Deciding Between a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in Psychology

Psychology Doctorates Have Different Focus

Therapist
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If you plan to study psychology at the graduate level, you've got options. Both Ph.D. and Psy.D. degrees are doctoral degrees in psychology. However, they differ in history, emphasis, and logistics.

Psy.D. Degree Has an Emphasis on Practice

The Ph.D. in psychology has been around for well over 100 years, but the Psy.D., or doctorate of psychology degree is much newer. The Psy.D. degree became popular in the early 1970s, created as a professional degree, much like that for a lawyer. It trains graduates for applied work—in this case, therapy. The Ph.D. is a research degree, yet many students seek a doctoral degree in psychology to practice and do not plan to conduct research.

Therefore, the Psy.D. is intended to prepare graduates for careers as practicing psychologists. The Psy.D. offers a great deal of training in therapeutic techniques and many supervised experiences, but there is less of an emphasis on research than in Ph.D. programs.

As a graduate from a Psy.D. program, you can expect to excel in practice-related knowledge and experience. You will also become familiar with research methodology, read research articles, learn about research findings, and be able to apply research findings to your work. Essentially, Psy.D. graduates are trained to be consumers of research-based knowledge.

Ph.D. Degree Has an Emphasis on Research

Ph.D. programs are designed to train psychologists to not only understand and apply research but also to conduct it. Ph.D. psychology graduates are trained to be creators of research-based knowledge. Ph.D. programs range in the emphasis they place on research and practice.

Some programs emphasize creating scientists. In these programs, students spend most of their time on research and much less time on practice-related activities. In fact, these programs discourage students from engaging in therapeutic practice. While Psy.D. programs emphasize creating practitioners, many Ph.D. programs combine both the scientist and practitioner models. They create scientist-practitioners—graduates who are competent researchers as well as practitioners.

If you're considering a degree in psychology, keep in mind these distinctions so that you apply to programs that are appropriate to your interests and goals. Ultimately, if you think you might want to engage in research or teach at a college at some point in your career, you should consider a Ph.D. over a Psy.D. because the research training provides more flexibility in career options.

Funding of the Respective Programs

Generally speaking, Ph.D. programs offer more funding than do Psy.D. programs. Most students who obtain a Psy.D. pay for their degrees with loans. Ph.D. programs, on the other hand, often have faculty members with research grants who can afford to hire students to work with them—and they often offer some combination of tuition and a stipend. Not all Ph.D. students are awarded funding, but you are more likely to get funding in a Ph.D. program.

Time to Degree

Generally speaking, Psy.D. students finish their graduate programs in less time than do Ph.D. students. A Psy.D. requires a specific number of years of coursework and practice, as well as a dissertation that usually requires students to apply research to a given problem or analyze the research literature. A Ph.D. also requires a specific number of years of coursework and practice, but the dissertation is a more cumbersome project because it requires that students devise, conduct, write, and defend a research study that will make an original contribution to academic literature. That could take an extra year or two—or more—than a Psy.D.

Bottom Line

Both the Psy.D. ​and Ph.D. are doctoral degrees in psychology. Which one you choose depends on your career goals—whether you prefer a career solely in practice or one in research or a combination of research and practice.