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Psychology Degrees

In this section we'll cover many different elements of the psychology degree, focusing primarily on Graduate Psychology Degrees. We'll discuss the different types of psychology degrees, what you can do with a graduate degree in psychology, careers in psychology, and more.

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The Doctor of Psychology Degree (Psy.D.)

The Brief Yet Important History Of The Psy.D.

In 1973 the APA officially endorsed the Psy.D. - Doctor in Psychology - as an accpeted practitioner training program for those interested in careers in professional psychology. This milestone might be viewed as part of a trend away from doctoral degrees as exclusively the province of academic and research scholars and more toward practitioner oriented degrees.

The first such degree was the Ed.D - Doctor of Education - offered at Harvard University beginning in 1920. Prior to that time, some Ph.D.s were supposed to prepare students for both scientific research and practical application but many felt clinical work did not get sufficient attention. While some still feel the holder of a Doctoral Degree in one of the many fields of Psychology should be a scientist first, today most major universities offer practitioner specializations in Psychology under their Ph.D. programs.

What's The Difference Between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D.?

There are quite a few difference between the Psy.D. and Ph.D., both in practice and in application. Although most Psy.D programs contain some coursework in advanced statistics and quantitative research methods, the Psy.D. is not a research degree like the Ph.D. is. Instead, the Psy.D. focuses on theories and practical applications for clinical work.

In addition, many Psy.D. programs require an original dissertation, it almost always has to be focused on a clinical area. Most Ph.D. programs allow dissertation research on purely theoretical topics without an immediate and direct link to clinical practice.

There are some university-based programs that offer the Psy.D., such as George Washington, Rutgers, and Pepperdine, but unlike the Ph.D., there are Professional Schools of Psychology that restrict their graduate degree offerings to practical applications of the science. Some of these Professional Schools base their clinical approach in the work of noted clinicians, like the Adler School of Professional Psychology or the Erickson Institute. Typically, these schools offer a wider array of fields of study than do university-based Psy.D. programs. Two examples are the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and the Adler School, both of which offer the Psy.D. in clinical psychology, applied behavior analysis, and forensic psychology.

To get an idea of what it's like to be in a PsyD program, you can check out the interview we have posted here.

Another difference, which many people are not aware of prior to starting their graduate careers, is the lack of complete acceptance within certain parts of the profession. Despite the rigorous coursework, counseling work, and the ability to be licensed to practice Psychology in any state in the country, many rigid academicians view the Psy.D. degree as inferior to the Ph.D.

However, this is rapidly diminishing as the Psy.D. becomes more common and employers in many fields realize that Psy.D. holders may actually be better prepared for clinical practice than their Ph.D. counterparts.

As a final point of interest, you may want to know the origins of the letter designations used in all graduate academic degrees. The "D" in Ph.D., Psy.D. or EdD connotes the highest level of expertise attainable in a field of study - that of "Doctor." The "Ph" for philosophy is a remnant of the time when all fields of human knowledge were seen as part of philosophy.

The "Psy" isolates the field of expertise as being in Psychology. Some see this as an advantage, in that there is definitely a difference between nuclear physics and history yet holders of a Doctoral degree in both fields earn a Ph.D.

Doctoral degrees generally require 3-6 years of study beyond the Bachelors Degree, where the 'B" refers to a basic or introductory level of expertise; and an additional 2-4 years beyond the Masters Degree where the "M" indicates a level of expertise more advanced than the holder of a Bachelors Degree but less than the Doctorate.

For Bachelors and Masters Degrees, the "A" in BA and MA refers to fields of study within the liberal arts while the "S" in BS or MS indicates expertise in the natural sciences.

What Are The Requirements For A Psy.D.?

Although there are some Psy.D. programs that take less time to complete than a traditional Ph.D., most programs take the same 4-7 years typical of a Ph.D. Expect your coursework in a Psy.D. to be more directly related to your field of study, with intensive practica and internships. The research orientation of a traditional Ph.D. is much more focused and at a deeper level. Research and methodology courses in a Psy.D. are more geared towards preparing students to be able to complete their dissertation research. Credit hours required are similar to most Ph.D.s but some Psy.D. programs require as many as 141 credit hours.

Dissertations are required in most Psy.D. programs and follow the same process of proposal presentation and defense and original research. The contrast is the topic of the dissertation, which is always in an area of practical application in a Psy.D. degree. Some programs allow a clinical doctoral project as an alternative, with the nature of the project varying from institution to institution.

To examine these differences and other specific degree requirements across the many university-based Psy.D. programs and the programs offered by Professional Schools of Psychology, check the APA's Graduate Study in Psychology or the Graduate School Search Engine here at This search engine allows you to find schools according to degree, topic of study, and geographic location.

What Can You Do With A Psy.D.?

When it comes to practicing psychology, your options are unlimited. With a state license to practice, all fields of mental health are open to you as is a private clinical or counseling practice. Many Psy.D. holders go into private consulting practice in business, government, and non-profit institutions. While it is possible for a Psy.D. holder to get an academic teaching or research position, alternatives are not as numerous as they are for holders of a traditional Ph.D.

Next Steps

Now that you know all about the Ed.D. Degree in Counseling Psychology, what should you do next? Here are the three most appropriate next steps: