A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the traditional doctorate that is applicable to numerous academic disciplines. The Psy.D. or Doctor of Psychology is an alternative to the former research doctoral degree.
What is a Ph.D.?
Psychology programs are plentiful, but also competitive, with more rigorous admission criteria. Because of the strong focus on research, they are ideal for students not only interested in clinical practice but also in academia and research. Ph.D. psychology programs also provide valuable training for those who want to practice psychology in clinical settings. The degree can open up a host of career paths—from teaching to counseling to forensic psychology.
What is a Psy.D.?
Developed in the late 1970s, according to the American Psychology Association (APA), as an alternative to Ph.D. psychology programs, a PsyD is typically pursued by individuals interested solely in the hands-on, straightforward practice of psychology, without dedicating professional time to research or academia.
Like the Ph.D., the PsyD prepares students to practice psychology in a wide range of clinical settings. This degree, however, focuses more on clinical practice and less on research. As a result, this degree requires fewer research and statistics courses and thus takes less time.
Both PsyD and Ph.D. programs can prepare students to be licensed psychologists. Training in both programs prepares graduates to take state licensing exams (licenses are awarded by individual states, not graduate programs). Many states require graduates to have attended accredited graduate programs to ensure that all students have minimum training and competency necessary for treating patients and serving clients.
Both degrees afford graduates many opportunities to use their respective doctorate in clinical settings. A large number of clinical psychology doctoral students graduate each year, half of whom are from Doctorate of Psychology programs (American Psychological Association, 2010).
Work opportunities for Psy.D. graduates include psychotherapy, assessment, supervision, consultation, administration, teaching, and research. These activities take place in governmental organizations, the armed forces, community mental health centers, correctional facilities, educational settings, academia, college counseling centers, medical settings, corporate organizations, and independent practice.
A Ph.D. provides the benefit of specialty areas in which you can focus your interests and career plans.
Some of these are:
Neuropsychology: It is a branch of psychology concerned with how the brain and the rest of the nervous system influence a person’s cognition and behaviors. More importantly, professionals in this branch of psychology often focus on how injuries or illnesses of the brain affect cognitive functions and behaviors.
Engineering Psychology: This specialty works to improve the design of systems, operations, and equipment in order to increase efficiency, improve productivity, and minimize injury. These psychologists work in a variety of environments, including academia, the government, and private industry.
Forensic Psychology: You will typically need a doctorate degree in clinical, counseling, or forensic psychology. This area deals with psychological issues related to the law. Some of the duties include developing psychological profiles of criminals, dealing with child custody issues, investigating child abuse, and providing expert testimony.
Sports Psychology: Professionals in this field often focus on topics such as motivation and athletic performance, utilizing their knowledge of psychology to help athletes perform better or to help people recover from sports injuries. Most jobs require a master’s or doctorate degree in sports psychology or in related areas such as clinical or counseling psychology.
The Psy.D. degree would not preclude you from concentrating your studies on one of the specialties. The Ph.D. is more prevalent, however. This is a decision that should be based on which degree is most beneficial for your career objectives.
An article in Psych Central stated that Psy.D. programs tend to be more expensive. The reason is that some Psy.D programs are housed in freestanding for-profit institutions that charge tuition. Most Ph.D. programs waive tuition and provide students with stipends. Faculty members in Ph.D. programs receive grants to conduct their research, so they are able to pay their students, who assist with the research.
An article in Psychology Today magazine in March 2016 reported that the average time to complete a Ph.D. is 5-7 years versus 4-6 for the Psy.D. It appears, then, that the benefit favors the shorter program. However, this does not factor the point made in the previous paragraph. That is the stipend paid to Ph.D. students (a fixed sum of money paid for being a Teaching or Research Assistant). This can add up to literally tens of thousands of dollars each year in financial assistance. A Ph.D. student will typically not have any tuition debt hanging over their head.
The Psychology Today report makes the argument that the additional income (start work sooner with the Psy.D.) may not offset the tuition debt incurred by this program. The Ph.D. student may graduate debt-free.
Psy.D. students’ average debt is $123,787, compared to an average of $53,160 for Ph.D. students (APPIC, 2011).
The APPIC or Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers offers a service to match doctoral students with internships. Every Ph.D. or Psy.D. student should complete an internship. The APPIC helps match students with internships and they keep statistics on placements.
The 2018 Phase I and II stats show there were 1,957 Ph.D. and 1,561 Psy.D. internship applicants. They had matched percentages of 93.8 and 92.3 respectively. This is almost a draw, as it does not favor either degree with respect to finding an internship.