topics of study include analyzing data, statistical models, and research methodology.

There is some overlap between the two doctoral programs. PsyD students may still study data analyzation, and PhD students will still learn about the clinical practice of psychology and may gain clinical experience to aid their professional development.

Though the application process may be similar, PhD programs in psychology tend to be more competitive and have lower acceptance rates than PsyD programs

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Does a PsyD Require a Dissertation?

Some PsyD programs require students to complete a written dissertation or thesis. Those that do will require the dissertation or thesis to address an applied clinical problem.

Most PsyD programs do not require submission of a dissertation or thesis. Instead, a PsyD student is required to complete an internship (also referred to as a practicum) and carry out clinical work at the end of their doctorate degree program. These internships are typically a year long and assess your clinical skills in a professional practice on actual patients.

What Jobs Can You Get With a PsyD?

The PsyD program follows the ‘practitioner-scholar’ model, engaging in practice-oriented study. This allows those with a doctor of psychology degree to pursue a wide range of career options, including:

  • Clinical Psychologist,
  • Counselling psychologist,
  • Mental health counselor,
  • School psychologist,
  • Psychotherapist,
  • Consultant,
  • Licensed psychologist.

It should be noted that PsyD holders can operate in a broad range of professional environments and clinical settings such as hospitals, correctional facilities, private practices, mental health clinics, social work and schools.

In comparison, the PhD program follows the ‘scientist-practitioner’ model which prepares the doctoral student for a career in research & academia. Typical destinations for a PhD student include:

  • Higher Education (university professor/lecturer),
  • Licensed Psychologist,
  • Researcher.

The career opportunities with a doctoral degree in psychology are also dependent on the specific research area of the doctoral program. Research areas can include forensic psychology, health psychology, counselling psychology, social psychology, social science, applied psychology, educational psychology, psychological assessment, social care, cognitive behavioral psychology and psychological therapies.

Whichever method you choose to attain your doctorate in psychology, know that you will have invaluable skills and experience that make you a valuable asset in a number of industries not just within clinical psychology.

Please note: The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits both PsyD and PhD programs. With a few exceptions, you are required to apply for a license to practice psychology professionally through your state’s licensing board. Most licensing boards require applicants to possess a doctoral degree in psychology (either a PhD or PsyD). Some boards state that your doctoral degree must be from an APA-accredited program. Therefore, it is important to check that your program is APA accredited if you intend to become licensed.

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